Category Archives: Community

We.

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“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”

— John Donne, from “Meditation 17: Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”

We are all beloved and beautiful. We are all broken. We do things and make decisions that cause hurt, pain, and suffering–for ourselves and for others. We also do things and make decisions that get it right and bring joy and hope to this crazy world in which we live. It’s a mixed bag, but one thing is for certain, we do not do this thing called life alone. Even when we try, we are never truly alone; biology, physics, psychology, and theology provide ample evidence of that.

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You. Me. I. We. All of us are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We even share air. Our matter does not go out of existence, simply changing form. The same sunset (I rarely get up early enough to see a sunrise) I watch is enjoyed by countless others–past, present, and I suspect, future. Whether you have deep faith in a creative and sustaining God, have serious doubts that such a God exists, or choose to believe that everything is random and pointless, you still are not alone. You are not an island.

Dearly beloved, own what is yours. Claim your stuff. Pick up your own baggage (and preferably work your way through it and come out the other side much lighter). Understand that you are responsible for your own decisions and actions, those that are good and those that are harmful. But, in the process, for heaven’s sake, don’t carry others’ baggage for them.

Do not accept blame for that which is not your doing. Do not accept the projection of someone else’s stuff and nonsense to become an image of your own. Do not be beaten down or manipulated by the abusive behaviors and rhetoric of those who would ask you to carry their burdens, accept their blame, and wallow in their muck and misery. This is not your work in life. This is not why you were created and gifted.

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Name that which is not yours to carry. Set it down. Leave it behind–gently, yet firmly. Be angry and hurt. That is part of being human; however, do not carry that bitter baggage for long. It will only poison you and give those who would abuse your good will power that is not earned or deserved. Lay it down. Put it to rest. Commend it to the dust of discarded memory and look to the path that lies ahead.

We are not islands. We are meant to thrive in connection and abundance and joy. We are designed for relationship–right relationship that does not pawn guilt or spawn dis-ease. We are called to co-create, not co-depend. Do not be trapped by those who would abuse you into believing otherwise. Do not believe the lies that are myriad and maddening.

Yes, all of us are broken. This is truth. But, my dearly beloved, I believe with all my heart that the arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice (thank you, Dr. King) and that hope is the thing with feathers (thank you, Miss Dickinson) and that you and I, we, all of us, are meant to soar.

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So collect your broken pieces, beloved, sweep them up and treasure them. Examine their uniqueness and know they have purpose and place in this puzzle we call life. Put them back together like divine Kintsugi–with the gilt of goodness, the cement of courage, and the fire of beauty. You will be stronger in your broken pieces that reform to make a new whole.

There is such beauty in your brokenness restored. There is such hope for the world in your reclaimed flaws. There is such joy in the cosmos when you decide to be fully you. We are not islands, you and I; we are the stuff of stars and the entire cosmos hums within us. We are. Loved. Original. Beautiful. Broken. Yet Enough. Not because of anything we could say or do or even deserve. We are because the Creator of the spangled night sky and the tiniest ant spoke us into creative, connected existence. This is truth that hums and sings and weaves us together.

That’s us, my beloved. We.

 

Photo Credits: S. Blezard, Bill Cuffrey, June’s Child. Creative Commons License. Thank you.

Why Neighboring Matters

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Do you know your neighbors? Can you name the people and pets who live in the houses on your block? Have you shared stories and/or meals with one another?

When we moved to our current neighborhood three years ago, we were determined to get to know as many people as possible. I had just finished reading The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak, so I was motivated to draw a map of our block, post it on our refrigerator, and start being, well, neighborly. Why? Because neighboring matters.

Both my husband and I grew up in neighborhoods where we could leave the house in the morning and play all day with friends. We were welcome in one another’s homes, our parents made sure we were safe and reasonably well-mannered, and neighborhood moms dispensed many a popsicle and Bandaid. Casserole dishes crossed streets and warmed hearts after births or illnesses. We knew about major life events and both celebrated and mourned together.

Neighboring matters because people matter. We are stronger when we work together, when we build relationships and communities. Humans are meant to be connected with one another.

