Not just “Virtual” Community

My mom had surgery this past Monday.  It’s at least a 4 week recovery so we appreciate the prayers!  I talked to her Monday afternoon when she got out of surgery on the phone and one of the first things she said – “Prayer request” and she asked that we would pray for her recovery, doctors, etc. but mostly that people would be able to hear her with her hoarse voice after the breathing tube during surgery.

What is the fastest way to send out a prayer request?  Pray of course -duh.  But a great way to get a lot of people praying – facebook.  Suddenly there were clergy people, friends, church members from all sorts of previous churches, family – all praying with a sentence typed into a status. 

I’ve been to the church conferences and I’ve read the articles about “appropriate” technology and the ones asking if this virtual community is really killing our real life community, etc.  I get that.  I understand that people need to go outside and build relationships and engage in hands on experience, dialogue, etc.  But, I also think that social media offers a great chance for building community with people you may have lost touch with, people who you may not have ever met but you share communities in common, or people that maybe are just acquaintances but that you care for, support, and pray for.

A colleague of mine said that if he has a bunch of mutual friends with someone on facebook he’ll go ahead and friend them and will explain to them – if we have this many people in common and paths that have crossed, inevitably we will be friends.  Something to think about.  And then there’s the thing going around facebook now saying that we can’t possibly know everyone we’re “friends” with and asking these same friends to post how we’ve met.

I know that some of these are generational, societal, even security questions about what information is shared and how comfortable we are about sharing openly and honestly on the internet where as the lovely Social Network says – things are written in ink not in pencil.  But I hope that we are able to support each other whether near or far, whether close friend or acquaintance, whether we talk every day or it’s just a Christmas card or we had some powerful shared experience long ago.

I truly believe that this community is not just a virtual community, but that it’s real and alive.  I don’t think it always is and I know there’s exceptions to everything but I know that I can personally say that I’ve been moved by people’s support not just in cards or letters but in emails and comments and any other electronic communication.  That is just as meaningful to me as anything else.

Maybe everyone doesn’t feel that way?  How does the different form of community affect our love and support each other?  our pastoral care? 

Listening to a sermon online?  Watching a worship service from a podcast?  Having a small group discussion on skype?  What do these mediums to do the essence of our faith?  I certainly don’t have all the answers and I definitely don’t have the inside track to all of these different technologies but I do think that wiping them away as things that don’t build “real” community is a disservice and a shame when they can be a powerful resource for hope, healing, comfort and love.

What have your experiences been with virtual community?  Yay or nay?

Those Lights

I’ve really enjoyed the lectionary texts from the past couple weeks that have focused on light.  I’ve always liked Epiphany but even more so this year for some reason.  I appreciate that Epiphany is not just one Sunday that we celebrate those lovely wise folks coming to see the new born King, but that it’s an entire season stretching until the day before Ash Wednesday where we’re all opening our eyes to God around us.  To me that’s pretty significant in our church calendar that this time between the birth of Jesus – the incarnation – and Lent is a time where we a people of the light get a chance to center and focus on that light, opening ourselves to it.

I admit that I’m now watching ABC’s “Off the Map.”  If that makes me a drama and Grey’s Anatomy lovin’ television watcher than so be it.  I like the concept that these three doctors have come to this jungle to get away from whatever they have left back home and yet they seem to face these same fears and concerns no matter how far they have run.  In the first episode the three newbies gather and realize that the doctors that hired them had done their homework on each of their back stories.  The guy of the group says, “So much for a blank slate!”

I think sometimes we feel like that.  “So much for a blank slate!”  We wish that everything would just go away and be wiped clean.  The thing is though that community and church is not just about slates being wiped clean although it does say Jesus scatters our sins from the east to the west.  But there’s something about people loving each other in spite of the flaws and the crud.  There’s something about folks sharing in that refuge and safe place and being that harbor for each other whether it’s in the good, the bad, or the ugly.

