Tag Archives: life

Year of Gratitude, April Week 4

The days following Holy Week and the first Sunday in Easter.  can feel a bit like a hangover: tired, grumpy and a little lethargic. There are many people to thank for all the wonderful services leading up to and including Easter, but fatigue often takes over and thanks get forgotten.

We are in a year of gratitude and have committed to finding ways of living our thankfulness. We are ending April which has us focusing on:

Growing Edges: Spring comes this month and for Christians, Easter. Flowers begin to bloom and gardens are planted. New life is all around. This month we give thanks for growth: physical, spiritual and those places where we need to grow.

T. S. Eliot wrote in his poem “The Wasteland”

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Why is April cruel? What is it about spring that seems so cruel? Perhaps, life in the midst
of death seems cruel in the midst of violence and grief. April can seem crazy in terms of
weather in  midwest, we go from 80 degrees to snow and freezing rain in the midst of an
hour. The month does point to new life: the blooming of the lilacs, the iris, the tulips and
all the other spring flowers point to life, instead of death.
Today, I am reminded of death and life because I was with someone and their family and
as they moved from this life to next. It was a surprise, and as always such a privilege to
be there. In our funeral tradition, we say the words, “in the midst of life, we are in
death.”  And that is true. Easter reminds me that death is not the final word. In the
resurrection of Jesus,  I am reminded that life is stronger than death, love is stronger
than hate and good is stronger than evil.
So I am grateful this week to be a pastor who has the honor of being there in the most
intimate moments of people’s lives. I am grateful to preside at the communion table, to
preach the high and low moments of the Christian year. I give thanks to serve in so
many ways. In this calling, I give thanks that I experience new life again and again
and again through God’s grace and love. I do have a couple of thank you notes to write, a
couple of events to put in my gratitude jar and some time to just say “thank you” to the
God who has created and continues to create, who loves and invites me to love as well.

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Back to blogging

It’s been a month since my last blog about the Great Plains  Annual Conference. Following conference I took a week for sermon planning and a week for vacation. Seemed fairly straight forward and well planned.

You know the saying, “the best laid plans….” It was a good two weeks, but as the week of my sermon planning time began, a neighbor and a friend died. It was unexpected in many ways, I had seen him the week before and I would never guessed I would be planning service within 10 days.

In my neighborhood, I am not the “pastor” particularly. Some of my neighbors attend church in other denominations than mine. Some of my neighbors do not. To be a “neighbor” is a wonderful thing as opposed to being whatever my “vocation” might be. Yet, it was a privilege and honor to be asked to preside at this man’s funeral. It was his request and so I sat with his daughters and we found a way to honor his life and spirit.

He had many  talents,  not the least  of which was gardening. He was meticulous in pulling weeds and keeping his flowers and his lawn beautiful. He was smart and funny. I will miss him.

During the time I was so blessed to become acquainted with his daughters, brilliant and funny and accomplished each in their own jobs and professions. I now have in my home, a few things in which to remember this wonderful and thoughtful human being. These past few weeks have reminded me again how precious life is and how each person plays a part and makes a difference in the lives of others.

As I begin my second year at First UMC, I am so grateful for those people who created this place for people all over Wichita to encounter the living spirit of God. I am blessed to continue in ministry with the gifted people in this community of faith. Life is precious and the call of Christ is to be a neighbor to every person we meet and to make a difference in lives of others. I am thankful my friend’s life and death and memory reminds me of this reality and call. I am graced to serve in this city and in this place and in this neighborhood. Life. Downtown.

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For the Love of Jesus, Not on my watch

A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie La La LandI always have good intentions seeing a movie IN the theatre, but more often than not, I watch it at home. I am a sucker for a good musical. I realize that life is not one dance number or musical number after another, but I enjoy dance and music and a few moments that are not filled with snarkiness.

La La Land received great reviews and numerous awards. In some ways it was like every other musical and in others it was full of surprises. I was caught how in the twenty first century a film musical could be made filled with both the old and new.

In fact, I was so caught by one scene, that I had planned on blogging about it prior to my post on the Judicial Council decision. I knew this post could wait, because in some ways, it also is about the church, where we are and where we might go together.

In the movie, Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club. She has already told him “I should probably tell you I hate jazz.” To which he replies: “What do you mean you don’t like jazz?” She says, “It means that when I listen to it I don’t like it.” The link to the scene lets you see the whole dialogue including what happens at the jazz club.

