words from the pastors at First United Methodist Church
There once was a Methodist pastor in London, England. He started a mission ministering to the poor and downtrodden in the Victorian times. He got some second hand army uniforms, gave them to those folks, got them cleaned up and started feeding them, and marching them around the city teaching them Christian discipline. Can you imagine the ragtag group of people in old army uniforms teaching people about the Church?
In one of our less faithful decisions as a Church, a bunch of uppity Methodists didn’t like his work and got him reassigned to a country church outside of London, knowing that if he went away, his mission, and his lower class folks he was helping, would go away. When the pastor objected, the Bishop laid into him and berated him, telling him he had no right to reject his authority as Bishop to reassign him. The pastor, knowing that his missionary work was far more important than the Church politics, looked up at his wife in the balcony of the church where the annual conference was being held, and then, turned around from the that bishop and forever walked out of the Methodist Church.
He continued his ministry. The Pastor’s name was “General” William Booth and the mission and church he founded became the Salvation Army.
Over 100 years later, the Salvation Army ministers to Christians on every continent on the globe.
On the contrary, where is the Methodist Church in Great Britian? And what was the name of that Bishop? History has forgotten.
While we can have objections to the “who” and the “what” of the results of such situations — The Salvation Army is hardly a beacon of support for LGBT folks — the story reminded me that bold actions and seeking to step forth boldly is not only dangerous for our security but also may be exactly what possibility God is placing before us.
My hope for you at this turn of the new year is that you also step out in boldness towards the possibilities placed before you and you seek 2013 to be a year of big changes and new beginnings in your walk with Christ. Blessings and see you soon. ~Jeremy
By the time you read this, 2012 will be a memory and we will just be opening up a brand new year, 2013! As I am writing it, we are still a few days away from Christmas, and I am busy checking that list twice, three times, even more – to make sure I have not forgotten anything or anyone. I am also busy trying to help myself grow up a little.
Because my youngest daughter is studying in southern Mexico this term, and my oldest daughter is a highly responsible full time non-profit worker in San Francisco, this is the first year I find myself making Christmas preparations by myself. The girls won’t arrive home until December 24th, so everything from baking Christmas cookies, to choosing/cutting/decorating the Christmas tree, to putting outdoor lights on the house – it all had to be done by me, by myself.
I have to admit I spent some time feeling a little grumpy about this. I wondered “What’s wrong with those young women? Don’t they realize they are messing with our traditions, our much-cherished family routines and rituals? And how can it really be Christmas if we have to do it differently?”
It was there – in that last thought – that I recognized the error of my ways. How easy it is to fool ourselves into thinking that our “routines” are sacred, and totally miss the fact that they really are simply well-worn ruts! It doesn’t matter if the issue of the moment is Christmas celebrations, or ordinary, everyday life routines. We all have a tendency to slide into our own particular behavioral “ruts” without even noticing when the routine became sentimentalized and concretized into something far more precious and far more immoveable than we might want to admit. And a good question to ask ourselves – especially in this New Year, so full of opportunity for growth and potential for change -is this: “Does it really matter?”
Does it really matter that Christmas preparations are finished before the family arrives? Does it really matter that I pray in the same way, at the same time, in the same location, each and every day? Does it really matter that I spend my vacation in the same way, or lunch with the same friends, or worship in the same style, or eat the same foods, or buy the same gas, or…? Asking this question may help us to uncover those ruts masquerading as routines. And it can help us to move out of the ruts that have become constricting, limiting, or just too ordinary for comfort. Because nine times out of ten, I’m guessing the answer to the question is “Probably not”.
Growing up is not always easy. And it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It seems to be a lifelong endeavor of making friends with change and looking forward to growth. Ultimately, that is what really matters. For 2013… and beyond.
Happy New Year!
The week between Christmas and New Years is filled with so many questions.
- Do I take down the Christmas decorations or leave them up?
- When will my neighbors begin to judge me for leaving them up too long?
- When will the tree become a fire hazard?
- When will the lines to return gifts be shorter?
But then I start doing my post-Christmas reading, and such questions seem so trivial.
And I place my blame this year squarely on Howard Thurman.
Howard Thurman was a 20th century prophet, pastor, and writer. He served as Dean of the Chapel at both Boston University (my alma mater) and Harvard as well. He wrote 20+ books and countless sermons.
