Vacation for the Soul: Prayer

There are thousands of books on prayer. Millions of references and chapters in books as well as printed prayers that have covered thousands of years. And still, I struggle, I believe we all struggle with prayer.

Sometimes my prayers and my time with God seems simple and grace-filled. God feels so near to me. Other times, my prayer life is dry, God seems distant. Or, if I am honest, I am just not very happy with God or just plain angry. I am deeply grateful that God doesn’t seem to mind. Going back to last Sunday’s sermon, God longs to be in a deep relationship with me and with you and is inviting us to come home in both our joys and sorrows, our highs and lows, our angry and our grief.

This was a sermon I fought all week. I don’t know if it didn’t want to be written or if the pain of the world or the juxtaposition of lectionary texts with the celebrity deaths made this particular articulation of the Word more difficult.

Of course the sermon was preached, but preachers everywhere know some sermons are more of struggle to write and preach than others. What is odd to me, is that I never know what week it will hit or which sermon I am going to have to wrestle out of my heart and spirit.

Here is what I do know. It is an incredible privilege to preach the Word each week. I am in awe after all these years, that the fire within the bones (as Ezekiel describes it) still burns. Wrestling with text, struggling with how it relates now in this time and place, and meandering through the highs and lows of life itself is a gift. Prayer is what makes it real, what weaves the pondering and questions and the fear, the bits and dabs of faith together. The whole of today’s worship service can be found here.

My prayer is that this week you might have a vacation for the soul and find the time and space to reconnect to the God who loves you.

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Broken Lives, Beautiful Treasure

This morning I was awoken to the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death. The article stated he had taken his own life. On Tuesday, it was Kate Spade who had committed suicide. Both were high profile and successful people. On Tuesday the outpouring of anguish over a woman who changed the fashion industry. And now today, more grief over a man who lived a life of adventure and food and opened up culture and dining in a way no one else had done.

People are tweeting their grief, and social media posts are being filled with the National Suicide Hotline number (1-800-273-8255.) I am not against posting that number or the hashtags that come out of the shock and grief. I am always shocked by suicide. I know there is not a one size fits all to those who are clinically depressed, bullied, those with post traumatic stress disorder, those who suffer from debilitating anxiety and a multitude of other mental illnesses.

I will not pretend I have any answers. I don’t. Each situation is unique and those who choose death can only be in such mental anguish and pain and maybe physical as well that I can not imagine what they are going through. Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain had many resources and still were in anguish. In today’s Wichita Eagle, the top news story was “Kansas Suicide Rate up 45% since 1999.” Add the fact that this morning it was also reported that Emily Glass, a woman who was a person of interest in the Lucas Hernandez death was found dead of a gunshot wound and it is being investigated as a suicide bears witness to this growing issue.

How do we live in a world so filled with hopelessness? The family, friends and loved ones left behind are devastated and lives are forever changed. Wracking their brains, wondering what clues were missed and emotionally broken, those left behind must figure out to continue to live and love in the pain of their unexpected loss. The emotions  are so complex.

I had planned a different blog for today. This Sunday in worship we are focusing on prayer and using that amazing imagery from Paul, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-9) It is obvious to me that some people are crushed, driven to despair and destroyed so much that they can not see or know the treasure that they are.

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This chalice was broken years ago. I found it broken on my book shelf. It was my first communion set. I have kept it and when decorating an altar I tape it back together. I have thought about how this has a different usage, now that it is broken. I pondered how I have my own broken pieces, cracks in my life that remind me I am not perfect, in fact I filled with nicks and bruises and maybe a few pieces knocked out. When I laid it down to take a picture, without any sense of what I was doing, a light reflected off the wood and through that broken piece.

