It takes a village.

Bible
Every night before bed my son and I read together.  He dives under the covers and we read stories that take us to far away places like Little Critter Land and the Island of Sodor.  We also read the classics from my youth like Robert Munsch and The Berenstain Bears. When we were at Costco a few weeks ago we found the Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible and have already read through it completely and are now turning to our favorite stories each night.  My son loves the story of Jesus and finds David to be quite compelling.  It’s been a really fun read together and the pictures are quite delightful.  Each story also comes with commentary from Mom of course and I think he finds it funny.

I love to talk to my son about life and faith and all kinds of things as it happens around us but it’s not something that I do in an age specific way.  It’s something we live in this house and as a result I don’t really think about programming it into our day at a specific time, it’s just what we do.  I think this may be unusual in the Christian circuit, or at least it feels that way to me today.  My son went to a Jump into JK program at our local Christian School to try it out and see if it was a good fit for him.  As he is a shy fellow he wouldn’t let me leave so I got to see what they were doing and I was amazed.  As all the kids sat around the mat they knew word for word ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and X sat there giving me the side eye as I had obviously failed him in not teaching it to him.  It’s not that we don’t listen to Christian music ever.  I have it playing on my iPhone in my mix and he knows some of the songs pretty well.  As we were driving out of the school parking lot he was belting out the chorus from Josh Turner’s Long Black Train.  Hearing a three year old sing “But there’s victory in the Lord I say” is pretty funny especially after he couldn’t sing Jesus Loves Me.

I think part of this stems from the fact that I tend to bounce around.  We’ve been lucky lately in that I’ve only been supplying in one congregation but we move from church to church as a family and as X. is fairly shy he doesn’t jump in and out of Sunday School programs easily.  I teach him at home.  We pray and read and talk about Jesus but he doesn’t get those kid songs that I remember from my youth. I wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I wonder how it will impact him as he grows.  He is very comfortable in church and is generally well behaved for my husband.  He enjoys listening to hymns and singing along where he can.  Also he shouts out ‘Amen’ at inappropriate times and I find this hilarious. He’s a kid who’s not church-schooled but is very churched.  I wonder how this will work in the future and I suspect he has an advantage, his mom is someone who has resources and tools to teach him at home.  Maybe it’s not conventional but it works for us and he’ll learn it’s okay to probe and question in faith from us.  I’m glad I can do this for him but I wonder about the other kids.  What happens to the families in the church when programming ceases to exist for them.  Where do they turn or do they turn anywhere?

The first thing on the chopping block for any church seems to be Sunday School or child related programming.  This is especially true when the numbers are small.  This is so backward to me.  We should be investing in our children.  Sharing with them and showing them that they are important, that they in fact are the future.  We should let them know that they matter and we should be learning from them, after all Jesus did say unless we become like children there is no getting into the kingdom of heaven. This is a real problem for us.  How can we learn from the children when we don’t see them or place any value on them besides the ten minutes they entertain us during the children’s time in worship?

Do we value our children? Are we giving them what they need?  Do we look to them as our future?

These are questions we really need to be asking.  Like it or not our children are the future.  It’s not about us, it’s about them.  It’s about helping them grow in faith and helping them discover the world around them.  It’s about finding ways to engage and encourage them as they  make their way.  It’s about sharing the gospel in an exciting way because it’s an exciting message. While my son may not know Jesus Loves Me, he will hopefully grow up knowing that God loves him and it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you get back on that horse to try again.  He’ll learn about grace and forgiveness, redemption and living life to the fullest.  I want him to fully engage, to question and ponder.   We will teach these things to him and when we settle once more in a charge I am hopeful that a congregation will assist in this. It takes a village to raise a child.  We need to be that village for our children. To love them and lift them up in faith. To pray for them and give them everything they need to make their way into the world.  Are we doing that?  Are we giving them everything we have?  If not, maybe we should think about what we are doing and ask ourselves if it’s enough.

While I was chopping…

I just spent the afternoon chopping vegetables. I went to the market this morning and picked up some lovely produce. As my husband and son entertained themselves I chopped and prepped for the coming week. It makes weeknights easier and dinner time more enjoyable. As I stood there chopping and preparing for the future I started thinking, after all when you’re chopping carrots what else are you going to do?