In his book The Mood of Christmas, Thurman writes the following haunting remarks on post-Christmas concerns of a Christian:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
- To find the lost,
- To heal the broken,
- To feed the hungry,
- To release the prisoner,
- To rebuild the nations,
- To bring peace among people,
- To make music in the heart.
Advent was a time to celebrate the Christ Child being born and a new source of life on our planet. Christmas is 12 days that give us time to really celebrate and re-evaluate our lives. But after Christmas, after this coming Sunday the Epiphany (January 6th), we return to the hard work of finding the lost, healing the broken, feeding and sheltering the homeless.
But thankfully, we get to do it together, reinvigorated, cleansed from the holiday hustle and bustle, and ready to face the challenge once again and make Christmas be not the one time a year when we serve others, but the time when we remember why we do the serving the other 11 months of the year.
I hope to see you this Sunday for worship as we celebrate the end of the Christmas season and the renewing of our own vows to serve the least and the lost among us.
It was a dark and stormy night… Isn’t that the way that Snoopy would begin his novels in the Peanuts comic strip? Perhaps he did it because that phrase paints a certain picture, sets a certain emotional stage with which we can all relate, especially on these dark and rainy Oregon December nights. It WAS a dark and stormy night last week when I decided to swing by Costco on my way home. Even at the height of Christmas shopping, I find arriving at Costco about suppertime (6:00 or so) is a good tactic. The crowds always seem to thin out a little and it is easier to make it through the check-out with a minimum of waiting.
So I did my usual shopping (I now have plenty of paper products to last the next 6 months!), and a little extraordinary shopping for those on my gift list. And then I headed over to the gas station, for a fill-up in more ways than one. The gas station was busier than the store, it seemed, and we were lined up at every pump. So it was easy for me to overhear the conversation between the gas station attendant and the driver of the car one lane over. While I waited for my tank to fill, I heard this other driver say, “Fill it with regular, please. Oh, and I’d like to pay for the car just behind me as well.”
I was intrigued. So even though it was still dark and stormy, and I was surely going to get wet, I climbed out of my car and walked over to my neighbor’s. “Excuse me,” I said, “I couldn’t help but overhear. Do you know the driver behind you? Are you traveling together?” “Oh no,” she said, laughing a little. “This is just something I do for myself every so often.”
That took me aback, and I wondered if I had heard her correctly. “Something you do for YOURSELF?” “Why, yes”, she said, “I find it helps me to practice gratitude if I also practice generosity.” Then, this stranger winked at me, leaned a little farther out her car window and said, “And let’s face it, don’t we all need a little help with gratitude when the roads are so busy, the stores are so clogged, and the days are so rainy and dark?”
Indeed. I think we do all need a little help with gratitude, on all our dark and stormy nights and even in the brightest mornings. We all need the help for our daily living which comes from practicing gratitude. And one of the best ways I know to get that help is to also practice generosity. That is one reason why we consider bringing our gifts – the offering – a central part of worship. That is one reason why so many of us will pick cards off community “Giving Trees” or buy toys for needy children or bring pajamas to the Goose Hollow Family Shelter this Christmas. Because practicing generosity leads to practicing gratitude.
Practicing gratitude – practicing generosity… it’s a good thing to do for ourselves every so often, maybe even every day in some small way! As you might imagine, I left that gas station with my heart as well as my tank on full. And I thank God for the Light which shone through that dark and stormy night for me.
Grace and Peace,
Every Sunday, I’m incredibly aware of the enormous amount of work that people put into the 10:30am worship service.
- The bulletin is crafted by the Administrative Assistant in consultation with the Clergy and the Music staff, printed on a copier maintained by the Church Administrator, delivered by the Ushers, and recycled by the Custodians.
- The worship space has flowers donated by members and arranged by Marty, clean surfaces and lights turned on by the Custodians, choir space and musical equipment painstakingly maintained by the Music staff, an organ that Jonas cares for, and sound ran by Gordon.
- The announcements and call to worship is done by a lay-elected volunteer Lay Leader who takes a ton of information and boils it down as neatly as possible.
- The Prelude, Choral Amen, Anthems, Offertory Music, Choral Response, and Postlude are chosen by the Music Staff and performed by the Chancel Choir or individual musicians or even our children’s choirs or handbells.
