Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

As I close out the year and end my postings in this blog, thanks for traveling with me. I started out this morning with one of my favorite activities. We headed for the church at 5:30 a.m. to start cooking eggs for the FUMC Christmas Eve Brunch. The decorating team had done a great job yesterday, and the kitchen prep had been done. The Christmas trees and the star were glimmering brightly on the second floor even before the guests began lining up to enter the FLC. I'm always impressed by families with children who can get their tweeners and teenagers up at that hour to serve! For many of our guests, thr FLC is as close to a home as they have, they breakfast there, shower there, eat there, worship there, some attend AA meetings there, and this winter some will find shelter during the coldest nights as we initiate our participation in the cold shelter program. I think of how appropriately we named our building, the Family Life Center. What a lot of life goes on there.

As we end this experiment with the Stewardship Circle, I'm thinking of a conversation recently about the difference between stewardship and discipleship. We make disciples to go into the world and share the good news. That is our great commission. Some disciples also become stewards. Stewards, I think, make a commitment to to building a specific congregation of the United Methodist Church. A steward sees no difference in spiritual development between scrubbing the floor and serving communion. Each act is a sacred act carried out to care for and build up the church.The way in which every activity is carried out is as important as the end result. I think this particular congregation of the United Methodist Church has a very important role to play and its unique gifts are worthy of my support. It is my prayer that we may be found good and faithful stewards of our legacy.

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace
Now and forevermore, world without end.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


How do I witness today in the midst of my sorrow, my fear, my anger? To what life will I witness? There are many stories to tell of how others have found solace, lived out a faith statement, been moved to take action, by tragedy. Those will come later. But first I turn to the shortest verse in the Bible. Even though he knew his power could overcome death, even though he knew the bigger picture of the universes, even though he was God himself, when faced with the pain of his friends, moved with compassion, "Jesus wept."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Please take one and pass it on

When asked for his message to the world, Ghandi is quoted as saying that his life is his message.Richard Rohr makes the same point when he talks about Mother Teresa, a lowly nun, who could stand before crowds of thousands and repeat simple New Testament phrases and blow people away. He proposes that people were renewed and transformed because, like Jesus and John the Baptist, her authority came from her lifestyle and her pure goodness. "John the Baptist goes on his vision quest into the desert where he faces his aloneness, boredom, and naked self. He returns with a message, with clarity, and with sureness of heart. First he listens long and self-forgetfully, then he speaks, acts, and accepts the consequences."  Rohr goes on to say "transformed people transform people". But transformation alone isn't enough. "The Jewish prophets had one foot in Israel and one foot outside and beyond. So must you have one foot in your historical faith community and one foot in the larger your own world of service, volunteerism, and occupation, or what I call 'lifestyle Christianity'." Rohr points out in his most recent book tying the spiritual journey to a 12 step program, "We do not really appropriate things ourselves until we actively hand them on to others. We have to find the Love, and then give the Love away; and it is amazing how the two events do not always happen within the same group...The first is our spring and our well (home base); the other is the channel away from home base that keeps our well from becoming brackish and stagnant water."  Witness, as it turns out, is not just what we do for others, it is an essential part of our own spiritual growth.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hear Ye Hear Ye

Jesus says "Let those who have ears hear." - loose translation. I've begun to understand this statement to mean  we hear what we are ready to hear. Once I was in a group counseling situation in which we heard each other and the counselor speak the same truth to a group member for nearly a year. One day she said with some anger and surprise, "Why didn't you tell me that sooner." We'd been telling her for a year. She wasn't ready to hear. If I am going to witness, I have to listen to the "other" and learn what they are ready to hear. I can tell someone all day about the great elder-care counseling and support we have at our church, but until they are in an elder care situation, they won't hear what I have to say. It sounds odd to say it, but the first and most important skill in witnessing is listening. If I really listen to the people around me in my neighborhood, my workplace, my social set, I can discern what they want or need to hear. I was in conversation with someone in a non-profit I serve about paying their dues, when I found us moving from unpaid dues to her life situation, recent divorce, loss of job.... I asked her if she had a faith community of support, and handed her one of our Stephen Ministry information cards. (Yes, I do carry them with me in my purse all the time.) Did she call? I have no idea, that information is confidential. What I do know is that when I least expected it, I heard that someone was in need, and had the opportunity to witness, to share, what I knew about our faith community and let her know she was welcome. Witness isn't limited to some big speech on a corner, or standing up in front of the church and telling a faith story. Witnesses hear and respond appropriately and compassionately to the situations they find in the world around them. Witnessing may be as silent as a hug, or as quiet as a written note. Never knowing when the opportunity will come, stewards keep our lamps trimmed and filled, ready for the moment.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Fifth Dimension - Witness Part 1

I haven't written for a while because we have been wrapping up the financial stewardship project. You can read about that at Now about that word, witness. During Extravagant Generosity we referred to it by the less intimidating name of storytelling. I find that term more Biblical anyway. Jesus went about doing good, but he also went about telling stories and left the hearer to discern the point of the story for him or herself.

