Gripey no Griping!

Are you a griper?  Not sure if griper is a word but I know the sentiment.  I think it’s easy to gripe in our society.  Maybe it has to do with how blessed we are.  Most of us have food to eat, have a roof over our heads, and generally compared to many in the world are hugely blessed beyond imagination. 

For a while it was the whole comparison of who has the biggest house or car or highest paying job – the oh so loved keeping up with the Jones’.  But these days it seems that it’s who’s got the worst life or the most to complain about any given day.  Who’s having the worst day ever?  I love social networking – facebook, twitter, etc. and I’m glad that people can share with each other and lift each other up.  I think it’s an awesome community thing and heck there’s a lot of pastoral care out there.  I’m unsure though if we’re noticing the line between venting and griping.

Griping.  That negativity.  That dissatisfaction.  That yuck is contagious.  If enough people complain about something, it becomes the reality for those people and it’s just an open festering wound without any hope of repair or restoration.  What good does it do to gripe?  Does it make you feel better?  Why?  In my lovely little defensive driving class Vicki Reavis said something that has stuck with me – you can’t control the other car.  You can’t control what the other person does.  But you can control how you react to it.  You can control what you do.  So when that person steals your parking space and you had your blinker on or doesn’t give you the courtesy thank you wave or goes super slow in the fast lane or drives in “stealth” mode with no blinkers or cutting you off in traffic – you can’t control them – but you can make sure it doesn’t get under your skin and shape your day.

The thing is – if we believe in a Savior – a God with us, if we truly believe that this Teacher that came and walked among us really calls us to this new life….if we really believe that – than we’ve got a lot to be thankful for.  I loved seeing people’s thanksgiving facebook statuses.  It was fun to read what people are thankful for.  I wonder how easy/hard it would be to keep up that practice all year long?  Could you come up with 1 or 2 or 3 things to be thankful for every day?  If you had the discipline to do that, would that change the way you see the world?  Would you appreciate things or look for things to be thankful for in a different way if your eyes were open and watching for them?

Don’t go down the griping road.  Just like on Dora the Explorer – Swiper, no swiping! and in life Griper, no griping!  Vent.  Get it off your chest.  Verbalize it.  But don’t let it ruin your day and rule your life.  Look around you – these beautiful trees changing from Autumn to Winter; the expectant and crazy anticipation of Christmas in the eyes of a child; the mighty wind blowing through the trees.  God has provided for us everything that we need.

Check out Chris August’ Starry Night.  I love this song.  If we believe this, we won’t be griping.  We’ll be praising.

So even on this cloudy day during the last full week of classes when students are swamped completely and are trying to figure out how in the world they will get everything done – may they get the strength that they need, may the keep going in perseverance, may they get restorative rest even on little sleep, may they find time in the day they didn’t know they had, may they have wisdom in scheduling their time, and may they know and feel the love and grace and peace of God surrounding them!

Sing to the King

Two Sundays ago was the Christ the King Sunday.  (Yes I am behind these days.)  One of the doctrine and theology ordination interview questions used to ask about theories of atonement and which one you most liked.  There’s all sorts of theories of atonement and Dr. Thangaraj’s Images of Christ class gave a ton of them in a very succinct way and I found that I really like Christus Victor.  As in Christ is the Victor – which always reminds me of Christ the King Sunday.  That no matter what crud is happening in life right now, that in the end – Christ is the King.  Christ wins.  Christ is the final victor.

So I generally like Christ the King Sunday in essence.  The texts are usually very imperious and globaly reckoningy but other than that I’m cool with it….most of the time.  There’s a part of me that even though that was my answer in ordination interviews, that doesn’t really like any kind of king over me.  You know what I mean?  Maybe you’re shaking your head and saying no. 

Let’s think about some crazy kings – Herod, Henry the crazy 8th, there’s all sorts of them.  You bow down to kings.  You obey kings.  Kings are your Lord and Master.  So this isn’t a halfway commitment, it’s an all the way, all or nothing.  You don’t just give a flimsy curtsy and you don’t just disobey whenever you feel like it with no consequence. 

So I’m thinking the part of me that doesn’t like this whole kingship idea is one that is basing this idea on human kings that fail every time.  These kings are not always just, are not always kind, are not always looking out for the best benefit for all of their people.

