The hangover.

Books

Yesterday I stepped into the pulpit for the first time in eleven months. I was nervous headed into it as my entire life is consumed at the moment by family and therapy. It’s the way it should be. I am needed by these tiny humans right now and that is ok. I look at colleagues and friends and admire their contribution to the Kingdom. I am impressed and inspired as I see clips of their work through pictures and blogs.  I had at one point thought this might be me but God led me down a different path and that’s ok but with all of this time off I had begun to worry that I would not do well, that it might in fact be a horrible idea to go back.

As I stepped into the pulpit, gown and all it felt like coming home in a way. I felt comfortable and engaged.  I was affirmed by the people of the congregation and really felt good about being back.  I was relieved that it didn’t bomb.  At least I think it didn’t bomb!  No one said anything terrible so I’m going to take it as a good sign. As I was busy getting ready for church last week my reading time was dedicated to prayer books and commentaries last week.  I really enjoyed the in-depth study and reflection on a particular text.  It was a nice challenge for my brain and my heart.  I also enjoyed knowing that at the end of the week I’d be enjoying worship with the people who loved me through my student placement.  It was a perfect place to return to work once more.

The book I’ve chosen to reflect my week is called Feasting on the Word: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship – Advent Companion.  It is edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor and Kimberly Bracken Long.  I really found it to be quite useful this past week.  It had several perspectives on the text, some ideas for children’s stories and suggestions for prayers for the day.  While I use multiple resources and re-work things to fit my own plan I found it to be helpful in providing direction and focus as I got down to work.  If you’re looking for new resources and you happen to lead worship for a living you might want to check out this series.  I have added the spring volume to my collection already as I’ve got a couple of Sundays booked and think it might be useful.

Now let’s talk about the title.  I named this blog the hangover for good reason.  In my time away I had forgotten how exhausted one is on Monday morning.  I woke up remembering why it is Mondays are such a popular day off for Ministers.  The ‘hangover’ after a worship service is a good one though.  Well worth it in the end.

Beautiful

It’s a beautiful day here.  The tree is on.  My couch is covered in yarn and there is music in the air.  Before I begin my various tasks for the day I wanted to share with you a song I came across this morning.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.  Fills one with holiday spirit and is a great reminder of how beautiful simplicity can be.

When Christmas feels large.

Nativity

When Christmas feels large remember what Christmas is truly about.

Christmas is a celebration of beginnings.  The birth of a child.  The entrance of Jesus among us.  The beginning of a life well lived, a life changing life. It demonstrates to us the importance of beginnings for if Jesus hadn’t been born, if Jesus hadn’t begun the journey towards his adult self we wouldn’t have Easter and all it represents. We are after all a resurrection people. A people born in death meets life. A people born again and again.

I know at this time of year it’s easy to put that piece aside. At this time of year it’s easy to focus on the sweet, delicate child and all that is to be done. It’s easy to get lost in lists and baking, in parties and promises but the story doesn’t end here. Christmas is not the finale. Christmas is the prelude, the start to that which will be spectacular. Don’t lose sight of this as you celebrate. Don’t think all is lost if things don’t go as planned.  Don’t expect perfection in that which is just the beginning.We’re starting here. We’re waiting together for the advent of that which is to come.  We’re waiting for Jesus the man, the Christ, the Son.

Let go of expectations. Let go of stress and struggle. Sink into the one who brings peace and promise. This season is a beginning. A born again promise that relationship is there, that more is to come, that we will not be left alone. When Christmas feels large remember the one who is larger, the one who carries us from beginning to end.

When things grind to a halt.

I'm here

The last couple of weeks were challenging for me.

All progress in therapy seemed to grind to a halt.  My son was acting out.  I was frustrated and tired.  It wasn’t the best of times.  When we began this journey we were told these regression periods would happen.  They were to be expected and would often come before a period of growth.  Remembering that and living through it are two different things.  This impacted life in all forms.  I founds myself discouraged and frustrated as I wasn’t reading the book I was supposed to and I had made a commitment to myself.   Then I remembered there was a book I had been reading.  Sure it wasn’t “Does Santa Exist?’ or ‘The Crucified God’ but it was a book that made an impact on me, a book that touched my life.