There, Sebastian says, “I think when people say they don’t like jazz they don’t have context, they don’t know where it comes from…..people spoke five different languages, they couldn’t talk to each other, the only way they could communicate was with jazz.” Mia had a very different understanding of jazz, her life, her experience was that it was relaxing and good for parties but didn’t have the depth or the history or the tradition. Sebastian responds: “You have to see it to understand it….Everyone is composing, rearranging and writing AND playing the melody. Jazz is conflict and compromise, it’s always new, every night it is new and it very exciting…..and it’s dying. The world said let it die, ….not on my watch.”

Those words shocked me into a realization about how I feel about the church. Insert church for jazz and that is how I understand and experience the community of faith. When I think about Pentecost, people spoke in different languages, but it was the gift of the Spirit that allowed them to communicate, that Spirit that Jesus’ promised. The early church was in conflict and it comprised and it continued to compose, rearrange, write AND play the melody of the story of faith. Unfortunately the other history of the church is to try to set things in stone and forget the amazing movement of the Spirit to lead the people in new ways. We sometimes quit composing, rearranging and playing the melody and then our conflict becomes so cemented that we can’t compromise.

Many look at the church and just say “I don’t like it, I hate it.” With good reason people feel that way, they have been hurt and abused and have no need to continue experiencing that. Some people feel the church is out of touch, is boring and might be okay for “background music” at an event, as a value to toss about or proclaim somehow they are part of a “church” so they can check off something on a list, but it has nothing to do with what I think “real” church is about.

Like jazz, many do not know the full history or tradition of the church, not all of which is nice or lovely. Some of our past is downright ugly and hateful. I am always amazed that God uses fragile and flawed human beings to bring a reign of justice, of righteousness, of equality and of peace. Grace abounds, not because the church always plays the “right notes” but because God is God and through Jesus challenges us to love. Jesus was constantly playing the melody, and composing and rearranging and writing. His jazz interpretation caused him a great deal of trouble and eventually his creativity was threatening enough to get him arrested, tried and executed. Again, his rearranging and composing meant he played a new melody that we call resurrection.

I believe the church is called into being a new creation, always new, “every night” and every day called into newness of life and love. Jesus leads the way, not being set into stone, but being made a new creation. The melody is “God’s love and grace” and each generation must re-write, re-arrange and compose so that others might know and experience that love and grace.

This is not an easy task. There are many that would claim this can not be done. We must either tell the “old old story” the way it has always been told, or we walk away and give up. That may be extreme, but I don’t tend to believe it is either/or. I do not believe I am alone in believing that the gospel, the good news of God’s love as experienced in Christ Jesus is dead, or irrelevant. I believe it is every changing and ever new for each generation. The church is challenged to not ONLY play the melody, but to rearrange, to re write and to compose new songs. The church is conflicted and it is in the composing that we can find compromises that lead us into new life.

In the words of the movie, “the world says let it die….not on my watch.” I am not willing to let the grace and love of God be stuck in old ways, in ways that do not connect with a new generation. The United Methodist Church may be in some ways dying, but I am not willing to let it die. For the love of Jesus, not on my watch, not while I have life and breath and faith that in Christ I am made new and the story, the melody is new every day and every night. For all the dreamers, I am committed to the love, the grace and the melody that Christ is creating for all people.

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All Souls Day

Part of this post was written three years ago. Our culture doesn’t know much about Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Some of what is shared in the next three paragraphs are from that blog, but I end with some new thoughts about this early church tradition.

Today, in Western Christian tradition is All Souls Day.  It is the third day of the “triduum of Hallowmass.”  Who knew that Halloween was a holy day?  The first day of the three, All Hallows Eve, October 31, was a day when early Christians believed that some how the space between this life and the next life was thinner.  They would don “masks” to keep former souls from recognizing them.  Of course in North America this became “trick or treating” through costumes and pranks and the offering of treats.

The second day was All Saints Day, November 1, which remembers all martyrs and official saints of the church both known and unknown.  The third day, All Souls Day, November 2, remembers “all the faithful departed.”  In most protestant traditions, these days are lumped together and often celebrated on the first Sunday of November.  A google search will give multiple hits on these traditions.

I, being who I am, love this history and the layers that surround these practices both from the Christian tradition and other traditions.  What I love most, is the remembering and the giving thanks.  Often in the U.S.A. graves are visited on the last weekend in May.  I always tried to avoid focusing All Saints on that weekend, because it is also the first three day weekend of the summer and consequently loses some of the religious significance that the first Sunday of November can offer.

