The Power of Prayer

Intentional Prayer Time at International Justice Mission
I was reading some blog posts yesterday and one of the commentators asked another if he had prayed about a particular situation going on at his church. She wasn’t seeming to say it in a “jesus juke” fashion of trying to make him look/feel bad or in a way that said look at me the better Christian, but in a real, practical and honest way. It struck me at the time and I read the comment again. It began to challenge me as we live into the present and future of our personal lives, families, ministries, vocations, churches, etc. Have we – several times a day – intentional asked God to show us and lead us and guide us?

I admit that I am better at that sometime than others. I try to read my email version of the Upper Room when I get to the office every morning and I am one of those sometimes rare people that really like Christian music so I often listen to it in the car. I often have a pretty good indicator on how I’m feeling in connection to God by how often I steer clear of the Christian music stations or how often I just skim or delete the devotional. It’s not that I’m intentionally saying – I want some distance between me and God right now. But whether I articulate it that way or not, in many ways that’s what I’m doing.

For me, when I realize that there’s some space there, it’s gut check time. What’s going on that I’m not acknowledging? What’s my hesitation? Why am I not sleeping at night?

In our lives right now we’re busting at the seams with worries. We’ve been getting moving estimates this week and juggling boxes, pick up times, and delivery is awesome. The kids have a two week break between the end of their preschool regular school year and the first summer session and Enoch asks every day why I can’t stay at home on vacation and not go to work. Enjoying the kids for two weeks while keeping the house clean and spotless and ready for someone to do a showing – super stressful. Wondering if people will see the house and want to buy it or if we’re going to juggle payments or end up renting – not for the faint of heart. Realizing that I only have a couple more weeks in the office to get everything settled here and to be emotionally, spiritually, and physically ready to begin a new adventure – baby steps.

It’s a lot.

But I know that we don’t go into this alone. And I know that we are not helpless in facing life’s joys and challenges.

Sometimes I just want to avoid the weight of the pressure and the huge emotion that goes with being personally invested in this crazy ministry that has been more than a job or a ministry but a home and community for over a decade.

Yet God is there, waiting and ready to offer what I need. A random facebook comment to point me in the right direction. Jars of Clay’s “Shelter” coming on my itunes reminding me that “in the shelter of each other is where the people live.” So instead of ducking my head in the sand and being in denial for a bit longer, it’s time to make a list of prayers. Not worries. But prayers. That I will intentionally pray for throughout the day.

1. That our house sells.
2. The Enoch will love his new school and that he will have a great teacher and kindergarten class. That he will make friends and that he’ll continue to do well with his speech and language since he had a delay and worked super hard here so won’t do speech in Florida.
3. That we’ll find a good preschool for Evy and that there will be room for her to join one of the classes. That she’ll make friends and will continue to excel at school.
4. That the actual move will go well. That the estimates are not too crazy much. That everything gets there and transporting us, the kids, the cats and everything else will go well.
5. That Mike will find a church music job and can do what he’s passionate about!
6. Winthrop Wesley and the transition
7. Gator Wesley and the transition

There’s more but I’m sticking with this list – Mike, Enoch, Evy, House, Move, the two Wesley’s.

God help me to remember to come to you and to seek you. Help us to remember to open ourselves to your Word for us and that we can urgently come to you in prayer. Amen.

Affirmation and Calling

It’s been an interesting process the past couple of days as our search committee at Winthrop Wesley interviews candidates for the Director/Campus Minister job. I have been thankful to not be directly a part of the process and able to spend time at the end of each candidate’s interview times being able to answer questions and affirm them.

What I’ve found from a lot of them as well as from some of my current and former students is that our church is not always in the practice of affirming our young, capable and qualified leaders if their calling is something other than that of the local church.

As a member of a District Committee on Ministry and as someone who was loved and affirmed in my calling and in this process, I’ve seen some of this from both sides. I felt some of this as someone going through trying to articulate something that didn’t necessarily include a steeple or a pulpit. But, call me crazy, I thought that with all of the research talking about young people going into ministry and with it being over 10 years since I went through our process that things had gotten better. That committees and boards were more open to young people seeing church in sometimes different ways and wanting to live out their calling in ways that doesn’t always fit the life-long career path of previous generations.

