Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wisdom Charging

In his book, “Reaching Out”, Henri Nouwen wrote, “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”  Chaplain Brent Janke, clergy for Aurora Hospital in Grafton, Wisconsin, has this placed on the wall in the chapel of this hospital.   He goes on to say that it is his “hope…that this place would be a free, open, inviting space…”  He invited people to come to take a moment, in their comfortable space and understanding, to regroup and recharge.

One of my dearest friends, I’ll call him Jai to remain anonymous, will sometimes suddenly proclaim he needs his battery recharged.  He is typically talking about his energy levels and the fact that he needs food to recharge.  But how wonderful would it be if we could recognize, before we spiritually starve, our need to recharge our spirit-battery?  To take a quick moment to plug in to our spiritual outlet, feel the surge of the spirit coursing through our  veins, and walk away lifted just a little bit higher than when we arrived; is what we call a gift of grace!

As you walk in to your personal space, feel the hospitality of the Spirit.  Allow the free space to be welcoming to your tired feet, and your rushing mind.  Take some time today – perhaps in the oddest and most unsuspected place, to stop and plug in…recharge…refocus…refresh…and regroup.

Creating God, you have provided us with so many opportunities to take a quick stop.  Forgive us when we allow our spirit-battery to fail before recharging takes place.  Send your Spirit to dwell within us to bring us comfort and peace.  Amen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Fixing" What God Has Created?

As a pastor and a crisis intervention counselor, I have spent endless hours walking people through a variety of journeys.  They are too various to name because each one is an intimate experience that is unique to one individual.  It matters not if I agree with them, what matters is that I walk with them.  What matters is that together we seek peace, grace and truth. 

I have been challenged lately to make a statement on some of the hotter topics of our day.  Paul was no doubt pressured to make commentary on his day and the topics that were all the talk back then.  I try to stay away from the political scene because, well, I’m never exactly right on any topic.  As the title of my blog suggests, I’m merely wandering around on this planet like the rest of you and will, in no way, claim to be an expert in or about anything.  I approach these hot topics with the experiences I have and the convictions of my heart and in the direction I believe God is leading me.  I expect nothing less from the people I encounter.  I would rather dialogue any day than to preach even once.

Recently it was reported that 56% of the delegates at the UMC General Conference agreed that God’s grace is available to everyone.  That is a paraphrase, of course, and they were referring to equality of sexuality.  For years the United Methodist Church has been at odds over this issue.  The Book of Discipline Paragraph 161F states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”  Later in the same Book of Discipline it welcomes all people, regardless of identity, in to the midst of the congregation. 

But what is striking to me about the 2012 General Conference is that the UMC decided that it could not even agree to disagree.  To me, that is one of the basic tenants to relationship whether a loving couple or a family relationship.  My parents taught me this one:  you need to agree that sometimes you are going to disagree with one another.  The UMC could not even state that Christians have different opinions about homosexuality.  They simply refused to enter the language in the record that states that they obviously disagree on the topic of homosexuality, and the role that our GLBT brothers and sisters can/will play in the life of the church. 

I have been in ministry since 1985.  During all of my years I have never been a part of a congregation, Bible study, choir or music program, district or conference event where straight and GLBT brothers and sisters were not all seated together.  They just weren’t supposed to talk about it.  Oddly enough when I attended local, state or national meetings of professional church organists, it was difficult to find heterosexual brothers or sisters.  But I digress… For generations the UMC and many other denominations had refused to talk about the enormous elephant standing in the midst of the congregation.  But in recent years they have been forced to look at it and talk about it.  I recall the year Bishop Sharon Radar, former Bishop of Wisconsin, was presiding over the Annual Conference at which time there was a vote as to whether the Wisconsin Conference of The United Methodist Church would become a ‘welcoming’ congregation – openly accepting gays and lesbians in their midst and in leadership positions.  The vote was astonishingly split 49-51%  The Bishop, in all grace, stood before the gathering and said, “we have agreed that we disagree and therefore we are charged by God and by one another to continue talking about this issue not only among our own side but across the aisles to our brothers and sisters who have a varying opinion”.  She received a standing ovation from almost everyone in the room.  She had the grace to recognize the need for conversation and dialogue. She recognized that we can agree that we disagree on many topics, not just that of sexuality and the Christian life.  Only by talking with one another and sharing our ideas and our hearts; sharing with one another what we feel God has written on our hearts; only then can we even hope to see a glimpse of what God truly wants us to do.  Only then could we even imagine coming together in one accord.  But perhaps that is the idea that God had.  That we would gather together, we would worship together and not all stand on common social ground except the ground that is Christ Jesus.  To open our eyes to the diversity that is God’s earth.

