random thoughts from sitting and listening to God

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Standing with “Me Too”

I just read a post by a woman who essentially challenged the “Me Too” posts that have been appearing all over Facebook in the past few days. She mentioned situations where she said women were offended by comments, like honey or sweetie, and flirtations made by men that she thought were freaking out over nothing. She mentioned being in work situations with customers who made these comments and flirted with her and she was able to tell them no, and that she trained them how to treat her. At the end she said she wasn’t downplaying it for women who have been in an uncomfortable situation or felt threatened. Reading this post, as an adult male, made me feel uncomfortable. Here’s why.

First, the fact that the comment about not downplaying was one sentence at the end didn’t calm my feeling that she was downplaying what has been happening, and continues to happen, to women every day. If you really want people to believe you aren’t downplaying it, make that comment up front and probably repeat it a couple times. But …

Second, the way that final comment was worded left me feeling like she was downplaying it. Using “uncomfortable situation” and “felt threatened” doesn’t begin to get at what the “Me Too” postings are about. This isn’t about discomfort or feeling threatened, it’s about feeling powerless. With customers, you are at least on equal footing, if not in a power position. What the “Me Too” posts are about is not fending off customers or guys you pass on the street. They are about dealing with bosses who hold your livelihood in their hands. Not every woman is able to say no to a boss who may fire them. A single mom who is barely making ends meet can’t afford to stand up to a boss who may well fire them. I have known women in these circumstances and have heard many other stories. The posts are also about being in a situation where you know the man, and have felt safe with them before, only to have them turn on you with beatings and rape. I have known women in those situations as well. These posts are about women who have been in a vulnerable state of mind for any of several reasons, only to have a safe man take advantage of them. Those are just a few examples of what “Me Too” is about.

I’m glad that this woman has never been in those situations! I’m glad that she has felt strong enough to handle the men in the much lighter situations she has been in. And I really mean that! But the women who I have seen posting “Me Too” are not snowflakes who are just easily offended. They are strong, intelligent, wise women who have had their situations forced on them through no fault of their own.

There’s a third reason why I felt uncomfortable reading the post. I believe her when she says that she wasn’t trying to downplay the real assaults that happen. But the way the post was worded made it very possible for men, men who are perpetrators of these assaults, to say, “See, here’s a woman who agrees that it’s no big deal.” I felt the same way reading this post as when I read articles about an individual Black man who says there is no problem with racism and racial injustice in this country. I’m glad they have not had the experience of the vast numbers of other Black men. His post may be very real, but it is being used by White people to maintain the status quo. And his one experience certainly doesn’t negate the experience of the vast number of others. I think this woman would be upset if a group on Facebook used her post to negate the experiences of women who are assaulted by men. But I feel like that door was opened.

A male friend of mine posted “I’m Guilty” today to acknowledge that he hasn’t spoken up enough about harassment and assault on women. I’m guilty also, but today I speak up!

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Responsibility or Response-ability

I was reading an article by Wm. Paul Young that someone posted on Facebook today and it made me stop and think a bit. Here is an excerpt:

Sitting on my desk, right now are the following: Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Tyndale Publisher’s The Word Study Concordance (based on Strong’s Concordance) and Geoffrey Bromley’s 1,356 page Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. On my shelf is the massive, ten volume set of Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

The word I’m thinking of is not in any of these. No derivation of the word is in any of these. This word is simply not in the Bible, although it has slipped into a few English translations.
What is the word? Responsibility.

Neither “responsibility” or any of its derivations, including “responsible,” make a single appearance.

Instead of responsibility, the Bible chooses to focus on a another action: the ability to respond. This is entirely different.

Responsibility is as set of expectations enforced from the outside. It’s a law or code of behavior and often used to define a good person and communicate shame for poor performance.

But a response arises from within. It is dynamic and relational. A responsive person may or may not give, but a responsible person is supposed to give. Because of who we are as human beings indwelt by Jesus (John 14:20), we have an ability to respond, not a responsibility. This has massive implications and is implicitly an invitation to adventures in living.

Remember that today. Your call is not a responsibility. It is your willing and joyful response.

I shared it with Nola and we talked about what it meant. Something she said made me think about the last year or so of my journey.

As many of you know, I went into a “retired” status as a United Methodist pastor at the end of last year. I did so for many reasons, not the least of which was the desire to be close to our son and daughter-in-law and our soon-to-be grandchild (that would be Sullivan, born in April). But the truth is that some of the reasons have to do with the way I was treated by a District Superintendent, and people in church leadership who are more concerned with maintaining their control on things than on faithfulness to where God might be leading (That part manifested itself in pretty much every church I served to some degree. Some more than others.) So part of my decision was born of being burned and being burned out.

