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I’ve been on two pilgrimages: one when my husband left, the other after my parents died. The first time, I didn’t really know it was a pilgrimage. It was a healing miracle where a former student with a beautiful and compassionate heart gave me the opportunity to travel for free during the summer of 2010.

That first trip, I was lost. I wandered around exciting cities and beautiful national parks with my heart broken and bleeding, only thinking of what I had lost, not even dreaming about my future, and not even fully appreciating the gift that was taking place in that present time.

The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

The art of travel is seeing what is sacred…being alert to the times that you need to lose yourself and to the times when what’s needed is a journey to a sacred place in all its glories and fearsome masks to find yourself. The Art of Pilgrimage  

After that first pilgrimage, I found the calling that God had for my life.

The next pilgrimage was my first trip to Europe to heal the grief of losing both of my parents. That one was much more of an intentional pilgrimage. My daughter and I met in Madrid and walked the last 100 km of the Camino de Santiago.

 

This second trip was focused. We bought gear, mapped out our journey, and headed for the destination of the St. James Cathedral. Of course, even when the physical journey is planned, you never know what discoveries are to be found on your inner journey. The movie, The Way prompted me to unravel the line, “You don’t choose a life, you live one.”

Knowing how much my mom would have loved the fact that we were having coffee in little villages in Spain was part of the healing process. Experiencing the “end of the earth” at Cape Finisterre was truly a glimpse of shalom for me. In that moment I was able to let go and commend my parents to God’s loving care.

Now, as I prepare for another pilgrimage, I’m not really sure what it is that I’m seeking.  My questions are not tied up in what I will do and who I will be, as much as what my part is and what is my church’s part in bringing healing to an angry, divided, and violent world.

I’m almost numb to each new shooting or other act of hatred and my heart breaks for people who have been hurt by the church. In the midst of all the pain, the church seems to be on auto-pilot, immune to the cries of the world for justice and healing. There is meaningful and urgent work to be done, while my own beloved United Methodist Church continues a family fight about who is in and who is out.

So, I will go and walk in some old paths where revival took place, where a couple of brothers wanted everyone to experience the change of heart that they did. I’ll open my heart and my mind to the echoes of their prophetic words and to see the familiar ones anew.

At Annual Conference, we were reminded that we are not appointed to our churches to be consultants, but to be pastors.

God, please give me the heart of a pastor, to grow in my ability to love and shepherd those in my care so that we can be agents of healing in this beautiful world that is full of so much hurt. Give me the tools to bring hope to the hopeless and purpose to those who have lost sight of the great work you have for us. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 

Yay, I didn’t die from this!

This picture was from Thursday’s 5K from this year’s Annual Conference at 6:30 AM on a very rainy morning. They have this 5K every year, but this was the first time I did it. I walked more than half of it, but did get some running in and even though my time is nothing to brag about, it was a pretty good morning workout, hopping over puddles and running in wet sand. It was great to have some beautiful colleagues cheering me on at the finish line (many, many minutes after they finished the run).

Part of what I am learning in leading a church is that there is always that choice, every single day, to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new, or stay under the covers where it is safe. Beautiful things happen when you feel free to take some risks.

In a few weeks, I will be taking some new steps on a pilgrimage to England, to journey through the steps of John Wesley. While I’m taking these steps through old places, I will be praying for the new steps that will bring revival to the church today and discern how my work fits into God’s work of revival.

I am grateful for this opportunity to learn and for the courage to step outside of my comfort zone with a group of new friends who I haven’t met yet. I ask for your prayers as I prepare for the journey in these next few weeks and then for the time away in mid-July.

A few months ago, when I was in the market for a new car, the promotional material for the Buick Encore made the following promise: “A sense of well being envelops you.” I have to admit that the Encore is fun to drive, but it’s a pretty tall order to expect inner peace from a car.

Since then, I have been sitting with that question – what is it that gives me a sense of well-being?

When I was married, I read the book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It said that if you know your spouse’s love language, you can keep their “love tank” full. I learned that I’m a “words of affirmation” person. I can go a long way on a few genuine and sincere words of praise, support, or encouragement. Apparently I didn’t do such a great job with keeping his tank full, since my former husband sought fulfillment elsewhere. Ancient history, though.

So how do single people keep our tanks full?

I’ve struggled with this. While I’ve expected the people I serve in my congregation to be tank fillers and I’ve looked to my kids and grandkids for this, ultimately I’ve learned that I’m the one who is responsible for my own self-care. Others can be part of it, but not the whole thing.