Sometimes that being there for one another is letting go of a past wound or hurt.  Sometimes it’s acknowledging and saying outloud a secret that has kept us bound and stuck, whether it be our own, a family secret, or a burden we just kept on carrying.  Sometimes it’s admitting that we may not have it all figured out and we really struggle in some areas.  Sometimes it’s confessing something and seeking reconciliation.  Sometimes it’s just being open to where the Spirit of God leads.

It amazes me that at the times we are the most down or low or hopeless/helpless/spent – these are the times that often the light starts to break into those cloudy days.  There’s just something about that light that no matter how dark it may get – it breaks in.  We watched the movie TRON last night.  I know, I know – not the most high brow or Oscar worthy – but it was really surprisingly good and we didn’t want anything that would make us think to much at the end of a long Sunday.  I never saw the original but I really liked this one.  Part of the beauty of the story is that one of the characters had never really seen the sun.  She had no idea what that would look like.  She had read about it in books, true, but if you think about it – if you had no concept of what the sun is – how do you describe it?  The warmth, the light, that it’s practically everywhere, that it moves and shifts and changes.

There’s something unexplainable about the light but there’s something incredibly powerful.  In these days after the shooting in Tuscon, as we think about what it means to be community and shelter for one another as the Jars of Clay song talks about that I’ve mentioned before, I think about all of us holding candles together as one.  All of us lifting those candles as one.  That’s a powerful sight.  That it’s our collective voice, our collective being – lighting up as one.  Not “Lord in your mercy, hear my prayers” but “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.”  That we as community as a fellowship of believers lift each other up, we rejoice with each other, we mourn with each other, we keep telling each other to press on.

In that same episode from “Off the Map” (I know, I know) the main doctor says at the end to one of the new girls who’s figuring out why’s she there to look at the Southern Cross.  They’re a set of stars that look like a cross in the sky (yes, I wikipedia-ed it so it’s sort of legit).  He talks about how Magellan used the Southern Cross.  He knew that even if he was lost, he knew that if he found that in the sky, he would make his way back home.  All he had to do was keep on going.  So he tells her, “Keep on going.”

Now I know that there are times when we don’t want to “Keep on going.”  There are times when we think we can’t keep on going, much less want to.  But there are people and songs and scriptures and even those sometimes annoying bumper stickers that are lights that pop out along our way that help light our path to keep on going.  There is a shelter of people that help us to keep on going.  And that’s not just with a slate wiped clean, because you can’t escape and dodge forever, but that’s with all of who we are and are yet to be.

So are we those lights for others?  Are we ready to welcome people?  Are we ready to open our arms and our hearts and our eyes?  Are we as the Church/church ready to offer a refuge, a harbor, a light to those in a world raging?  Or do we just look like a big blob of dark with all of our “stuff” that sometimes gets in the way?

One of my favorite songs off of the new Jars of Clay “Shelter” CD (i know i can’t stop listening to it) is one called “Small Rebellions.”  Sadly there are no youtube videos that I can find out there yet.  But the words are below.

“God of the break and shatter – Hearts in every form still matter – In our weakness help us see – That alone we’ll never be – Lifting any burdens off our shoulders – If our days could be filled with small rebellions – senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – if we stand in between the fear and firm doundation – push against the current and the fall – God of the worn and tattered – All of your people matter – Give us more than words to speak – ‘Cause we are hearts and arms that reach – And Love climbs up and down the human ladder – Give us days to be filled with small rebellions – Senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – If we stand between the fear and firm foundation – Push against the current and the fall – We will never walk alone again – No, we will never walk alone.”

I’m glad that we don’t walk alone.  That there are lights along our way guiding us home and that we can be lights to the world.  Open our eyes Lord that we may see the ways that we can grasp hold of your light today that the world may see and know…

Psalm 27:1, 4-9, Isaiah 9:1-4

Would life change for you?