Remembering those who have gone before is holy, sacred and spiritual work.  The act of remembering is a blessing on those who take the time to laugh, to cry and to tell the story of those who have made a difference in their lives.  After thirty plus years of ministry, the list gets longer each year for me.  The spaces around those memories grow more tender as I remember, as I grieve and as I smile through tears and give thanks that I have been so blessed by so many.

The holiness of these moments become more sacred in the midst of a time of great anxiety and fear. Next week, will be an election which has been filled with bigotry, hatred, lies and ugliness from both sides. The fear mongering has been almost overwhelming. Many, myself included, will be glad when the election is over.

Add to that another horrible shooting in Des Moines where two police officers were ambushed, another black church is vandalized,  and where the deaths in Syria mount, is it any wonder that many are just tired and afraid. It is important in times like these, to remember the saints and souls and spirits who went before us. We are NOT living in the first period of time fraught with fear and anxiety.

Those who went before us lived through wars and rumors of war, violence, hatred and natural disasters. The early Christians were persecuted and wondered if the end of the world was coming. In these days, we are hearing the same from both parties. Neither is speaking the whole truth. These elections and difficulties are part and parcel of being part of this world. The saints that have gone on before us, understood that whatever occurs day in and day out is not the kingdom of God. The reign God continues to challenge all of us “saints” to live lives of faith, of hope, of love and justice.

We keep eyes and hearts and spirits focused on the promise that the time is coming when we will experience something new and wonderous. In the meantime, we lean into each other for strength, and trust God’s Spirit to help us believe and God will make all things new in God’s own time.

And so, remembering I am “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) , these saints and souls of God, I am graced to serve.

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On the first day of Fall

Several years ago, three, I think, I posted this reflection on the fall. It really is one of my favorite seasons. It came up “on this day” on Facebook. As I reread it, I thought it is still true. Autumn reminds me that life is short. God is good and each day is gift and the fall weather reminds me that I should not take this gift for granted. I am reposting in the hopes that that reminder might be a blessing for others.

On the Autumn Equinox

 

Thoughts on this first day of Fall

Last year at this time I was reading an old fall issue of Midwest Living, a magazine that focuses on life in the mid-west. What struck me about this issue, was not the recipes, although I love to cook, not the trips or the festivals but the opening piece by the editor. He had asked people why they loved the fall. The responses varied, but tended toward “it’s cooler, it’s football weather, the leaves are lovely and my routine is back after the long days of summer.”I was looking for something else. I love autumn. I, too, love the cooler weather, the leaves that change colors, the opportunity to jump in a pile of just raked leaves, the mums that burst forth as the last color before winter. I love the smell of the wood fires and the sight of bright stars on a cool crisp night.

For me, autumn is my time to reassess my life. I know for our dominant culture we make “resolutions” on January 1. I, however, look over my goals, check out my calender and try to prioritize what is truly important in the fall.

Autumn drives me in a way no other season does. I feel compelled to check my pantry, to can up produce and freeze produce for the winter. I feel pushed by time as the days grow shorter and colder.

Without being maudlin, autumn reminds me that I will not live forever. My days on earth have a beginning and have an end. I am not promised forever, only the moments I am given. As the days wane, I am deeply aware that my life also wanes. In the springtime all is new and exciting and wonderful and young. I look for the tulips and the daffodils and iris to spring forth in all their glory. In the fields I can see the young calves and the lambs and the colts. I can hear the “cheep cheep” of the young birds in the nest.

Summertime is for long sun-filled days, full of energy. When the crops begin to grow green and tall and begin to produce the sought after harvest. Summer is a gathering in of family and friends and an enjoyment of time that seems to stand still.

Then suddenly, the days grow shorter, a cool breeze creeps in from the north. soon leaves begin to turn color until they are a riot of orange and coral and amber and red. The wind grows stronger and they begin to fall until the branches of the trees are barren and the grass has turned brown and the nights are much longer than the days.

Autumn is our seasonal reminder to “pay attention” if you will to the life we have been given. To say “I love you” to the people that matter the most. To, in the words of the Psalmist “to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” There will come a time when I enter the winter of my life, when like the autumn leaves, I will have spent all that have and will lie down to rise no more.

I want to honor the days of my life that I am given. I want to love well, to truly let those people I love know how much I have loved them and appreciated their love. I want to use my gifts and abilities in a way that leaves this world a better place. And at the last, I want to say a prayer of thanks to God for the times and the seasons I have been given.

I am

Graced to Serve.

