Monday, September 18, 2017

I am Curious - Rainbow

I am curious about pretty much everything.  I spend more time trying to figure out where words and customs and ideas come from than is probably good for me.  Luckily I have Google at my finger tips so a lot of the research I do these days takes just seconds, followed by a few more minutes trying to verify the source of whatever information I have unearthed.  This sometimes keeps me out of trouble.  :D

When I was reminded that the 3rd Sunday in September is National Back to Church Sunday I didn't really give it a lot of thought.  I did notice that there is no National Back to Church Sunday on the Disciples of Christ calendar, but I remembered doing something with donuts before worship last September and figured it was one of those "things that we do here."

As the date drew closer I began to wonder about the origins of this annual celebration.  So I looked on the Internet.  I found the National Back to Church Sunday website easily enough, but much to my surprise there was no back story on the About Us page.  No cute anecdote about how some kids (or adults) thought it would be great to welcome the choir and Sunday Schools back with donuts, no theological justification for the day, just "Hi!  Here are some folks who look like you celebrating National Back to Church Sunday! Sign up so you can be counted!"  There was no founding congregation.  Nothin'.

Hmmm.

Come Sunday I was even more curious.  I asked some members when we began celebrating this day, and learned it was introduced just a few years ago.

Back to the computer.  My geek sister Leah found a mailing address on the webpage, so I searched that and found the home page of an organization whose goal is, "To reach every person in America with an invitation to a Bible-believing church."  That's good.  I like that.  Then I checked out their Statement of Belief.  And what I found disturbed me.

You see, here at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Selma we are an All Means ALL congregation.  My message on National Back to Church Sunday was about openness and welcoming every person who comes as a beloved child of God.  It wasn't totally about LGBTQ+ folks, but they were certainly included. Sadly, and according to their Statement of Belief, the organizers of National Back to Church Sunday don't recognize our kind of congregation as "Bible Believing."  We believe people who love one another should be allowed to be married, even if they are the same gender.  They state that this belief means we are guilty of moral compromise, and not their kind of folks at all.

I like Back to Church Sunday.  I don't want to stop doing it.  I like the donuts and the socializing ahead of time and the making sure everyone knows they are welcome here.

But I think maybe next year we will choose a different week, and make it about us instead of a National Event.  Sort of a combination "Everything begins again this week" and "Bring a Friend" Sunday.  And YOU are welcome to join us.   Because, you see, we believe that All means ALL.  No matter who you are or who you love.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Taking a break

For the longest time Facebook was a place where I could connect with folks I rarely see, and stay in touch with people in my congregation, and post pictures of my cats.  I played games on Facebook - annoying some of my friends until I learned how to keep the notifications to just game players.  I enjoyed the slices of funny and profound that I found on Facebook.  I found links to writings that informed my preaching and helped me in my quest to eat healthier foods. I have, sadly, had to block relatives who proudly posted white supremacist views.  But I found new family on Facebook, and even became a Fairy Godmother!

When I was at General Assembly last month so many people came up to me and told me how much they love my cats!  They told me that my cats bring them joy.  I loved that my four footed housemates had a ministry of joy all on their own (with a tiny bit of help from my iPhone camera.)  I love being able to add to the sum total of joy in the world with pics of my Feline Overlords.

I learn so many things on Facebook. I follow news stories and checked them against Snopes.com.  I follow people who write posts that make a lot of sense to me, and whose opinions I value.   I have been exposed to news sources I hadn't previously encountered, some reliable, some not so much.   I keep discovering new theologians and preachers and I love all the new opportunities to learn.

But lately it seems like 3/4 of my feed is composed of arguments between friends that use no logic but only name calling and phrases like "everyone knows" instead of demonstrable data.  Alternate facts?  Fake news?

Today I can't take the hate anymore.  So I will take a Facebook break for a few days.  Or a week. Consider it a silent retreat.  Maybe next week I will feel stronger.  Or maybe the week after my vacation.  I'm not sure how long my break will be, but this one thing I do know.  I'll be back.  I can't stay away from all my friends and loved ones for very long.

May God's blessings of peace and serenity fall upon you all.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I preached on Sunday

I preached on Sunday.

