Friday, December 16, 2016

Just...

Sometimes as preachers we get a habit of saying one word of phrase too often.  Usually nobody tells us until it gets really annoying.  My mom has always been helpful in this situation as she politely brings up that I need to stop saying things like, "you know?" a million times.  I remember in college we would count the number of times a professor cleared his throat or said "uhhhhhhh."  It was distracting.  It isn't until someone points it out that I can even realize I'm doing it.  But once I'm aware I can't help but stop myself before the words escape my lips. It's hard to break a habit.  

"Just" is a word that sneaks into my prayer vocabulary all too often.  For example, "God, I just pray that you would...." or "God, just do...." It's a weird thing that I have heard lots of people do, and I wonder why.  Am I limiting God to do "just" this thing or that? Am I afraid that God won't understand exactly the thing for which I am petitioning?  God, just help me with this one.  Is this a place that somehow gives me comfort in case You don't really want to listen to me today?  


Maybe it's a way to place emphasis on how important this prayer really is?  Parents often say, "JUST do it."  It comes at the end of a long line of asking children to do something nicely, and is usually followed by something like, "I'm your parent and that's why." Am I at the end of my rope with God? I sure hope not. I am a control freak sometimes, so maybe it's like when Martha asked/told Jesus to make her sister "GET IN THE KITCHEN AND HELP ME."  If you don't remember that's when Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better thing, by listening and learning from him.  


Just.  It has a dual meaning, doesn't it?  It can help to specify, as in the above examples, or it can mean: that which is based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.  This season justice is spoken of often in the prophecies of Isaiah, for example in Isaiah 2:

1-5 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:
There’s a day coming when the mountain of God’s House will be The Mountain—solid, towering over all mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” Zion’s the source of the revelation. God’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations. He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.
 Just.  I long for the day when the justice of God is the measure by which all people live, by which nations are governed.  I long for the day when playing war is less about politics, power and ego and more about actually fighting for the rights of people.  We have gotten so off track, I know I have gotten off track. 

This is where the two "justs" are meeting for me today.  Rather than trying to change broken systems, fight for dollars for ministry, scream until the powers that be listen - I have to just focus on the fact that God is Just. If I don't I will be swallowed up by my competitive, people-pleasing, workaholic self.  


Isaiah's prophetic voice reminds us that into the darkness is birthed light. Into the warring madness of humanity is born humble strength.  Into systems of oppression, suffering and death is raised mercy, power, and grace.  The people wouldn't listen, they were stuck in their ways....so much like the world today.    Yet we are not alone.  The advent season reminds us that God is not done yet, the story is not over...in fact the story is just beginning.  


Sometimes in order for something new to begin the old must go away.  In order for things to be let go they sometimes must be removed from our lives.  It's the dance in between that can be difficult, yet we are called as God's people to continue to invest our whole-selves into the transforming redemption of a life of hope.  


So today, and for the rest of this season my prayer is simple, "Just God, help me to live into your light.  Help me God, to just focus on the ways in which I may spread hope, light, and redemption into this world.  Take away my focus on self that I may focus on You in the lives of others. May the swords that I hold up in fight be turned to tools for the advancement of true peace.  Amen."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What is at stake.

I have a mountain bike and we don't always get along.  It seems like I fall a lot. Falling off your bike as a kid was never too big a deal.  Falling off your mountain bike while going down a hill in the woods seems a lot more painful.  It seems that while riding along I tend to look at what is around me, flowers, trees, so forth.  On the other hand, when the pedaling is tough, say up a long hill or on a single-track that is winding, I focus really hard on those little technical things that can make or break my momentum.  In these times I fail to notice the beauty around me in an effort just to get through the trail.  

I rode my bike tonight for a long time. I needed to get my brain in a better space as I head off to Annual Conference tomorrow.  As I'm in the midst of planning for the fall and the upcoming school year I realize just how important the next few days could be.  I've only been a Wesley Foundation Director for two years, but in those two years I have come to see just how crucial young adults are to the future of our denomination.  Serving as a director has offered me huge challenges as I find myself in this weird space of relying on the connection to survive.  I've been overwhelmed by the support we have received from so many churches and individuals, some I never thought would really care about campus ministry.  People are willing to give of their time, talents, and food to reach the hearts and minds of "my" college students.  I am so humbled by this ministry experience that I often do not know exactly how to describe it.  I feel like I have never been so aware of what the Holy Spirit can do, and just how amazing it is when a young person who isn't sure they believe in God realizes that God IS.  