I became caught up in “we have this treasure in clay pots.” Maybe Paul used that imagery because clay can be nicked, broken, and cracked. Perhaps our best sharing or witnessing comes out of those cracks and our brokenness. As a person and a pastor, I am left wondering about all those people who don’t believe they are a treasure,  only feeling the chunk that has fallen out of their lives and only know those cracks. How can I be more intentional, more loving, more grace-filled so that others can know that deep and abiding love and grace of God? What opportunities do I miss?

Sometimes I believe we as Christians miss chances to be real, to be authentic. We love to show the perfect person, all happy and joyful in the love of Jesus. That perfection and happiness can be a shield and barrier. We forget to share that we are all broken in some way, sick in body and spirit. We don’t talk enough about mental illness. Mental illness, like any physical illness is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact encouraging people in love and grace includes offering whatever help is available. I am committed to finding ways to make sure resources are available for everyone. I am committed to being more aware and intentional around the issues of mental illness and depression.

I know and believe God can do beautiful things out of the broken pieces of people’s lives. We have this treasure, this unique and unrepeatable spirit, placed in these fragile and breakable bodies. Out of the brokenness of our lives, God can and will bring beauty, hope and light.

In many churches, there are stained glass windows. Those windows are made out of broken pieces of glass. When it is dark, nothing can be seen. But when the light shines the intricate colors and designs are breathtaking. I believe it is the same with my life and yours. Out of the broken pieces and cracks and heart break, God can create something stunning and amazing. I often let the darkness settle in, so I miss the treasure that is within me. Jesus one said, “you don’t hide a light under a basket….you are the light of the world.” When the love and grace of God is reflected through my brokenness, light shines forth.

I believe in each of you. God will make something beautiful out of the broken and cracked pieces of your life. You are a treasure, filled with extraordinary power and grace. If you ever need me to listen, please reach out so I can remind you how wonderful and beautiful you are.

 

 

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Vacation For the Soul: Sabbath

I started a new sermon series today “Vacation for the Soul.” As a discipline I have pushed myself back to using the lectionary most Sundays. It connects me ecumenically to other Christians and it encourages me to wrestle with texts I might not always preach if given my own choice.

I also preach series, so I wanted to pay attention to what it means to feed and water the soul if you will this summer. Vacation! Summer time invites long evenings on the deck or porch or on the water. These moments during those long lingering days allow for enjoyment of family and friends.

It dawned on me that the spiritual practices or disciplines that are classic or traditional to our faith are mini vacations for the soul, time spent apart from our everyday life. In music it is the rest or the pause that create space for both the composer and musician to create something deep and moving. In Judeo-Christian history and tradition we call that moment, that pause, that time, Sabbath.

Now I am the first to admit I am terrible at keeping Sabbath. (here is a little secret for those who don’t know or haven’t caught on, I tend to preach to myself and if anyone overhears all the better!) Sunday, obviously is not a day of rest for me, but I claim Friday as my Sabbath. I have Jewish friends that as Friday evening descends, their televisions are unplugged, their phones and tablets are silenced or turned off or turned on to airplane mode. Their computers are turned off as well. They create and eat a meal together and either attend services Friday evening or Saturday morning. They walk, they talk, they read, they play board games with their children. They observe and keep the sabbath as honoring of God.

I actually on occasion turn off my phone, tablet and computer on Friday. More likely, I check my e-mails at least a couple of times, I might not answer them, but I know what is in my inbox. I usually try to avoid checking the news, but I am not always successful. I tend to see how much I can get done on “my day off.” Sabbath? Not usually.

Today in worship we heard again from Deuteronomy 5: “Observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” In my sermon I noted that this was never to be a burden or a punishment but a gift from God. I quoted Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath (it is THE book on sabbath that every other book cites.) In it, he reminds us that in Genesis that God finished his work on the seventh day, in Exodus in six days God made the heavens and the earth. On the seventh God rested, but according to Heschel, creation was not yet finished. On the seventh day God created the Sabbath. “What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose.”