I preach every Sunday.  Most Sundays my message is encouraging and hopeful.  Most Sundays my message is intended to teach my congregation how to love the neighbor and themselves and their God.  Most Sundays my congregation leaves feeling good - I hope.

But this past Sunday I preached a message that had me shaken and upset.  I preached about the things that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.  I called out white supremacists and racists and haters of all kinds. I told a story from my life, when a neighbor and a friend burned a cross in our newest neighbor’s front yard.  There was nothing nice or sweet or encouraging about my sermon.   I raised my voice.  I called a sin a sin.  I called on my folks to do the same. 

Every Sunday my sermons are posted on Facebook and YouTube and GooglePlus and on my blog and on the church website.  Most weeks there are “likes” and +1s and comments and shares.

This week - nothing.

This week no one on the inter webs said anything.

But from my own congregation, the people who sat here and experienced it with me . . . 

there were smiles and tears and hugs and pats on the back
there were emails and text messages later telling me how powerfully it had spoken to them.
I was mobbed after worship, by youth and young adults, thanking me for what I said.

I have gotten used to the public approval.  I missed it.  Maybe I even crave it.

But the important people heard it. The people I was preaching to heard it.  And received it.

More importantly though - I said it.  I said what I needed to say, no matter how hard it was, no matter how scary it was.  Because it needed to be said Sunday, and it will need to be said again and again.

As long as there is hatred, we need to preach love.

Even for the haters.

For Jesus said, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. …”   Matthew 5:43-48



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

One?

This week I am attending the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis.  There are a few thousand of us present, attending workshops, visiting with old friends and making new ones, checking out all the information booths and buying gifts (And Chocolate!) for ourselves and others at the many Fair Trade booths, and doing our best to run the local baristas out of coffee.  For us West Coast folks Steak n Shake is a popular mealtime destination, as most of us don’t have access to this particular hamburger chain.  There are amazing worship services featuring good music and powerful preaching.  And there are business meetings.

I must confess right away that I have been to very little of this Assembly in person.  The wonderful menus selected by the various schools and other organizations whose meals I attended were very rich and oh so very yummy.  Unfortunately, although my mouth LOVES rich foods, the rest of my system does not.  So I have spent most of this Assembly in my hotel room wandering between bed and bathroom instead of in the Convention Center wandering between workshops and Plenary Sessions.  :-(

But I have been paying attention.  Many of my friends Tweet about what is going on in the worship services and business meetings, and some write fairly lengthy commentaries at the end of each day.  Between those writers and the daily news released by the Disciples News Service, I have a fair idea of what is happening.

There have been many Sense of the Assembly Resolutions passed by this Assembly.  They are about carbon neutrality and immigration and the Doctrine of Discovery and caring for the poor and treating the Canadian Disciples of Christ equally and whether or not to continue having General Assemblies every other year.  Plenty of people stood up at the microphones to speak in favor of all these Social Justice resolutions, but hardly anyone spoke out against anything.  That either means that every resolution presented was so well written and such a no-brainer that none of the hundreds of voters present had any objection to any of them . . . Or that for some reason those who would speak against felt that they should keep silence.

According to some of the conversations I have seen on Twitter and Facebook, the latter is much more the case than the former.

Some years back, in my first church, one of the Elders decided that his invitation to giving should be a monologue on the giant “mistake” being made by the City Council, in which he made it pretty clear that anyone who was not as liberal as he and as concerned about homelessness as he was no true Christian.  A few days later one of the older ladies called me and begged me to talk to her sister.  It seems that she heard what he said as a condemnation of her affiliation with the Republican Party, and believed that she would no longer be welcome in our congregation.  This could not have been further from the truth!  We had a conversation in which I made it as clear as I possibly could that one man’s opinion was just that - one man’s opinion - and that he did not speak for the entire congregation, only for himself.  She stayed with us until her death several years later.  (I also had a conversation with the Elder, who honestly didn’t believe what he said was political in the least.  He was convinced he was talking about social justice, period.)