When I sense that something is out of balance, I usually try to set things right by beating myself up. I’ll have another cup of coffee to shake the lazies or make a tougher list, while inside a tired, worn-out me is rebelling by exhibiting a complete lack of energy. Even with all of this self-discipline, when I’m really out of sorts, the rebellious me wins out over the taskmaster me. It’s like I’m whipping the horse to go faster, instead of stopping let him drink some cool water.

So, I am finding some cool water for my soul. Salsa and Bachata dance classes are filling my soul’s need for human connection and fun. A pottery class is filling my need to create. Playing the piano is filling my need for expression. Being around family gives me a deep feeling of belonging. Having some vacation time gave me a renewed sense of perspective about my work. My prayer life has evolved to follow some new rhythms.

My best sense of well-being comes from finding some time to sit in silence and experience the presence of God. I recently read a book called The Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. It’s a game changer. So is Deep Work by Cal Newport.

There is some real satisfaction in setting busy work aside for the sake of doing deeper work. Long conversations with people, making time for reading challenging books, and giving weight to other perspectives all help me grow in doing work that really matters.

The sense of well being doesn’t only come from what gets produced on a daily basis. It also comes from the ideas that are brewing, that haven’t happened yet, the things that need to grow over time, as they are nurtured by Sabbath rest, with time and space surrounding them to be allowed to develop before they have a “to do” list attached to them.

Finding that kind of time and space in our busy society is a challenge, but one absolutely worth seeking.

Faith and Politics

In our divided country, it’s difficult to speak in church. Maybe it’s always been difficult.
No one wants to go to their place of worship and feel like they have entered a political arena. I remember visiting a church in 1993 where the pastor asked the question, “Should we pray for our leaders, even though they are democrats?” I didn’t return to that church, even though they had an awesome children’s program that my kids loved. I didn’t like feeling that the slugfest of American politics would violate the holy place of worship.
But can faith and politics be completely separate?
As I understand it the word politics means – the affairs of the cities. To be a faithful Christian, we absolutely have to be political – meaning that our faith needs to take action that will have to do with the affairs of the cities and the people in them. If we avoid talking and acting about real things because they cross over into what we consider politics, we have walled off the part of our lives where we feel passionately about issues that affect us and removed them from our practice of our faith. This leaves us with a pretty shallow faith, one where our worship of God is completely separated from our life lived in our cities and in our world.
 Jesus came into our messy world and was absolutely political. He spoke out against an oppressive government and the religious establishment who had marginalized the poor and the outsiders. Jesus made his home with the people who needed an advocate and did not hold back from calling out evil and injustice when he saw it. When he said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21), he was responding to a community that had no separation of church and state.
If we filter things through our political affiliation before we filter it through our understanding of how God has called each of us to live and act, then we have made idols out of our donkeys and elephants. For people of faith, we can’t have this backwards. We have to live into our faith first, before we live into the beliefs of a political party. Sometimes they overlap and that’s great, but that’s not always the case.
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If we stay in the pure purple, we risk being irrelevant. Anything blue or red alienates half of our congregation. So, it’s a pretty small window where they all overlap.

So, how to we live out our faith in this time of division and conflict? I love what William T. Cavanaugh says about this in his book Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement With a Wounded World, that we are to be like the medics on the field, not to inflict wounds but to bind them up and heal them.
We are called to love and to be peacemakers. To me, this means we have to somewhat limit our engagement in politics through  media and engage more in actions together with people. I absolutely believe in speaking up and engaging in peaceful protest when necessary. Being political means showing up to be engaged in the affairs of the city.
But being faithful also means that we are steeped in the grace of God that is it reflected in a sense of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control.

 

What’s Next?

I’ve previously admitted my addiction to the West Wing. When life gets stressful, I curl up in front of Netflix in my doggie jammies and see what wisdom Jed Bartlet  has for me.

Throughout the series, he has a question for his staff when he’s done talking about the matter at hand. That question is, “what’s next?” He sometimes has to make it pretty clear that he is done with the previous conversation and is ready to move on.

So here we are. The election was over in November, we have a new president who was inaugurated on Friday. Over a million of people marched Saturday in a show of support for women’s rights and human rights. It seems that there has been a peaceful transfer of power, followed by a peaceful protest. All good stuff.

But on Facebook it appears that the election is still going on.

We are where we are.

So my question is…what’s next?

What’s next is that we take action about those things we care about. Simply doing no harm is not action. Believing the right things is not action. Sharing thoughts and articles on Facebook is not action. Action is taking intentional steps to bring about positive change.

Here’s how I see that happening:

  1.  Pray for God’s guidance
  2. Find a group of people who are also interested in taking action to bring about positive change
  3. Learn, pray, and plan together about how to work with a specific issue
  4. Be prepared to commit time and resources
  5. Implement the plan and continue praying for guidance and strength
  6. Celebrate the joy of transformation for ourselves and our community

We have some groups at my church that are doing this. They are bringing their whole selves to study, prayer and conversations about how to make positive change without doing harm by walking with people who have cancer, partnering with a church in Cuba, and alleviating poverty in our community. We are putting together a team to reach out to people who have been hurt and marginalized by the church to bring about healing and reconciliation. Pretty amazing stuff.