Since we moved down here I have filled in for pastors 8-10 times on Sunday morning. I have given the sermon and done other things to lead worship. I have been told that I am welcome back any time on several occasions. A couple of the churches were getting ready to go through a pastoral church and I was told that they would love to have me be their pastor. But I’m not looking for that at this time.

For the last several months I have been working at a golf course as a turf maintenance worker. I have been using large mowing equipment to mow fairways, tees, and greens. I have been maintaining bunkers/sand traps. I have been doing landscaping, which has included lots of mulch, compost, and planting a lot of flowers.

You may have noticed that none of that sounds like it needs a master of divinity, which included lots of biblical studies, theology and ethics, along with church history and governance. And it doesn’t. But the physical labor involved has been good for my soul in ways that are hard to describe. And there have been surprising conversations about Christianity and the Church. They all know I’m a pastor.

So back to this morning.

There have been moments of guilt about not following what I have been called and trained to do. It’s what if did for 24 ½ years! But that article and my conversation with Nola caused me to pause. My guilt is born out of the feeling of responsibility, something that Young says is not in the Bible. And my ability to respond, or more accurately, my desire to respond to this calling and training has been marred by my experiences.

I think that the difference between responsibility and response-ability is huge and important. It is my belief, and I think in line with the theology in which I have been trained, that God does not try to coax us with guilt. God does not heap up responsibility until we give in to the weight of it. God woos us with grace and love until we are lifted by it to the point of wanting to respond in line with God’s desire for us.

I think that right now I am beginning to emerge from my healing mode and hearing God’s grace-filled and loving call for my life. And I still don’t think it involves being appointed to serve a church as pastor, at least in the traditional sense. I am beginning to sense God’s desire for Nola and I to build real community in the apartment complex where we live. And by real community I mean community shaped by love and grace. What that looks like I’m not sure at this point. But we have some ideas. We’ll let you know later.

By Another Route

Many churches around the world today heard the story of the wise men following the star to Jesus. The story is pretty familiar in our culture, but if you don’t know it you can read it in the Bible in Matthew 2:1-12. The very last words are what I want to focus on right now.

                “… they returned to their country by another route.

This morning, Nola and I went to worship at my home church.

I was baptized as an infant there.
          I grew up going to worship and Sunday School every week.
                               I attended youth group and sang in the youth choir.

I met Nola there.
                Our children were baptized there.
                                We were in a small group there.
                                                We left for seminary and pastoral ministry from there.

So today, as I enter into retirement from being a local church pastor,
                we returned to the place where it all started.

It was different being there. It was good … but it was different. And, as I thought about it, it was because we were returning by another route. It has been 26+ years since we left, and a lot has happened to us and to that church. We are all different. And honestly, that is how it should be. If it had been 26+ years and we hadn’t changed, something would be terribly wrong. Our children, who were an infant and toddler when we left, are now adults aged 28 and 26. One is married and getting ready to welcome our first grandchild. We have lived in 5 different towns. We have served 4 churches.

But the truth is that the change I’m referring to is not in those details. The change I’m talking about is from our growth as followers of Jesus Christ. There have been so many circumstances in life, some we consider good, some we consider bad, that have challenged us and stretched us and threatened to break us. But with God’s help we have persevered. God has done things with us that we never imagined when we left.

And so we returned by another route. No longer wet-behind-the-ears, young and naïve and idealistic. Rather we return with eyes-wide-open, seasoned (with many scars to prove it) and wiser. We return knowing all of the goodness and ugliness of humanity, including Christians and their churches. We return knowing that God is good, and God is faithful, and God is just, and God is love. Period. There is no downside with God. I many not always like the places where I feel like God had led, but I never doubt that God is good and faithful and just and love.

And so we returned by another route. Mature adults and Christians, touching base with our roots. Not to try to reclaim something of the past, but to remember. To remember where we came from. To give thanks for where we came from. And to prepare for the next leg of our journey. Because returning by another route doesn’t mean we return to settle. We are not the same and God has not called us by another route to just complete the circle. In our case, “another route” means that home is not where we came from, but where we are going.

Where has your route led you? Are you different? Not just because of common life circumstance, but because of how you have lived those circumstances with God. Have those circumstances led you to doubt God or to grasp God? Where is your route leading you?

So We Go

A friend posed an article on Facebook today that contained the following prayer by Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk who lived from 1915-1968.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Thomas Merton

So we go.