Unfortunately neighboring doesn’t happen automatically. Relationships aren’t built overnight, getting to know folks takes time and effort (as well as trust and vulnerability), and one must actually get out of the house and into the neighborhood to truly be a neighbor.

We’re still working at it in our neighborhood. We know most of the people on our block by name. We watch each other’s cats at vacation time. We exchange gardening tips. We check on elderly neighbors, and we keep an eye on each other’s houses. One young family even hosted “Neighbor’s Table” potlucks last summer, hand-delivering invitations door-to-door. Lots of people walk their dogs, and my husband (an extreme extrovert) is always ready to strike up a conversation.

Our hope is to continue cultivating relationships and growing a neighborhood web of interdependence and friendship that enriches everyone’s life. Are we there yet? Not hardly, but we’re working on it.

What simple things might you do to begin neighboring (or increase your efforts) where you live?

For Further Reading/Reflection:

Check out The Art of Neighboring website and book.

Here’s an interview from NPR with Professor Peter Lovenheim on the value of getting to know your neighbors.

Community Dinners is an interesting take on how a worshiping community decided to get to know its Seattle neighbors through dinner churches and how that has expanded in surprising and wonderful ways.

Check out the story of Sarah and her backyard dining “room” where she connects people and creates community. Here’s her Neighbor’s Table Facebook page.

Photo: Carl Mueller, Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

2017: The Year of Interdependence

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The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.  — Thomas Merton

Citizens of the United States have long prided themselves on their independence, on the notion that anyone can succeed with a firm tug on the old “bootstraps” and a little bit of elbow grease. Unfortunately, that ideal that’s been held so dear and romanticized is not true. We are bit islands unto ourselves with equal opportunity and equal outcome.

Life can be hard. It’s often unfair. Some folks just can’t seem to get a break. Lots of people are left behind. One in five children in America is hungry. It’s tough to earn a living wage. In short, our independence has not served us well to knit a strong fiber of community, a viable safety net, so that all citizens can live decent, relatively secure lives with access to the basics of food, housing, work, and healthcare.

2016 was a particularly contentious year, with the presidential election bringing to light the fears, concerns, and anger of people of both major parties. Many are now hopeful that there will be change for the better. Many now fear that we will suffer greatly. We are a nation divided in our quest for independence and our vision of what it means to be “America.”

In response to last year’s division, I’m going to work this year to lift up examples and possibilities for interdependence in hope that we can all begin in some small ways to work together for the common good. Folks, we need one another. We need to listen. We need to share. We need to tell stories and listen to stories and write stories. We need to open our homes and hearts and minds in ways that move beyond  social media rants and fake news.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have much at all at this point except a desire to make a difference, to be as Gandhi once said “the difference I wish to see.” Will you join me in my quest? Will you commit to finding ways to be interdependent, to knit together our fabric of community in your neighborhoods, workplaces, houses of worship, and families?

I hope so. I think we can have some fun in the process. And I pray we can leave this world in just a little bit better condition–one conversation and one person, one day or hour at a time.

Photo: Nic McPhee (Creative Commons License) Thanks!

Whatever Shall We Do?

Whew! June has been quite the month in the social media and news world. There’s been more than enough of tragedies, disasters, political posturing, and hateful rhetoric, and we still have four days to go. Summer is here, tensions are rising, anxiety is growing, economic disparity is widening, and our elections in the U.S. are less than five months away. What’s a person of faith to do?

Public faith in actionHow about starting with a book discussion this summer? Released last week from Brazos Press, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, is a wonderful new resource to stimulate discussion and provide additional study and resource suggestions.

I just finished reading the book and have already found it useful in sermon preparation, in conversation, and in challenging me to think outside of my own preconceived notions about how the world ought to operate. Volf and McAnnally-Linz make it clear from the start that the book is framed from this basic commitment: “Christian faith has an inalienable public dimension” (3). They argue that Christ must be the center and norm not just of our religious/faith and family lives but also in every aspect of the public sphere in which we move and breathe. Importantly, they encourage readers to see the book as a call to action, that of following Jesus and patterning the entirety of our lives after his example. Jesus was definitely a public figure; as his disciples we, too, are called to be active in public life to work for justice, top seek the common good, and to be God’s hands, feet, and heart in the world.