When serving in the local church I loved building relationships with my people.  It was so fun to hear their stories and get to know their souls.  It was challenging to keep them growing spiritually.  Rarely however, did I have the opportunity to really be a part of someone's faith journey at the earliest ponderings, doubts, and longings.  In the church I was able to share in community service to some extent, but rarely was I able to see someone's perspective opened-wide to the vast nature of God in the world.  Rarely did I engage in those really hard conversations about justice and faith.  These things are the foundation of what I do at Ferris.  Sometimes it happens when somebody needs a microwave or a printer.  Sometimes it happens when somebody does poorly on a test and needs reassurance that God's got an awesome plan and it is going to be ok.

I'm heading to our annual conference.  Change is on the horizon, a "new thing" is being created as we connect with our friends from the other side of the state.  Change is something I am getting used to, as every few months my congregation seems to change so much.  New things are always on the horizon, some work and some don't.  Our mantra "Blessed are the flexible" seems to be the one steadfast thing in our lives.  We have to keep our heads up and see what is around us, lest we get too focused on surviving.  

For the first time in my life as a pastor I am feeling kind of sick about this gathering of pastors and laity from around the state.  I wonder how many people understand the heaviness my colleagues and I have because of this past year.  This year we have repeatedly been treated as clergy who do not count, ministries that are a nuisance because they are not self-supporting, and our proposed 2017 budget affirms a Conference that does not see a focus on campus ministry as a priority.  The integrity of honest conversation and dialogue has been traded-in for conference leadership decisions that exclude the powerful God-Alive reality in which I (and my campus ministry colleagues) exist.  

Maybe I'm whining.  It happens.  But before you roll your eyes let me just say that I'm looking at the big picture here.  I'm riding my ministry mountain bike and seeing all these churches doing everything possible to be VITAL, I'm watching as some churches are making those hard decisions about closing their doors.  I'm seeing God move in and through us now, and I know that it will survive into the future because of the students that are graduating from our ministries and heading to seminary, lay certification classes, serving in local churches as teachers, and so on.  If my church makes the decision to place no priority on campus and young adult ministry it feels very much like we are only focusing on the financial hill we are climbing and have no idea what we will do when we get around the next bend and half of the members of our churches are no longer living this life.  

So my friends.  If you believe this is important now is the time to say so.  It cannot come from me or my colleagues.  It cannot come from our young people.  It must come from the rising up of the people who really get what is at stake, from those who's lives have been changed by campus ministry, from those who's children and grandchildren have found a home and community within the walls of their Wesley Foundation. Having a United Methodist presence on our college campuses is the most effective way to reach young people at one of the most crucial, defining time in their lives.  This is the time when understanding what grace, faith, prayer, and community is most important.  Don't we want our Wesleyan theology to be present alongside the often louder (and frightening) theologies that exist?

Might you consider supporting one of your campus ministers as a missionary?  After this Annual Conference we will be in charge of raising much of our own salaries.  Maybe you would consider sponsoring an event or class at your nearest Wesley Foundation.  Perhaps you would like to adopt-a-student and help to support the costs for Bibles, study books, meals, etc.

Most importantly I'm asking for your prayers.  My colleagues are weary of this fight.  You will notice less of a Wesley presence this year.  Please pray for us, pray for our conference, pray for the future of our ministries (and the future of your UMC).  Help us to be open to the leading of God in the midst of all the business and numbers.  

Thanks friends.  See some of you tomorrow.  


Monday, April 18, 2016

I'll Keep On


I'll keep on.  We listened to this song on our Wesley mission trip over spring break.  It spoke to us because were were exhausted from early mornings and long subway rides.  This evening the chorus of this song was helping me finish week 9 day 2 of this running program I'm trying hard to stick with.  The past two runs (well more like dragging myself) are 40 minutes.  That's a really long time for me to try to run with this tall girl body of mine.  The last six minutes seem to be the hardest part, and they seem to last at least twenty minutes longer than they should.  "I'll keep on....I'll keep on."  It popped into my head and helped me finish.

I'll keep on seems to be the theme of my environment these days.  For my students there are three weeks of school left.  Keeping on for them means finishing up projects, papers, and tests.  They're focused on summer jobs and securing internships.  At Wesley we are working on next years roster for leadership and already thinking ahead to what will happen in August when we have that exciting opportunity to start a new church (again and again).  