We can’t do this if we are sniping at each other on social media. There are people in my church that I’m sure hold completely opposite political views from me, but it has never come up because of the important work we are doing together. We simply have stuff to do and that takes everything we have to get it done. If it becomes relevant to the work we are doing together, we will have the conversation, but arguing over support of politicians just isn’t something we have time for right now.

After 20 years at the same credit union, I finally decided to take a big step and open a new account here. I’m putting down roots!  I’m determined to maintain a clearer picture of my resources this year. It’s part of the clean slate that 2017 brings. There is a great sense of order in what Size Orman calls “living in your truth.”

Growing up, there were members of my family that had a disordered sense of money and resources, one that attached power, scarcity, and a whole host of emotions to every dollar. Having a desire for rightly ordered finances is leading me to create a new truth, a new reality.

I just watched the documentary Minimalism on Netflix and believe that they are onto something. The idea is that not only do we not need everything we think we need, but we pay a high price for a life built on acquiring things. Simplifying creates more time for people, space for silence and meditation, connection with nature, and a sense of being in the world in a way that is in harmony with natural resources.

I just took a survey to determine my risk tolerance for investing and I learned that if I am investing in something I believe in, my risk tolerance is way higher. So, I’m trying to navigate my way through socially responsible investing. After all, I don’t want to eat a vegan diet and then turn around and buy stock in Smithfield Pig Farms. Gross. I would rather encourage companies that engage in ethical and humane practices for people and animals than to make money off of someone else’s suffering.

But, of course, there’s the irony. Living more simply in some ways is more complicated. More thought has to go into every decision. But this intentionality is part of the process of what makes this way of living more genuine, more authentic.

I remember my dad bringing coffee in the car in a thermos for long car trips. Maybe a sandwich for the trips from Florida to North Carolina. He would have rather died than spend $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks! I used to sort of mock him for this, but now I totally get the beauty in that kind of intentional simplicity. It’s how I want to live my life.

My church is preparing to take some very important steps in thinking about how we want to use our precious resources of time and money. We are asking the questions, “How do we walk with people who are experiencing poverty? Who in our community has been excluded from the church and how can we make them feel welcome?”

These are so much better questions than what kind of stuff do we want to accumulate.

Yep, still really liking this new location and this new year.

 

Wholeness

So far, so good, 2017.

Okay, so it’s only January 2, but this year feels good. I had the traditional collard greens and black eyed peas yesterday, but also kicked it up a notch with two new favorites: Tempeh schnitzel and vegan pumpkin pie with a gingersnap cookie crust and bourbon sauce. My word for the year 2016 was “authentic” and this was an authentic meal for me: vegan and delicious!

When I chose last year’s word for the year, I was in a time where I felt defeated. My work was not as fruitful as I had hoped it would be and I was experiencing some conflict in my personal life. I was trying and failing to “find my groove.”

It’s time to choose a new word for the year. I choose “wholeness.”

 

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I think that the nature of having an identity crisis means defining ourselves by our hurts, losses, insecurities, and sense of scarcity instead of all we have to be grateful for. In an unhealthy identity the tics in the negative column add up to way more than anything in the positive one.

Some beautiful experiences last year helped me walk through this identity crisis on the way to authenticity. Instead of becoming someone different, it was more about experiencing a sense of peace and contentment right here, right now, as imperfect as I am.

Seeking wholeness doesn’t begin the year with a list of does and don’ts, but instead starts by taking stock of all that is good, all of those things in the positive column. I’m grateful for every one of those good things!

For the other things that aren’t so good, what is the cause of the problem, the real source that needs healing? How many times do we just treat the symptoms instead of getting to the root of the problem? That’s where my inner work is this year.

In my life, healing has been the most effective when I have been surrounded by a loving community. For some people, that is church, but for others church has been part of the problem.

Christmas Eve I had the most wonderful sense of being at home in the congregation I serve. I always love Christmas Eve and have loved celebrating it with people in all the churches where I have been, but it was nice this year with the disruption of moving to a new location to experience the peace and contentment of feeling at home.

I am basking in this time – the season of Christmas or as Godly Play calls it – the mystery of Christmas.  A mystery so deep that it took 4 Sundays of Advent to prepare for it and goes on for 12 more days.

2017 will be a year of entering deeper into the mystery of what it means to become whole in the image of God alongside some other beautifully broken people who are also seeking wholeness.