Public Faith in Action will appeal to a wide range of folks from theological thinkers to folks in the pew who are trying to make sense of the craziness they perceive all around them. The book is divided into three parts: Commitments, Convictions, and Character. The core of the book explores current issues—ranging from wealth and poverty to borrowing and lending, and from life and aging to marriage and family—and identifies relevant Christian convictions while also faithfully exploring ambiguities. Woven throughout are stories that illustrate the markers of character and convictions.

Whatever shall we Christians do about the current state of affairs? We can begin by recognizing that our response is a matter of stewardship, of being responsible for our actions and choices, of spending our time, resources, and talents wisely. It’s about stewarding relationships as we work together to knit the fabric of community through conversation, fellowship, and sharing.

Now get your hands on a copy of Public Faith in Action and read it post haste. But whatever you do, don’t stop there. Engage others in conversation and reflection, ponder what you as a person of faith are being called to do, and then commit yourself fully to act on your convictions for the sake of this beautiful, broken, and beloved world.

Click here to be redirected to the book website. Click here to watch a short YouTube video of Dr. Miroslav Volf discussing the book.

(Image: Courtesy Brazos Press)

Secret Church Shopper Sunday: Epic Fail Edition

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I’m convinced that all churches need “secret shoppers.” Here’s why. Almost every church I work with describes itself as friendly and like “one big family.” It’s easy to feel that way when you’re part of the regular life of the community, but it can be a different story when visitors come ‘a calling.

As a vocational church worker, I hear the laments of congregational leaders and pastors who see dwindling numbers and shrinking offerings. It’s easy to blame such decline on changing culture, on competing congregations with better programs, contemporary worship, modern facilities, and any number of other rationalizations and excuses, but human nature is pretty consistent. Our base needs are the same. We want relationship, we want meaning, we want to be a part of something that makes life better, and like the old Cheers television theme song said, people want to go where they know your name.

Today was one of those rare days when I wasn’t leading worship and/or preaching, so I decided to be a “secret church shopper” and visit a congregation where I could be “incognito.” Unfortunately, what I experienced is pretty typical of declining, dispirited mainline churches. Even sadder: it simply doesn’t have to be this way because we have the best message in the entire cosmos!

Problem:  The first hitch was finding the time of worship and address of the church to plug into my GPS. The congregation that I chose is a small one(mainly because I have a real heart and deep love for small churches). It did not have a website or Facebook page. My iPhone (thank you Siri) found the phone number, and thankfully the worship time was included on the pleasant recorded message.

Solution: Any congregation can have a web presence these days. A Facebook page or group is free, and a simple website can be easily designed and hosted thanks to tools like Weebly, Wix, and WordPress. People rarely use phone books, so save the money you used to spend on a YellowPages ad and get your congregation on the web. Do you want to be found? Do you want to share the gospel with people? Make it happen. No excuses.

Problem: The next problem was simply getting into the worship space. The congregation worships in a beautiful old building–without parking, at least none that I could see. I parked on the street. No problem there. I’m a big girl. There were quite a few options for doors, and I inevitably chose the wrong one. Once I got into the worship space I didn’t see the proverbial greeters proffering bulletins. There were only a few people in the place, and worship was supposed to start in about five minutes. I had to ASK if there were bulletins. Once I asked, I was quickly redirected to the correct entrance where the bulletins were laying on a table. The woman I asked was nice enough, but she didn’t offer to engage me further in conversation.

Solution: If you want to encourage new folks to come in, make it clear where to go. Make sure you have someone to say hello and provide a bulletin or handout if you have them. Make sure the restrooms are clearly marked. Make it easy for guests to become oriented. Smile. Say hello. Act interested that someone new has darkened your door.

Problem: A first time visitor may be leery about where to sit. What if you sit in someone’s personal pew, and they come and shoot you a dirty look or worse ?

Solution: Show hospitality and make sure guests are comfortable. If someone sits in your personal pew–get over it. It won’t kill you to have a different view of worship. I’m bold. I asked if I would be taking someone’s pew before I sat down.

Problem: When there’s less than 30 people in worship on an average Sunday a visitor sticks out like a sore thumb.