That’s what the point of this project is, isn’t it?  Reading things that change me, shape me?

Well over the last few weeks I found myself reading “I’m here” by Peter H. Reynolds from time to time.  It was a book recommended to me by someone (I can’t remember who – I’m sorry if it was you) to encourage and support me as I worked through X’s therapy and dealt with autism in general.  When I ordered it I though we could read through it together.  After skimming it I changed my mind.  I’ve kept it for myself as a reminder during those hard times, those withdrawn times that he is in fact connecting and that he is just doing it a little bit differently.  It is a simple book.  A book that might mean nothing to you if your experience if different from mine but it is a sweet story that speaks of different types of connection and different ways of seeing.

Things have progressed just as they said.  My son woke up one day and things had settled.  He struggled less with the concept that speech was necessary.  He tried more words, different words and seemed to understand that we weren’t going to quit, it was something he would have to live with.  What the therapists had predicted did indeed come to pass.  This morning he asked his father as he left for work if he was excited to go.  This kind of spontaneous questioning was rare and fleeting in days past.  It’s working.  It’s work but it is working.

So I apologize for last week and the lack of updates on my progress.  I will endeavour to do better in the future but sometimes life takes precedence in the hierarchy of things to do.  For this week I’m counting “Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent” as the book for me.  I’ve read a bit ahead and will be finished by the end of the month so I have to fit it in somewhere and it might as well be here.  What I’ll read next, I’m not sure.  What I do know is I look forward to sinking into some time of my own once more.  It feels right to be back at it again.  It feels good to have our rhythm back once more.

What are you waiting for?

IMG_3207What are you waiting for?

Are you waiting for the weekend?  For Christmas and presents?
Are you waiting for happiness?  For life to go your way?
Are you waiting for money and freedom?  For possibility and hope?

What are you waiting for?

It’s Advent. We wait expectantly for the coming Christ. Not the tiny baby of nativities but the real, true Christ who saves.  The one who conquered death to bring us life.  The one who broke through barriers to bring us hope.  As we wait we must prepare.  Much like we prepare our homes for the holidays so too our hearts need work. How shall we do it? How shall we prepare for the Advent of Him?

It’s Advent. The season of expectation and hope.
What are you waiting for?
How are you waiting?

This year I’m waiting with Richard Rohr and his book called “Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations For Advent”.  It’s available on Kindle if you’d like to join with me in waiting.

Make your own microwave popcorn!

Am I the only person who didn’t know the lunch bag microwave popcorn trick?  No?  Phew!

Seriously this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  If you buy microwaved popcorn you will save so much money.  If you’re like me and have a machine buried in your basement you might find yourself eating popcorn a lot more often.  Either way it’s a win for everyone.  I’d like to thank my sister for first introducing me to this idea.  While I’ve made some adjustments to the way I do it, she was the one who first showed me the way.

Microwave Popcorn in a Lunch Bag

Popcorn

What you’ll need:

  • 1/3 c popping corn
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 paper lunch bag
  • A bowl for the finished product

Instructions:

  • Place the popping corn and salt in the lunch bag.
  • Fold the bag over twice making sure each fold is pressed firmly.
  • Shake the bag well a couple of time.
  • Microwave on high for 2 minutes and 15 seconds.
  • Remove from microwave and place in bowl.
  • Enjoy!

Extra Information:

  • There’s enough moisture in the popping corn to completely skip oil.  That said if you like your popcorn with a little oil to help the salt stick feel free to add 1/2 tsp to the bag.  If you do this make sure you shake it really well.
  • Many recipes online will tell you to use 1/2 c.  Don’t do this.  It will explode all over your microwave. I know as I’ve done it. In the testing of this recipe I tried many different variations in the actual amount used and 1/3 c seems to the optimal measurement. It fills the bag without overflowing and doesn’t burn as you cook it.
  • You may need more or less time depending on your microwave. My microwave is exactly 2 minutes and 15 seconds for this size bag. I have very few wasted kernels and no burnt bits. It’s much better than the microwave bags you buy from the store and healthier too! Just stay close the first few times you make it and pull it out when you think it’s done and the popping slows down significantly to get a measurement for your own microwave.

Are you a Scrooge?