When you think about it, much of life is really about preparing for the future. We do laundry so we don’t have to walk naked around town. We wash the dishes so we can eat again later. We clean so that in the future we’re not surrounded by a terrible mess. You can see where I am going. What we do now has impacts on the future. What we decide to put our energy into today will definitely affect tomorrow.

So where am I going with this you ask? It’s rather simple. If what we decide to put our energy into today affects tomorrow then we really need to consider what we are doing today. This is so true in many areas of life. The energy we put into our kids, our work, our friendships all have lasting consequences but for today I’m thinking particularly of faith and our churches.

Where are we putting our energy?

Sadly it would seem to me that much of our energy is going into keeping us happy. Instead of making decisions that would benefit the church of the future we are making decisions to stay put and stay content. It’s troubling because these decisions to freeze in place and not make any significant changes will impact those who come behind us, if there is anything of us left to come to. We need to be bold. We need to have vision. We need to see that it’s not about us.

It’s hard to do that, to look beyond what makes us happy and see that there are others in the world who need this news too. We need to change our perspective and see churches as not places where we come but instead as who we are. We need to find ways to engage those who are seeking and not exist strictly for ourselves.

Until we realize that what we do today ultimately impacts our future I don’t think we’ll be able to make significant progress. It’s not enough to just keep hanging in. We need to live well and thrive. Our decisions impact our ability to do this.

And to think this rant formed while just hanging out and chopping some carrots. Can you imagine what I might say if given a few hours to myself to reflect and dream. Perhaps it’s best if I stick to the kitchen…

Rooted in love.

Yesterday my son, his best ‘friend’ Monkey Monkey and I made the journey to place where my siblings live. We had lunch, went to Costco and generally had fun.  Monkey Monkey went with us everywhere as my son is his caretaker.  He feeds him, kisses him and puts him to bed each day.  Sometimes if something particularly bad has happened I need to give Monkey Monkey a kiss to make it better.  My son really loves his friend.  Most kids have something they love like this.  It’s hoped I guess that the love they show for their favorite toy/blanket/insert thing here is a reflection of the love they are getting.  When a child is rooted in love, is established in love they learn to love others in that model.

I guess you could say that who we are is a reflection of where we’ve been and who we’ve grown with.  I find it curious that some of my real life blogging friends are writing about the ‘toxic sludge’ that has invaded our local churches.  They’ve spoken of the anxiety and toxic mess we find ourselves in and they want to dig us out of the mess.  As I read about their dreams and desires I find myself wondering how we got into this mess in the first place. It’s curious that an organization which claims to be keepers of the truth would have deteriorated this far.  I think it’s safe to say we are in trouble and we need help.

This morning my devotions took me to the 3rd chapter of Ephesians and I ran across this verse:

“…And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV

The problem could be that we aren’t rooted in love, we’re rooted in sludge.  Some people would say this isn’t so.  They’d say that we’re rooted in love but the world is in sludge. They’d say that people ‘out there’ just don’t like church anymore and it’s not our fault that we’re {anxious/depressed/frustrated/angry}, it’s theirs.  It’s their fault that we’re in financial hardship.  It’s their fault that we’re struggling to attract people.  It’s their fault…

I think it’s easier to blame others than it is to see that you’re in fact part of the problem.  Look at the Pharisees.  They were good, devout people and they had a lot of rules to follow.  They weren’t technically wrong you know.  There were loads of rules and they knew them by heart.  They spoke the truth of the law a lot of the time but they never got to the heart of the message.  To know something and live something are two different things.  The Pharisees spoke truth but failed to act in love.  They were rooted in tradition and rules instead of God and God’s gift of the law.  They knew the truth but they didn’t live it.

One thing that set Jesus apart from the religious people of his day was his desire to love people and share that love with others.  He spoke God’s truth in this world.  He spoke love to all people and lived a life that was accessible to everyone.  We need to live like this, rooted in the love of God and established in his word and accessible to all people.