Solution: Welcome guests. Say hello. Introduce yourself. If you’re sitting nearby and they look lost in the liturgy, try to help. I had to initiate almost every conversation. You usually get only one or two shots with guests. Make connections. If your community is friendly then show it. Do unto others as you’d like to have someone do unto you. This isn’t rocket science. It’s God’s house, and God wants us to love our neighbors–even if it stretches us outside of our comfort zone.

Problem: After worship, NEVER let a guest stand around looking awkward. Today, I walked out without anyone providing an invitation to return. Not even the pastor asked my name or invited me to come back again.

Solution: Invite them to your next fellowship opportunity.Give them a copy of your newsletter. Invite them back to worship next week. A guest should never walk out of the door without a reason to come back. If you can get their name and address, write them a personal note. (Note: I did put a check in the offering plate, so I’ll be curious to see if someone snags my name and address from that and writes a note.)

I don’t want to be totally down on this congregation. The facility was clean, although a bit worn. In its heyday it must have been quite stunning.  The organist was better than good, albeit a bit loud for the almost empty nave. The pastor’s sermon had some solid points, was pretty easy to follow, and offered a solid challenge to listeners. The hymnody was varied, but there wasn’t much singing going on. They did have communion, and the usher did a nice job of providing me with instructions. The baptismal font, a classic old style, had been retrofitted with a fountain. I love the sound of running water in a font! It always makes me sad to see an empty baptismal font.

Secret Church Shopper Overall Score: One  star out of five.

Even for the seasoned-churchgoer and loyal Lutheran, this congregation exuded little hope and energy. Had anyone invited me to return again, I would have been willing to give the congregation another shot. After all grace abounds, right? Everybody deserves a second chance, and I need Jesus in word and sacrament on a regular basis.

Sadly, I had a better, more meaningful interaction with a lady on the street while I was trying to figure out how to enter the church building. She asked me if I could spare 50 cents. She was gracious, she looked me in the eye with kindness, and in her I saw the face of Christ. True, worship is about God and not about what we can get out of it, but if a visitor has no clue why our gathering as the Body of Christ is any better or different than what can be gotten at the local pub or  Lions Club, then we aren’t doing our job as disciples.

It’s all about relationships, folks. If you want your worshiping community to thrive, it has to be about more than a one hour transaction on Sunday morning and keeping the doors open. It’s about the good news. It’s about God’s love for a broken and hurting world. It’s about radical hospitality, prodigal love, and selfless service. It’s about a different way of living and being in this world.

Here are three words times three to get you started: Welcome the stranger. Welcome the stranger. Welcome the stranger.

Precious in God’s Eyes

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The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes. 
–Psalm 116:15 (Common English Bible)

I attended the funeral of one of our retired pastors this weekend and also learned of the death of a dearly beloved former parishioner. In both cases I was reminded of the briefness of our time here on earth in contrast to the vastness of eternity, along with the impact both of these dear saints had in their respective communities. I did not know the retired pastor; I’m relatively new to this area and to my particular call to serve, but the pastor and family did a wonderful job in word, in song, and in presence of painting a vivid picture of this pastor, father, grandfather, husband, friend, and faithful disciple.

By contrast, I had come to know, to appreciate, and to love Virginia. She was one of those dear saints of God with a twinkle in her eye, a prayer in her heart, and a smile and kind words on her lips. Whenever I visited her in the nursing home, I cam away feeling like I was the one who had been ministered to in the short time of our visit. Oh, and she could tell some powerfully good stories–from her childhood, about our parish, and about her contentment in life and love for her family.

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Early on in my ministry in that small central Pennsylvania parish, Virginia took a fall and almost lost her life. Yet this strong woman rallied. She never quiet got back to her pre-fall physical condition, and the anesthesia and severity of the fall fuzzied things ever so slightly for her, but she was not one to complain. Yes, Virginia knew a thing or two about thanksliving, about how to be grateful for life in all circumstances.

“…for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11b-13 (Common English Bible)

Like Paul wrote to his dear disciples in Philippi, Virginia was strong in her conviction that she would be content with whatever life brought. After it became clear that she would not be able to return home and live independently, she determined to make her room “home in every way.” The staff loved her. She often had half a dozen visitors gathered around her on a Sunday afternoon. And she smiled and made the best of it–even on the rare days when the clouds of physical pain shadowed her face.

