Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.

Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?

____________________

1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The power of one, for outreach or for disturbance

2012 Habitat Bolivia 255The Sunday school lesson I taught the kids at my church this past Sunday focused on the affirmation “What I believe in my heart is what I show in my actions.” The quote came from the A Joyful Path curriculum; their way of saying “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

We talked about kids who had accomplished remarkable feats of social justice and outreach. Ryan Hreljac, for example, at the age of 6 planted the seed for Ryan’s Well Foundation. One six-year-old believed in his heart that all people should have access to clean water, and his actions helped to build more than 803 water projects and 1012 latrines to bring safe water and improved sanitation to more than 769,558 people.

Wow.

Imagine if all of us believed something so simple in our hearts and took actions to help bring it about.

When I returned home that day, I clicked into the Poetry to Inspire blog to read Jean Kay’s poem “The Power of One.” She included a series of pictures of thousands of snow geese gathered in a farmer’s field enjoying tranquil peace, only to be disturbed by an eagle. (See it here: http://poetrytoinspire.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/the-power-of-one)

Wow.

Do you remember a time when one disruptive presence barged in to destroy the productive peace of a large contented group?

Sometimes I feel I don’t have much power to affect change in the world. What can little old me do to make a difference? But we all hold much more power than we realize—to help others or to disturb others.

If I ever forget this, or on those days when it feels like a far-out, crazy notion, I’ll click on Jean’s pictures again as a reminder.

A tale of three blankets, or accepting spiritual differences

I’m going to show you three blankets.

When my children were born—first my daughter, then my son—I made them each a blanket. Here is my daughter’s blanket now:

well-loved-blankie

Do you think she used this blanket a lot? Do you think it’s been washed a few times? Yep.

My daughter loved her blankie. It went with her everywhere. She slept holding it and dragged it around when she walked. When she started to kindergarten, she tucked into the bottom of her backpack everyday. When she got older and started going on Brownie and Girl Guide camping trips, she didn’t want the other girls to make fun of her for wanting a blankie, so she tucked it into the bottom of her sleeping bag. She felt it as she slept, but her friends didn’t know it was there.

Eventually she stopped sleeping with it. It didn’t go to school anymore. It stayed at home during camping trips.

One day years later when I was leading children’s time at my church I decided to tell this story to the kids. I wanted to take my daughter’s blanket with me to show everyone. When I asked her where it was, she didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,” she said. She didn’t use it every day anymore, but she knew exactly where it was.

Now I’m going to show you my son’s blanket:

boy-baby-blanket

Do you think he used his blanket much? Nope.

My son barely glanced at his blanket. He never slept with it. He rarely picked it up. It never went to school or on any camping trips.

I had made this blanket for my son, and I was a little hurt that he had no interest in it. I wanted him to love it. Why didn’t he need a blanket in the same way his sister did? Sometimes I even tried to push him to use it. When he couldn’t sleep, I’d tuck it in beside him, sure that it would help. He tossed it on the floor. If he fell and scraped a knee, I wrapped him up in it. He shrugged it off. Eventually I was the one who had to adapt. I had to accept that he was going to have his own kind of relationship with his blanket.

But you know what’s really interesting? When I asked him where it was, he didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,”  he said. He never needed it, but it was a gift of love from me, so he kept it close.

Now, let me show you a third blanket:

baby-blanket

This one I made for my daughter when she was about 7 years old when it became clear that the original one was disintegrating. It’s a new and improved version of the first. I thought she would love it.

She would have nothing to do with it. She wanted the comfort of the original, thank you very much, even if it was battered and torn and no longer serve a real function.

I shared this story with the kids at church because I think my kids’ blankets give us an insight into how we need to accept different approaches to faith.