I have people tell me all the time that they feel called to campus ministry and want to work with young people but that their committees on ministry or their senior pastor or those giving them counsel on how to get larger appointments with higher paying salaries warn against this because of their career or how they’ll be perceived or pigeon holed asking questions like, “Why would you waste your gifts there?” Yes, I have really heard this.

It feels like we just want to lift up people that look like and talk like us…40 years ago and we want them to follow our exact life map. We’re talking about the Call to Action and vital congregations and I’m all about us having that conversation, but changing our general agencies in no way completely solves the problem of our relevance or our connection with the world. If we ask the same questions that we asked 40 years ago and we expect the same answers, leaving no room for change or growth or a flip the script moment, we’re setting ourselves up for great failure. Not as a Church, not as a body of Christ, not as a movement but as a system – a structure that exists to continue its existence.

In contrast to all of this our amazing intern Erica just got back from her interview process with the General Board of Global Ministries for the Mission Intern program, which would train her to be a missionary 16 months internationally and 16 months domestically. She had an awesome experience. She felt affirmed. She felt heard. She felt like it was actually intentional and discerning and open…and she is bubbling from the experience! Hers is not the most traditional road to ministry, but it is such a rich and wondrous thing to witness. It’s exciting. It gives me hope for our church. Hearing about her wanting to share the Good News of Christ makes me excited that the United Methodist Church sends out missionaries all over the world – with all of their quirks, oddities, diversity, and high caliber!

I want to be able to encourage young people into ministry – whether ordained or in great UMVIM or GBHEM or World Race or whatever opportunities. I want to know that yes, they are questioned and people help them discern and give them counsel, but I also want them to be affirmed that God has called them to serve God’s kingdom – not in a particular venue or in specific cookie cutter ways. Not hating on the cookie cutters because I love them and I am related to them, but we’ve got to lift up our young people and listen to them and hear their hopes, dreams, and passion. We’ve got to see and believe, not just say that all of these ministries are not just valid but just as “important” as the other. And this can’t just happen in our campus ministries. Our students can’t just be affirmed here, in the safety of our communities. The larger church has to be willing to affirm this calling as well and there has to be room made at the table.

I’m sitting here listening to Erica tell two of our students about her experience and what she could possibly do and it’s so contagious that we all need to hear it. We all need to hear this joy and passion. We all need to have a chance to sit down with a group of young people and listen to how they see the world and how they view the church.

So a huge thank you to all of those who have affirmed some of us crazy folks that love the local church – absolutely love it – but are called to serve in a variety of ways. A huge thank you to those that see quality, solid people and don’t say things like – you don’t want to serve there, you want to be able to move up our system, why would you waste your gifts with such a transient and changing group. A huge thank you to those that support these crazy ministries that we do and who believe in the work that we are doing. A huge thank you to our advocates who have stepped into the gaps, who have tried to translate for us, and who have journeyed with us.

May each of us experience times of affirmation and calling, as well as time of challenging and questioning. AND may we as a church realize that some of our larger struggles are not just structural, but so much more. Help us Lord to not just break glass ceilings in our particular ministries but may the greater church realize the gifts, graces, and beautiful ministry that is happening throughout our connection as we seek the already and not yet of your kingdom.

Drawing Closer – Lenten Journey

I have been being slack in my blog posts and I promise to do better in Lent. Below is a post I wrote on the Winthrop Wesley blog (wuwesley.wordpress.com) that I am posting here as well because in the days to come I may need some accountability as I am led by the Holy Spirit of what this 40 days of wilderness will be.

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Our text at this past week’s worship service was James 1:19-27 which is a familiar part of James. Verse 22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

It’s a passage that is lifted up in a lot of Protestant congregations and we looked at it in particular leading up to today, Ash Wednesday.