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Mother’s Day and Julian of Norwich

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. Celebrated with flowers, candy and often meals, mothers are praised and loved and remembered. This day can bring mixed feelings for many. Those who have longed to be mothers, grieve. Those who have lost their children to death, to disease, to addiction, to broken relationship grieve. Those who have lost their mothers to death, to addiction, to broken relationships, grieve.

I am one of those who is “motherless.” My own mother died not quite three years ago. My mother-in-law is 96 years young and we have celebrated her with flowers and chocolate and dinner.

13139267_10154265783669274_8416943230986328543_nI am one of those women who happen to be a mother and a grandmother. This day becomes bittersweet as I celebrate the love I have for my children and grandchildren and appreciate so many women who have mothered me and mentored me throughout the years.

Today is also the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich. There is some discrepancy on her feast day, some celebrate it on May 13 and others on May 8. Since today is Mother’s day in my neck of the woods, it makes sense for me to reflect on this amazing woman.

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Not much is known Julian, not even if that is her real name. What is known is that she wrote a book around 1395, the first known to be written in English by a woman. Her Revelations of Divine Love is filled with such amazing imagery and faith.

There are many sayings of Julian’s that are important to my faith journey,

” As truly God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

These next words, are the ones I return to again and again and again.

When I first saw that God does everything that’s done, I didn’t see sin, and I saw all is well. When God did show me sin, He said then, “All will be well.” God also said to me, “You won’t be overcome,” and these words were said adamantly, and I was convinced. They gave me certainty and strength against every tribulation that might come.
God didn’t say, “You won’t be attacked” or “You won‘t be overwhelmed” or “You won’t be upset” or “You won’t be stressed out.” No, instead He said, “You won’t be overcome.” God wants us to pay attention to His words, and always be strong in our certainty–when things are going well and when things are going terribly–God wants us to love Him and delight in Him and trust in Him with all our heart, and all will be well.

All will be well. All will not perfect or fun or wonderful. Julian lived in times of great uncertainty, illness, pain. Out of that experience she was able to speak of great strength, comfort and love. Her words centuries later still speak of Divine Love that never lets us go. A love that is with us in life and in death and in life beyond death. A love that promises each of us that we are beloved and graced beyond anything we can imagine.

In Julian’s words: ” All shall be well, all shall be well….for there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.” On this Mother’s Day, I pray for all to know that Force of love that will never let us go. I pray for the certainty that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” As a motherless child, as a mother, a grandmother, an aunt and a friend, I am certain that God loves me and loves us all. In that certainty I am graced to serve.

 

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Spring peeking out

I went on a walk today. Not long, not fast, just a meandering around the neighborhood with my husband. It was sixty plus degrees, a beautiful blue sky and the sun shining. It fact the sun was already going down in the west. I took some beautiful photos that did not do justice to the fall leaves.

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Some of the trees are not as pretty, but I caught these at the right time. I expect to see the leaves turn, the beautiful colors of the mums, marigolds and pansies. Imagine my surprise, when one of my irises bloomed. These are the ones that bloom first in the spring. I stopped and looked and was amazed.

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The spent dried leaves of the tree are all around this beautiful spring iris who chose to pop up in the middle of the season of dying. This purple flower is a reminder that even though the winter is coming, and with it cold and darkness, it is not the final word. Spring is waiting underneath, ready to bring light, love and brilliant color after the long dark nights of winter.

Natalie Sleeth wrote a contemporary hymn in the 1980’s as she contemplated autumn/spring, life and death. Upon hearing it not long before he died, he asked that it be sung at his funeral. “Hymn of Promise” has become beloved in many denominations and used to reaffirm life, faith and hope when confronted with death and to celebrate Easter. There is version often sung at the church I serve for funerals. Unfortunately, I could not find an adequate rendition on youtube.com

The first verse goes like this:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

I do love this hymn. The hopefulness, the promise, and the trust that in the midst of it all, God is there and that not one of us is left alone. I am and you are surrounded by grace. I often experience that grace through music and relationship. Others experience it in other ways.

The last two verses of the hymn say this:

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Natalie Sleeth’s words ring true for me. The oddest things are paired together: doubt and faith, word and melody, dawn and darkness, past and future, winter and spring. That little iris reminded me of that today. I am grateful in the midst of the vibrant colors of autumn, that spring is hidden beneath the brown grass and the blowing leaves. Life will burst forth in the most mysterious ways throughout fall and winter. Through those peeks of spring, I remain a person of hope and faith.

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