The Wesley House Board of Directors met yesterday.  We spend time sharing where God has been present in our lives.  I love that part, because so often we get caught up in the business part of things that we don't just celebrate God.  God is moving up here in this ministry.  Students are taking on new tasks, leaps of faith in sharing their gifts or stretching their comfort zones.  Even in these last few weeks we have had new students attend and "stick" with us.  I truly believe these are little sacred gifts in the midst of the weariness that comes from a 7-day/week ministry including two major mission trips for the last nine months.  I know it's the end of the year because I keep hearing my name being called even when nobody is there.  It's in my ears!  

When we start to really reflect on the facts from the last two years at the Wesley House we all come away with this deep understanding that God is up to something huge.  We are so challenged by the scarcity mentality of our WMI Conference that it's easy for me to get to a very negative space.  Everyone in conference leadership of this great denomination that I love and serve is so afraid, so focused on the numbers adding up that they're missing out on the power and might of what is happening with our college kids.  Where have most of the young clergy come from the last ten years?  Campus ministry.  And my treasurer challenges me with the question, "Do you believe that God will provide?"

In case you didn't know, our conference ministry shares pay for the salaries of our five WMI campus ministers.  I'm an expensive director because I'm an ordained elder and have to be on the conference insurance plan.  This year that will leave a couple thousand dollars for us to put toward the costs of running our buildings.  All of our programming expenses we are raising through covenant partnerships with local churches and people.  The problem is that in the next year our conference leadership is proposing a 40% reduction in funding.  Nothing says "we don't want you here" like cutting a ministry's funding by nearly half.  

In the meantime your Wesley Directors are being radically accountable to what we do.  We document nearly ever moment of time we spend with students.  We relay numbers of active participants in every single event.  We spend our time planning worship, offering pastoral care, searching for funding sources, connecting with local churches, drinking coffee and laughing with students, and crying out for someone in conference leadership to recognize that this is good and right and necessary for the very survival of our beloved UMC.  And then we are subtly told that it's not enough as our funding decreases and we are threatened though our "output" increases.  

My identity is wrapped up in this vocation.  Who I am is a United Methodist.  My theology is rooted in the principles of grace, mercy, and love.  I believe in what John Wesley was hoping to accomplish....a movement, not a religion.  And now I find myself in this heartbreaking place.  My colleagues and I are literally kicking the walls - not because of the lack of money - but because the very system that defines how we live out God's call on our lives is so broken, so angry, so passive-aggressive and short-sighted that we are choosing to perpetuate the broken power-hungry system rather than minister to the very generations that will carry our beloved UMC beyond the next 20 years.  

My soul has wrestled with this tension all year.  For the first time in my life I've questioned my loyalty to my church.  But here's the thing....in the midst of this nastiness I am overwhelmed with God's movement in the lives of my students.  In the midst of wondering if our doors will close we are stepping out to create a food pantry for the university.  In the midst of the scream of "not having enough" we receive a check in the mail.  Surrounded by the overwhelming frustration of trying to prove viability God gives us life, God gives us more students than we can handle, God gives us the ability to see beyond the now and into the future.  

So we keep on.  We keep sharing the stories, praying for new opportunities for ministry, embracing the young adults who are in the midst of figuring out faith, and life, and church.  I want my denomination to be a place like the Wesley House.  I want all pastors to have colleagues like I do, who are steeped in creative ministry ideas, who are silly and kind and brilliant.  Most of all I want to live out this call in a system that has integrity, faith, and hope. 

I wonder how many of your lives have been touched by a campus ministry.  I wonder what it would look like for all of us to get up on the floor of annual conference and share those stories.  I wonder what our denomination would be like if none of us had ever experienced the care of a campus pastor or young adult camp counselor.  I wonder....and I keep on.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stubborn


Hey, it's Palm Sunday!  I've always loved it, how about you?  Palm Sunday means kids waving palms processing around the church, it means singing songs we only get to sing once a year, it means excitement and celebration.  My favorite telling of the story is from the Gospel of Luke (chpt. 19).  I love it because the disciples and everyone on the streets are cheering so loud that it makes the Pharisees angry.  They tell the Jesus and his friends to be quiet and Jesus explains that even if they were quiet the rocks would cry out.  I love it!  I love the idea that even the rocks will cry out in praise because Jesus coming into town is that important, that exciting, that awe-inspiring! It always makes me reflect on the role of praising God in my life.  