One day she told me “I have been trying to remember what my kitchen looks like, and I just can’t any more. I can picture some things, but…” she paused. “I guess it doesn’t matter. This is my home now, and I don’t want my children to feel any guilt about me being here. This is where I need to be.” And how do you answer that as her pastor? There aren’t really any adequate words for that kind of grace-filled living. You just tuck away the lesson and pray you’ll be able to approach life with the same bold resoluteness when it comes your time to “downsize.”

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Virginia also knew more than a few things about love. She taught me some wonderful lessons about the power of the human spirit to adapt, to accept, and to thrive. She was way ahead of her time when it came to issues of inclusion and social justice. Her approach to such issues was always wrapped in love and the sure and certain knowledge that her Lord didn’t come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:16-17) and that love covers pretty much everything. Oh, and with her love for flowers and all things living, she took to heart the words that God created everything and proclaimed it “good.”

Now lest you think I’m painting a grief-tinted overly positive picture of this dear saint, let me put your mind to rest. I also spent time with Virginia when she was in deep pain, when she was afraid, and maybe even once or twice a bit miffed and irritated. She was, just like the rest of us, simultaneously saint and sinner, but nonetheless redeemed and being made righteous with every passing day.

And now she, like so many beloved saints before her, has attained the prize, has taken that one step we all have to take alone, and has crossed into eternity and the vast cosmos that cannot begin to contain the love and mercy of God. She’s on that mountain with a feast spread before her in the presence of God. There is no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow. She has what we who are still here only grasp at and see dimly by our fragile faith.

Her death–passing from this life to eternity–leaves a hole, a rip in the fabric of all whose lives she touched. Her family, friends, and fellow disciples will mourn, and that includes me. Yet, at the same time, I for one will give fervent thanks for her life and for the lessons she taught simply by being Virginia. Thanks be to God for all the strong women and men who are now part of that great cloud of witnesses. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Photos: Internet Book Archive, Creative Commons

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Why Lights, Plumbing, & HVAC are “Sexy”

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Once upon a time, when commiserating with a colleague about how much more difficult it is to raise funds to support the operating budget instead of designated projects, he looked at me with that all-wise, uber-experienced senior advancement professional gaze and said, “Lights, plumbing, HVAC, and salaries just aren’t sexy.”

“Well, duh. Now what am I supposed to do with that nugget of knowledge?” I remember thinking. Whatever in the world is one to do when faced with meeting a budget, a mission plan, or fund-raising goal that includes the basics of maintaining a structure and paying people do do certain tasks? Sure, there are plenty of academic articles, how-to guides, and collective wisdom gathered about this topic, but not a one of them changes the bottom line: People want to give to things that make a real difference.

In most folks’ reality, paying to keep the lights on, the toilets flushing, and the heating or air-conditioning pumping is just not connected to alleviating starvation, educating children, or sharing the gospel with a hurting world. Plus, if you’re a donor who is motivated by naming opportunities, having your little brass plaque on the new handicap-accessible restroom door or on the side of the enormous heat pump doesn’t carry the same cachet as adorning the new library door or funding a memorial garden.

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Many donors also figure that salaries and benefits are not high priorities. Shouldn’t the regular offering or annual budget be sufficient to cover that? Why do we need to pay so much for those line items anyway? If you think about it, it makes some sense. I want to maximize my hard-earned giving dollars, too. I want them to be used responsibly and ethically and for the good of as many people as possible.

Although I still chafe a bit at connecting the notion of charitable giving with the idea of making it “sexy,” I understand what that fundraising professional was trying to get through my youthful idealistic head. You have to tell the story of why something or someone is worthy of support, and you must make a compelling argument for every last penny. Why does X, Y, or Z really matter?

For me, keeping the lights on, the plumbing in working order, and the staff paid a living wage are “sexy” because without a solid foundation the chances of long-term viability are pretty poor. HVAC may be a bit more negotiable depending on your locale, but the principle is the same. If you take care of the basics, you can do a lot more in the long run with your vision and mission. The unsung heroes and heroines in my mind are the folks who hear the stories, comprehend the need, understand the mission, and give where the need is greatest–even if that means their gift provides insurance for a staff member for one month so that he or she can be productive and effective without worry.

