Friday, August 2, 2013

Heavy Lifting

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
I have heard that phrase my whole life.  I have probably used it  a time or two.  And while it is not a bad description of having a positive attitude and looking for ways of redeeming situations, it does very little to help with the heavy lifting.

There are a lot of phrases used by people to try and keep difficult situations or pain at a distance.  Some of them are moderately meaningful and vaguely harmless.  Others compound difficulties or pile more on top of someone's grief.

What we need when we face problems, whether physical, mental or spiritual, is not stuff that stands on the sidelines and offers advice, we need help with the heavy lifting.

For me, I find that the daily prayers found in Phyllis Tickle's Books The Divine Hours to help me right where I need it.  I am not a high church kind of guy, but reading or chanting the psalms and praying through the offices do something that lets me set other things right.

She has three main books (and other compilations and shorter seasonal books drawn from them), Prayers for Springtime, Prayers for Summertime, and Prayers for Autumn and Winter.  Because all of the readings and prayers are written out, each volume is a good sized hardback.  I think they have been out long enough that paperbacks are available, but I like the heft.

More about Phyllis Tickle's work can be found on her website:

(Going there I discover that she is retiring from public life and accepting no more speaking engagements.  My heart moves in two directions: "Nooooooooo!  We need more of your stuff!" and "Well done, thou good and faithful servant.")

My point here is not simply to be an ad for her work, although I find it remarkable and helpful.  My point is that we need to find ways of getting through the difficult times.  We need to find those people, practices and means of getting the heavy lifting done so that even in the midst of difficult times we can retain our humor, our love, our hope and our creativity.

What are yours?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Another Way of Reading

Thanks to Rev. Derek W. White, a Methodist pastor also known as the geekpreacher,I discovered a new way of reading.  Or rather, a new take on a very old way of reading scripture.

Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of reading the Bible in an intentional, prayerful, meditative way.  Often a passage is read multiple times, with prayer and reflection between each reading.  Often it is followed by extended prayer or meditation.  One description, among many along the Interwebs, is here, from the United Church of Christ.  And let's face it, if the distant children of the Pilgrims and Puritans can accept an ancient form of Christian mysticism and reading, then just about anybody can.

Derek linked to an interesting article on Congregational Excellence.  While the article made for good reading, what really caught my eye were the questions at the bottom of the page.  These were (and I quote:)

REFLECTIONS FOR THE DAY: Use a program on your computer, a traditional journal, or feel free to use the comment section of this blog post to record your reflections as a conversation with others…

  • READ – What spoke to me as I read today’s meditation?
  • REPENT – Where is God showing me that I have failed to be obedient to the call to discipleship today?
  • RECEIVE – What words of redemption and grace is God offering to me?
  • REMEMBER – Who and what is God calling me to remember in prayer related to today’s reading?
  • RESPOND – How is God calling me to respond today?

I find these reflective cues helpful.  They feel like a combination of the Wesleyan tradition of spiritual accountability (which is appropriate for a Methodist site, after all) with the Ignatian/Jesuit practice of the prayer of Examen.  Perhaps they simply point to how many of our "various and diverse" traditions are all walking up the same hill.

If you want to give them a test drive, pick a passage, perhaps a favorite, or from a daily lectionary, or from a recent church bulletin, or maybe open the Bible and plunk down a finger.  Pray that you would receive something from the reading.  Then read it.  Then in a journal, or just on a piece of paper, answer the questions.  Try reading the passage and sitting in silence with it for a bit between each of the questions.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Substitutions Allowed

I saw a great video.

A mom asked Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory) to tell her newborn daughter why it is great being a nerd.  At a convention.  In front of a room full of nerds.  And she videos it to show her daughter when she is old enough.

The second best part: Wil Wheaton does a fabulous job!

The best part: It is so true.  It hits on so many levels and in so many ways.

I want to take it as is, as it is brilliant as is.

Now I want to offer a set of (completely unauthorized) substitutions:

When he talks about the things that this newborn girl might love, I hear all the good things about church: Gospel, mission, community, sacrament, coffee, passing the peace.

When he talks about Firefly, Game of Thrones, and other "historical" shows she might someday watch and love, I hear the stories of Job and Esther and Isaiah and Jesus and Peter and others that continue to inspire and inform the lives and ministries of so many people of faith.

When he says, "You find the things that you love them the most that you can," I hear calling and vocation and wonder and awe and joy.

And when he describes the community of nerds (especially at a revival, er, um, I mean a convention), I hear the beauty of a community of faith and hope and love.

Like I said, listen to it for what he is saying.  Then listen to it for how it describes some of the best of what a community of faith is and could be.

Thanks Wil.

Worst. Blogger. Ever.

Dear Readers.

Anyone still out there.

I am officially nominating myself for worst blogger ever.  Not because I blog badly.  Because I never blog!  Yikes!

I am hereby announcing that I am trying to change that!  I even have a head full of posts, I just haven't been good at making time for them.

Thank you to the two people who still might be checking back here.

Here's to new beginnings.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Praying (Anonymously?)

It happens every so often.  Some asks me to pray for them or with them, but they do not want to be added to the church prayer list, or for me to ask others to pray for them.  Sometimes the situation or condition is one that they feel, out of fear, shame or worry, prohibits publication.  Sometimes, they are just shy.  Sometimes it feels okay to ask a "professional" (which is a post for another day...) but not to bother others with it.  Often it is some combination.

I understand where this privacy comes from, having been one who for years was loathe to suggest weakness, illness or any other need publicly.  But in the trials and travails of dealing with infertility (see here for more), and in the joys and concerns of raising Lil Bit, we have been very public about asking for prayers. 