Last week I had the honor and joy to speak at a conference for young adults in ministry. Relevance LEAD was a great time of talking with other pastors and lay people in ministry that were my age, to dream about the possibilities and life of the church, and to share in friendship, community building and collegiality. It was a special time. And something completely different than a typical conference as the speakers were part of the conference just like everyone else and we all have a vested interest in sharing these ideas and musings.

I liked that it was set up to dream big dreams and engage but there was another part of me that kept itching for the nuts and bolts, what would happen when the rubber hits the road. Each person was wrestling with similar things and were living out their faith and that of their community in mighty ways, but it still begged the question of what this means for our greater church. I felt a bit like James – let’s not just talk about this and know that we all feel in similar ways, but let’s do it.

It’s all well and good to talk the big talk, but if we go back home from this conference and it doesn’t change how we think or how we do things, if we don’t take away friendships that will continue as we journey together, if we don’t actually begin the first steps of these big dreams – what’s the point? It’s good to know that you’re not alone, but if we stay completely in the theoretical, than it can sometimes just be hot air and words.

Just like this Lenten season. I’ve heard students buzzing about what they’re giving up for Lent and that seems like the big question of the next couple of days. I admit, I didn’t grow up with a huge emphasis on giving things up or adding things to my life and I didn’t really do it until college. One of those years I gave up popcorn, which was my current obsession. The next year, I gave up M&M Mcflurries. Now that was all well and good and I think I could rationalize them as a step to be healthy but even that would be a stretch with all of the rest of the junk I eat.

You see, it’s not just about what we give up or add – it’s about whether those things draw us closer to God. Several of our students have talked about giving up facebook. One is giving up three hours a day with her phone – not just class time or when she’s asleep, but three hours where she won’t be checking it all the time. She plans on this being time where she can draw closer to God. Another student has covenanted to intentionally pray three times a day for the season of Lent. If you’re just giving up chocolate or ice cream or coffee for the heck of it and it’s not something that’s drawing you closer to God – what’s the point? I get the idea of sacrifice but I also think if we just do the sacrifice and we’re not adding things like reading scripture, doing a daily devotion, writing down things that we’re thankful for, renewing an old friendship, sending words of encouragement to friends, or walking in the outdoors with God in nature – than we’re fooling ourselves into thinking that we have this thing covered. It’s not about choosing something so that if someone asks us about it – we can give a ready made answer, but choosing something because we have invited the Holy Spirit into our lives and have opened ourselves to see the areas that we might need to work on.

One of the students Monday night after worship described it as a giant Pinterest board where you’ve “pinned” all these different things and they look nice and easy and like things that you would like to do “one day,” but you never actually get around to doing them. James is saying – do it now. Lent is calling us forth to realizing that yes we are dust and to dust we will return, but in the meantime let us draw close to God and walk this road.

My brother Josh is doing a Lenten series called “Holy Walkabout” and I love the idea of Lent being this special time where we’re walking with God into the wilderness. We don’t always know what we’re going to discover or the ways that God will reveal God’s self. We don’t always know what areas we need to work on in our lives because I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty good rationalizer. I would say that I’m exceptional when it comes to finding ways to eat junk food. It defeats the purpose of Lent for me to negotiate back and forth if this counts or if that counts. Because when we open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading and we actually go all in with this thing, we realize that it’s not just about us or having something to say when people ask, but it’s about wanting to be part of this larger story of God’s love and grace for us and how we can best live that out so that the world may know God.

So are you going to keep pinning the things that you want to do on a giant to do list to do eventually or you going to actually start chipping away at some of these possibilities right now?

God’s not going to hand out gold stars for those that participate and unsmiley faces for those that don’t. It’s not about that. But it is about deepening that relationship and trusting that real change, habitual change can take place in 40 days.

So think about it…ask the Holy Spirit to come and guide you…what are some ways you can draw close to God this Lenten season? What are some things that hinder or road block your relationship? What are some ways that we can intentionally live out our faith right now?