I have been reading some “discussions” on Facebook and Twitter with nearly as much dismay as I felt when I was asked to speak with my elderly member all those years ago.   There are some who are feeling pushed out.  There are some who are actually saying in print that anyone who voted for President Trump doesn’t belong in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

And yet we keep talking about “One” - about Unity.  Jose Morales preached on Saturday night that Unity, true unity, is very difficult, because it does NOT mean that everyone agrees on everything, rather that everyone has different opinions and agree to work together towards the Beloved Community, a world where justice and compassion rule and oppression is a thing of the past.   That means the liberal and conservative, the oppressed and the privileged, the old and the young, all must work together toward that one goal - and All means All.  It doesn’t mean that if you disagree, you need to leave.  It doesn’t mean if you disagree, you don’t belong here.  It means that if you disagree, you need to find a way to present your side in such a way that others will hear you - and that you must be willing to listen when someone you disagree with needs to speak.  

I love this Church.  But I am fearful that we are becoming as deeply divided as our nation is.  I am fearful that the Church that welcomed me, who wasn’t welcome elsewhere, will come to an end, and I will belong nowhere, again.  I pray that we will work toward being One through the use of this beloved saying:

In essentials Unity.  In non-essentials, Liberty.  In all things, Love.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Things I know about me.

"Confession is good for the soul."  True.
"Joy shared is joy doubled.  Pain shared is pain halved."  Also true.

The thing is, it takes a lot of courage to share and when the thing that needs to be shared is fear, it seems to require even more courage than usual.  You see, I suffer from anxiety in a number of fairly specific situations.  The anxiety is caused in part by upbringing and in part by PTSD - although, come to think of it, I could be traumatized by the stress of trying to live up to my mother's expectations.

Unfortunately, those specific situations are often every day, gotta-do-them-for-work type situations.  

For example:

Going to a new place for the first time with the attendant risk of getting lost.
When I am lost I don't know for sure whether I am safe, and the anxiety that results from being a rape survivor triggers an anxiety attack.  I work very hard at making sure I know how to get where I am going, how long it ought to take, alternate routes in case of road construction or accidents, and as many landmark type details as I can put together.  This is much easier today with all the GPS map apps, and Siri is a true blessing. But I still plan in advance, just in case.   IF it should happen, as it did today, that I was headed for an event and I discovered at the last minute before leaving that I had the location wrong, anxiety kicks in and I cannot force myself to leave the house.   Then I need to contact a friend who understands for help settling back down again.

Visiting people.
My mother taught us to NEVER EVER invite ourselves over to anyone's home.  She was so strict about this particular rule that she wouldn't even ask her own sister if she could come to visit!  As children this meant when we were playing with neighbor kids and needed to use the bathroom we had to run home instead of asking if we could use theirs.  If they invited us into the house, that was ok.  But otherwise, we had to either hold it or go home.  As an adult it means that it takes all I have to call a member of the church and ask if I might drop in.  Since I am the pastor, this is kind of a problem.   I can do it if I know the person a bit and have been there before at their invitation, or if I have visited with other people.  But the first time, even the second time, is totally panic inducing.  I will pick up the phone and freeze, unable to even dial the number.   That is getting a little better, but I am glad that a few people at the church are now aware of this issue and are willing to help me through it.

Going to events alone.
I want to.  I really do want to go to so many events here in Selma and in the nearby city of Fresno.  I want to go to football games and girls wrestling matches and the high school musical and plays at the Art Center and concerts of the Fresno Master Chorale and music in the park during the summer.  But I can't seem to force myself to walk into any of those places by myself.  Maybe if I know there will be people there I know, and I know where to find them at the event.  But just the idea of walking in alone causes nausea and hyperventilation.  I simply cannot be certain that I am safe.

Going to any place where I will be one of a very few women in a crowd of men.
I'm a domestic violence and rape survivor with resultant PTSD.  A room full of men can be terrifying.  The first time I tried to go to what is said to be the best donut shop in Selma it was full of men.  I couldn't even walk in the door to get to the women behind the counter.  I went back later, when there weren't many customers.  Luckily, donuts are bad for me.

Therapy has helped.  Talking to others about it has helped.  Sharing it with what feels like the whole world is terrifying.  But I know that I am not the only one with these issues, and hopefully me sharing will be of help to someone.

God said, "Fear not, for I am with you."  It's hard to remember that when I'm in the grip of an anxiety attack.  But I always do remember, and I am able to get through the anxiety more quickly.  Sometimes I can even avoid the attack entirely.   It is a process, and this is part of that process.

Thanks for listening.