When I watch my son love his Monkey Monkey I feel so incredibly blessed.  This little boy knows how to love in a big way.  He’s lived in love, been surrounded by love from a large extended family and collection of friends and that has shown him what love is.  He’s taken what he’s seen and made it his own. As a family we’re not perfect by any measure but that’s okay.  We try and we love and we continuing living in that love. This is what the church should be. We should be first and foremost a collection of people who try and love and live in that love.

Who we are is what our legacy will be.  If we don’t address this toxicity and fear we will pass this to the next generation as a model for what the church should be.  We are called to be living in truth, living in love.

Paul addresses this futher on in the book of Ephesians when he says:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us…” Ephesians 4:31-5:1 NIV

If we live in God and are rooted in God’s love we will follow God’s example.  Who we are is reflective of where we are rooted.

I guess the question remains, are we rooted in love?
I suspect that if we root ourselves in love we’ll find ways to get out of the mess that we are in.

What do you think?

 

My garden and a bunny got me to thinking…

This past weekend my family and I travelled up to see my brother and sister graduate from University in Sault Ste. Marie.  It was a wonderful weekend, we had so much fun and I’m so proud of them both.

Of course while I was away there was a heat wave here at home.  My garden sprung to life while I was away and so today I thought I would check out the progress in the clear light of day as we got home fairly late last night.  The change was phenomenal.

My clematis was gorgeous and in full bloom

My tomatoes exploded

My herbs were happy

…and the bunny was happy.

This bunny is one of a family of bunnies.  I know what you’re thinking.  Bunnies aren’t good because they eat your strawberries.  You weren’t thinking that?  I was.  They eat my strawberries!  Nevertheless they are in our yard this year more than any other and I discovered why.  While we were away this happened to my grass:

A patch of clover decided to multiply while we were away.  We’ve been battling this clover for a while but it’s gotten out of hand lately.  My husband has been working hard and removing it.  He is constantly outside digging it up, spraying some kind of natural iron compound on it, yelling at it and giving it the look.  So far nothing has worked.

The bunnies love clover.  They come into the yard and eat away all day.  It’s paradise for them.  Unbeknownst to us we’ve created a perfect paradise for bunnies free of dogs, quiet and removed from traffic with plenty of their favorite foods.

As I stood outside marveling at the determination of the clover to survive and the never ending stream of bunnies which seem to find their way into my yard I got to thinking.  Lately I’ve read quite a number of blogs by people in their thirties who are searching for a church and desperate to find a place where they fit in.  They long to find an environment they feel comfortable in.  They long to find a place that offers community, is recognizable to them and doesn’t exist simply for themselves.

Unfortunately they are struggling to find a place that they recognize as church and I’m not really surprised.  Church as most of us practice it today is unrecognizable to most people in their thirties.  There is no organization that they belong to, no place they go where people behave as the church does. Meetings are held at coffee houses or at a round table.  Gatherings are informal and relationship is the primary focus.  People come to church expecting to find relationship and connection but do not see it because we do not present it in a way they understand or can connect with.

My backyard is an accidental paradise for the bunnies.  A safe haven from the storms of the world.  A place where they are fed, nourished, protected and given rest.  Maybe we need to create an intentional paradise for the people of this world.  Maybe we should be creating safe places for people to escape the storms of this world. We should feed them, nourish them, protect them, empower them and allow them to be.

If we did that imagine what a ministry that would be, what opportunities we would have to serve others in our world. I’d love to know what you think.  What would your paradise look like? What do you need in a church?

On the edge…

I just spent a lovely afternoon with a beautiful cousin of mine celebrating her soon to be wedded bliss. It was a fantastic day with a great group of people.  It’s always fun to get together and celebrate a joyous occasion.  As I walked into my house tonight I was met by a sense of contentment.  I was home, my feet were free and life was good.  It had been a good day.

After a quick snuggle with my little guy and a visit with my husband I got comfortable and waited my husband’s work in the laundry room to be complete.  I grabbed some apple cider, sat down at the kitchen table and began to read. I read a little about the future of the Church, about the PCC’s upcoming General Assembly and of course a little news.   It was a little disturbing to say the least.