Dig in.

Are you there God, it’s us…

A beautiful picture by Robin Morren
When I was growing up there was a popular book called “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” by Judy Blume. It’s a classic. Seriously.

It’s been one of those days where you want to ask something along the lines of – is this ever going to be easy? Is there ever going to be a catch up day or a normal day? Why are we all here? What is this God-thing or Gospel that we believe and we’re to share with the world?

Two veins have been turning over in my mind. The first is that of theodicy (why bad things happen) and Providence and God’s will and the second is looking at the crud and muck of life and why sometimes we get so much flack and have to “battle” through to another day.

I wasn’t going to write a blog in the midst of this pondering, but when Casting Crowns “If We’ve Ever Needed You,” Natalie Grant’s “Held,” and Laura Story’s “Blessings,” come up in a row and you’re wrestling with these questions, you begin to feel a nudge saying maybe I should pay attention to this.

This summer I watched the Gamecocks win their second National Championship in baseball and I listened to them throughout the season and especially in that series say the word “battle” about a gazillion times. They talked about the battle that you have to go through to persevere and get through to the other side. They talked about all of the challenges and adversity they faced. They talked about the faith they had even in the midst of the really tough times. If you’re a Gamecock fan you know the battle of which they speak. If you’re not one, you probably think the rest of us are the most masochistic fans ever.

Sometimes it truly feels like one step forward and three steps back. Sometimes that one step forward is huge and it could have been the hardest thing you ever did. Sometimes it feels like you’re talking to God and you’re trying….praying, reading, listening, crying out, and it seems like no one’s there. It’s an “Are you there God, it’s me….” moment. It’s like – are you with me, God? Do you see this? Do you feel this? Do you know what’s happening? Do you know how hard, frustrating, angering, devastating, debilitating this is? Are you with us???

And there are days when we just don’t feel it. There are times when we may want to throw in the towel and say I’m done. There are times when I want to shut down and just not do or be or think or plan or respond to anything. There are times as a pastor and hearing people’s questions and doubts and worries and fears that even I’m gut checking to see what this whole faith thing is all about.

Because that’s the thing. No matter how much battle there is, no matter how much crud the world tosses at us, we have claim and know that God is there. God is here. God knows our heartache and our fears. God doesn’t just hover in a distance but God rejoices with us and also mourns with us. God is there in our suffering. God is there when we cry out. God is there when we’re tired and we’ve had enough. And God brings people and places and songs and sights and sounds and emails and telephone calls and shooting stars and silly jokes and lightning bolts into our lives when we need them so that we draw closer to God and we know for sure and for real that God is with us.

In a week where so many have experienced tragedy, where so many are struggling with friendships and classes and life questions and broken relationships, it’s sometimes hard for us to trust and to hope and to see any rhyme or reason. And sometimes it’s not yet the time or the place and we are shoving fingers in our ears because we don’t want to hear it. There’s such anger and grief and feelings of abandonment that a loving and merciful God could let such things happen. As there should be. The thing about the God we serve – the God of the scriptures is that God is a big God and can handle our anger, our tears, our crying out – all of the words or screaming that we want to use. The Psalms are chock full of people crying out. There aren’t too many Bible stories where someone didn’t question God somewhere along the way. Always in the midst even when we don’t feel it, God is faithful.

It’s not always the time or place to bring up verses about “beauty from ashes” and “for such a time as this” because that can sound trite and cliche and not helpful at all at the time. Sometimes the most loving and grace-filled thing to do is just sit and be present. To listen and love. To care and comfort. Not always with words but with love – tangible, real – prayers and presence. We may not understand why. We may not know the answers. We may not have the perfect thing to say. But we trust and pray and hope that God will continue even in the midst of the most terrible of circumstances to continue to bring mercies anew each day. We rest in the hope that we have someone we can always run to and someone we can always cry out to. We believe and feel the grace knowing that this life and this world is not the end but that the kingdom of God is alive and well in the already and not yet and that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May God answer us. May when we seek, we find; we knock, the doors opened; we ask, we receive. May we know and reach and grasp and cling to the love of God that is right there for each of us.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

More or Less? Enough?