- The hymns are chosen by the Clergy in consultation with the Music Staff.
- The sermons, order of worship, children’s time, and prayers are done by the Clergy.
- Children’s Sunday School is offered every Sunday by at least 14 volunteer Sunday School Teachers and two Nursery Workers.
- The banners are hung by the Custodians per the season, and at this time of year the Shovel and Rake Gang got the Trees up (and they care for the pew materials weekly, did you know that?).
- The Greeters stand outside in the cold (there’s even one at the MAX station entrance most Sundays) and answer people’s questions and get newcomers directed to the right place.
- The Stephen’s Ministers are available after worship for prayer and conversation with those who are in spiritual need.
- In addition to bulletin handouts, the Ushers assist with Communion, collect Communication Cards, collect the offering, present it during the Offertory Prayer, and ensure the offering makes its way to a secure place after worship.
- And many more people that I’ve somehow forgotten!!
The vast majority of the above people are volunteers and give their time to the glory of God. And while they do not ask for recognition, I find myself silently appreciating them at every turn of the worship service.
I’m aware there is some disagreement over whether to clap at the end of a worship service or segment of the worship service.
Some feel it is appropriate to give appreciation to a meaningful part of worship, others feel silent contemplation is better recognition. Given that applause is found in the bible (see Psalm 47:1,5-6 and Psalm 98:4-9 for examples), this conversation has likely been around longer than some poundcakes that I remember from church potlucks when I was a child.
I don’t have any specific wisdom to share in this matter (although I found “A Theology of Clapping” in a google search…start reading from part 1).
However, I am always mindful that Sunday Morning is always about God. We consider Sundays to be the Sabbath when the people are ideally called to give all their energies not to their labors but to contemplating and praising God. Even the clergy and Choir/Music staff who do most of the labor during the worship service do so to enable the congregation to worship easily and effectively (and in turn the Choir/Music Staff are hopefully as illuminated by the sermons and prayers as the clergy are by their musical offerings).
My hope is that when we applaud that we do so in “thankful for a worthy offering to God” way rather than an evaluation of a performance or action. Even this past Sunday when we received 7 new members to our congregation, we applaud to give thanks that God is working in their lives. Even this past Sunday when we were graced with a Magnificat Cantata, we applaud thankful for the divine gift of music that gives life to the story of Mary. It really is up to each individual as to decide whether they are truly applauding an action of humans (not appropriate) or applauding an action of God’s (entirely appropriate).
So don’t clap. Or clap. Whichever action best suits your thankfulness for an offering to God. And the person in the pew next to you may or may not clap, based on what works for them. No judgment on them, okay? A reflective heart and a willing spirit are all that God requires to work changes in our individual and communal lives, and that begins with how we see what is really happening on Sunday Morning.
I hope our mindfulness even to the smallest of actions like two hands clapping can lead to radical changes in our relationship with God and one another this Advent season.
Blessings and see you Sunday.
By the time you read this we will be about halfway through the first week of Advent, 2012. Advent is that season when we prepare for Christmas – spiritually as well as physically. Advent is all about reflecting on the past goodness of God, and preparing to receive anew the promises of God. Watch words for the season include waiting – hope – repentence – anticipation – blessing. Our theme for Advent worship this year is “Present(ce)… The Gift of Being There” I hope that you will take advantage of opportunities to worship, reflect, and renew yourself so that you can be truly PRESENT to the gift of God in your life this year. I ran across this poem which just might help to start us all off on the Adventure of the season:
“Practice Hope” – by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Dare to practice hope.
Dare to let the assurance steal upon you
that something is coming,
deeper, not merely more,
but more so.
This is not cheap optimism
that can be bought in any market,
not a careful figuring of odds
that can always be beat,
nor mindless abandon.
I mean attentiveness to the
dense but dappled energy
that rises within. I mean willingness
to be taken up,
to be wielded deftly in this rough world
by an art that is beyond you.
You are a thread in a tapestry
too large for you ever to see…
Practice hope… and then only afterward,
will you know that miracle of which
already you are a living sign.
Blessings – Rev. Donna
had a nice spirit-led convergence (which is pastor-speak for unintended) on Sunday between the worship service and the sunday class discussion.