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This means the bottom line, folks, is that we have to do an excellent job of making our case and telling our stories. Sloppy work, hastily constructed narratives, and sweeping assumptions won’t cut it. A story must be an irresistible one that draws us in. People want to give and make a difference. People are at the core generous; this I believe. It’s just that there are so many competing messages and claims out there, that we who lead and serve in faith-based and non-profit communities and programs have to find a way to stand out above the din of consumer culture and the busyness of daily life.

Tell your story. Tell it clearly and well. Keep it simple. Make sure you really believe in your cause and in why you’re doing what you are doing. And don’t forget to ask for what you need–even if it’s those precious dollars to fund the basics. Ask with expectation and without apology. If you do this well, and you’re on target, the results may surprise you–“sexy” or better yet, just plain good.

Photo: Julian Povey, donorstibet, and Alex Holyoake, Creative Commons. Thanks!

Giving in Spite of…

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One of the things we so often hear about the church is that people today don’t need it. For a lot of folks what the church seems to offer just isn’t relevant.

Millennials are pretty clear about this. Recently I heard several young adults who fall into this age-descriptive category say things along these lines: “I don’t need the church to be a good person.” “Why should I go hang out in a building and sit, stand, kneel, sit stand, sit, stand” and sing songs that I hate?” “When I went, it seemed like people were just going through the motions.” “I can give and make a difference without doing it through an institution; in fact, I’d rather give directly to a cause.”

For those of us who are engaged in vocational church work, and for Christians who cherish their faith communities and traditional North American way of being Christ’s body, this can be pretty tough to hear. What we value, what we treasure, our traditions and rituals, and our ideas and images of the sacred, just don’t always cut it any more. Our wineskins (to use one of Jesus’ images) are getting pretty old and brittle.

Instead of becoming defensive and trying to shift the blame onto those outside of our circles, why not embrace the reality that a few things may have to give (or perhaps even more than a few!) in order for the body to get moving again? Christ is the same today as yesterday and tomorrow. The old, old ancient story is true. It’s just the packaging and the marketing that are looking raggedy and worn around the edges.

Christ will keep on loving and giving in spite of these facts. Christ will continue to pour himself out in word, in wine and bread, and in the faces of the hungry, the lost, ,and the marginalized. Christ will continue to be present. No matter what we choose to do or not do the gift goes on. This is very good news!

Now about change and relevance; well, we’ll save that for another day. Thanks be to God.

Hold Lightly–and then LET GO!

Travel Lightly

Have you ever pondered just how little you really need? I have, and the answer never fails to surprise me. I always need less than I really think I do.

This month I’m participating (lurking mostly) in a Facebook group called “The Month of 100 Things 2014.” The idea behind the group is to support one another in the process of removing 100 things (or more) from one’s life, belongings, and possessions. The convener is one Dawn Rundman–teacher, writer, presenter, and senior editor at Augsburg Fortress Publishers, where she develops resources for children. She’s also a musician, spouse, and mother; in other words, she’s one busy woman.

Even the busiest among us can stand to shed some stuff, and most of us can ditch 100 things without batting so much as one eyelash. The problem is that there’s a lot of fear and insecurity in getting rid of possessions. We start to worry and ask questions: What if I need it? What if it’s valuable? What if those hideous trousers really do come back into fashion? Fretting about the questions allows us to avoid coming to terms with the process that’s really a very healthy one.

The key is to “hold lightly” to our possessions, realizing that we really don’t own anything anyway. Everything simply passes through our hands for our use, enjoyment, and (if we’re doing things right) for the betterment of our world. God created all of it, and we get to use it for a time. It’s all about love, grace, stewardship, and faith.

Last time I checked not even the Pharaohs managed to take their belongings with them to the afterlife, but people keep on trying to hang on for dear life to the detritus of life itself. Divorce proceeding become bitter battles over such seemingly insignificant arguments over who gets to keep the Smurf jelly jar glass collection. Really?

