Monthly Archives: January 2015

Preach, Pray or Die

There is an old saying among United Methodist clergy that we are to be ready at a moment’s notice to “Preach, Pray or Die.” The last couple of days I have been hanging out with my colleagues at a meeting that the Bishop calls each year. It is a time of continuing education, worship and reconnecting with each other. Mostly, what I enjoy is the hanging out together.

I am in a new annual conference. Just a few short years ago, the Great Plains conference was three distinct annual conferences with two bishops. So, it is a bit of a challenge living into a new relationship with so many clergy that I do not know.

Two of my talented colleagues, Amy Lippoldt and Ben Hanne decided to find a way to get better acquainted with their brothers and sisters of this new conference and share that information with others. They created a podcast called “Preach, Pray or Die”
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I was privileged to be one of the people the interviewed. It gave me an opportunity to remember my call and to remember the women who went before me. I share the link to the podcast Preach, Pray or Die It helps me remember why I am graced to serve.

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Compost pile of life

Andrea began a new sermon series called “Be Still and Know.” Today’s sermon was “Listen and Wait.” Part of the sermon series is a painting that is being used. Last week it was just black. This week, a barren tree was part of the landscape and looked like this.

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One of the scriptures for yesterday was Jesus’ parable of the fig tree from Luke 13: 6-10.

“Then Jesus told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’ (New Revised Standard Version)

In the new Common English Bible, the “gardener” asks to put “fertilizer” around the base of the tree instead of manure. In the twenty first century, that sanitizes it and makes more sense. Very few people use “manure” any more when gardening. They go to the garden center or local discount big box store and buy “fertilizer.” In Jesus’ day they used…..well if you excuse my language, basic animal…s*** or poop or manure. They waited until it was not so “hot”, and turned it daily to cool it down until it was ready to use on the garden or in the vineyard or in the orchard.

My neighbor down the street has chickens. He is an amazing gardener and I call him the “Garden god.” We pay for fresh eggs and he is saving for me a pile of chicken poop for my garden. Worked into the soil it will nourish the soil and fill it with nutrients for the plants to grow, to flower and to produce. Don’t you think it is interesting what is the by-product or waste of animal and human bodies and is considered sort of nasty, unsavory and gross is what makes things grow, mature and deepen?

I have been considering what all that means. If the parable of the fig tree is about grace….that grace as the gardener is willing to work with the one who is showing no growth and no fruit, what does it mean that God uses the “s***” of life, the manure of life to fertilize and feed the spiritual life? I think of all the stuff that should go on the compost pile of life: bitterness, resentment, anger at small slights, pettiness and meanness and jealousy. Most manure piles start out hot, steaming hot like this.

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Piles of manure stay that way in the center until it is turned again and again and begins to break down and cool down. Then and only then is the pile of….manure usable.

Certainly much of what is negative and awful in life flows hot and steamy and is uncomfortable, not to mention stinky. A master gardener would turn that pile of poo until it cooled down and then use it to make the garden grow and flourish and flower and produce excellent fruit. What if I let God use what is not good in my life, what is painful, awful, ugly and mean to compost and fertilize the best parts of my life? What if instead of stuffing the the things that really hurt, that are really negative I offered them to God for use in the garden of my heart and spirit? What would God be able to do with me and my spirit?

In this new year, I am going to give it a try. I can not control everything in life, but I can choose how I will deal with some of the pain, the suffering, and unpleasantness. In offering these things to God, my prayer becomes one of hope, that God can use the manure pile and make something amazing. With that hope and prayer, may I continue to be graced to serve.

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A new year

I am not much into New Year’s Resolutions. Perhaps because I am not very good at keeping them. Perhaps because my time to make “resolutions” tend to be in the fall when the days grow shorter and the night longer. In the middle of the deep darkness others call winter, it is harder for me to think about, let alone set resolutions. I am sort of “bear-like” what I really want is to just hibernate.

Having said that, I do think about some things I would like to do in 2015. These tasks are not much different than what I had hoped to get done in 2014. Most are a continuation of what I am already doing, I just want more of it. Someone had posted in a blog that they like to list “goals” for the new year. Somehow that makes more sense to me. Ali Ebright in her blog Gimme Some Oven has a word that she uses to be a goal for her new year. I like that as well.

After the year I have had, my goals or resolutions or whatever name you want to call them are pretty simple. I want to quit looking over shoulder because while I know there are always people who are cynical or pessimistic or looking to see other fall, I do not want to give in to that kind of negativity. I want to be more intentional about disengaging from work in order to enjoy family and friends. I want to continue to be healthy through exercise, getting enough sleep and eating right. I want to cook more. I know that sounds silly, but some weeks I do not get to cook at all, and I find myself spiritually centered and more joy filled when I cook. Along with cooking, I plan to continue to garden, so that part of what is served comes from my hands. In other words, I am looking for more peace, more joy and more love to share and to experience.

In other words, I want this:
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When I type “more” I don’t mean more stuff, but more intentionality about life, love, joy, peace and faith. In the best of the Christian tradition, I believe that is what Jesus was all about. The Beatitude, his parables, his time at table teaching, eating and challenging was focused on helping people know that they had everything they needed to live well and in community. I hope to pay better attention to Jesus’ words in 2015.

In my own Christian denomination there is long tradition of saying the Covenant Prayer on New Year’s Day and often on the first Sunday in January. It is attributed to John Wesley by United Methodists, its origins are subject to some discussion. Regardless, the prayer itself is powerful A musical version is in the newest hymnal supplement Worship and Song. I love it and while this video isn’t great, it gives a taste of this powerful prayer put to music.

On this day, I say this prayer
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with hope that I may continue to be graced to serve

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