Do you ever compare yourselves to others?

I think we all do it at one point or another.  In some ways it gets better as you get older….or does it?  It seems like it’s mostly outward comparisons – looks, nice car, awesome clothes, a perfect plus one.  But then again it can also be inward comparisons.  That person is so much (funnier, smarter, more personable, more extroverted, more centered, more…) than I am.  Why do we see others as more and that naturally leading to us thinking that we are somehow less?

God gifts each of us in mighty ways and just because our “gift” isn’t the same as the next person’s, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less.

One of the texts for Sunday is Romans 13:8-14 and it speaks hugely to these desires of the flesh – this coveting – this jealousy.

There’s all sorts of thoughts that run through our heads on a daily basis.  For me today some have been pretty small like it’s a bad hair day and maybe I should actually get a hair cut, that’s not my feet smelling up Wesley are they, or I wish I wasn’t so old and didn’t have aches and pains.  Others strike to the heart…if only I could spend hours of leisure with my children so I can see how their first day of school went, one of my constants – I wish we had a yard even though I love our lovely town house so that our kids could play in the back, or that question that I hate coming up this time of year…the one about whether what I’m doing is good enough.

I don’t think it’s just pastors that feel this way.  I’m sure it’s many in the work place or any who begin the lovely comparison dance.  I love seeing other campus ministers post on facebook this time of year and it’s great being able to cheer them on and glean great ideas from them.  I like the fellowship building of that and the collegiality.  And although I truly am excited when things are going well and there are more folks coming to Christ and finding that essential community, if I were completely honest with myself, this also often brings a list of questions and worries to mind as well.  Am I working hard enough?  Do we have enough students?  Are we going to have enough supporters or money coming in?  Is the job enough to count as ministry?  Why can’t we just rejoice with those and not have it automatically mean that something about us is less or not enough?

That’s the thing about ministry sometimes.  We think that it’s all about us.  Are we cool enough?  Hipster enough (don’t get me started Mac people)?  Funny enough?  Spiritual enough?  Know our Bible backwards and forwards enough?  Do we have enough activities?  Do we have a big enough crowd?  Are we marketing ourselves well?  It can drive you crazy.

Reality though is that God has gifted each of us and we’re not going to be all things to all people.  Wesley is going to always be a place that emphasizes community and justice and following Christ – not just nice and clean but down and dirty.  It is what it is.  Narcie is not ever going to have unlimited energy, a nice and witty thing always to say, perfect patience with everyone even in the most random of requests or the poof of suddenly being turned into a hot male with skinny jeans, muscle shirts, the strategic tattoo and gelled hair.  It ain’t happening.

I’m me.  No less than anyone else.  But all the more because of the One who has called us each by name.  I don’t have to feel unworthy or ashamed or less than.  I just have to trust the One who made me and created me as me.  I am enough.  You are enough.  We are plenty.  Isn’t a theology of abundance that much more life-giving than a theology of scarcity?  It’s not that someone got our gift and since they took it, we can’t have it.  It’s not that someone is doing so super well that there’s not enough for us.

We are enough.  As Romans 13 verse 12 says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”  May we lay down the words of darkness that creep into our heads and our hearts and may we put on the armor of light that protects us and surrounds us and sees us through to the other side.

Andrew Ripp – You Will Find Me (speaks so well to these feelings – great song!)

 

But Mostly Me…

Y’all know I’m a lover of Broadway and with all of the Tony’s it received Sunday night – I’m not the only one who thinks The Book of Mormon is one of the funniest and heart-felt musicals to hit Broadway in a while.

The story follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they are sent to Uganda, Africa.  Elder Price really had his heart set on Orlando, but they’re sent to Uganda.  All sorts of hilarity as well as the tension of real issues of faith, theodicy and how to deal with the crud of life ensues.