In doing so, I have discovered several things:

First, I still have trouble sometimes asking for prayers for me.  For the Mrs. or for Lil Bit, no trouble!  But for me...  I am still a work in progress.  

Next, I can see why people don't ask for prayers publicly.  There is a vulnerability to naming pain or weakness or worry or fear publicly.  Any worries we have about being judged tend to get exacerbated.  

But more importantly, there is a powerful support in knowing that others are thinking about me and praying for me. 

And when we calmly speak the truth about our difficulties, our pain, our wounds, our struggles, it allows others to speak the truth about theirs.  And when we all start speaking the truth, community with compassion starts to truly take root and grow.

I still pray with people who don't want it broadcast.  But I also ask if they are sure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Online or Real Community

Okay. I admit. I am a stalker. Well, a cyber-stalker. Wait, this sounds so bad. Okay, I am reading a lot of what The Geek Preacher is writing. There, that sounds less likely to result in an interview before Church and Ministry.

He can be found at

 What's not to like. A preacher who is a gamer, a Gen Con attendee, and he speaks geek. Gotta love it. And in his latest blog he quotes Spyder Robinson. Granted I haven't read Robinson since college, but it does bring back memories.

 You can find this blog entry here. The most important thing, however, is not the quote from Robinson, but the ideas that he gets to regarding online "Community." It is worth reading the geekpreacher's blog entry, plus the entry by his seminary professor which he quotes and ultimately refutes, found here.

Two relevant quotes from Dr. Thompson:
Real community is something that happens ‘in the flesh,’ and it involves complicated relationships that must be navigated with care, sensitivity, and ultimately love. Twitter doesn’t require any of this. Nor does Facebook. Nor does this website, for that matter. They’re all forms of so-called “social media,” but the form of sociality they allow is virtual. It is not embodied, and because of that it can never arise to anything other than the level of the thinly social from my point of view.
All that said, I’m giving it a shot (just as I gave blogging a shot, and Facebook a shot, etc.). It has its place, and it can be useful so long as we don’t kid ourselves into thinking that it can take the place of real, authentic forms of community.
The Geek Preacher's response is to say that part of what makes "virtual" community a real community is the realization that there is indeed a person there. He writes:
I have been building online relationships for roughly 15 or more years and I have seen it at its best as well as at its worst. The key to it all is knowing that the person on the other side of the screen is a real human being. You do need to have some type of contact and many people need an assurance that something genuine is occurring. This is why much of my life is lived online. This is also why I speak at conventions and make myself available wherever I go. I’m trying my best to live out the life of the Gospel but it is also important that people realize I am legit. Yeah, that’s the word…..legitimacy. This is what people are looking for in online relationships and, yes, online communities. (original author's emphasis)
Last year, when the Mrs. and I were at the hospital for Lil Bit's surgery, we stayed in touch with family and friends around the world via Facebook. The responses and "likes" that my posts received often resulted in tears, laughter or both. I knew the responders, I could picture them from previous meetings, I could hear their voices, and I could marvel at the level of connection that made itself known via typing on a phone from a waiting room at a large metropolitan hospital. Their care was real. Their prayers were felt. Their hugs, while virtual, offered solace. They just happened to not be in the room with us.

 If virtual community is all we have, then we miss some very important, embodied, incarnated, physical elements of our relationships. Virtual community often suffers from miscommunication caused by lack of tone of voice, body language, or other cues and clues. But virtual community has an important role to play in the various and strange ways that we relate to one another.

 As a soldier stationed around the world said in a recent NPR discussion said, "I don't know how my grandfather did it in World War 2. His letter home took six weeks, and the reply took six weeks. That's a month and a half to receive an answer to a question." He went on to describe Skyping when he got off duty to try and keep up with his wife and children.

 Virtual community does not solve the problems of community, and adds some complexity to it. But it is here, and it can be necessary. And in my experience, it was a net of care and compassion that helped me through some of the toughest days I have faced.

 As always, your mileage may vary.

Letting Out the String

Recently, I heard an expression from a parishioner.  He told me that his dad explained parenting with the expression:  "You have to let out the string."  Just like flying a kite, to let your children soar, you have to let out the string.  The immediate tightening in my gut at the thought means that he is on to something.

Having a child with some important medical needs means that there are certain things for which her mom and I will always be on the lookout.  There are certain meds needed at certain times, which means that our family schedule is based around doses.

This same kid likes to climb, grab, throw, kick, scream, snuggle, dance, fuss and otherwise get into everything she can.  Her mom and I have different levels of comfort with how far out to let the string.  So  trying to balance the care we give with letting out the string so that our daughter can grow into who she is becoming is a spiritual discipline.  Negotiating our various anxieties as parents so that we can provide a loving but united front is a spiritual discipline.  Getting enough rest to be worthwhile parents, functioning adults, and reasonable people is a spiritual discipline.  Not taking it personally when my darling daughter develops an allergy to dad and must cling to mom, or when she is allergic to mom and must cling to dad, is a spiritual discipline.

There are many spiritual disciplines in the history and life of the church: fasting, prayer, service, silence, retreats, sabbath-keeping, alms-giving, sacraments, worship, lectio divina.  Sometimes these seem like a luxury when my daughter takes so much time.  But then I realize that my daughter, my family, constantly rebalancing my life between family and ministry, and learning how to let out the string, is worthy of being my main spiritual discipline for now.

I also know that I need some of these other spiritual disciplines to help me in the task.  God knows I can't do this alone.