In the Sunday class that I teach for young parents and couples, we watched Rob Bell’s Nooma series video “Rhythm” and it talked about how faith is finding a song that you set your heart to, and one that you live in harmony with. We talked about the value of being in an orchestra of others who keep us remembering who we and in what role we are at our best.
In the Sunday worship, we celebrated that we are at New Year’s Eve. What? Yes, the liturgical calendar that most churches use runs from December to the end of November. We celebrate Advent as the beginning of our year, so for the entire month of December we are anticipating the Christ Child being born, and we end with last Sunday – Christ the King – as the culmination of Jesus’ life being his role over all of Creation, not just his death on a cross.
Both of these lessons remind us that to the Church there is a cycle to our lives that exist outside of the calendar months. That the Christian year doesn’t begin in January full of debt from holiday binge-spending, but in December full of anticipation and celebration of what comes next. And the year ends not with questionable choices on New Year’s Eve, but with thankfulness for all that we have (and for some of us, shopping…so the metaphor isn’t perfect!).
My hope is that in those times in your life when you feel out-of-sync, when you feel like things are not going well, when the rhythm of life seems to drone on without you, that you start to wonder if you are living by the cycle’s of the calendar or by the cycles of the Christian year. That you are choosing to live by chronos time (the regular clock, which we all have to from time-to-time) instead of kairos time (meaning the Christian year’s sense of time).
I believe that by getting to know the alternative rhythm to life that doesn’t include Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or “What did I just buy?” Wednesday, you might find yourself more in sorts this Holiday season. And you know that alternative rhythm through prayer, worship, study, and accountability with friends. Give me a call or email and I’m happy to give you something specialized to your needs.
Blessings and Happy New Year!
Sojourners magazine recently published several articles by Christian Piatt, in which he listed a few choice cliches which Christians should excise from their conversation about faith. His list was filled with the kind of questions and statements that would make most of us here at First Church rather uneasy. Statements like “Everything happens for a reason”, or “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it”, or “God helps those who help themselves”. And questions like “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?”
Piatt takes each one of these cliches and points out their flaws – especially if we are hoping to make friends and influence people who are not yet a part of the faith community. And while most of his cliches are not likely to be heard around here, it might behoove us to consider a few of his “antidotes to Christian cliches”.
Even those of us who consider ourselves “progressive” in our theology can fall into the temptation to unconsciously recite a cliche from time to time. In those moments we would do well to follow Piatt’s advice:
- Listen more and talk less. This is probably the greatest single piece of advice anyone could give when it comes to sharing our faith – whether with the person sitting next to us in the pew every Sunday or the stranger at the bus stop.
- Stop trying to fix everything. Questions are meant for asking, and not every question has to find an answer.
- See yourself in the Other. Don’t underestimate the importance of seeing people and loving people just as they are..
- Pray. Pretty obvious, but we often forget to engage the Divine in these conversations about faith.
- Quality over quantity. There is no substitute for personal engagement and personal investment in relationships with others.
- Share your own story. Make it personal because that is what makes it real.
- Be open to the possibility that you are wrong. Allow yourself to be moved and even to be changed by others’ experiences, or viewpoints on faith.
- Apologize. There are many people who have turned away from Christianity because of thoughtless cliches and hurtful stances. Even if you’ve never uttered one yourself, be big enough to grieve the hurt and apologize.
- Own your love. If we are Jesus’ body in the world – we love the world!
- Make a life that reflects your faith. This is the ultimate goal of Christian community – helping each other to grow into the kind of spiritual maturity where what we believe is consistently reflected in what we do.
If you’d like to read more about Piatt’s cliches to avoid, check it out at http://sojo.net
Greetings from the “other side” of parenthood! Our first child Anjali Claire was born on Sunday, October 7th. I don’t remember that morning too clearly, but since it was a Sunday I was expecting to be in attendance at worship. I clearly was not going to be there, so I sent Rev. Donna a text message that said “God be with you because I won’t be this morning!” What an amazing time of growth, perseverance, and completely new things that no amount of books or classes could prepare me for.