Are you a Scrooge? I’m not. I’m like Buddy the Elf running through the Christmas Department at Macy’s embracing all the season has to offer.  That said I understand not all people are like me.  If you’re feeling a little Scrooge like right now and need a lift in the Christmas department can I point you to this video. It is an absolutely beautiful rendition of ‘Mary did you know?’ by the Pentatonix and should put you in a good place as you enter the Christmas season willingly or not.

How to be rich.

Notes

When we were first married my husband and I spent many a Friday night watching Gail Vaz Oxlade shows on Slice.  For the uninitiated she does shows called “Till Debt do us Part” and “Prince$$” which focus on debt reduction and determining a good budget for people to live within.  I loved these shows.  I loved learning a little about finance and reading more after watching them.  My husband and I had great discussions on wants vs. needs and it probably was a good way for us to learn about the others money management style and dreams for the future.  Overall I feel it’s necessary to know about money.  Of the two of us I’m not the most learned but I have come along way in 8 years.

What does this have to do with Jesus? Well more than you might think. Jesus has a few things to say about money. So does Paul.  It gets a little complicated when you sit and dig through the text. The issue really seems to boil down to ‘are you rich and what are you going to do with your money if you are?’.

So, are you rich? You likely think you’re not and I was right there with you until I read this week’s book How to be Rich: It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it by Andy Stanley this week. Now sitting on the other side I have to admit I’m a little rich. Maybe not Kardashian rich but flush enough that I’m able to type up this blog on a computer that is my own and read the book on an iPad. We’re not rolling in dough but we’re not suffering either. I think this is the case for many of us. We’re comfortable. That comfort is a nice place to be.

That comfort though brings with it some dangers. Andy Stanley writes “It’s easier to keep your priorities in perspective when they revolve around the tangible elements of survival like your next meal.  The richer you get, however, the more your priorities begin to separate from actual needs.”  This danger of not knowing want from need hits us all I think. What are the things we want as opposed to our actual needs?  Seeing our wants vs. needs is easier I think in a home setting. We all know we don’t need a 60″ flat screen plasma and if we happen to have one it’s because we wanted it. What is even harder I suspect is determining needs and wants in the church at large.

When you look at a budget of a congregation and think about denominations and costs it’s easy to see where we’ve fallen into the trap of determining wants as needs.  Often times we’ll have 5 or 6 churches in one city that sit half full and say we need them, they all serve a different purpose. Do we need them? Really? Or is it that we want them. We as people are comfortable in the current system. We are comfortable with our history and our ways of doing things. Is comfort a want or a need? Are we really being good stewards with the resources we’ve been blessed with?

Please note I’m not suggesting we close all buildings and merge every congregation. I know some of you will think that all I want to do is close things and cause pain. This could not be further from the case. I love people. I do not want to cause pain. I am broken hearted when a congregation closes.  Though it’s hard, I really think we are at a point where we need to sit down and reflect on how we are using our resources. One of the things that this book really hammered home for me is the responsibility that comes with the money we’ve been gifted.  As a people of God in Canada we’ve been blessed enough to be born into a society that is for the most part very rich when it comes to the world stage.

Think about it. We have almost everything looked after. We are for the most part secure. We’re able to worship without restriction or fear. We’re blessed. In that blessing I wonder if perhaps we’ve fallen into the trap of riches.  Andy Stanley says in the book “…it’s not yours anyway. You are a steward. A manager. Money managers don’t feel guilt; they feel responsible.” Are we feeling the weight of that responsibility when it comes to our resources? What is responsible management of the money which we’ve been blessed with? I think we should mull these questions over and really think about what it is we are doing with our money. What is our purpose and plan? Where are we headed? Why?

There are so many questions here. So much we need to think about. I thought it was an excellent read this week. I loved the conversations it sparked between my husband and I. I rather enjoyed the reflection I did on the church at large and found myself thinking we could maybe do a study on it as a Presbytery to discuss what it is to be stewards and managers of the resources God has given to us in our context and place. While I know that there are many who are struggling out there, as a group we are in fact rather better off than we’re willing to admit. The problem seems to be that we don’t want to make different choices and perhaps envision a new way. I wonder if we will get to the point where we are willing to reflect and muse on this or will we continue to neglect this side of our ministry?