Wow, what a gift we need today. Or maybeI need Sabbath peace, tranquility, rest and serenity. “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.” (Heschel)

For the next few weeks the study guide I write will include a spiritual practice each day. This week will focus on Sabbath moments. The study guide is linked above and available each week on our website or through our new church app. We will be gathering for prayer each week in our Chapel on Wednesdays. It will begin at 12:10 and be finished by 12:40. Lead by different people each week, they will invite us into practicing a different spiritual practice that we studied on Sunday.

If you would like to participate in the worship or listen to the sermon the link to Sunday’s service is here .  I believe that God longs for my presence and your presence. God is leaving the door open, the table set, the wine cup poured and misses us so much when we don’t take time to visit, to listen and to be blessed again by love and grace. We are the children of the Divine and we are being invited: “Come home, Come home, I am waiting for you my beloved child, I love you.”

“On the seventh day, You, O Lord, created rest, So that I, made in your image and through your love, might be made whole in the joy and the peace of your Sabbath gift.” (Doris P. Hand-Glock, alive now! July/Aughts 1989)  Amen and Amen.

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Here Am I, Lord, Send Me

Today, is the thirtieth anniversary as an elder in the United Methodist Church. On May 31, 1988, I waddled up the stairs in Sam’s Chapel at Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina, Kansas. Waddled, literally, I was seven months pregnant with my son Joshua.

The elders that accompanied me up those stairs (which had the wobbliest hand rail) were Portteus Latimer (who was in her 80’s and one of the early, early women who pioneered in the Methodist Church) and Elsie Crickard who also pregnant and who would give birth to her daughter the next day.

My mother and family arrived a bit late and had to sit in the balcony. She shared me that as my name was called and I began to climb those stairs to the stage someone whispered dramatically, “She’s pregnant!” and then as Elise began climbing the stairs, “oh my God there are two of them!” I have smiled over that memory more than once.

I began preaching in 1982 as a full time licensed local pastor, went to seminary and while in seminary was ordained a deacon in 1985. My district committee on ordained ministry had to come to my home for my interview to be approved to go the conference committee because I had given birth to my daughter, Kristin, the week before. The stained glass window I use in my blog from First United Methodist Church helps me remember that first ordination as it was held there.

I was so young and excited and awed and blessed to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I had such hopes for the future.   I knew that the world was changing and the church was becoming more inclusive and more and more women were entering seminary and being ordained. I believed the time was coming when we would fully embrace the gifts our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters would bring to the community of faith. Even as I attended the 1988 General Conference in Saint Louis and saw the long road ahead, I believed that the winds of the Spirit were moving.

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Since that day, I have worn this stole and the gold dove with pride. The red stole was put on me on that night thirty years ago. The gold dove was a gift from my family with the date engraved on the back. I wear it each year on this day and during annual conference. If I participate in ordination, I wear this particular stole. I have other red ones, but this one connects me to each ordination class and my own.

Fast forward thirty years. I am not so young, but still excited and awed and blessed to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I have been honored and privileged to baptize dozens of babies and youth and adults, confirm many into life of faith, perform dozens if not hundreds of weddings and funerals. I have been blessed to be invited into the most intimate moments of peoples lives and be the incarnational presence of God. Women are in leadership as bishops, district superintendents, conference leaders, general secretaries and senior pastors of large churches. There are many young women entering the ministry and they continue to embrace the call.

I am a bit more realistic as to how quickly the world changes, however. In fact I grieve that some things have not changed at all in thirty years. We still exclude our called gay and lesbian friends as pastors. The United States and many other countries in the world recognizes marriage between same gender couples, but as pastors we are denied the honor of presiding at such services. It saddens me to the core.

Still, here am I. I have written several blogs about not going away, not being willing to stop working for the changes in the church I love. The United Methodist Church has been good to me, I have served churches as small as 8, to the large church I serve now. I have loved and delighted in being a pastor and sharing the good news of God’s love with others. I am deeply grateful to have been entrusted with the care of the congregations I have served since 1982.