During some of my idle moments holding Anjali, I notice that her eyes REM (rapid eye movement) like she is dreaming (like you and I do whenever we enter a deep dream state). I have to wonder: what is she dreaming about? She hasn’t seen much. There’s not much scenery in the womb. She would have no images other than the ones that have passed 6 inches from her face. One time she woke up suddenly with her little fists into balls of alarm. Was it a nightmare? If so, what could she see that would scare her (other than my haggard face at 4am). Unless she is dipping into Jungian archetypes that Carl Jung claims are pre-pressed into our consciousness, I really can’t decide what she is dreaming about.
I wonder then how we can dream if we don’t have exposure to something to dream about.
When we see that sports car that we want, or see the joyous family across the street, or see the business opportunities just around the corner, or see other churches grow and have successful programs, we have something concrete to dream about. We adapt that reality of others into our dreams, hoping for something more for ourselves. So when we have the images in our heads or the yearnings in our hearts, we have something to dream about.
I’m convinced that when Martin Luther King Jr wrote that he had a dream where King’s four children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” that he had seen that reality. That there were white people in his life that showed that race was not a dividing line for them. That King had experienced people who saw beyond the circumstances of their culture and the bias of others to see more clearly. That King’s dream was fed by the knowledge that the human community was better than this and was meant for so much more.
My hope for my daughter, your sons and daughters, and yourselves is that you seek to dream for your family, community, and church. That you connect what concrete experiences you’ve had with what potential we have in our church. That your dreams become more viable because you realize that you’ve seen it before.
I hope to dream with you this Sunday at worship. I’ll be preaching on the Saints of our church and world, and hope you join me in their concrete experiences and celebrations.
Blessings until we meet again.
The whole FUMC team is now onboard here at the Leadership Institute (Allison arrived late last night), and we’ve spent a very rich day in plenary sessions, worship, and workshops. Phyllis reported several great ideas she gleaned from her morning workshop on “Local Missions”, while Allison learned about “Keys to Revitalizing Churches”, Dan heard about Church of the Resurrection’s “Communications and Marketing Strategies” and I explored “Intentional Small Group Curriculum”.
We have been challenged time and again to think about the FOCUS of our ministry, and the importance of getting us all on the same page in terms of our purpose. We all know the power of synergy in nature and in human life, how we can do more, and go farther when we are truly “in sync” with each other…. to say nothing of being in sync with God!
Among the things that has captured my imagination here at Church of the Resurrection is their stated membership expectations. Their Senior Pastor, Adam Hamilton, suggests that membership needs to mean something, and that “something” is not necessarily the kind of perk that American Express, or Hilton Hotels, or even the MAC club might offer. So when people join this church, they are asked to make four commitments:
- To be in church every Sunday – EVERY SUNDAY – unless they are sick or out of town
(One thing that helps with this is that the church provides numerous worship services every week, at 7:45 am, 9 am, 10:45 am and 7 pm on Sundays, along with a Saturday night worship, and an internet service)
- To participate in a small group outside of weekly worship, in order to grow spiritually.
(Right now COR has a little over 200 small groups for their 18,000 members, led by trained leaders using a wide variety of resources.)
- To be in service to God in the church and in the world at least once a year.
(Spiritual gifts are honored and specific missional interests are lifted up as people find themselves in ministry together)
- To give a proportionate amount of their income to the ministry, moving toward a tithe (10% of one’s income) annually.
Now don’t panic! I am not suggesting that we jump into this kind of membership expectation overnight. But I am suggesting we consider what membership means for us at FUMC, and that we explore ways to deepen our own spirituality by challenging ourselves in some new ways.
Allison, Dan, Phyllis and I will be reflecting on our experiences at this year’s Leadership Institute for some time. And we will be sharing together – and with you – what makes sense for our congregation in our setting in this time. Stay tuned…. we are living in exciting times for Portland’s First (and I would say “best”) Church!
As I write this I am sitting in the Salt Lake City airport along with two of our leaders, Phyllis and Dan. We are waiting for our connecting flight to Kansas City, and the Church of the Resurrection’s annual Leadership Institute.
Church of the Resurrection (COR) is a United Methodist congregation which has grown dramatically over the past 15-20 years. How have they done it? By maintaining their focus… an almost monomaniacal attention to the work of local mission and the growth of disciples. From their beginning in 1990 COR has been committed to making a difference in the world AND in the lives of their members.
Today more than 15,000 people worship at one of the church’s campuses weekly and another thousand join them on the Internet.
