Wednesday, August 13, 2014

At a crossroads

I've been quiet on the blog for a couple of years, and don't have so many followers that I think anybody has really noticed, but it was a busy couple of years.  I was working as a manager for a Habitat ReStore and that job, while rewarding, exhausted me physically and mentally. I just didn't have the energy or mental capacity to think about things and process questions the way I did when I was in seminary. And I really missed it.

I left that position in June. Due to a variety of changing life circumstances, I'm taking an amazing opportunity to go off on a new adventure. I took a part time job working as Program Manager for Lazarus Ministries at Grand Avenue Temple UMC - an organization that works with the Sojourner community (aka the homeless community) of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. This gives me (1) a chance to learn about a new kind of ministry and work with a respected group of people doing what they do, (2) income, even if it is significantly less, and (3) a way to structure my time. The role of a Deaconess is "full time ministry of love, justice and service" so the remainder of my time is not being spent watching soap operas and eating bon-bons. I am working to start a new chapter of Project Transformation in the Missouri conference. I have a team working with me to help bring this amazing program first to Kansas City, and then, once it's stable and successful we can hopefully spread it to St Louis, Springfield, Columbia and maybe rural areas. Other conferences are doing amazing things with this program and ever since I interviewed for an executive director position with one of them, I've felt this a program where God was nudging me to go.  The last couple of months have involved many conversations with many people and it never ceases to amaze me the way that things just work out and come together. I know it's more than coincidence, although I hesitate to put God in the "micro-manager" role.

In the bigger decisions of my life - choosing a college, changing my major, marrying my partner, going to seminary - I have felt like there were lots of questions that weren't answered but those were clearly the "right" decisions. I may not have known how I was going to pay for it, or what would come next, but they felt like the places I needed to be or things I needed to do, and it always worked out. Not just worked out, but made me happy and worked out well, even if it was a lot of work and struggle in the process. Seminary wasn't a breeze and I had no clue what would come afterwards; marrying my partner meant a lot of struggle with my biological family. Leaving my full time job with an organization I of which I was proud to be a part was the same - I didn't really know if I could pull it off or what would happen when things like health insurance went away, but so far it's all working out beautifully. I have to put my desire to plan to the side and trust in God that things will continue to work out. And I thank God for a partner who encourages me to do these things and walks by my side through it all.

Have you felt like you were on God's path? How did you determine it was God's will for you rather than your desire for yourself?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

For Jerry

It's Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend and most people are reviewing their purchases from this huge shopping weekend, but I'm sad. I just watched the 10 pm news and learned that one of my former coworkers was shot and killed by police on Thanksgiving evening.  It's still a developing story but the gist of it is that two women were found dead in a house (Jerry's wife, Loretta, and a teenage girl who was helping her cook Thanksgiving dinner) and when police arrived on scene (they were called to a possible burglary) they shot a man who was firing at them, my friend Jerry. The news pieces report Jerry's financial problem and previous drug conviction, but what they don't report is the beautiful man that I knew from the Habitat for Humanity Kansas City office.

Jerry came to us through a work program of Catholic Charities and his job was cleaning up the offices - mopping floors, cleaning toilets, etc. It wasn't glamorous work but Jerry seemed to like doing it, doing his part to contribute to our mission. He was always smiling and usually whistling or singing a song (often church related), and every time I talked with him he would tell me about his wife, Loretta. They were an aging couple facing some health issues, as most of us will when we get into our mid-60's.  They didn't have a lot of money, and I know his salary couldn't have been much through a charity work program, but he was glad to have the job and was doing the best he could with what he had.  Perhaps what surprised me the most was learning that Jerry had been on drugs in his past and had spent time in prison. I'm a little embarrassed to admit how naive I am in this regard, but my picture of "felons" and "drug addicts" was generally of angry (possibly dangerous) or depressed people, and Jerry wasn't really either one of those. He was optimistic about things, a spiritual man, and always had kind, encouraging words for everyone.

I don't have any idea what happened Thanksgiving night, and I learned first hand when I was a 911 dispatcher that the news often doesn't get the details correct.  I'm not pointing fingers at the media or at the police, but I know that despite what I hear in the news, a good man was lost in addition to the women found dead inside the house.  It's been about a year since I worked in the Habitat KC office and I don't know if Jerry was still working there or what else may have changed in his life, but I will remember him singing a song while mopping the floors, smiling and nodding at me as I walked to the other bathroom so as not to walk across where he was working.  His was a great spirit and I'm glad I got to know him the little that I did. Rest in peace, my friend, with your Loretta at your side.  I pray you have the relief you were looking for.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Retreat (not the white flag)

I just got back from my first ever solo retreat, as in get away from people, technology, familiar surroundings, etc.  I've done retreats with groups in the past, but never just went away by myself and i was really anxious about it. What would I find in the recesses of my brain if I took time to just listen to it? What would I do with all of that time if I wasn't on Facebook or watching t.v.? Now that I'm back I have to say that I don't know what all the worry was for. I did basically what I felt like I needed and wanted to do that wasn't involving my cell phone, computer or t.v. I read some of the books I brought with me, I went for long walks, I played with animals (I went to a farm with alpacas, chickens, goats, cats, dogs), and I prayed and meditated.  I did things that I generally want to do but rarely actually find time to do, and it felt wonderful.
prairie wildflowers and moth

I'm normally fairly extroverted, so I think part of what scared me most was not having interaction with people, and while there were moments where I thought it was too quiet and really wanted to call someone just to chat, for the most part I enjoyed being by myself.  The books that went with me were wonderful and helped me do some introspection. Walking the prayer labyrinth at the retreat center was an amzingly spiritual experience in ways I can't even articulate.  I even took some time to explore a creative outlet I've always wanted to - I took a bunch of photographs and think some of them are actualy half decent (you can comment on the two that are included in this post if you'd like). For years I've wanted to take photography classes and do something like this. Thankfully, a Deaconess sister who runs this eco-spirituality farm and retreat center is also a fairly skilled photographer and was willing to give me some pointers.  It allowed me to explore something new and it felt liberating. I go back to work tomorrow, and having only been back home for hours, I don't know if my experience away made any profound difference in me. I do know that I feel glad to have gone and I hope that it did make a difference - only time will tell.

