Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spiritual Discipline (Is not Ought!)

I met with a couple of members of SPRC today. For the non-UMC folks, that’s our Staff Parish Relations Committee – lay folks who serve 3 year terms functioning roughly as an HR department for a local church. I was meeting with them at my own request. A year ago, a new evaluative tool was put out from our Conference office and, with a deadline looming large, they did what they could and submitted evaluations of the four clergy at our church.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, there was no opportunity for us to address any concerns that arose or even just offer insights into our ministry, so many things were marked NO, as in “not observed.” Seriously, a lot of the best stuff clergy do is invisible. I can’t tell you about the amazing counseling session or the powerful moment of confession and transformation. And that’s as it should be. I trust that my God “who sees in secret” knows the ministry I am doing (Matthew 6).

The first section in this evaluation had to do with my personal life – fiscal responsibility, emotional health, physical fitness, spiritual disciplines, etc. I confessed quickly that I usually stink that these things and I have scored myself the lowest in these areas both years we’ve been using this tool. I thanked them for scoring me higher than I scored myself last year.
But then one of the SPRC reps said the most profound thing – “Forget about the ought’s. What do you do?” And after thinking a moment, and forgiving myself for not fasting or searching the Scriptures (except when there’s a sermon to prep) or only praying in traffic, I realized I do have a spiritual discipline that is life-giving and beautiful and perfectly tailored to me.

The time I spend with my son, as I have explosive epiphanies about the nature of God’s love for me in the experience of my love for my child, is a constant spiritual discipline. I could never forget my nursing child or show no compassion for the child of my womb (Isaiah 49:15). He has made my heart grow, he has made me more mindful of all God’s children, he has inspired new mission efforts. These are fruit of a spiritual discipline.

This was my epiphany for today. I pray that you are released from your ought’s, too, so that you might embrace and rejoice in what is already beautiful, powerful, and grace-filled in your life. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, we just have to let go of ought’s and embrace what is (as in I AM).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Can anything good come out of Halloween?

Halloween was just a couple of days ago. And as I saw the advertisements featuring scantily clad women and devil babies, I got to thinking what good could possibly come out of Halloween.

It certainly doesn’t do anything for women’s equality since most ladies see it as an excuse to get away with wearing as little as possible and calling it a costume. I’m not throwing stones; I owned pleather pants and corsets at one point in my life. And I know it didn’t help anyone see me as a smart, strong, capable woman.

It certainly doesn’t do anything for our selfish American tendencies or our national bent toward obesity. Lots of folks have lamented the folks who came to their door with a sense of entitlement, whether it’s teens without costumes expecting candy in their pillow cases or the family that asks for water and then fusses that they each didn’t get a bottle.

It certainly doesn’t bring out our best selves, for the most part. Halloween is a holiday that glorifies fear and gore. Maybe I’m extra fussy because I don’t like being scared. I don’t like scary movies (although I have seen more than my share since I do like having friends). It really did bother me that one of my neighbors had skulls on stakes in their yard as well as a gravestone with a skeleton resting in the dust. Ugh.

I was wrestling with this since my mom loves Halloween and always has for as long as I can remember. She keeps a stuffed leg, knee to shoe, around all year long so that in the weeks prior to Halloween, she can dangle it from her trunk. And since I love my mom and she loves Halloween, there must be something redeeming about it. 

So I kept my eyes open this Halloween. I saw lots of new things, especially since my son is old enough to be exploring this holiday on his own for the first time. We went to the fall festival at the church, which I know is a safe and secure place, but he was scared of many of the people in costume. Not that they were “scary” costumes, but they obscured the people he may have otherwise recognized. Oh, I had forgotten that. And asking for candy, receiving it, but not eating it didn’t come naturally to him. Some sense of entitlement is a learned behavior, in the same way we teach children not to play with the gifts they open on birthdays or Christmas, but to set them aside and eagerly open more and more. 

But, finally, on the way home, I saw one good thing that comes out of Halloween. My neighbors were out of their houses, sitting in lawn chairs waiting for trick-or-treaters or moving with their families up and down the sidewalks. And porch lights were on, more than I've ever seen, lighting the way to a welcoming house. Wow. It was stunning to see this kind of warmth and hospitality. My neighborhood is fairly new, so there are no front porches. Most days, most of my neighbors and I never set foot outside, let alone linger there, beyond checking the mail (and some even do that from their cars).

I’m outside more nowadays because I want James to play out there. And I delight in how he finds so much to do with leaves, acorns, and other free toys. So I see my neighbors arrive home in the evenings, open their garage doors, pull inside, and close the door behind them. It’s sad. There’s not much that feels neighborly for most neighbors, and I have a feeling I’m not alone.

But on Halloween, we have an excuse to break our well-worn habits, put on silly costumes, and act like neighbors. Thanks be to God.