What is remarkable about COR’s growth is that they have remained solidly United Methodist, and continue to provide a place for (as they put it) “thinking persons to come to faith.”
So why are we going there? Because we here at Portland’s First Church are also a place for thinking – and doing and being – when it comes to faith. And while our setting is not exactly the same as theirs, our faith tradition is… And we can learn from their experience.
So Phyllis, Dan, myself, (and tomorrow Allison too) will take plenty of “Notes along the way” as we all look forward to the unfolding of our “First Fruits”
As United Methodists, we like to come up with complicated terms or acronyms to describe or categorize our beliefs. Chief among the complicated terms is “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” This is the invention of Wesleyan scholar Albert Outler who stated that the founder of our denomination, John Wesley, used four sources to inform his beliefs:
Here’s a link to explore this further and here’s two pictures (Picture 1 and Picture 2) to show how it might look. But essentially, this was a lens that Wesley used to inform his beliefs and the way how he adapted to an ever-changing world while remaining faithful to the gospel values that he found authentic. For example, while the Bible may have some passages that explicitly prohibit women from church leadership, reason and experience clearly trump such antiquated views. And now we have a strong tradition of women’s empowerment, while being faithful to the Scripture’s overall message of empowerment and inspiration.
But it doesn’t have to be on such a big topic.
In our Young Adult / Young Family sunday school class this past Sunday, we used the Quadrilateral to inform our conversation. We used these discussion questions as we looked at a scripture passage.
- What experience was this passage originally for or about?
- What did this passage mean to and for the first readers?
- Is the experience written about timely (meant specifically for the original audience but not applicable today) or timeless (has meaning for all readers of any time)?
- How is this passage similar or different than your own experience of God?
- What might have been the thought processes of the original writer?
- How does this logic inform your own ways of thinking?
- How is this passage similar to or different than other passages of Scripture you have read before?
- Is this passage based on another passage of Scripture? If so, what was the original context for the other Scripture passage?
- What traditions (Jewish, pagan, philosophical, etc) did this passage of Scripture come out of?
- What traditions is it speaking to?
- What do others (i.e. commentators, other people, etc.) have to say about this passage?
- How does this passage affirm or conflict with the traditions in your church or family?
Feel free to apply them to your personal study and see what new things you might get from it. The hope is that when you are done, you can take these questions to a different scripture or group and learn something else new!
I encourage you to attend a Sunday School class as each one uses scripture, reason, tradition, and experience in helpful ways to guide our faith development as we become more sure of ourselves and our role in God’s reign on earth. Blessings until we see each other again.
Why is it, I’ve often wondered, that I always seem to choose the wrong line in which to wait? It doesn’t seem to matter if the queue is to deposit a check at the bank, to mail a package at the post office, or to check out with my groceries. Invariably, the line I step into is the one with the most obstreperous, time-consuming customer, the slowest teller, the most meticulous postal clerk, or the newest cashier-in-training! It is a wonder, indeed.
It happened again at Fred Meyer’s on a recent Saturday. There were huge crowds in the store, and as I stood in the check-out line, watching the newly trainer cashier carefully scan each item for the customer ahead of me, watching her slowly and deliberately bag each on in turn, I felt myself growing impatient and annoyed. And of course there were clothes along with groceries, which required finding and removing the security tags. And then coupons! Time stretched out endlessly as my quick little trip into Freddie’s grew and grew…until I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder.
Turning around, I saw a woman smiling at me, gesturing at the cashier, and I heard her say, “Isn’t this just the greatest blessing?” At first, I thought I had misheard or misunderstood that customer in line directly behind me. A blessing? All I was seeing and experiencing was an annoyance. The woman went on, “You know, this cashier is a lovely person, but she just hasn’t caught on to her job. I sometimes want to tell her, Honey, let me help…how about if I bag the groceries? But if I did that, I would miss out on the blessing she is offering to us.”
Now the stranger had my full attention. “I always seem to choose the wrong line,” I told her. “Sometimes I think I should warn the people who follow me, tell them they’d be better off in another line.” “But”, she said, “then you’d be robbing us all of this blessing. You know, most of us are busy allt he time. Most of us work too hard, too fast. And being forced to slow down for even a few minutes can be a real blessing. This cashier is doing her best and is giving us the gift of time to reflect, to relax, to just stop and wait.”