In a short time I had read about a shooter at the Eaton Centre in Toronto who killed 1 and injured 7.  I read about Churches and their lack of desire to find ways to connect with new generations as it often means change and discomfort.  I discovered that the pension fund of my church has serious issues and I’m very grateful I am not relying on it as a source of income for retirement {but I worry about those who are}.  There were also cannibalistic killers, teenagers addicted to ‘Bath Salts’, governments struggling and people being oppressed.  It was not a good day for reading.

How do we deal with these things?
How do we deal with trouble that surrounds us?
How do we cope in such a broken world?

In truth, lately as a ‘church’ it seems like we’re not dealing with it very well.  There is so much out there that is troublesome.  So much out there that we cannot cope with.  We have turned our heads inward.  We have sought a safe place.  We have hidden from the world.

This week I am afraid that my denomination is hiding from the world.  Hiding from the reality that what we’re doing isn’t working anymore.  This week Wynford Drive will ask for more money from churches who are struggling.  This week the Pension and Benefits Board will let us know that costs will rise, there isn’t enough invested and something bad might {perhaps will} happen in the future.  This week as I tune in to watch the sederunts online I will likely be frustrated as I watch people argue over rules and structure, phrasing and form.  I will watch people get stuck in the process instead of ministry.  I hope I am wrong but I’m afraid that’s where we’re at.

As a people we’ve been blessed with a great message and mission.  We need to be spreading truth in the world. We must be blessing it in our actions.  We can’t be holed up in a room arguing about protocol and procedure, we need to be out in the world doing mission, living the message and sharing the Gospel.

It is my hope that we start to deal with the things that are happening around us soon. We need to invest in our communities so people know someone cares.  We must recognize the power in shared moments.  Our children need us to invest in them as opposed to maintaining for ourselves.  The people outside our doors need care, attention and grace.  They need good news and someone to share their life with.  If we would stop worrying about ourselves {and our books/rules/order} and started moving out into the world to actually do the ministry of Christ, I think we would be far more Christ like than we presently are.

That said, I have faith.  I believe in the power of God.  I trust that the Holy Spirit still moves.  So this week:

I pray for change and inspiration.
I pray that new ways to minister will be discovered.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon the gathering and breathe new life into a gasping organization.

I pray for truth to be revealed, for grace to be offered and for passion to be felt.

If you’re the praying kind please pray with me.  The world is desperate and struggling.  It needs good news and we are a people who have it.  It’s time we realized this as the gift it is and start spreading it into the world.

It’s time to move out.  We need to move in.  Let’s live on the edge…
_______________________________________________________

Are you sure about that?

People are generally nice to you when you’re doing Pulpit Supply.  You come in and they’re polite, they hand you a cheque and then you leave after doing my thing. Because I’ve been doing some places quite regularly people think they know me.

In some ways they’re right, they do know me.  I come in and do the service and quite often stay for coffee.  They say they like my energy and enthusiasm for the future.  They say they are excited when I say there is hope.  They love my little boy as he brings life to the party.  It’s like our family is the poster child for the family they want to attract.

It sounds nice, right?  It is.  I appreciate that they don’t hate me.  The thing is I’m not really sure how they would feel if I were actually their minister.  I have energy and hope for the future but I know how much work is required to make the future happen.  I believe that great things are possible but they require faith, work and dedication.  I believe in listening to God and changing what isn’t working.  If I were actually their minister I would expect things.  I’m not sure they would like it if they had someone expecting things.

Isn’t this always the way?  We love listening to people on TV.  We love when our politicians speak about great change and new ideas.  We delight in gurus telling us our lives can be different.  But when push comes to shove we don’t want to change.  Usually we like things just the way they are.

I don’t like things the way they are.  I’m unsettled and uncomfortable with the road we’re walking.  Right now I have the ability to speak the truth about how I feel without worrying about a job.  It’s freeing.

I like this but I do wonder how people would react if they were stuck with me full time.  Would people continue to like me?  I suspect some would and some wouldn’t and I’m actually ok with that.