I don’t want you to think I’m lambasting the United Methodist Church.  Like many denominations and faith communities, there is much about the tenants of that particular faith family that is good and godly.  I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I believe God is waiting to see what we do with our disagreement.  Do we kill the opposition?  Do we shut them out and build walls to keep them out?  Do we stand in the congregation and proclaim that we are so right that our convictions are justifying the persecution of all that oppose us?    Do we pass legislation to limit the opposition in what they can do to or for us?  Do we create names and titles for our opposition?  Do we wholly oppose them or do we reach across the table and take their hands?  Do we pray against one another or with one another?  Do we call upon the God of fire to strike down our opponents in a Holy vengeance or do we call upon the God of the Ages to help us understand and see with new eyes?  Are we just because we are right or are we right just because?  Is it possible to stand in the congregation with such a diverse mixture of the human race and recognize, together, that God is Holy, not us?   That God is on the throne, not us.  That, in the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, ‘God is god and we are not’?  Do we have so much conviction that we now have such a profound loss of who we are and what we are called to do?  Do we set out each day to cause so much pain and anguish for our opposition?  Is our opposition our enemy or our brother?  If our enemy, than we are called to love them, are we not?  If our brother, than how much more are we to love them?  And who among us can truly say we know how to love another human completely, fully and unconditionally? 

Regardless of your convictions concerning homosexuality and the Christian life, we are not the ones who determine our Christianity.  God does that.  No one knows if they will enter the kingdom of heaven but we move forward with the hope and promise of the scriptures and gift of Christ’s sacrifice that there is enough grace to allow us, even one such as I, in to the Kingdom of Heaven.    

As my blog introduction states, I do not claim a denomination or faith-based community other than Christian.  I have been encouraged by some to start a church and by others, to join theirs.  But I hesitate because I do not believe that Christianity is a building.  I believe it is a people and as such we are the church where ever we are gathered.  When we talk about topics of the Holy we are having church. When we share with one another our concerns and our celebrations, we are having church.  When we look to the heavens and behold the beauty and wonder of the night stars – we are at church.  When we hold a baby we have church.  And when we disagree with one another, we are having church.  For we are gathered together, as one family, different colors and lives, seeking one thing:  God’s peace and blessings on what is on our hearts.  When we gather in our buildings and begin spending time on the vision for our signs and our mission statements and the formation of committees – we can lose sight, rather quickly, of why it is we gather.  We gather because we know not.  We gather to share our experiences so that, together, in unity, we may hope that our words and thoughts and actions – indeed our lives, are pleasing to God and that we have done enough during our small visit on this planet to bring as much glory to the Kingdom as is possible by humanity. 

I have seen so much hate on both sides of this issue.  In fact, there is so much venom being spewed from both sides that many people are now refusing to stand on either side.  Christians are afraid to say they are Christian because people will ‘assume’ they hate homosexuals.  Homosexuals are afraid to say they are homosexuals because people will ‘assume’ they hate Christians. 

All of us have multiple labels.  I know a man who is a musician, a singer, an artist, an entrepreneur, a gentle spirit, a wise Christian man, a painter, a homosexual, a lover of art, a wine connoisseur, a pastor, a counselor, a fun person, the life of the party, a jack of all trades and master of none – the list goes on.  The labels keep coming – but the ONLY label that should stand out is one we never use – human.  We are all in this group called humanity.  We are a part of a very large organization of higher thinking, carbon-based life forms.  We are a gift from the Master and He created each and every one of us just a little bit different than the other.  And when you do this to a few billion individuals what you have is the incredible diversity of creation. 

God is constantly creating in us, around us, and through us.  Don’t shut out His creation by looking down at someone simply because they do not walk the same path as you.  They don’t share the same love of music, and they love where their heart leads them not where yours tells them.  We need to spend more time focused on what it means to love one another, what it takes to embrace ALL of humanity, instead of trying to ‘fix’ humanity by making them all appear, act, look, and serve just like we do. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Forgive Yes - Forget - A Tad Bit Harder to Do!