I was humbled as I realized the stranger behind me was right. Sometimes the best gift is a moment when there is nothing to do but stop and wait. Because sometimes it is in those moments when we feel God’s gentle tap on our shoulder, and we begin to recognize the blessings in our midst.
The Wild Goose Festival was this past weekend at Benton County fairgrounds near Corvallis. It is a two-year-old spirituality festival with sermons, speakers, music, arts, and conversation. This was the first west-coast festival that they’ve held and about 20 United Methodists from around this part of the country attended, including several from our district.
While there were many speakers that I appreciated, there was one that I particularly enjoyed. Rachel Held Evans is a blogger, speaker, and an author of the forthcoming book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” She spoke about her book, which is a reference to A.J. Jacob’s “A Year of Living Biblically.” She lived for a year following as closely as possible the biblical requirements and instructions towards women. For example:
This meant, among other things, submitting to my husband (Colossians 3:18), growing out my hair (1 Corinthians 11:15), making my own clothes, (Proverbs 31:22), learning how to cook (Titus 2:3-5), praising my husband at the city gate (Proverbs 31:23), covering my head when in prayer (1 Corinthians 11:5), calling Dan “master” (1 Peter 3:5-6), caring for the poor (Proverbs 31:25), nurturing a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4), abstaining from gossip (Proverbs 20:19), and camping out in the front yard for the duration of my period (Leviticus 15:19-33).
Evans undertook this project as a social experiment to show that the Bible may not be meant to be a blueprint for behavior. For every prohibition against women, the bible venerates a woman who exhibited exactly the opposite values. For example, Proverbs 31, oft-quoted as depicting the perfect female companion, would be in complete disagreement with Ruth. Ruth was a foreigner, poor and childless, and a widow who was aggressive to receive her justification and her livelihood. And in the face of most cultural norms, Ruth asked for marriage, not her spouse. And yet she is venerated for her courage, called a “woman of valor” which is the same language used in Proverbs 31.
So what are we to do? When the Bible says to do one thing and lifts up a woman who did exactly the opposite, what “blueprint for living” do we get from that? And more importantly, how do we respond? Does this mean we throw out the bible for its inconsistencies? Pull a Thomas Jefferson and cut out the scriptures we don’t like? In Evan’s language, growing up as a fundamentalist, she says
“I thought I needed to have quick answer to every question in the Bible…but now I realize that taking the Bible seriously means that we confront the passages that we don’t understand and sit with them…even for a lifetime.”
At First Church, one of my observations (having been here for two months now) is that we are not satisfied with easy whitewashing answers, nor are we satisfied with ignoring troublesome passages. Instead, like Evans, we are invited each week to sit with the passages and concepts of faith…and some of the answers may not come until much later in our lifetime. But we sit with them, read the stories of the troublesome women and men, understand the blueprints and what they mean, and ultimately leave each time of worship with more questions to ponder than answers to be silenced by.
I hope you join us this Sunday as we continue this journey together. May we all be given a blessed curiosity and together grow towards approaches that enliven our faith journey.
David Miller is the founding director of Princeton University’s Faith and Work Initiative. He writes about his work in this way:
“As I was slogging through Hebrew vocabulary, I came across the word AVODAH. The root of that word is translated three ways in the Old Testament.
Sometimes it is translated to mean “work” as in a job. Other times, AVODAH is translated to mean “worship”, as in praising God. The third way it is translated is to mean “service”, as in serving others. That’s what my whole calling is about: AVODAH. Whether one is a secretary or a CEO, our work itself can be a form of honoring God, of worshiping God, and of serving neighbor.”
If you do a word search on “work” in the New Testament, you come up with very few references to employment. “Work” is all about what we are
doing for the realm of God. It is work as Jesus did it… self-giving, compassion, truth-telling, healing.
Perhaps these are good ways to think about our own work as we celebrate this Labor Day. No matter what we do for a living, we need to pay
attention to our life. Especially to our life with God. David Whyte puts it this way in his book “Crossing the Unknown Sea”:
“To set our boldly in our work is to make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done,
but in who we have become while accomplishing the task.”
Who will you become if you see your work as AVODAH… a job, a worship, a service?