A sampling of my blogs from the last few weeks to get a flavor for what is to come ...
Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 2:47pm
At our weekly Akaloo small group we were discussing our church and the dreams we have for its future. As I let my mind wander over the course of last night and this morning, I saw myself taking ownership for this change I desire.
I imagined starting small group Bible studies that met in people's homes, between services, after services and any time it would be convenient for people to gather. I imagined turning them into opportunities to share a meal and step away from the daily grind to connect with and support one another as we dig into the word and its meaning for us.I went so far as to picture myself on staff. The thought of it was so exciting that in my face-washing/makeup-applying/hair-doing fantasy, I would do it completely on a volunteer basis, as long as childcare was provided.
I imagined working one on one with the pastors to develop confirmation curriculum that is sound in both content and relevant and interesting to a dynamic age group. I imagined working as a team to facilitate these learning sessions while freeing the pastors to connect with the students and ensure the content was theologically sound.
I imagined facilitating our current infant/toddler Praise and Play during the week throughout the summer on Monday mornings, inviting many of our participants who are teachers during the school year and opening up the program as an outreach to the immediate community by advertising it through various media.
I imagined starting and facilitating a MOPS group that meets in the evening for working moms, gathering those within our congregation and extending the invitation to families in the surrounding community.
I imagined our church starting a day care that my own children attend in our transformed parsonage, providing a needed resource to the community and outreach to families in need.
I imagined the lawn fenced in and playground equipment erected to provide outdoor play for the day care children and a place for children to play supervised by caring older siblings or adults while their parents take part in ministries inside the church. I imagined continuing to facilitate the electronic communication of our church and expanding that to include utilizing local media to promote events to those in the immediate community and beyond.
I imagined myself as the center and hub for families at our church -- helping them connect with ministries, resources, and people. I saw myself visiting families who are anticipating having their first child and offering assistance and encouragement; celebrating when the new additions arrive; and providing support when the unthinkable occurs.
As these thoughts tumbled over one another and spilled out, I laughed at the arrogance of me "hiring" myself onto staff and dreaming up such elaborate plans. Ah, if it were only so simple.
However, while it its entirety it may be a pie-in-the-sky dream, I cannot ignore the momentum with which it hit me. My clear visions for the future seemed to have the passion and urgency of the Holy Spirit. In reflecting, I wonder if I am beginning to get a sense of that to which I am being called.
God only knows.
Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:21pm
You will have to forgive my recent tendency toward the religious. However, I find myself once again compelled to post on the topic. Humor me.
We are finding ourselves at a crossroads at our church. The traditions that have served us well for years are being challenged, and there is a ever-growing call for renewal of our worship practices (otherwise known as “adding a contemporary service”). Those who feel strongly have weathered the tide of transition after a long-tenured pastor’s retirement and the upheaval of losing our next lead pastor after a few short years. Being in a constant state of transition, this multitude has been encouraged to be patient, not to push for change during such tumultuous times. And so the din is rising. Will we ever not be in transition?
My thoughts on the subject of transforming our church go beyond the worship experience to the entirety of how we do or do not look to understand the needs of the “ordinary” people in our immediate community (i.e. not necessarily homeless/jobless, etc) who have needs (parenting/marriage/general life challenges) and how we become a safe, welcoming, nurturing place for to find guidance that then reveals the far-reaching effect God’s grace and a life of faith have in transforming our ordinary lives to the extraordinary that we crave (and expect!) but cannot achieve on our own.
In my opinion, we need to first formalize the process of getting to know new individuals by offering a variety of more intimate gatherings through which they can get to know others in the church (often known as small groups – Bible studies, discussion groups, child-rearing, mothering, marriage … etc.) When a new member joined the church an invitation would be extended to join a group that may be of interest to him/her.
When we welcome new members and then leave them afloat in a sea of new people to somehow find their way, we set ourselves up for failure. Only those who are bound and determined to make this particular church their home will have the fortitude to keep attending events, volunteering and being present until people quit asking “Are you new here?” That’s not how Jesus did it, and it’s not how we should be doing it either. Jesus went to the people … Jesus turned the conventions of the day on their head and challenged us to a live a life of love by extending ourselves to others.
Second, just like schools have to rethink many of the ways they conduct outreach to parents (i.e. going beyond open houses and parent-teaching conferences) who may have never finished school or have terribly negative associations with “traditional” school outreach, we need to figure out how we become less scary to the individual who has only ever seen church as a place of negativism, hypocrisy, obligation and hurt. Whether those in established religion want to believe it or not, these are some of the reasons young families don’t just NOT go to church but AVOID anything with a religious connotation.