I know I haven’t posted much about the tumor lately and to be honest I haven’t wanted to.  This is not because I haven’t been thinking about it but the opposite.  I think this summer when everything happened, I didn’t really process or take the time to think about everything because it was so fast and then it was the school year and semester and you know how crazy that is.  With a little bit of a break over the past couple of weeks, it’s been tough.  I have a friend who says she only blogs on the bad days, but for some reason, I don’t.  I’m not saying that I haven’t had challenging days and hard days and have not blogged, but when I’m really wrestling with something, I just don’t always want to articulate or “sermonize” it.

After Christmas I did my latest MRI and the next day went and saw the neurosurgeon.  He said there was no change, so the little line of tumor on the motor cortex hasn’t grown and for that I’m thankful.  He didn’t really say anything new, but for some reason I took it more to heart.  I asked him whether I should get off of the seizure medicine or not and he said that was up to the neurologist but he also warned that it is more likely that I will have another symptom whether seizure or otherwise before an MRI would actually pick up a change.  Then he said that it’s not a question of if the tumor will come back, but when.

Now, I know that he’s said this before and I know that this type usually recurs but for some reason it hit me worse this time.  I think it’s because there’s a huge part of me and a sense from a lot of the people around me that everything’s fine now and back to normal and that I have to lead my life as I’ve always lived it.  And I do really want to do that.  It’s hard to tell if I should just go about business as usual or if my life really has changed completely.

I am a huge fan of wikipedia.  That may be completely against my English teacher self and I know it’s not always right or accurate but if you want something quick and consise – especially when I’m trying to figure out history during the Tudors or looking up actors or actresses – it’s a great site.  Did you know that I didn’t even look up “oligodendrogioma” which is the tumor that I had/still have a piece of?  Didn’t even think about it in the rush of the summer and semester.  The diagnosis and the treatment and much of the article follows exactly what we’ve been doing and I didn’t even think to look there.

Now part of me is glad that I didn’t.  I didn’t know that the median survival times for a grade 2 is 11.7 years or for a grade 3 is 3.5 years.  That’s a median I know and as the doctor said I could still live to be 80.  But how does knowing that information affect my life?

Not that we ever know specifics or a particular time table but if you knew you had say 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 years to live, how would that affect how you live your life?  Would it?  Would you change what you eat or how much you exercise or if you take your vitamins?  Would you spend more time with friends and family and try to make more meaningful relationships?  Would you change careers or look at fulfilling your hearts desire in a different vocation?  Would you live your life differently?

I’m not talking about Tim McGraw’s, “Live Like You Were Dying” song and sky diving and rocky mountain climbing – love the song but that’s too cheesy of segue for even me to post.  I’m asking a real question.  How would you live your life differently?  Or would you?  Maybe it’s better just to keep on keeping on and keep fighting and do the best you can and not change anything.  Or maybe we should be living our abundant lives to the fullest every day regardless of any prognosis, time table, or outcome?

I don’t know.  I don’t quite know how I feel about this yet or if this changes anything.  I know that I believe that prayer is powerful.  I know that when I read that article or I read other materials about this tumor that it is miraculous that I have come away from this with very little deficits – not being able to remember names and numbness and tingling every now and then is significantly different than what could have happened.  I thank each of you and my community folks for this.  I know that God walks with those on the 3.7 year side as well as those that live to be 80 and that God’s mercy, love and grace is shown to each.  I know that we all have “stuff” to deal with and for each of us it can be a long and winding road.

When I think about New Year’s resolutions or I think about the future, I think very much of how we live our life.  How do we let our lives speak?  Would you live your life differently knowing…?”

Here are some quotes from the beloved Parker Palmer:

“Verbalizing is not the only way our lives speak, of course. They speak through

our actions and reactions, our intuitions and instincts, our feelings and bodily

states of being, perhaps more profoundly than through our words.”

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”

“We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are.”

“Humility is the only lens though which great things can be seen–and once we have seen them, humility is the only posture possible.”