As this life draws to a close, if we are fortunate enough to either know when we are dying, we will all realize that our circle of friends has diminished greatly and our family has dwindled away.  As I reached 45 years this past March I was emotionally bowled over by the realization that my family has shrunken – a LOT.  My mother was gone; both sets of grandparents, extended Aunts and Uncles – in fact, a family photo that was taken in 1992 will reflect about 6 people still alive out of 13!  I have scores of photos of people who are no longer here.  It is up to those of us left behind to make a decision as to how lonely our own death will be.

My mother was extremely blessed and, praise God, she knew it.  In fact, on her death bed she said to me, “how is it that I am so incredibly loved by so many people”.  What a thrill to my heart that was!  Mom KNEW she was loved.  How many of us really know how much we are loved?  We should all be so lucky to be here on earth and know that beyond a shadow of a doubt!

 It has been an incredible week of challenges.  Faced with a difficult decision I sought the advice of family and friends.  I received encouragement, input, advice, and prayer.  So I made the amazingly tough decision to cut off a family member.

I realized immediately that by cutting off this family member I was merely putting the problem to rest.  It was not going to be resolved.  I had reached my limits of humanity and in order to protect myself, in order to stop allowing this person to attack me; I cut them off.  It just happened to be a family member.

I do not abdicate cutting off a family member immediately.  Forgiving and forgetting are important tools.  Resolving conflict is even more important especially in maintaining the health of the family.  It just makes sense to heal after a conflict.  But what if its abuse?  What if the offender is abusing you emotionally or physically?  It is necessary to cut someone off who is harming you physically and emotionally.  If you are experiencing physical abuse from a family member I hope that you would seek help.  For anyone experiencing physical abuse from a family member I pray that you would contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

I had to do something drastic to protect myself.  I chose to write that person off.  I wrote what I thought was a loving letter and I told this person that communication between us needs to cease immediately.  I also told that person that this act breaks my heart but his words hurt even more.

The goal of cutting off should NOT be just to rid yourself of that person.  If that person has redeeming qualities and deep down deserves to be part of your family than the goal of your actions should be to force that person in to a place where they are reflective of their actions, and they seek reconciliation.  They apologize for their hurtful ways and promise to fix them.  That should be the goal.  In my case several key people in my life wrote letters to this person.  We flooded his emotions, no doubt.  And now I hear that he is repentant.  I look forward to hearing it from his own mouth.

In my letter to him it was very important that he knew that I forgive him.  Forgiveness and forgetting are not the same and for those who do not forgive simply because they cannot forget  are missing the amazing blessings that can come from true forgiveness.  Forgiving is an amazing act of love, I think.  We don’t forget.  Our humanity won’t allow us to forget easily.  It was an event(s) that shaped our life.  EVERY thing that happens to us is a thread in the fabric of who we are – good or bad.  Joy-filled or tragic.  It shapes who we are, how we make decisions, the manner in which we approach other people and our work, and it shapes our moral code.  Without it we would simply not be the person we are today. 

There is a difference between forgetting the transgressions of our brothers and sisters, and letting it go.  Use that transgression as an alert or early warning system to your core-being so you can see it coming next time and avoid it all-together; but forgive and you will notice the memory of it, the immediate pain of it, will begin to go away.

I did a Google search for ‘steps to forgiveness” and noticed that there are 12, no 13, no wait – seven..oh 9…three…oh no there are six…  well it appears that no one has a simple solution.  But I do like the writing of Nicole Lamarre (  I encourage you to pop over there and read it.  Here are her six steps in bullet points:

1)       Feel the Pain

2)      Visualize separating the person from the behavior

3)      Rage at the behavior

4)      Release the offender and the pain

5)      Express love to the offender

6)      Express BOLD love to the offender

Please pop over there and read her explanations of each step.  I think she’s really on to something.

The Lord’s Prayer spells it out pretty simply for us.  We ask God to forgive our transgressions in the same manner we have forgiven those who transgressed against us.  It says nothing about forgetting so get that out of your head right now.  Work on forgiving and you will witness the amazing power it has!