Those same traditions that bring us comfort and peace are representative of a time and place where a hurting soul came to be loved, nurtured and transformed and instead found judgment. By being willing to shed these traditions in favor of a worship experience that is still liturgical, worshipful and gospel-centered but is also in tune with the needs and styles of these individuals, we acknowledge that we are truly a “Christ-Centered Community of Hope and Belonging for ALL.”
By being willing to put words on the screen and sing with guitars and piano, we remove the stigma that only musically-inclined people who appreciate pipe organ and three part harmony attend church. By incorporating dramatic elements that provide real-life examples to make otherwise foreign and difficult concepts relevant and real, we acknowledge that the purpose of a sermon is the message (the GOSPEL centered message) not how it gets to you. By providing moments of intimacy during the worship service (communion in the round, sharing of the peace at the beginning, opportunities for personal connection) we acknowledge that we are a community that cares for and responds to the needs of our members and the world while focusing on God’s message as we worship Him.
The most important thing to understand is this is not an “us” versus “them” discussion, and it can never be.
We are called to serve.
Young families not attending church are raising the next generation … do you want to have a say in introducing those children to Christ and shaping their values, or not? Will you turn your backs on them and hold fast to tradition while they drown in a sea of anger and self-doubt or will you “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 New International Version).
More Faith Journey Musings
Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 10:28pm
I am enjoying the crackle of raindrops on my window, cuddled up under my blanket next to the fire. In this tranquil calm, I am re-reading a pivotal book in my ever-evolving faith journey -- Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. I find Norris' book comforting in that she puts to page her struggles with Christianity, faith and the church through a discussion of the "scary vocabulary" of organized religion. Norris hits on many things I struggle to come to terms with as I attempt to live, day by day, the life to which I am called.
It is nice to find a kindred soul enmeshed in the pages of this book. Norris grew up in a Christian family and is intimately familiar with the "insider's track" of faith and religion. In the course of life, she abandoned religion and faith for nearly 20 years and returned not to simply fall into monotonous ritual but to find it out and make it her own. Norris accepts neither the standard language of religion nor the assumed practices that one size can and must fit all. She understands the inherent community necessitated of faith yet pushes herself to seek the intimate details of her own faith to grab hold and make it her own.
As I return to this intelligent, inspiring discussion, I am reminded of the days, not so distant, when I sought a faith community, not for the sake of Christ or religion, but as a stranger in a strange place in search of connection and family.
I found there a family -- a pastoral church and tight-knit community that swallowed me up and held me tight despite my erratic attendance and wavering faith. When asked to teach Sunday School I declined, unable to resolve teaching young children the fundamentals of God's story when I could not confidently say, "I believe!"
These people were Christ to me, inviting me into their homes, helping me haul furniture when I outfitted my apartment, engaging me in meaningful pursuits of my talents and abilities. They saw me - God's child - lost and lonely, and they opened their tight circle, invited me in and gave me a home.
My time with this beloved family was, in all reality, terribly brief. Not two years later I found myself in the city and state of my youth, surrounded by family and awash in friendships. In this abundance I found myself a pawn of the ever-changing tide, close and certain of faith one minute and empty in panicked doubt the next.
And somewhere along the line, I am honestly not sure when, I found myself with more certainty of my faith than doubtful. God placed in front of me a series of His children in need of love and awakened in me a desire to be that source of love for them. In that safe place, they found the courage to ask their shameful questions and God helped me navigate my uncertain answers.And so, tonight, I reminisce about the journey God will take us on if we have the courage to live fully our doubts as we seek to navigate our way toward the answers He would have us discover.
I was reminded this week of a quote I hold dear:"Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms...Do not seek the answers, they cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, love along some distant day into the answers." ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Where's My Baby?
Monday, April 20, 2009 at 3:20pm
My baby boy turned one this weekend and I can honestly say I'm not sure where that year went. With Lucas it seemed like the first year crept along. He took his time learning to walk, didn't go up and down the stairs until he was 2, didn't start climbing onto things until recently (at 2 1/2) and is just generally a careful, methodical child.I feel like Nicolas is growing away from me faster than I can take it all in. Two weeks ago he learned to walk. He's already climbed onto a chair, toddles around the house like a master, has negotiated stairs since he could crawl, and has morphed into speech-imitating babble within days.