“As a young man, I yearned for the day when, rooted in the experience that comes only with age, I could do my work fearlessly. But today, in my mid-sixties, I realize that I will feel fear from time to time for the rest of my life. I may never get rid of my fear. But . . . I can learn to walk into it and through it whenever it rises up . . . naming the inner force that triggers . . . fear . . . Naming our fears aloud . . . is the first step toward transcending them.”

The Shelter

I bought some CD’s for Mike for Christmas that I thought would be good for worship.  Some were definitely better than others and I was hugely and pleasantly surprised that Jars of Clay’s new album – “The Shelter” is chock full of great music.  There hasn’t been a CD in a long time that I’ve listened to with such interest and have felt so moved by.  One of the quotes on the album says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.  Wow.  I like those words.

It’s less than a week before students are back.  That is a scary, scary thing with so much to be planned and prepared and geared up for.  In thinking about this semester though, part of me just wants to claim those words.  It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.  What does it mean to be church?  What does it mean to be in community with one another?

I think about students and the many walks of life they come from and all of the journeying they do during these young adult years and as much as it sounds all feel good and Oprah-y to talk in glowing terms about community all the time, I know it is hard.  It’s hard to be in relationship with people that don’t look like you or think like you or vote like you or think the wrong things are funny or don’t want to laugh at your same jokes.  But who wants a boring homogenous group?  Well, deep down, a lot of people probably do.  It’s a lot easier that way.

But how is that the kingdom of God?  I hope I’m not surrounded by just a group of snarky white girls in heaven.  Lord have mercy on all of us.  When I think about campus ministry and the coming semester, I want to see us grow not just in size or number although that would be great.  I’d like to see us grow in our love for one another.  And not just for one another but for the people that don’t look, act, or sometimes even smell like us.

My prayer is that we get past the quick, hollow greetings and dig into the relationships.  That in the midst of the busyness of college life that we can provide a shelter for one another.  That’s one of those things I can’t do all by myself.  That’s the cool thing about the Christian walk.  You can’t do it all by yourself.  At some point you have to enter into the chaos and the messyness that is relationship.

It is the shelter of each other that the people live.

Here Dan Haseltine introduces The Shelter…

Here’s them playing the song in the recording studio…

Here’s a version with the words…

I know that I need the shelter of each of you and I thank God for this community that walks with me each step of the way.  May we each find and cling to our shelter.

December 26th anticipating the New Year

(Post was written for a newsletter on December 26th)

The 12 Days of Christmas leading towards Epiphany continue on but already it feels like the season is beginning to pass as the debate begins on when to take down decorations and as new “things” have found their way into our homes.  Questions swirl in the mind both wondering – How are we going to fit all these toys in this house? And thankful – How good does it feel to finally get new kitchen towels after 8 years of marriage?  It feels good by the way.  This season is definitely a time to catch up with friends and family whether through visits, calls, or Christmas cards, but for me it also seems to be a time of reflection, taking stock, or working on things that might have slipped my attention during a busy semester.

I’m sitting here eating a chocolate covered marshmallow Santa as I type this and I’m thinking how ironic it is to talk at all about looking ahead and resolutions and New Year’s as I’m staring down at a bowl of Christmas candy.  So what will your resolutions be this year?  Do you do them?  I had a student a couple years ago that seriously did them and wrote them down and taped them up beside her computer.  Go her!  I’ve thought about it before and I guess have attempted a time or to, but I was much better at keeping “resolutions” while in an accountability group with some peers in college or as a Lenten practice.  In my mind why do we wait til certain times of the year to start making a change in our life?  Take for example me eating this bowl full of candy.  I can tell myself, hey – you better eat it now because come January 1st you’re not going to do this anymore.  Or I can just say, hey – if you eat more than one of those chocolate Santa’s you’re going to have a stomach ache and by the way – why are you always eating so much chocolate?  Maybe you should get more sleep or should do a little exercise.