I know this week I said I’d read another book.  Here’s the truth: I lost it.  I found it on Sunday tucked away in a pile of books so before I found it I had started another one.  I intend to get around to reading The Ragamuffin Gospel in the future but for this week I think I shall crack open Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation by Eric Kaplan.  It’s getting to be that time of year again and it looks like an interesting read.  

Creativity and Suffering

drops like stars

Let’s talk a little bit about suffering, shall we?

Suffering is real, raw emotion.
Suffering is facing life at it’s absolute breaking point.
Suffering is pain and agony, frustration and despair.
Suffering is all encompassing and overwhelming.

We’ve all suffered in life. We’ve all lived through moments when it seemed as though we were broken down to the littlest of pieces. My book this week was Drops like Stars by Rob Bell.  It focused on creativity and suffering and it made me think.It went interesting places which sparked a great deal of reflection within. I’ve really looked at my own life, my ministry and productivity overall.

I admit I’ve been broken.
I’ve been beaten up and brought to my knees.
Haven’t we all?

Sometimes life is hard. Has it made me more creative? Rob Bell says that “…true life comes when we’re willing to admit that we’ve reached the end of ourselves, we’ve given up, we’ve let go, we’re willing to die to all our desires to figure it out and be in control.  We lose our life, only to find it.”

I think suffering does that for us. It kills any sense of control we might have. It prevents us from believing we have the keys to the universe. It reminds us that we need more than ourselves. It nudges us back into the arms of the one we run from and we like to run, don’t we? We like to think we have it all in hand and run far away from the one who knows us.

It’s interesting to think about running. Children are wise creatures. This weekend in Sunday School we discussed the Prodigal Son. When asked who God liked better, the eldest or the youngest, they talked amongst themselves and came up with a beautiful understanding. They told me that while there were people we liked better than others it didn’t make sense for God to work this way. They felt that God loved us all but liked the choices some of us made better than others.  The younger son chose poorly and suffered as a result but God loved him and welcomed him back. God’s always there when we struggle. We shouldn’t worry about fairness like the elder son did. It’s just right for God to welcome the younger son back.

Often in life we wrestle with the concept of fairness, at least I do. There is this sense that if we do things right, good things should happen. Life doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes bad things happen anyways.  Sometimes thing aren’t fair.

Think about it. We are faced with unfair things far too often.

Cancer
Heart Disease
Diabetes
Accidental death
Birth Defects
A lay off
Rejection

These are just a few of the unfair things that happen on a daily basis to people all around the world. Do these experiences promote creativity. Is there a need to really suffer to create?

Most creative people tend to be rather angsty in my experience.  There is a rather dramatic flair that lies within and is perhaps necessary for the creative process. The work. The constant struggle to get things just right. Sometimes creating is suffering. Rob Bell says “We are going to suffer.  And it is going to shape us.  Somehow. We will become bitter or better.”

Suffering will shape us.
Suffering will happen to all of us.
Suffering is part of life.

It’s hard to be creative in this world. I read an article this past week entitled ‘Creativity is Rejected: Teachers and bosses don’t value out-of-the-box thinking’ by Jessica Olien.  As I read it I couldn’t disagree.  Teachers and bosses and church people don’t value creative thinking according to this article. It actually doesn’t mention anything about church people but I think it holds true. People seem to reject all creative thinking as they like things as they are.  Creative thinking and ideas requires effort to carry out. It’s easy to just not do. It’s easier to leave things as they are.

Jessica Olien writes in conclusion “To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let go of satisfying people, often even yourself.”

Letting go of satisfying others.
Letting go of being accepted.
Letting go.

Letting go is not something we do well in the church. We have a tendency to hold on to the past and cling to what we understand and this is not what Jesus seems to want from us. Jesus also speaks about letting go. He says we have to lose our lives to save it. Maybe this is the key. Maybe we need to lose everything to find out what it is that really matters.  Maybe this is why we’re suffering as a church right now. If suffering is needed for creativity maybe we need to suffer to encourage growth and new vision.

Creativity and suffering do at times seem to go hand in hand.

This was a good book.  A thought provoking book.  I’m glad I read it.

If you see me reading this week you might find the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Bennan Manning in my hands.