So how does one train oneself to hold lightly in a world that proudly proclaims “he or she who dies with the most toys wins”? It takes practice and effort and the power of supportive community.

The joy of learning to hold lightly is that it makes a person more generous. If you’re willing to share your stuff, you’re well on your way to a glad and generous heart. So here’s a project for this week…

Get rid of three things each day. Just three things. That’s only 21 items for the entire week. Either give or toss each item, but preferably give so that someone else may benefit from the use of an item you no longer need or want. If you find you want to do more look up the 100 Things facebook group and ask to join.

I hope you’ll take the time to share this idea and to comment below about your experience. Want a little motivation to get started? Read Matthew 6:25-34. And then…just LET GO! Three things. Seven days. One week. You can do this! We can do this!

Photo: Alice Popkorn, Creative Commons

Just Breathe…and be Generous

The car hemorrhage

Bye, bye transmission!

Some days it can be tough to live with a spirit of generosity. Things happen. Details derail. Complications come up. What’s that old saying about the best laid plans?

It’s when our carefully laid plans or hopes and dreams are sidetracked that generosity becomes even more difficult. We look inward and focus on what’s wrong or what did not go as planned. Ironically, it’s at these frustrating moments in life when a spirit of generosity can be even more important.

Try this: The next time something inconvenient derails your daily plans, take a deep breath and take stock of your situation. Are you safe? Are you alive (well obviously if you’re doing this exercise)? Was anyone hurt? Will the world as you know it end because of what happened?

Most of the time the answer to all of these questions will put you in a frame of mind to be grateful–or at least help you to reflect on the situation more realistically. So your friend had to cancel lunch; maybe the dog could use an extra walk or you could use some quiet time. Maybe locking your keys in the car really isn’t the end of the world. Even not getting that job you thought you wanted so badly might have a silver lining before you realize it.

So how is this being generous? By being generous with yourself and with the situation, you allow yourself to be present in the moment. You open yourself to the possibility of thankfulness. You become aware of options that could have been oh so much worse.

A few weeks ago, my husband’s transmission blew in the driveway. It looked like a scene from “Garage CSI” complete with an undercarriage “bleed-out.” We had just moved to a new neighborhood and started new jobs. Fortunately, my husband caught one of our new neighbors at home who recommended a good garage and an excellent mechanic.

Getting to know this new mechanic has been a real blessing. He’s done an awesome job–both with putting in a good used transmission and with getting the transmission on our other car back in good order, too. Yes, we ended up spending what for us was a LOT of money. Yet as we look back and reflect on the situation we feel incredibly grateful. If this had happened a few months ago we might not have had the income stream to address it so readily. If the car had blown somewhere else, we might never have met this fine mechanic.We are grateful, and feeling grateful inspires us to be more generous in other ways because we recognize the extent of our blessings.

The flow of generous spirit–from my spouse who didn’t allow the situation to unsettle him, to the neighbor who was willing to help, to the mechanic who did amazing work–that same spirit of goodness and blessing keeps rolling on today and helps us to give thanks every day for our lives, for our blessings, and for the ability we have to make a difference for others by paying these blessings forward.

Ready for chemo in 2004 with a pony tail for Locks of Love

Chemo-bound in ’04 with ponytail for Locks of Love

Sure, not every situation can be solved as easily as a Chrysler van transmission, but even a grave illness or major life loss can be an opportunity to experience the amazing flow of generosity that’s part of life when we let it be. I can honestly look back almost a decade ago and say that my experience with breast cancer has left me with a more generous spirit, a more grateful heart, and joys I could have never imagined at the time of diagnosis.

So, dear friends, when life “gets your goat” and threatens to plan a pity party for you, STOP. Just breathe. Allow the spirit of generosity, of being present in the moment, and the joy of being alive wash over you. You, with the help of friends, neighbors, and the Creator of the Universe, can handle anything–somehow, some way. And looking back in that proverbial “rear view mirror” of experience, I can promise the perspective will probably look a whole lot different than it did in the midst of whatever happened. It may not be perfect (it might really stink), but you will find blessings. In turn, you can be generous with others and make this world a much better place.

Blessings on the new week that lies ahead.