I know, I know.  Enough with the inner monologue.  The thing about the Christian walk is that we don’t just evaluate and assess our lives once or twice a year.  We’re not just counted as naughty or nice once a year either.  This is a walk, a journey, and something that often takes some perseverance, faith and a whole lot of grace.   Sometimes we’re discouraged.  Sometimes we’ve had enough.  Sometimes it’s been a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year.  Sometimes we don’t know how we’ll pick up the pieces or where to begin.  But begin we will with the love and grace of God that is always sufficient if we but ask.

 I am reminded of the movie, The Sound of Music, another holiday favorite that I love.  When Maria comes back to the abbey not quite knowing what to do, and Mother Superior says, “Our abbey is not to be used as an escape.  What is it you can’t face?  You must find out.  You must go back.  Maria, these walls were not built to shut out problems.  You have to face them.  You have to live the life you were born to live.”  With the help of God we can face both the small and the most humungous of bumps in the road.  In this season of ponderings may we take a deep, hard look at the lives we are living and may we live them more abundantly and more hopefully in the love of Christ.  May we see the challenges of our days as opportunities to grow and learn.  May we know that making a change – creating a new habit or letting go of one – is not something that’s once a year, but we can keep climbing that mountain with a Savior that walks with us every day.  Listen to wonderful Mother Superior.  Listen to the Spirit of God alive and speaking to your heart.

“Climb Every Mountain”

Climb every mountain,

Search high and low,

Follow every byway,

Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,

Ford every stream,

Follow every rainbow,

‘Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need

All the love you can give,

Every day of your life

For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,

Ford every stream,

Follow every rainbow,

Till you find your dream

From the Winter Wesley Newsletter

(Written on December 9th for the Winthrop Wesley Winter newsletter)

I have been struck this Advent season with contrasts and contradictions.  I listen or try to escape from Christmas music on the radio this time of year and its frequently a sharp contrast to everything I see around me whether driving, in lines, trying to cross things off the gift, party, and card lists, and in all the “stuff” that goes into the preparations of this season.

Yes, Advent is that season of preparation, but not  necessarily the preparations we make.  This is a preparation that’s not just about the everyday hustle and bustle but also about getting ready for something completely out of this world—something revolutionary, new, an in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  We get ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us.  But we also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people.  This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.

I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the prophets  – a mix of folks.  I think about some of the sights and sounds we saw at Journey to Bethlehem.  I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining.  This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story.  These were trying times and people were being taxed and children lost lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.

A couple weeks ago I began reading the series The Hunger Games.  Excellent adolescent literature so perfect for my brain at the end of a semester.  Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life.  She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next footage of the Iraq war.  Her stories are not for the faint of heart.  They are violent and graphic and terrifying.  It’s not a pretty picture of people sending their children off to fight to the death.  See—I told you not a rosy colored story.

But that’s not much different from the context Jesus arrived in.  Here these people were under Roman control, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives.  The thing about the books—there’s no savior at the end.  For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors.  There are hard things that we see everyday whether it be a fifth grader committing suicide or children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home.

For some this isn’t just a hustling and bustling time of year, but it’s a painful time.  That’s there.  That’s part of the story.  Pain and hurt and fear are there.  But there’s also this thing that I can describe only as wonder.  The thing about this season is that as much as I think my heart is hardened or as much as I’ve blocked out the music since it’s started playing after Halloween this year or as much as I feel caught up in finishing the semester and trying to keep the kids from going crazy waiting for Santa—the wonder of Christmas inevitably sneaks up.

You see, it’s not about all these things or all this chaos.  But it’s also not just about our current circumstance.  Because we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people .  For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…”  This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting grades or exam results, health questions, job changes, or life decisions.

And this kind of peace can transform the world.  Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world.  My hope over this Christmas break is that in the midst of everything as students are catching up on sleep and connecting with family and friends and as all of us frantically try to make it through, that we can find time to stop and breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.

Merry Christmas to all of you and much love, peace, and blessings!