As I started to read the prayer I was struck by how closely this mirrors how Nola and I feel about life right now. We are heading into a major life transition initiated by us out of a swirling mess of circumstances, some of them positive, some of them negative. We have a destination in mind; the Dayton area of Ohio. We have some ideas of what we will do for work; Nola in an office setting, me doing weddings and funerals, and preaching on Sundays, and looking at the possibility of substitute teaching. We are also talking about doing a number of other things like spiritual life retreats, doing music in restaurants/pubs, and doing ministry in very non-traditional settings. So we go.

The truth is that I have felt God calling me into this direction for some time now, probably several years. But as an ordained pastor I was having trouble being open to the idea of serving outside of a church setting. But now we are moving toward it very quickly and have a lot of unknowns still before us. As I write this we have a possible housing option, but it’s not what we want long-term. We have applications in but no firm prospects for work. We have some money saved and have a few months to get it figured out, but the concept ofI have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will endsounds all too real. Still we go.

But we do trust that God is leading! We have seen so many things that seem to confirm that we are going in the right direction. If nothing else, we have a real desire to be following God’s lead and hope it does please God and that we will discover blessings along the way. And though I do have some anxieties about this new leg of our journey, I do not fear it. So we go.

We go into an uncertain future that we know that God holds. We don’t have as many answers as we would like, but we know who holds the answers. It may be different than what we are used to, but it’s not so different that God is not there. So we go.

So we go.

 

 

God Breathed Unity

Let me say up front that some of this post is probably mostly for people who call themselves United Methodist. But I really think that it applies to the division that is found in Christianity in general and in our country.

The Christian denomination that I belong to, The United Methodist Church, is deeply divided along the line of our beliefs around human sexuality. We have been for decades really, but somewhere in the last 10 years or so the voices on either side of the debate have become so harsh and judgmental of each other that the call to divide the denomination has become deafening. And I use the word deafening intentionally, because the loudest voices have ceased to listen to other voices who say things other than what they believe.

During the 4 years between our 2012 and 2016 General Conferences there have been a number of people and groups trying to figure out a way forward. Some of those plans have been about how we can go our separate ways, and some have tried to find ways that we can live together in our disagreement. I have read many of these plans and honestly find myself saddened that we have to even entertain such options. I am an optimist and an idealist and it is always my hope that we don’t let this issue divide us. But I also have enough of a realist in me to know that something has to happen.

And so it is my hope that the Spirit of God will break in and drive us to a place of humility. And again I use the word drive intentionally, because I haven’t seen much willingness for us to go there on our own. And in that humility we might find a place of compromise that will allow us to move forward as agents of the Kingdom of God.

Part of what has spurred this post was a little statement that someone made on the twitter feed on the General Conference website:

“True compromise makes no one happy.”

My first thought was, only if your attitude is to win! If you come into the discussion with the humility of Jesus Christ as expressed in Philippians 2, we won’t have to win. If we seek for God’s will to be done and not ours, we won’t have to win. We can be happy because human relationships have been honored, restored and/or maintained.

This is tied to the call for unity that many people have called unrealistic. The statement from our bishops included:

“We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God.”

Again, I hear the words of Paul in Philippians 2:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Notice that Paul didn’t just call us to be humble, he called us to be humble in our relationships. He called us to lay aside our desire to be more than others, and calls us to be the servant to all, willing to lay down all that we are for others and for the Kingdom of God. This is where the possibility for real unity can be born. Come Holy Spirit, and help it be so.

The Joy of a Cool, Rainy Run

This is not a post about running! Really!

Last week I put this post of Facebook:

The vast majority of you will think I’m completely insane, and a small handful will understand. Low 50’s and light rain, running shorts and long sleeve tech shirt and a 5 mile run. Almost perfect!

I think that the reason the vast majority of people would think I’m a bit crazy is because what I said runs so contrary to what we think of as perfect or ideal running conditions. Most people would think that it would be so much better if it were sunshiny and in the 70s. Much more comfortable at least.

I get it. Most of the time I would agree with that.  But sunshiny and 70s is not ideal for running. Especially for several miles. You get overheated and dehydrated more quickly and it makes for an uncomfortable run. On the other hand, the lower temperature and light rain keep you cool even on a long run. I have to confess that I have done several of those cool, rainy runs in the last 6-8 months and I find myself running with more joy and energy than at other times.