But the King that we celebrate is one that knows and loves each of us equally – not just the rich ones or the pretty ones or the smart ones or the most athletic ones, but all of us.  This theory – this idea of Christ as King – says that Christ is the Victor over all things that bind us or hold us back – sin, sickness, death, doubts, fears, past mistakes, old and new wounds, uncertainty, hopelessness – Christ is the victor over all of the darkness and shines light into all the dark places of our hearts and our lives.

This kingship is not just over one country or one people, but over all the world.  This kingship doesn’t just bring hope and good news to one group, but to all people.  It’s a kingship that brings about more hope, joy, and peace than even Camelot could imagine.  So we will Sing to the King who IS coming to reign.  May our King reign in our hearts and minds this day.

Sing to the King (Lyrics by Billy Janes Foot and Candi Pearon)

Sing to the King Who is coming to reign
Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain
Life and salvation His empire shall bring
And joy to the nations when Jesus is King

Come, let us sing a song
A song declaring that we belong to Jesus
He is all we need
Lift up a heart of praise
Sing now with voices raised to Jesus
Sing to the King

For His returning we watch and we pray
We will be ready the dawn of that day
We’ll join in singing with all the redeemed
‘Cause Satan is vanquished when Jesus is King

Don’t Break Even

I keep hearing The Script’s Breakeven when I’m in the car.  The opening lines “Still alive but I’m barely breathing.  Praying to a God that I don’t believe in…”  I wonder how many people start to feel that at this time in the school year when people are tired, sick, maxed out, and papers/tests/projects/finals are creeping up?   Heartbreak and things not seeming fair and things not going as planned, that’s not just college, that’s life.  But the song is right in that sometimes things don’t “break even.” 

Some seem to get all the breaks and others don’t.  In this National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, that seems really fitting.  As we have walked in CROP for the hungry, as we’ve been packing boxes for children all over the world in Operation Christmas Child, as we have given up meals for Oxfam and are sleeping out Friday night for the homeless…as tough as we may have it – we’re still really, really lucky.  That’s not just a cliche or empty words.  I’m glad that in the love of God, we all come out even.  I just hope that as the people of God, we do our best to even out the injustice, inequality, and crud in the world so that the light, love, grace, and truth of One who calls each of us is shown in all that we do and say. 

Last week I had the honor of participating in the Killingsworth Gala in Columbia.  Wearing high-heeled shoes when you’re already close to 6 feet tall is not something I choose to do in the day-to-day.  Actually barefooted is much more like it.  In the midst of getting ready (all white outfit with white fur hat and leopard print high heels = hilarious) though we all bonded.  I ended up sitting beside a beautiful woman named Jenny and I helped her with her clothes.  We were all really nervous.

I had no idea why Jenny was nervous until she walked out on the runway the second time and began to share her story.  Killingsworth is a place for women to go that are emerging out of crises situations.  Jenny very humbly and powerfully and eloquently shared her story with the over 700 people in attendance – her abusive past, her drug addiction, the loss of her children and then her truly turning her life around.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen or heard.  That took so much guts to do in front of all those people!

After leaving that night I heard this song in the car.  In thinking about her story and the story of students and friends and loved ones who have been through beyond hard situations and that helpless feeling that you feel especially when it looks like the other person or people are getting the breaks.  Why is that?

I don’t think some of us have all the answers and I don’t think we should start spouting off things like if you do x, y, z then life will turn up roses.  It’s hard to hear but I totally get what Becca was saying in her blog from the CDCA today.  http://jhc-cdca.blogspot.com/2010/11/to-hell-with-good-intentions.html  But I do think we each have a story to tell.  In the midst of me not breaking my neck walking down the runway, the lovely mc said I was a walking miracle.  That’s not necessarily someway you’d like to classify yourself because you then know everyone’s looking at you and thinking what happened to her?  And that’s what Jenny asked me.  So what did happen to you?  Oh, just a brain tumor.  No worries.

In the grand sceme of things – it really is no worries.  I’m fine.  And there are loads of people out there that are not.  We each have a story to tell.  Seriously.  No brain tumor or drug addiction or bad car accident needed.  We each have a story of redemption that does make us walking miracles.  In some ways it may not be a big deal to us, but if we’re not sharing these stories than there’s a whole world out there that thinks they’re praying to some crazy punishing God that zaps some people and not the rest.