For me, here's the scary thing about storytelling. If I am to tell a story about how I have been transformed, I have to start with who I was before I can get to who I am, and I'm not really prepared to tell you who I was. I'm not prepared to take off this mask I wear today and show the real me who has struggled and continues to struggle through all the mistakes of my life. Storytelling also carries the implication that my story is worth telling and that I have some special truth to impart through my story. I'm not willing to say that I'm that important. I'd rather read a lot, glean the meaning, and report that on to all of you. When I was a professional writer interviewing people for articles I would always tell them every person is an interesting story, it's my job to help you learn how to tell that story. Why, I wonder, do I exempt myself from that statement? 

You're going to read a bunch of quotes from one of my favorite writers, Richard Rohr, over the next few weeks. Here's the first:

"Good religion is always about seeing rightly: “The lamp of the body is the eye; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light,” as Jesus says in Matthew 6:22. How you see is what you see. And to see rightly is to be able to be fully present—without fear, without bias, and without judgment. It is such hard work for the ego, for the emotions, and for the body, that I think most of us would simply prefer to go to church services." Amen brother. 

First step to telling my story is to be fully present in my life, to look at it with the same compassion, humor, and love, that I hope God takes when viewing it. First step is for me to accept my own story and see it rightly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


If you were at the Charge Conference on Sunday, you participated in electing FUMC leadership for the coming year. If you read the list of nominees, you will see that I decided after a decade of service to step out of the leadership circle. There were many reasons for my decision. The most important is that we are in an era of transition and we seek new young leadership. John Wesley says in his covenant," let me be put to work for you or let me be set aside for you." If we will have room for new leadership, old leadership has to get out of the way.

The second thing you may notice is that there is no position of Stewardship Chair on the list of team leaders. After many years of attempting to change the way First Church understands stewardship, it seems clear that I have had minimal success. The traditional reaction to the word steward may just be too strong to overcome. The fact that for three years the nominations committee has been unable to populate a stewardship team seems to be the strongest evidence that we need to do something differently.

This change doesn't mean we will stop having an annual financial stewardship campaign. There will be a task force to carry out that important annual task, and that will be their only job so they can focus on it over the course of a year rather than make it only one of their priorities.

As for stewardship education and the broader understanding of stewardship as a way of life, not an annual financial campaign, that remains unknown. Inclusion of a stewardship education component in the Journey series is the most likely first step.

What of the Circle of Stewards? The concept has been a difficult one to for many grasp in this day of evaluation. It is my way to initiate, to ask questions, to provoke thought, and trust the spirit. You can't evaluate that and make a report. You can't count it, you can't quantify it, and you can't say it succeeded or failed.  The only real investment was my time and effort and I feel that the project has been worthwhile. I have enjoyed hearing from many of you and the conversations have been inspiring. Like most ministries, I gained a great deal by doing the soul searching to write this blog. Records show about 100 people a month are regular readers and I enjoy thinking of you out there as I write, even not knowing who you are. The blog might continue if you like, or we can make it into a forum. Let me hear from you if you have ideas.

For the remaining weeks of my term as your Stewardship Chair, I'm going to talk about the fifth dimension of stewardship, witness. We added that to our membership vows a few years ago but we haven't done much work on understanding what that means. As we go forward in making a new future for FUMC, witness will be an essential component.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The C Word

As we gather in the Estimate of Giving information for First Church and try to develop a budget to undergird our ministries next year, I'm having to help people deal with the C word, commitment. Churches are told these days that asking for commitments puts people off and keeps them from wanting to be part of the church. Well I'm not real found of stop signs either, but my desire to avoid them doesn't mean they aren't a good idea for my own health and safety. One of the big differences between just being a spiritual seeker and accepting the role of steward is commitment. It's not for everyone, but then neither is marriage. That's really the best analogy I can think of. I don't think God sits around thinking up ways we have to prove our faithfulness to him, setting us up with trials we have to pass so we can prove we love God. (I know there is that Job story but that's for another day.)  There are just certain things we have to do in order to progress in our faith.

Let's take the marriage analogy up for a minute.  There are several stages to romantic love. We see the object of our attraction, we spend time with them, we enter into the euphoria of love. Then we have to make some decisions. Either we try to continue in the romantic euphoria indefinitely (not really possible) or we decide to get married. When we decide to marry, we decide to give up some things in order to have others. We make a commitment. We give up exploring that euphoric relationship with someone else. There is nothing wrong with that exploration in itself, but if we are going to have a deep and honest marriage relationship, we forgo seeking that relationship with someone else. We may stop going out for drinks after work and go home to our spouse instead. There is nothing wrong with socializing with other people, but we make choices about how that socializing affects our relationship with our spouse. We don't make the commitment in order to make our lives narrower and sadder, but in order to make a specific relationship deeper and more meaningful. We learn to make our first thought in any situation not how will this affect me, but how will this affect us.

We commit to practices of, prayer, attending worship, service to others, intentionally devoting a percentage of our material wealth, sharing the good news, not because those are penances or rules, but because our tradition tells us those are the ways we live in order to maintain our close relationship with God.

As we approach Christmas and the usual music of the season, I'm reminded of the composer Handel who wrote the famous Messiah. The story is legend about how he sat down without stopping and scrawled out that masterpiece. What isn't in the legend is the years he spend studying his instrument, composition, form and analysis, voicing, instrumentation, honing his skills. That's how I see the Steward's way. Sometimes is feels good, sometimes it doesn't, but every step is progress with faith that the destination and the journey are one.