I think that there are some parallels to life in general here. We tend to seek, and even aggressively chase after, things that we think will make and/or keep us comfortable. If only my finances were better. If only our house was bigger or better. If only I could get a better job or at least get a promotion where I am. If only my health were in a better place. If only I could get that new car/boat/hobby equipment/tv/etc.

I think that when I run in those cooler, rainy conditions, the reason I’m more joyful and energetic is because of the conditions. I know I already mentioned that to some degree, but bear with me. There’s something about the rain soaking your shirt, covering you glasses, and running down your face that changes your attitude. You either become miserable and want to quit, or you celebrate it. And for some reason, I celebrate it. This may sound strange to you, but it puts me in closer touch with nature, creation and the Creator. And I love it!

We see stories all the time of people who have nothing and yet are some of the most joyful people. I think it may be that they are more in touch with real life. And by real life I mean life that is not augmented by better houses, jobs, finances, or other stuff. There are less things that get between them and creation, and them and their Creator. It’s not about comfort.

I forget that all the time. I get focused on all of the stuff and the chase. But then something calls me back. The beauty of a sunrise or sunset than no human artist can match. The vastness of creation while sitting on a beach at Lake Michigan. The inspiration of music in many forms. Simply being with family. And I forget the stuff and the chase, and I find myself connecting with the Creator. Then in turn, I find myself in a place of joy and my energy restored.

Not Sure We Get It Yet

So this post was inspired by a comment I saw on an article talking about the death of Keith Emerson, the keyboardist for the group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer who had their highest popularity probably in the 1970’s. It is apparent that Keith took his own life. And while there isn’t anything that has been released to say exactly why he might have done that, there are a couple of things that have emerged that might shed light.

One detail was that Keith may have experienced some diminishing of his ability to play because of some nerve damage. And from all accounts, music was his life. His most successful venture may have ended decades ago, but his writing and his influence certainly didn’t. His fellow band mates related the passion he had for making music and entertaining.

The other detail that has been reported a couple times was that Keith suffered from depression. The article I read today was quoting his former band mate Greg Lake, who said that his depression probably started in the late 1970’s as the bands popularity and success was waning. The writer of the article ended with this line:

“This case again highlights the need for our society to take mental health issues such as depression seriously in the hopes of preventing further tragedies.”

But it was the only comment on the article at the time that inspired me to write. Here is what that man said:

“As an ardent Keith Emerson fan, I ask: What can society have done to prevent his suicide?
To put the onus on ‘society’ is a bit of a stretch. What should ‘society’ do? Have the police round up the depressed and force feed them anti-depressants?
Unfortunately, depression is a very private matter than no matter how much one tries to intervene, the depressed find a way to be depressed. The ugliest of diseases.

Now, there are a couple of things in that quote that I agree with. First, I am an ardent Keith Emerson fan. And second, I believe that depression is an ugly disease. Everything between those two things I disagree with.

Let me address this in two sections; the second one first.

I have not hidden that fact that I have been taking medication for mild depression for several years. And while the meds help I can honestly say that it is a battle at times. It may be the stress of being a pastor. Some studies have shown rates of depression quite a bit higher than that general population. And I know that many pastors burnout and drop out a lot. I’m not going to post numbers because there are so many different studies and percentages it just doesn’t make sense to post them. But all of them suggest that depression and burnout are significantly higher than the national average.

At any rate, I have a pretty good idea of what depression is like. So I 100% disagree with the statement that “no matter how much one tries to intervene, the depressed find a way to be depressed.” If it wasn’t for some people saying something to me about my depression I probably wouldn’t have sought help. And the idea that the depressed find a way to be depressed shows ignorance about depression and other mental illness. I know it’s possible there are some, but I don’t know depressed people who find a way to be depressed. If I had anything to say about it I certainly wouldn’t find a way to be depressed. I actually look for exactly the opposite.

Now about the first section. This isn’t about putting the blame or the total responsibility on “society” to do something about preventing those who are depressed from committing suicide. But mental illness is still the elephant in the room in many ways. We don’t want to talk about it because we don’t understand it. And those who struggle with depression or other mental illnesses don’t want to talk about it because they know people won’t know what to do or say. We know it’s possible that someone will say something stupid like “Just snap out of it!” (I can’t or I would!!!) or “Stop looking for ways to be depressed!” (I don‘t!!! I look for ways to be happy) or “What do you have to be depressed about? Your life is great!” (It has nothing to do with my circumstances!!!

So yes, we do need to keep talking about it as a society. I thank God that my depression is relatively mild. But I have done funerals for 4 people that have taken their own lives because their mental illness was much worse. And I don’t want to do any more.