I’m getting a little tired of 1 Timothy…

Women have always been a part of things.  From the very beginning Women have played an important role in the life and times of the people of God.  The moment that Eve plucked that apple {or some might say pomegranate} from the tree, women have definitely impacted the faith in good ways and in bad, much like the men.  As you travel through the Bible one encounters judges who were women, mothers who made choices, prophetesses who spoke the word of God, and countless others who impacted a people and helped shape their faith.

Lately it seems that the focus of much of the Christian blogging community has been placed on keeping women in their place.  On preventing women from taking positions of authority.  I wonder why so much emphasis and energy is placed on preventing ministry from being done?  Is this a good use of our resources?

There are so many blogs and so much passion surrounding this topic.  I’m pleased that people are invested in their faith but I have to say I’m getting a little tired of reading the same argument over and over again stating that 1 Timothy clearly indicates that I should not be an ordained pastor and women have no place in the church.  It’s interesting to me that things are so cut and dry for some people.  Life is rarely black and white.  Things are never that easy, at least not in the world I live in.  Jesus rarely spoke directly about anything.  His parables were told in such a way that not everyone would understand.  I just don’t think it’s as easy as picking one passage from the Bible to determine who’s in and who’s out as far as leadership goes.

When we look at 1 Timothy 2, there’s so much more than just the verse regarding leadership.  Shortly thereafter we see that the author of this letter declares women to be saved by childbearing after he forbids them from teaching. Do we honestly still believe that? What about women who don’t have children? Do we think a woman is only good with God once she bears a child?  I always thought that it was Jesus’ redemptive actions that saved us.

Understanding and interpretation changes over the years thanks to the infinite, complex and mysterious creator who continues to engage and enlighten us.  When we read the Bible we need to understand the context and the culture of the time it was written.  Reading the Bible through our own lens instead of that of a 1st century person risks skewing the meaning and the message behind it.  We must remember that 1 Timothy is first and foremost a letter written from one colleague to another addressing specific concerns relating to the Church in Ephesus.

These letters weren’t written as scripture or as a history for us.  They were written for a community, in this case it was from one colleague to another.  The author wasn’t thinking about the future, he was thinking about Timothy’s ministry in his present.  I think this is why we as a church tend to get in trouble with the Epistles.  The authors weren’t actually writing for us, they were writing for their communities.  They were writing the present, not the future.

I do accept the Epistles as scripture and see merit in reading them but I feel we must learn as much as we can about the context of the time and place we are reading about.  They are a large part of our history, a great part of our story and when we read them we must remember their original purpose.  None of the Bible can be read in isolation.  Everything comes from something. Everything has a story around it and all of that impacts the words we read on the page.

God has blessed us with a faith that is filled with mystery and wonder.  Our story has fear and hope, desire and passion.  We long to connect with God and that’s one thing that never changes.  Our history tells tales of men and women who’ve fought bravely for the faith, who’ve done what God asks and never gave up.  Women do play a part in this story.  We read stories of Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, Esther, Mary, Martha and so many more who’ve made lasting imprints on the fabric of our faith.  Each woman played a role.  Each one was called by God into service.  Each one played a part in bringing us to this point in our journey as a people of God.

We all have a part to play, a story of our own.  My story was challenged and affirmed by the church as I wrestled with discovering what it was God wanted from my life.  I was called by God to minister to his people.  That’s my story.  I am called by God to do his work and I happen to be a woman.  Women have always played a part in the workings of the people of God, I don’t think God wants to change that now.

 

Do I need a label maker?

Everyone has a label nowadays.  You have to be an ‘emerging liberal conservative with evangelical tendencies’ to feel like you fit in in the Christian community.   It seems as though people believe that if you haven’t labeled your beliefs and put them in a category you’re not thinking enough about what it is you believe.

I don’t really understand the need for all this labeling.  Labels don’t really move us ahead and usually lead to division.  Then once you’ve divided yourself into categories you often find conflict comes next as each division thinks they’re right. After all the conflict you’ll find a lot of wounded people crying out in pain and I’m fairly certain this is not what Jesus wanted for us.