Turtle Rock Farm, Oklahoma
The point of this post then is three-fold. (1) If you are considering doing something like this yourself but have some reservations, consider this an edorsement to DO IT. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money and can be exactly what you need to rejuvenate body, mind and soul. You don't have to have a plan, or agenda, or specific goal.  (2) I'd like for you to share information and recommendations. Where do you retreat? How often do you go? Or if you don't go, why not? Are there negative implications? I personally went to Turtle Rock Farm in Oklahoma (a little more than an hour south of Wichita, KS just off I-35) and would heartily recommend it.  I stayed in the hermitage, which is basically a small apartment, for only $50 a night.  Do you have a particular book you'd recommend to read while away? Or do you follow a certain regimen when you retreat? (3) Finally, I write this post as in invitation to those who know me to let me know if you notice any difference, for better or worse.  I'm a little curious to see how things go back at work and in my daily interactions with people over the next week or two. I feel relaxed and better equipped to handle the so called "daily grind" but I don't know how accurate that is or how long it will last. I hope it lasts a while and that I get a chance to go on retreat on a regular basis in the future.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

And they're (we're) at it again...

I saw a news story from the UMNS tonight that really got to me. Not sure why this one bugs me more than the multitude of other stories about gay marriage and the fighting that goes on in the United Methodist Church, but it does. After I read the story, I read the comments and it just made things worse - to the point that I was crying and punching my couch cushions. I attempted to make my own comment on the article page, but struggled with the words. What would people actually read and consider? What would lead to thoughtful response? What wouldn't just incite the "opposing" side? And then I went to log in (a required step to have your comment posted) and realized that it would link to my profiles on Facebook or Google or whatever and could easily lead people to other aspects of my life and the fear took over. Would someone who really didn't like what I have to say be able to track me down? Or see my FB profile and learn that I'm in a same sex relationship? Would they care that I've been monogamous and completely committed for more than 12 years or that my partner is in the military? I couldn't love with myself if my desire for public response came back to harm her. And perhaps it would lead to someone questioning my position as a Deaconess, and what that office stands for - could I bring that upon them? I finally decided to post here, something I haven't done in a while for a variety of reasons. It's still public, but it takes a little more work to find this and I feel like I have a little more control (although realistically, I know that's not the case).

So here are my thoughts:
  • Why does it make ANY difference how many people attend any of the mentioned pastors' churches? They make it seem like if you pastor a church with more people in the pews each week, that inherently means you're doing something right - more in line with "God's will" perhaps.  This is an ongoing issue in the UMC (and other mainline denoms) and one which I find disturbing... Jesus was NOT about preserving the status quo or filling the pews!
  • We've known for a long time that the issue of gay marriage in the church (we're not talking about civil marriage) is one with many voices on all sides. We've also known for a long time that while we all believe in the Bible, how to read and follow it has always been up for debate. Until we can learn how to tolerate each other, no matter what the issue, we come out looking like hypocrites.  There are so many layers of complexity here, anyone suggesting there is a simple way to handle it is foolish. Punishing everyone doesn't spread love (or give the UMC good press which can't help anyone's attendance numbers), and it doesn't appear that the UMC at large is going to change policy anytime soon. Is there anyone who can have a civil conversation and find alternatives?
  • Perhaps the church does need to split so that each camp can believe and practice in the way they see as most true. That would certainly NOT be easy; I don't think anyone wants to see that happen - and not just because of the financial fall out (which would certainly be bad). We have to find another way, and though it's hokey to say, if we're Christians, I think we have to ask what would Jesus do. We have to ask these questions as individuals and as a community.  We struggle as people are trying to do this the best way they can see - some by taking a stand against policies they see as unjust, and others by trying to hold them accountable.
  • As someone who has a clear personal stake in this issue, I hope that changes are made, but I also hope that they are done prayerfully, with a spirit of love and putting others first. The question of how to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of you is one that I will struggle with for always. I'm proud to say that I go to church that chose to respond to a picket by the Fred Phelps clan by bringing them water to drink, but what is the appropriate response to those who want to punish the people that are standing up for what it just? 
  • I question the role of accountability when it's used as a way to keep people in line. As the church, we should not be instilling fear and punishment shouldn't be our modus operandi. But then I consider what John Wesley did in his meetings, making sure that people were on the path to being better Christians.  How did he know which things to press people on and which things to overlook? And Jesus certainly held people accountable too. Yet he seemed to do it in a way that challenged everything - the adulterous woman didnt' get stoned, but Jesus didn't just let it slide either.  I believe that those who are calling for the church laws to be upheld are doing so (mostly) to keep the church on the "right" path - they fear that we are losing our way. While I disagree with them, how can I begrudge them that?  And where is there room for a middle ground between these two? Should there be middle ground?
  • I feel bad for the Council of Bishops. I don't know how they can best respond to this issue. There are bishops on both sides of this issue, and they do have a role to uphold the laws of the church, but they also have an obligation to call the church to justice. It seems to me they are damned if they do and damned if they don't on this one.  I hope the Holy Spirit will be with them as they work it out together, and I'll be watching to see what they say.  A lot of people - in and out of the UMC - will be watching.
Where does this leave us? I really don't know. I just know we can't keep going like this. My heart hurts, and I can only imagine that God's does too.