Today I heard a wonderful sermon on the role of the donkey-giver in the Palm Sunday story.  As I was listening I got to thinking about this donkey.  I get the significance of the donkey in the story as another reminder of Christ's humility.  I get that it would have seemed absurd to the people for their King to come riding into town on it, that it would have made them celebrate all the more that this King was like them....a King for the people!  But then I get to thinking about the donkey.  I'm no cowgirl, but I'm pretty sure that riding a donkey through town in a crowd of people might not go so well.  

I rode a donkey once.  I'm pretty sure it was an act of animal cruelty, but it was to raise funds for something.  I was in high school and it was donkey basketball.  My donkey literally went to the circle in the center of the court and stopped.  He wouldn't move forward or backward.  He was just done.  I tried everything I could think of, only to have him drop his head down and send me to the floor.  I think he was mad that he was supposed to carry around all 5'11" of me.  It became a cycle of getting on, standing still, getting thrown off....getting on....and so on.  He was stubborn.  

I'm stubborn too.  I've been trying really hard lately to be more focused on God's presence in all situations and less on what I want/desire.  I am pretty used to controlling things in my life, and with a great ambition to succeed and for my ministry to succeed I sometimes forget that it's not about being perfect, it's about trusting God and having faith.  This seems to be a lesson I learn repeatedly.  Maybe I'm more like the donkey than I want to be, too stubborn to realize how much God is at work in the details, how each person I encounter has a story that will now be intertwined with mine if only I slow down long enough to let it.  I've also been realizing lately that if we do our best to 'bloom where we're planted' we might be surprised at what God can do.  Rather than always looking ahead to the next big thing, or trying to do something huge to make the world a better place I really believe it's about doing our best where we are, right now.  

Jesus had much more to deal with than a stubborn donkey, he had to constantly deal with stubborn people who didn't want to change, who thought he was too radical, too different.  He didn't follow the rules the way the religious leaders would have liked.  He healed on the Sabbath, spent time with the untouchables, and didn't seem to get discouraged in the face of adversity.  He loved people.  He loved ALL people.  And that is why there was a parade when he rode into town...and a cross waiting for Him at the end of the week.  

If we really want to be like Jesus we can't play it safe.  We can't always be looking for a better church, more money, more power.  If we really want to join in the parade shouting "Hallelujah!  Hosanna in the highest!" we can't be quiet about loving radically.  If we love like Jesus we will be embraced and celebrated in the midst of nasty people who aren't willing to change or embrace the new things God is doing in our midst.  If we want to be like Jesus we must bloom where we're planted.  In the midst of the known God interrupts with Jesus-size-opportunities.  In the midst of the stubborn, wanting-things to-be-a-certain-way-situations, we have to trust the leading of the Spirit more than our own desires or experiences.  

So tonight I'm praying that I'm more like the cheering crowd and less like the donkey.  How about you?  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I'm afraid I'm excited!


Friday is the day our Wesley House mission team heads out to NYC.  It's going to be quite the trip as we come face to face with the reality of homelessness and hunger in the city.  It's going to challenge us to pray with people we've never met.  There's definitely some anxiety brewing these days as we finish up the final details and pack our bags.  It's exciting.  It's a bit terrifying, I suppose.  

I've always loved playing sports.  Part of my love is rooted in this same exciting, fearful tension.  Getting out on the basketball court was so exciting, but there was always a little bit of fear in the mix too, especially as you looked over to the tallest player on the other team.  In volleyball I was pretty much terrified to play in the back row, knowing that I'd have to pass the ball and never being totally sure it would go the way I wanted it to.  But it was SO exciting to be in the front row and be able to pound the ball back in the other team's faces.  (That doesn't sound too pastoral, does it!)  Joy, excitement, and a little bit of fear.  

I imagine the early followers of Christ were filled with this same mix of emotions and adrenaline.  It must have been quite thrilling and a little scary to journey closely with Jesus, or to be a part of the growing movement of Jesus-followers.  Things were certainly tense as the Pharisee's frustrations erupted and tensions grew.  But imagine the sheer joy of the paralytic who could walk, the blind man who could see, the sick who were healed!  

When we choose to live a life of faith in Christ we too encounter many tensions.  In the midst of the most joyous experiences, transforming connections with the Holy Spirit, and sacred moments of worship we are also aware of a world filled with greed, sickness, and death.  We cannot escape the tensions, we are called to be faithful in their midst.  We are called to take those leaps of faith, to trust in God, to rest on those foundation-experiences of Christ's movement in our lives.  We are called out of those comfort zones into the often scary unknown.  