I cannot find one place in the Bible where Jesus said ‘you must label yourself according to beliefs and theological interpretation’.  Jesus is all about relationship and God’s love.

We all have labels that get put on us.  To some I’m a preacher.  To others I’m a teacher.  Some might call me pastor while others call me friend.  I’m also a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister and if I’m honest a pretty decent singer.  I can embrace a label for each part of my life and separate out sections of me or embrace the uniqueness that is me.   God created me to be all of these things.  Each part is important to the whole.

God created us all to be a part of the people of God.  Each part is important to the whole and we need to look at our differences as things that enhance the faith rather than detract from it.  We need to co-exist and embrace our diversity as it helps to create a rich, full faith that is constantly revealing truth to us.  When we focus on our differences as a negative thing and bring judgement into the mix we’ve lost perspective and purpose.

I don’t want a label.  I just want to follow Jesus.
_______________________________________________________

Do you think labels are important or do they hurt us?  I’d love to know what you think.

Stuck

I think we’re stuck in the same model.  You know what I mean, the model of ‘doing church’ that we’ve been using for the last 75 years or so.

I use the term ‘doing church’ instead of ‘being church’ because most of us really are just doing it.  We get up Sunday mornings {or we don’t} and we go to church to have worship done for us.  We might throw some money on the plate, attend a few dinners and help out here and there but in actual fact the church is something we expect to be there for us.  It’s a place we go when we want tradition, to be comforted or just as a habit.  It’s something that doesn’t really change.

We are stuck.

Stuck is not a good thing to be.  When I think of stuck I imagine gum on the bottom of a shoe or a door that just won’t open.  Not pleasant experiences and definitely not something that will entice or serve anyone in a positive way.
As a church we are stuck.  We are unable or unwilling to move or release ourselves from the holding pattern we have been in for years because of fear, because of tradition, because of a desire to maintain some control over the process.

The thing is, we are not in control or we shouldn’t be.  God should be the captain of our ship.  God should be the one who is in charge and if you read the Bible you’ll see that often times people who get stuck on control or who like things a certain sort of way get into a lot of trouble {I’m looking at you Ahab & Solomon}.

It’s time for us to vision.  Not those stupid visions that happen when you throw 7 people on a committee and get them to draft a new statement of who we are but actual real life visioning.  We need to throw the people of God into a room and ask them where they want to be in 10 years.  We need to hear what they are passionate about and find ways of making ministry real and vital in our world.  We need to make a choice to work with God.  We need to seek out who God wants us to be.

Who does God want us to be?
Where is God leading us?

I’d love to know what you think.

Frozen in fear

I have been accused in the past of having high expectations of people.    That I think they are capable of more then they actually are.  I’ve been told that I should just accept that some things won’t change.  I doubt God endorses this philosophy as God is constantly pushing people to change, to be better and to trust him.  This is seen time and again in the Bible and in our own lives if we’re honest.  God wants good things for people, for all people and that rarely lets anyone off the hook when it comes to change.

I think this is why I get so frustrated with the church.  Presbyterians in particular are notorious for halting any hint of change with debate and discussion.  We table absolutely everything.  We claim we are waiting on the Holy Spirit but I have a feeling the Holy Spirit is dancing about in the room and no one is willing to see it. We are afraid of doing anything for fear that it might be wrong or it won’t work.

This fear is killing us.  It’s paralyzed us.  We aren’t doing anything for fear of offending or losing people.  We do this delicate dance around this issue of change and growth.  We never want to talk about what needs to be done because we are afraid.  In my reading this week I came across a passage in Deuteronomy where Moses reminds the people of God that God is always with them.  That God in fact goes before them:

“It is the Lord who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8 NRSV

We need to remember that God is going before us.  Our trust should be in God, not our processes.  We need to accept that movement is part of faith.  Movement and change are built into our history.  There is only one constant, God.  That constant is the thing we should cling to.  We need to push through the fear we feel.  God has moved on and is expecting us to catch up.  It’s time to let go of our attachments to what we know and move forward into the unknown believing that God will provide.

Do you think that’s possible?
Will we find the courage to follow God into a new {different} life?