As I wear my dove today, I remember those hands on my head and on my shoulders. I remember the excitement and fear, the energy and love and faith I had that God would use me to build the kingdom, the reign that Jesus had promised. I still believe. Sometimes a little weary and worn, sometimes a little bit angry and anxious, but determined and trusting that God is not done with me or with the United Methodist Church I love.

Here am I, Lord, send me.

 

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A Peculiar Pentecost

What an interesting few days it has been. I missed the first reports of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. I often try to stay away from e-mails, social media and news on Fridays. It is my day off, and doing something other sitting in front of the computer is what I usually do. I planted flowers, weeded the vegetable garden and generally attempted to not sit in front of a screen.

By the middle of the day I had checked in, saw the news and was dumbfounded. Again, I thought. Again? I turned away from the computer. I posted nothing, I had nothing else to comment on top of all the other comments.  Later that night I“` saw a twitter post from the Reverend Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. On Thursday night they hosted a high school graduation and there was a shooting in their parking lot. Good grief!

On Saturday morning I was up before dawn. The rest of the world was up for a royal wedding. I had no intention of watching, but my alarm goes off every morning at 5:45. Our local NPR station plays BBC Radio until 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays and 8:00 a.m. on Sundays. Well, of course it was all about the wedding. Right about 6:00 Andrew said to me, well should we get up and watch. We are awake. So we did.

Of course, the Royal wedding was everything it was expected to be. The dress and the bride were beautiful, the music heavenly, the liturgy properly dignified. This wedding though, was a brilliant mix of old world and new world, of African American Church and Anglican liturgy, of sacred and dignified moments and powerful and amazing preaching.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of American, the Most Reverend Michael Curry preached a moving, poignant, and powerful sermon on love. The full text of his sermon and a link to the video can be found here.

One can can criticize the scale of the wedding, or the shallowness of those who watched and are caught up in the romance of a mixed race woman from the United States marrying a British prince. I suppose one could even criticize the Bishop’s sermon as too long (fourteen minutes).

Me? I was captivated by Bishop Curry’s sermon. As I watched, it appeared his style made some uncomfortable, I have heard him preach in person, and it was toned down some without being fake. He truly preached consistent to his style, his ethics and his beliefs. I have to believe that was exactly what Meghan Markle wanted, along with a gospel choir. This spanned the ocean and the cultures of African American and British Caucasian.

This American Episcopal Bishop, an ancestor of slaves, preached love. Radical love. Powerful love. Life changing, world transforming love. Afterwards, what did people talk about? Love. God’s love for the whole world. In that sense, what is more “pentecostal” than that? People in different countries, with different faith expressions and understanding, in different languages talking about God and God’s love.

I mentioned all of that today in my sermon for Pentecost Sunday. We celebrated and honored our scholarship recipients and graduates. I quoted Bishop Curry and noted that Pentecost long ago took place in a world that was uncertain and violent. Yet God’s Spirit came with fire and wind to forever change lives and transform the world. You can watch the service here.

I am going to spend this week pondering that Pentecost Power and how God’s Spirit might make that love and grace real in my heart and spirit. May you experience that same Spirit as well.

 

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Sent as Witnesses

We hit the final Sunday of Easter after a very interesting week, in the United Methodist denomination as a whole and as a local church. I addressed the failure of two constitutional amendments in two separate blogs Not Stopping me! And Not Stopping me! Part II  The news of Mead’s Corner, our coffee shop closing was icing on the cake.

So we come to the last Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday AND Mother’s Day. It can be a challenge to figure out how to fit it all in as a worshipping community. For me, the importance was to give voice to the challenge and command of Jesus that we are witnesses and to acknowledge that it is not always easy. Stuff happens, but fortunately God is there in the midst.