I am excited about the experiences we will have in NYC on this mission trip, but I am even more excited to watch as my student's lives are changed because they willingly step out of their comfort zones.  I realized today that while I have always found my role as a pastor to be a both challenging and wonderful, this gig as a Wesley directly definitely has been the most challenging "job" I've ever had.  At the same time however, the challenges of the job come alongside the greatest movement of the Spirit I've ever experienced.  God's really working in these young lives and it's pretty darn amazing.  

How are you being challenged to step out of your comfort zones?  Where is God calling you to take a leap of faith?  How might the unknown actually offer a time of strength and excitement?  

Let's take the leap.....

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Breathe.


Today being a pastor meant sweeping and mopping floors, cleaning closets, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, preparing for and leading worship, and lots of praying.  Sometimes my days aren't filled with lots of Holy Spirit moments that move mountains.  But it's in these days that I realize how blessed I am to be serving where I do.  It's ok to wash dishes because it means that people have found a meal at the Wesley House.  It's good that the floors are gritty from salty sidewalks because it means that people have found a warm place to study and hang out.  It's ok that the heat is turned up too high upstairs because it means that someone needed a warm place to take a nap and they found that on the couch in our worship space.  

I am reminded often that we live in the Holy Spirit's movement.  These everyday tasks are done with our lungs filled with it, we breathe it in and out.  It is the movement of God in us and around us.  This helps ground me when I get to overthinking things that I can't control.  It helps me stay open and loving during tough conversations and situations.  


The song above is one that we sang in worship tonight.  It's a great song, hope you like it!  As I came home tonight I turned on the debate.  What a fiasco.  I marvel at this process, at the statements that are made, at the people rising up to support Donald Trump.  What is our world coming to?  Yikes. 


And again I am reminded that God is alive, we can have hope for the future.  Thanks be to God. 

And as the song says, "All the Earth will shout your praise, our hearts will cry, these bones will sing.....Great are you Lord!"  I long for that day, how about you?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blessed are the flexible.



At the Wesley House we often say our motto is: "Blessed are the flexible."  I think maybe this should have been one of the Beatitudes.  Something like "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall live a life drama-free."  To find the ability to be flexible in situations can sometimes be really difficult, especially when in our heads we might be saying, "If only they'd listen to me,"  or "my way of doing this would be so much better."  

I wrote recently about our "Alternative Spring Break" Mission Trip to NYC.  These spring break trips are really important to our mission and ministry.  They not only help to open up student's perspectives by visiting a new place and meeting new people, but they allow for intense worship and team-building opportunities.  It is sort of like a spiritual-growth retreat on steroids.  It works.  When we return we are exhausted but we are ready to share about what we experienced and bring back the same passion for service to our campus and community.  For me this trip has meant a ton of planning...and an intentional focus on being flexible and trusting in God.  

Upon returning from Haiti and beginning our new semester in January I received a call that the church that had agreed to host our trip would now be unable to do so.  WHAT?!  You see, finding an inexpensive place for 25 people to stay in NYC was extremely difficult, not to mention the rest of the project-planning and travel plans.  Just when I was ready to begin looking for a different location I remembered that I'd forgotten something pretty important.  


Woe to those who go to great depths    to hide their plans from the Lord,who do their work in darkness and think,    “Who sees us? Who will know?”  Isaiah 29: 15

This Scripture has been a part of our small group study this week.  It is amazing to me, that though I believe God is a part of our very being, I often get to a place of operating on my own.  I can get so busy working for God that I forget to include God.  Can you say, "CONTROL FREAK?"

Right at the end of my mission trip NYC rope I just did a quick Google search and ended up talking with a non-profit that sets up trips like this.  Lo and behold they had a group cancel that day and just the right size of space opened up.  They've planned every detail of a trip that is going to be amazing, uncomfortably challenging, and rooted in prayer at every single detail.  

Lesson learned again...talk with God first.  If we share the desires of our hearts with God first before we make plans we may just encounter something far beyond what we think can happen.  Blessed are the flexible that can trust in a God that cares about even the smallest things in our lives.  

What are you so in control of that you've forgotten to let God in?  

My prayer for those of us who can own our control-freak natures is this:  May the God of 
abundant freedom show us how to release our control, deepen our trust, and live freely into the potential God has for us!