Things may not break even.  But the gift of salvation is offered to each of us.  And our stories tell that louder than anything else we can make up.  A clergy colleague shared with our district clergy meeting last week something that his church did last year called Cardboard Testimonies.  Apparently, a bunch of folks have done this at their churches.  I love it.  Not entirely ready to spring this on our church, but I like the challenge of sharing even a bit of your story with others.

Here’s the link.  Check it out.  http://www.vimeo.com/5088437

For more info on Killingsworth and they’re amazing work: http://www.killingsworthhome.org/page6.html

Taking Your Own Advice – ie. masochistic preachers

So this is the part 2 that I never got around to writing last week.  When I was in grad school at Emory – yay Candler! – I often saw the same nurse practioner when I would go to Student Health Services.  She was great.  Can’t say enough good things!  One of the first things she said to me though has stuck in my mind since then.  She made the comment that we theology students were her worst patients.  She said that we were a masochistic bunch and would rather suffer and be sick than be well.

As much as at the time I thought it was pretty rude, obnoxious and completely untrue, the more I got to know her and the more I looked around me – there’s a lot of truth there.  We can say we’re too busy to go to the doctor or that there’s so much more “ministry” to do, that this isn’t just a job, etc. but the reality is we’re most of the time pretty cruddy examples to our people/students of good patterns of self-care and tending to that whole body as the temple of God thing.

Now I was going to write this last week after my part 1, but then Tuesday I went to the doctor and was told I had a sinus infection and then I was still feeling cruddy on Friday so I went back to the doctor.  This time he said I have mono.  So yes, you are reading a very hypocritical voice now.  I completely and utterly admit it.

The sad thing is that when I went to the waiting room to get bloodwork, lo and behold but here was another campus minister from Winthrop who was sick too.  We both went through the usual excuses of we should have been taking better care of ourselves, eaten better, slept more, taken a day off, etc. but knowing her and knowing me – I don’t think we were all that convincing.

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with another campus minister colleague about days off.  We pretty much admitted that we mean to and we try to but it’s hard to actually fit it in with everything that pops up or should I say shows up at your office door, with student ministry.  Even now I feel like I’m giving excuses.  Which I probably am.

So why am I saying all this?  We – ministry professionals, counseling folks, people in these lovely people professions – we’ve got to take care of ourselves.  I know it’s hard with the neverending to do lists or demands on time, but if we have one foot in the grave all the time, that doesn’t do anyone any good either.

The suggested Bible reading for the Upper Room this morning was 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”  I read that and I think you see even if I feel like crap right now, Jesus is still within me shining on and I’m all good.

And part of that is sort of true – if Jesus could have preached for me yesterday because I was exhausted.  However, we can’t look at verses like these and think that we’re these invincible people.  The Holy Spirit works with a lot of “used up” folks – very true – but sometimes we’ve got to take care of ourselves and make ourselves lay down in green pastures and still waters and restore our souls.

So – yes, I am going to work on the Wesley checkbook (fun…not) and begin our next newsletter, but then I’m going home to spend the afternoon with the kids.  Not necessarily what I would call restful, but hopefully still restorative.  We’ve got to grab hold of the little snippets of peace and relaxation as much as we can.  The students and I talked about this on Wednesday night and they amazed me at how busy and stressed they are.  We asked how do you relax and some said things like – take a shower, go to sleep, take a walk – really basic things.  Part of me thought – your time for yourself is just those 10 minutes in the shower???  But then again, I’m glad they’re taking it when and where they can.

May today we find moments of peace, replenishment, restoration, and rest in the midst.  May we listen to our own advice – oh yeah, we need to rest and have quiet time with God, too – and hold true to the Spirit at work within us.  May we not be pulled in a million directions but may we center upon the One who created us and is journeying with us in all the twists and turns.

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How do you get Sabbath rest?  What restores your soul?  What helps settle into your bones and gives you perfect peace?

Taking Your Own Advice Part 1

So do you ever take your own advice?  Part of me thinks that preachers are probably more guilty of not taking their own advice than just about anybody.  Maybe someone beats us out…but even the most obvious of examples – therapists, teachers, politicians – still probably do a better job than we do.

I try very hard not to ever say who I am voting for.  You may disagree but I think that’s a personal thing and not something that should be blasted from the pulpit.  There’s also perhaps a hesitation on my part because I don’t feel like debating my beliefs with everyone that could have a problem with them.  I vote both ways.  Nope, I am not one of those people that just checks the straight party line button at the beginning of the ballot and even for that, some of you are scratching your heads and thinking what’s wrong with me.