One of the songs at the beginning of the musical that highlights Elder Price’s being the shining star of all things and his belief that he’s going to rock anything he does is called “You and Me (But Mostly Me).”  I think it says a ton about how we see ourselves in ministry sometimes.  Rev. Bob Howell during his leadership seminar during Annual Conference talked about the Lone Ranger who have heard about a ton in the old model of ministry.  In the midst of an election year, there’s always a bit of the sense of self-promotion or arrogance or those type words that get thrown around.  Thoughts like – but I’m smarter than the person or have put more years of service in or have a harder appointment or would study harder or would be more balanced or am wiser than so and so.  There’s a sense of competition or a if this person gets this, what does that say about me kind of thing that takes place sometimes.  I don’t entirely know how we combat that, but I feel like a lot of it is setting a tone that we are all in this together and that it’s for the good of the church.

Who wouldn’t want to be the one to do this big thing???  That’s sort of what the song is saying.  But you know – how much more powerful and contagious is an entire movement???  I don’t see the GC and JC folks we elected as having these shiny halos or spotlights on them like movie stars, but as servants of the church that stepped up and who are making decisions in the church with all of us.  The thing about the present and future of our church whether you’re a death tsunami-er or a let’s die to live person or a let’s just get the Spirit of God moving and continue growing into what it means to be Church-er, we all want the same thing.  Or at least I hope we are.  I don’t care if one person or a body of people or what I’d like – a movement of people – begin this renewal, reformation, outpouring of the Spirit, commitment to prayer, spiritual practices and the scripture – putting it all into action.  We just need to do it.  To live it.  To breathe it.  To commit to it.  To prayerfully and intentionally go forward.

We are all in this together.  Whether fresh out of seminary, whether just commissioned or ordained, whether second career, whether retired, whether right in the middle of our pastoral ministry, whether young or old or not wanting to be classified as either, whether man or woman, no matter where we are on our journey or what we may look like.

How do we feel when the person beside us is lifted up?  What are our motivations?  What role or part can we play in our particular time and place?  What does renewal in The United Methodist Church look like?  Not just what’s a vital congregation or Call to Action, but what does renewal and revival look like where you are?  What are the gifts and graces given to each of us?  How can those be used?  Instead of just hearing and absorbing what we hear and learn and are inspired by, what are our next steps?

For some of us, we hear these inspiring things at conferences or on podcasts or in articles and we’re so tired and worn out and blah from the day to day or the uphill battles, that it’s hard to go forward.  See, the thing about being lone rangers and thinking it’s all about us, is that we forget that we’re all in this together.  Not just a cliche or a good thing to throw out there in theory or during a presentation, but seriously.  Is there someone that you can be for real with and can bust open the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you know it will be okay?  Who do we depend on to be our church?

This is not just a “but mostly me” but something that if we are to survive, if we are to be a stronger, healthier, more grounded body – we’ve got to be supporters, advocates, confidants, friends to each other.

This isn’t just the church or ministry folk, but all of us.  It’s not about this congregation or that.  It’s not just about shuffling our membership to churches as we like the pastor or not or the youth program or not or that they talk too much about money or focus too much on social justice.  It’s about what’s essential and what the mission of the Church is.  How do WE make disciples?  How are WE in ministry WITH the community?  How are WE growing and learning and changing and praying and leading and growing?

It’s a heck of a lot more exciting and a lot less pressure when it’s not just all about me, but about all of us.  Let’s celebrate that.

How and why do we make it all about us???  What are some assumptions and world views that might change if it’s not so me-centric?  What does the Bible say about all this me stuff???  How is evangelism a whole new ball game when it’s just about you, but it’s about the world?

What do people see?

Do you ever wonder what people think when they see you?  I’m not completely just talking about visual judgments here, but the whole shebang.  It’s just funny to me to think about how we are each perceived and how close to the mark that is.