You can find the entire worship service here. The Chancel Choir was amazing with their anthem Who Will Be a Witness and Chris Kliewer sang It is Well with My Soul. And it is well with my soul! I am sure that what seems to be a movement to deny equality is but a bump in the road in the whole scheme of things. I remind myself that things change ever so slowly and everytime it seems that the move for justice has stopped, it is just a roadblock that must be dismantled or gone around. In the words of Julian of Norwich, “All will be well and all manner of things will be well.”

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Not Stopping Me! Part II

On Wednesday evening, I wrote Not Stopping me! out of fatigue and sadness and grief. I wondered the next day whether or not I should have written or shared what I did. I felt vulnerable and not only weary, but a bit angry as well.

I need to be clear that I do not feel like the United Methodist Church has as a whole treated me badly. I have been amazingly upheld in my ministry and my gifts. Some folk, men and women talk of “bad appointments.” I have never had one. I have had some churches and communities where I have learned some hard lessons, dealt with difficult decisions personally and with the churches I have served. Bad appointments? Not at all, I have loved every church and community I served since 1982. The Kansas  West and now Great Plains conference has been extremely good to me. I have broken a couple of glass ceilings by being the first woman senior pastor.

There have always been people in each place that were “against” or “opposed” to women preachers. I was once called a “petticoat preacher” which made me smile. I have joked over the years I never went anywhere they actually “wanted me” as a woman. And that is true. I supposed I should have been offended, but perhaps I am too arrogant or certain enough of my calling and ability to not be hurt or stopped by comments or defensive positions that do not mean anything to me. I always figured it was about the people who said such things or held such positions, not me.

It is also true what I wrote a few days ago. I have always been aware that what I do or don’t do matters. Men can fail and no one ever says don’t send another man. If a woman makes a mistake or crashes and burns, it is often said “please don’t send us another woman.” I am sure that is not said as often as it was when I started ministry, but, there is still that sense that what I do matters for all the women who will follow me. And I say that from a position of privilege as an anglo woman, I can not imagine how difficult it must be for women of color.

In an interesting twist on the two constitutional amendments that failed to gather the necessary 2/3’s majority to be ratified, it appears that amendment one was sent out with incorrect wording. You can read the story here.  So now, all the Annual Conferences will have to revote on Amendment 1, and those who have already met will vote next time they meet.

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up! It doesn’t take away the pain of that first vote. Several people have asked in one way or the other, why stay? Why should I stay if my beloved United Methodist Church can’t uphold the equality of women as human beings?

I suppose I am too stubborn to stop. I don’t want to go away. Methodist theology speaks of grace in such a deep way for me. I have used humor for a long time to deal with the push back against equality and inclusivity. More so, I have believed that grace will ultimately lead everyone home, even those who would restrict access to that grace.

Yesterday on twitter Leonard Sweet posted (and I reposted) “Every person you meet is hurting deep inside from something. Go gentle into this good day.” How I needed that word. The church I serve had made a very difficult decision to close our coffee shop at the end of July. Mead’s started ten years ago at time when Downtown Wichita was just in the beginning of revitalization. Mead’s was part of that, and with that meant the lease increase became unsustainable. Some want to blame the owners, but I don’t. The truth is Mead’s was part of what made downtown much more valuable and lucrative and desirable. There is nothing wrong with that. I suppose we could “blame” ourselves. I don’t blame anybody, but it was one more thing to make the week difficult emotionally and spiritually for me.

Grace is gentle, loving and tender with so many who are hurting deep inside. Those who were deeply wounded by the non-ratification of two constitutional amendments in the United Methodist Church. Grace is gentle, loving and tender to those who are haunted by past sexual abuse and violence, by those who continue to feel the door shut to the church because of their sexual orientation. Grace is gentle, loving and tender to the outcast, the lost, the lonely and those who live in fear.

Why don’t I leave? I believe in grace. I believe in Love. I believe in God who was made real in the ministry, love, teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. No vote can take that away from me or anyone. So my quote for today comes from Linda Clark: “What keeps the Christian going, cheek to jowl with the stuff of everyday existence, is the knowledge of God written on his or her heart.”

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