Now by saying that, I am not saying that politics don’t enter my sermons more often than not.  I just can’t seem to help it and I probably should apologize both to the congregations in this district and to my students because I’m sure they get tired of hearing about issues of human trafficking, hunger, relief for families, homelessness and legislation around that, and other stuff that I just can’t not say something about.  So if you ask me if my sermons are political, I wouldn’t want to say yes because I’m not saying “Vote for ????” but I don’t think that we as Christians can just sit on the sidelines on all of these things either.

I know, I know.  I can hear the give to Caesar, what is Caesar’s saying in the back of my head or the much misused “the poor are always with us.”  Mike actually created a political add 2 years ago before the last presidential election when the Caesar saying came up in the lectionary.  Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aanw_AUw1vc

 Thankfully he found it.  You would not believe how many crazy things pop up when you youtube Jesus political ad.  It was pretty much just talking about how anything can be misconstrued and used for “the other side” in this crazy time of awful political ads.

But see that’s the thing.  As much as I want people to vote and I ask my students if they’ve done their absentee ballots or if they’re going home to vote and I dragged my sick self to the polls yesterday, there’s part of me that was just overwhelmed by all the sheer negative gunk that has been happening.  There’s part of me that doesn’t know who to vote for because the cynical side of me says it doesn’t matter because as soon as they get to Washington they’re all going to be the same anyway.  No one wants to work with the other.  Nobody seems to care that lives are being lost not just at war but right here with jobs being lost and people not able to put food on the table.  It’s just so incredibly frustrating.

I’d like to think if we all banded together and held all of our representatives accountable to putting some of these power things aside and actually moving forward on some of the urgent issues of our country then we could make something happen.  But, I know that we (us regular folk) wouldn’t agree on what those are either.  It’s hard to make anything work when people are so polarized.

But I can’t spout off to people that we have to vote – that men and women have fought for our right to vote, that many of us couldn’t have voted 100 years ago, that we can’t just sit back and say we don’t like it and yet do nothing to change it – and not vote.  So I did.  Did all of “my” folks get elected?  Maybe not.  But do I think we need to pray for the ones that did?  Heck yes I do.  Because no matter if “our” people got elected or not – they need to all be “our” people and in our prayers.  Because we need some leaders with wisdom and integrity and passion to lead the way.  We can’t just sit around saying how awful everything is and demonizing people without honestly and urgently being in prayer for our world, our nation, our state, our communities – our leaders.

Nobody ever wins.  One “side” may “win” this year but then a couple years down the road it will flip and over and over again.  Politics is politics and the cycle continues but we as the church cannot keep sitting back and let our representatives duke it out in Washington while we just sit back home and go about our day to day.  We have got to be involved.  We’ve got to be advocates for the least of these.  We’ve got to not just protest and rally and yell at each other, but actually have dialogue with each other.  Let’s face it – we may not always change each others minds, but at least as we talk about it we can say – “Hey, so and so isn’t a complete moron, and they believe in this person, or issue, or cause…maybe I can’t or shouldn’t make blanket stereotypical statements about them.”

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m crazy.  Maybe I just want something different.  Maybe I’m just sick of it from both “sides.”  At a campus ministers meeting last week we were talking about this and how people want to use their faith to defend why they vote a certain way.  One person told about a t-shirt slogan that she has that says, “Jesus loves all of us, but I’m his favorite.”  Jesus loves each of us, but I’m his favorite.  FYI – beep, beep, beep – Public Service Announcement here – There’s no political party that’s his favorite.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t exercise our right to vote.  That doesn’t mean we don’t educate ourselves.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t advocate and support when we see fit.  But no “side” is his favorite.

So I took my own advice and voted yesterday.  I hope that I can continue to back that up.  That’s part of my reason for writing this.  If I write it down and I put it out there, even if just 2 of you read it, then I have to hold myself accountable to not demonizing folks and to praying for our leaders.  I have to hold myself accountable to trying to do the best I can to bring about change in this world for the kingdom of God whether that is by baby steps along the way or standing up for things even when it’s not popular.  I have to hold myself accountable to being a Christ follower first and foremost and to let my heart and discernment guide me throught the rest.