My baby disappeared overnight. His arms and legs, while still round and soft, are growing long and lean, deep creases stretching into faint fold lines.His independence grows as he tries something new, seeks me out for comfort, and ventures out again.And the less he needs me, the more he becomes himself.But I will be here. Carefully watching. Guiding. Brushing him off and standing him back up when he falls.But I better not blink, or I might miss it all
Monday, April 6, 2009 at 9:48pm
There is much said about the trials of motherhood. As with many difficult topics, it seems our generation is willing to talk about the struggles and difficulties more readily than our elders, and we are beginning to recognize and relish in supporting one another through what can be a very difficult transition.
But today I’m not going to focus on the “dirty little secrets”, though I am no stranger to these realities.I was inspired to write this blog by a recent visit with an old friend and her 11 month old (fraternal) twin girls. As I watched my college roommate of four years and friend for (gulp) fifteen years lovingly mother her girls, I was reminded of the magic I observe as my friends become mothers.As my friends marry and begin their families, I have witnessed a slow process of maturation – exchanging night clubs for dinner parties and lavish shopping trips for mortgages. These gradual changes certainly do signal a transformation, but not one as striking as motherhood.
Upon becoming mothers, my friends each seemed at peace. Despite the chaos their moments entail, there is an evenness, an aura that did not exist before.
It does not seem to me they have “lost” themselves as is so often said. What I see in my beautiful friends is a perfecting of self. The rough edges begin to soften as they turn inward to themselves to care for and nourish their children. My friends are still themselves, but maybe a little less self-ish, maybe a little more generous with their time and affection, maybe a little less rigid.So, yes, there is change. Like a good relationship, our children bring out the best parts of us and force us to let go of the ones that do not serve us.
And in a way, we may feel a bit broken – a bit like we’ve lost ourselves. But like any great endeavor, we have not lost ourselves so much as melded into those we love to become greater than the sum of our parts. And that, is beautiful.
Mommy Needs a Break
Friday, March 27, 2009 at 3:20pm
So, I realize I am one of those lucky wives and mothers that gets a great deal of incredible help from her husband. Not only does my guy wrangle the kids on a regular basis, he is an incredible cook and would rather be home with me and the kids than anywhere else. He doesn’t have golf or poker habits that take him away on a weekly basis, and he’s never been the type to live at work unless it is absolutely necessary.
That said, the last month or so have been a little Mommy-heavy. We’re in the beginning stages of finishing our basement, so much of Scott’s time has been spent sorting, organizing and prepping the space in addition to framing much of the exterior walls. I am terribly grateful for his drive and willingness to do this. However, our weekend dynamic has shifted, and I feel like we haven’t had a real “weekend” for quite some time.
My patience is growing thin with making, feeding and cleaning up meals; playing the constant referee between two children for whom sharing and cooperating is not yet age-appropriate; and feeling guilty for the snippets of time I spend tending to the various chores required to keep this house running. Inevitably these times result in a brawl between the brothers or require mass amounts of television viewing to keep the peace.Add to this that the time change has totally thrown our sleeping patterns out of whack.
Nicolas has added an eating session at 5:00 a.m. and then wakes for the day at 7:00 a.m. Lucas is sleeping in until 8-ish. This means that Nicolas (who has given up a morning nap entirely) is really ready for his midday nap around noon. I hold him off until 1:00 p.m. Then I try to put Lucas down at 1:30 p.m., which inevitably turns into 2 p.m. by the time we’ve tried to go on the potty, read books, etc.
You can imagine my heart-sinking dread when I’ve just come downstairs to try to slip in my 30 minutes of yoga to release the stomach tension and ease the shooting back pain only to hear Nicolas screaming at the top of his lungs, awake at 2:15 p.m. I attempt to continue through the belly-aching but eventually relent and scramble upstairs when I hear a large crash (different every day) from Lucas’ room. I put him back in bed, rescue Nicolas from his imprisonment and come downstairs, defeated once again.
Yoga loses a bit of its relaxing effect with an 11 month old climbing all over you.
I know these days will soon be gone and I will miss the giggles, screeches and discoveries. I know I will someday long for the time when my son grasped my shoulder and buried his head in my neck.I know today is important to enjoy. But for now, I need a break.
I need one day when I haven’t had to change-wipe-scold-soothe-feed-console anyone.
I need one day for me.