  • Some people need to hold their faith close, sleep with it and touch it daily.
  • Some people’s needs change over time. When they are younger, they need a strong faith relationship, but when they get older they let it go. Or, some people don’t want faith in their youth, but when they get older or suffer a crisis, they seek it more.
  • Some people know right where it’s kept but don’t need it very often.
  • If we make fun of other people’s needs, they’ll tuck them away, but it won’t change anything.
  • We can’t make people let go of something until they are ready.
  • Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it’s better.
  • Just because something is old, doesn’t make it right for everyone.
  • If something is given with love, people will value it even if they don’t need it every day
  • We give our children a gift if they never have to think for a second to know where to find their faith.
  • One thing is for sure, we can’t force other people to have the kind of relationship with faith that we want them to have. It’s very personal. Even if we hand-make it for them or hand it down generation to generation, people have to forge their own relationships with faith.

Easter Saturday: overlooked but, oh, so important

hummingbird-of-hopeOne of the most memorable Easter sermons I ever heard preached had nothing with Good Friday and the complexities of who killed Jesus and why. It didn’t mention the empty tomb or celebrate the renewed presence of Jesus on Easter morning. It didn’t really have much to do with Jesus at all. It was about Easter Saturday and what the people did in the time in between.

Really, it was about us, and what we do with the overlooked but, oh, so important time in between tragedy and triumph.

Easter Saturday: the metaphorical day after loss. The day when the pain is raw and fresh, and we don’t know yet about the joy to come. During the time in between we can’t see joy. We can’t see how it will take form in our lives. We look to the future and see more of the same.

The preacher of this sermon urged us to remember the Easter story during difficult times. When we survive the initial shock and turmoil and find ourselves in the desert of grief that follows, we can keep the flicker of hope alive.

Be watchful. Look for it. Joy will come with the dawn some Easter morning.

Answer your own prayers: Pray in present tense

Some years ago I read a valuable piece of advice: frame your prayers in the present tense.

You wouldn`t believe the difference it makes.

Six years ago doctors diagnosed my friend, Lynn, with terminal cancer. She was 41 years old with two young children. The news shocked her, and her family and friends. Prayers bubbled up from all of us, because in circumstances like that, prayers just happen. They can`t be helped.

My first prayer was for Lynn to live. Then, when I read the present tense advice, the prayer changed to “Lynn lives.” With a shock I realized that my prayer was already answered! No matter what happened the next week, or the next month, or the next year, at that moment, Lynn lived. My prayer changed from a plea of desperation to a celebration of gratitude, a “seize the day” motivational expression of wow. It took me out of the victim role, passively waiting for an outside force to act, and put me in the active role of celebrant. It encouraged me to savour every moment with my friend.

So many prayers come out of on-our-knees times of desperation. “Powers that be, please give me the strength to get through this,” we pray. But if we change that to “I have the strength to get through this,” instead of feeling helpless and overwhelmed, suddenly the strength we seek infuses us, and we rise from our knees renewed.

Now, I can hear the shouts of protest now. Critics will say, “Lady, you are crazy. What if I don’t have a job but desperately need one? If I say, ‘I have a job,’ I don’t suddenly and miraculously have a job.” True. But, maybe if you say, “I have a job” you will go to your next job interview with calm assurance instead of discouraged desperation. Maybe that will help.

Or someone else might say, “What if I want a red Porsche? If I close my eyes and say, ‘I have a red Porsche,’ when I open my eyes, there won’t be a shiny car in my driveway.” True, but if you say, “I have a red Porsche” over and over again often enough, maybe it will motivate you to start setting the money aside in a special fund. Maybe you’ll start browsing used car sites until you find the right one. Maybe it will help.

If you pray in the present tense, you might be surprised how often you answer your own prayers. The present tense:

  • opens our eyes to the gifts of the moment
  • infuses us with strength we didn’t know we had
  • relieves our stress and desperation and fills us with calm assurance
  • motivates us to work toward a goal.

A year ago yesterday my friend, Lynn, passed away. I grieved, for sure, because I missed my friend. I watched two teenagers lose a parent. I watched her husband lose a spouse and become a father/mother overnight. It was hard. But it was just that titch better because I had spent the previous five years celebrating her life in present tense every single day.

rainbow