Thursday, March 29, 2007

Surprise Me!

I've been teaching a curriculum designed to introduce young adults to the church. (see
Here's a story from the last lesson, on vocation:

All of his life Tim had been going to church and knew that God
loved him, had called him in Holy Baptism, and had important
work for him to do in this world. He had been in a continuing
conversation with his pastor about how to know the will of God
for his life. Now he was 30 years old, married with three young
girls, and still struggling to know the will of God for his life. He
decided to sign up for a discernment seminar offered by his
church and began to pray for direction from God with more fer-
vor than ever before. When he showed up for the seminar, his
pastor noticed that he was relaxed in the way he responded to the
participants as they shared their own stories about what they were
going to do with the rest of their lives. Finally it was Tim’s turn
and he said: “You know, all of my life I have wanted to do what
God wanted me to do. I’ve asked over and over, ‘Lord what do
you want me to do with my life?’Then the other day, after I
signed up to do this workshop, I prayed again, ‘Lord, what do you
want me to do with my life?’And it was like the voice of God
came down from heaven and said: ‘Well hell Tim, what do you
want to do with your life? I’ve been working with you now for 30
years. Surprise me.’”

I just love this image of a God who will say, "Well, hell, what do YOU want?" Yes, God calls us to particular tasks and ministries, but God uses what we have to do them, including our own interests and desires, also gifts of God. God uses who we are, where we are, when we are, and what we have to do ministry. It's a holy calling because we are God's holy people. It doesn't mean anything goes, but it does mean that God trusts us to BE the body of Christ in the world, to carry the love of God into the world, to let the Spirit blow through us into the world. When we are in relationship with God, we recognize God's voice (like those sheep in John 10) and can figure out the difference between God's desires and our own, when there is a difference. Disciples learn, and when we live with God we learn how to be God's faithful people. We can shape our own lives and do things in our own way, knowing that we are God's, and we won't be too far away from God's desires.

Our vocation is what we do with who we are as children of God. God has surprised us by loving us in the first place; now it is our turn to surprise God.

Monday, March 26, 2007

New Favorite Book: Leaving Church

My Lenten discipline has been to read more; I'm trying to read a book a week. (This week I'll greatly surpass that, preparing for the seminary course I'm teaching, but those aren't books that are normally found in my "I wish I had time to read these" pile.)

I recently finished reading "Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith" by Barbara Brown Taylor. Now, this woman can write or speak anything and it's worth listening to/reading. I AM NOT CONTEMPLATING LEAVING THE CHURCH, so don't panic. The book was recommended to me by several friends who are on leave or retiring, so I read it. And it's great. It may not have a strong hook for people who are not steeped in the church, or church work, or "get" what it means to pastor, but for us who do it's a great read.

Here's a quote:

"Most of us do not live holy lives, after all. We spend most of our time sitting in traffic, paying bills, and being irritated with one another. Yet every week we are invited to stop all of that for one hour at least. We are invited to participate in a great drama that has been going on without us for thousands of years, and one that will go on as long as there is a single player left standing." (p. 161)

I'm teaching a course for Theological Education for Emerging Ministries at LSPS this semester, a course on what it means to be the church, so this quote jumped out at me. As much as the church tries to be "counter-cultural" and "culturally relevant" at the same time, here's a reminder that when we gather on Sunday we GET to be abnormal for awhile, to leave normal at the door and just bask in being people of God. It's one hour of Sabbath in a world that doesn't allow us our full day, usually.

I find this to be true even as the worship leader, the one responsible for "everything" (and I'm REALLY good at taking that responsibility!). There are many things I do in the course of the week, all for the sake of the gospel, in my intention, at least. Some are more, some less, glamorous or meaningful. But in worship even I am someone different than I am the rest of the week. I do worship when I lead worship; I join my prayers with those of the congregation, I take my place at the table; I remember my baptism, I sing my heart out. For one hour life becomes a holy thing in a way that I know it's true. For one hour I remember that it doesn't really depend on me, theologically or practically. For one hour I take all the attention from God that I can get, and don't feel selfish or undeserving about it. Honestly, one hour can't possibly be enough; but mysteriously, it is.

Read the book; it would be better than reading my quotes from it. But I'll leave you with my favorite line:

"Salvation happens every time someone with a key uses it to open a door he could lock instead." (p. 115)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Discipline: to learn

My spiritual director, for the second year in a row, has informed me that I have chosen the wrong Lenten discipline. Now, I think I should know myself well enough to know what I need, but she's always right. I guess I'm going for something I think I "should" want or need, rather than what I *actually* need.

Last year I was fasting, as I have done for 20 years. The problem was I was allrleady so depressed that I was spiritually malnourished, and depriving my body of energy even for one day was too much. I got sick. So I had to abandon that (but I still did it on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday).

This year, I had decided to hide myself away for a whole day (4-6 hours, at least while the kids were at school) and READ. This was inspired by a colleague who took a 30 day sabbatical, during which time he remained silent and read a book a day. I was hoping to read a book a week for these 6 weeks.

However, I'm an extrovert. 100 % extrovert, in fact, the last time I took a Myers-Briggs indicator. This means, of course, that I need PEOPLE. I need to be near people, I need to interact with people, I need to borrow energy from people. Not person, just one at a time, but people. I'm generally a "more the merrier" kind of person. So, she said I can take a book to read, but I have to go to a public and busy place, not to a monastery--she pointed out that I WORK in a monastery setting every day, being the only person in my building except for Sunday mornings. She's right, I know she's right.

So, my new Lenten discipline is to create a group for myself that will meet regularly. I can't re-create chapel at TLU (150 people interacting for 15 minutes--I loved it!) or the busy-ness of campus life, but I can find where people are and hang out there. And I can invite some to be in a group with me.

Sometimes you know something about yourself, but not what to do about it. Lesson learned. And I'm still going to read those books!