One of the students and I walked over to the campus Starbucks earlier today to talk about seminary and candidacy and all that is wonderful and crazy about heading into ministry in the United Methodist Church.  It was a fun conversation and I’m excited about his journey.  What was funny to me is that one of the folks we met along the way, that I know pretty well, didn’t even speak to me or seem to recognize me.  Now, I must say, that since there’s no meetings today and I’m not anticipating having to look too terribly nice, I’m in jeans and a short sleeved shirt with no make up.  You could call this one of my uniforms.  What is hilarious is that when I’m dressed nicely with my make up on, I’m recognized immediately, but in my “natural” state, not so much. Now there are pros and cons about being recognized and pros and cons about blending in.  I just think it’s funny to think about.

I mentioned this to some of the students at lunch and one very nicely and graciously and probably a little untruthfully, said – “What?  You look exactly the same.”  God bless the young.  We were having some conversation about the upcoming school year and getting ready for Welcome Week and the first few weeks of classes and how we need to plan and prepare and get rocking this summer so that we show the very best of Winthrop Wesley those first few weeks. In other words, we’re going to put on our nice clothes and make up and rock this thing.  Or as my Ganny would say, we’re going to put our “face” on.  Thinking about it – it’s the truth.  When do I clean up and make sure everything looks nice – when someone’s coming over, when there’s a board meeting, at the beginning of the school year.  When do we put out fresh pine straw and make sure the outside of the building looks good – Orientations and the beginning of the school year.  When do I actually consider wearing a suit or ironing that dress – Annual Conference, a district meeting, or some other professional gathering. When do our congregations particular dress up – Easter, Christmas, graduation, the big days. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with celebrating or dressing up for dinner or actually using the fine china every now and then.  (Come to think of it – we have NEVER used ours and that is a sad, sad thing.  Maybe we should plan a big dinner sometime soon or at least use the stuff.  I don’t know why we even registered for those tea cups.  My Lord.)  Reality is that I think sometimes we need those occasions or deadlines to get geared up and do something.  Although I know that I need to exercise more and stop eating all of these delicious cookies from Lell’s, I also keep thinking to myself – I’ll start tomorrow or maybe one day when I get a bike and ride it to work or maybe before bathing suit season.  And yet, we’re at bathing suit season and I’m thinking, I don’t really have to wear a bathing suit, right?  Or maybe I can scratch the bikini this year and actually go for the “Mom” suit.  (You know the kind I’m talking about, don’t even try to deny it.)  Sometimes without an imminent deadline, we languish where we are and don’t make the extra effort to get our “stuff” together. So as much as I in some ways don’t like being recognized and it’s nice not to be “seen” all the time, it’s also a good reminder that we’ve got to keep it moving and keep it flowing not just on the high traffic, big deal, main event kind of times, but maybe at least a trickle of keeping it hospitable, welcoming, genuine and open all the time.  You never know whose going to walk into your congregation at what time or who you’re going to welcome to your door.  You don’t know if today’s going to be the day at Starbucks that you meet someone that is going to rock your socks off and be that missing piece to some ministry idea or ministry team or whatever for your congregation.  I’m not saying we’re not authentic – and I’m certainly not saying that I’m going to suddenly dress up for Wesley each day, but I am saying that we’ve got to be aware of what the world sees.  We’ve got to be aware of how we’re perceived.  We’ve got to be aware of the image that we create.

While at lunch there were three professors in the restaurant with us and one of them who comes to our Faculty-Staff lunches looked over and smiled and waved as the students and I were discussing Nicaragua and the upcoming school year.  That’s what I want these folks to see – students engaged and excited and brainstorming – not just about their schoolwork or their majors but also about their vocational journeys, their worlds – all the fun and mess and real life.  We want the world to see all of who we are – not just the Sunday morning shiny with the great hair, outfit, and full face, but also the struggles, the tears, the frustrations and everything in between. So the challenge – put our best foot forward – true – but be real.  What is your image of yourself?  What do you think the world sees?  What do you think God sees?  How are we called to be in the world?  Do we need a big fancy event to throw on some nice clothes or use the good china?  Who or what has helped to define how you see yourself?

“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.”  – Parker Palmer

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. 1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.