Monday, October 20, 2008

Virtual Prayer

The church has begun to offer the techies of the world a new way to connect with God. When Jesus says, "Go into all the world and make disciples," I think he means that we should go into all the world in all the ways possible. And if that means prayer websites offered for people to connect to God in new ways, then I think that is being faithful to our mission as God's church. We serve a living God, who reveals himself to us in ways we can understand. So, when people were drawing on caves in symbols, God revealed himself there. When people were telling the stories we now read in the Bible aloud, passing these oral traditions down through the generations, God revealed himself there. When the faithful were following Jesus and hearing his sermons and parables, God revealed himself there. When the church fathers came together to put the stories into written form, bound together in the canon, God revealed himself there. And now, as people are online all the time, delving into the virtual, God can reveal himself there. Now, just as all the things written and said in the name of God over the years didn't reflect the love of God, I don't believe that all websites offered in God's name are truly representative of the love of God. But I have added links to my blog of a few I think remain faithful to the calling, "Go into all the world and make disciples." Feel free to check them out, and send me your own picks.

I Brought You Into This World...

One of my favorite old school t.v. shows is The Cosby Show. I can't find reruns on much now, but when I do, I love watching. I love seeing the family dynamics and how the Huxstable clan works out parenting and marriage. It's great! I especially love when Cliff (aka "dad") tells his kids, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!" It makes me laugh because I think he's saying this to remind the kids that they don't run their own world. I baptized Molly last Sunday, and in addition to the craziness that last week brought with Charge Conference preparations, it really took me a week to process what happened in that sacrament-day.

For the first couple of months that I was a mommy, for many reasons, I was discouraged in being fully a mom and fully a pastor. Some people told me I couldn't--and shouldn't--do both. And I began to believe them. I started to internalize all of this so much so that I began hiding the "mommy" part of me so that I could be "reverend." Even though all my life I had felt called to be a mother, somehow, I convinced myself that all God really wanted from me was fulfilling the calling in ministry. Then, I started to prepare to offer my daughter the sacrament, to cleanse her from her original sin. And something changed. Some might call it divine intervention, but I call it the awesome power and revelation of God. As I got myself ready to mark my little girl with God's grace, I remembered what baptism is really about.

In the Methodist Church, we have a special way of talking about baptism--we say it's the marking of the child with God's prevenient grace, and it's the initiation into God's kingdom. Prevenient grace is the grace of God that is there for us before we even realize we need it. It's God's love poured out for us in the waters of baptism, and when a child is washed in this water, the gap between God and this child is bridged, and she becomes "initiated" into his Kingdom. That means that this is the beginning of her journey of faith, and those also on the journey will nurture her and show her the ways and the love of God. In a way, God had some prevenient grace for me in all of this. When my breaking heart kept calling out to God to show me that I could be a "reverend mommy," a mom and a pastor, and still be faithful to God, God was answering me, saying, "I'm already there. I already have grace for you in that. I made you a mother, and I made you a pastor. Why do you doubt my grace?" What a life-changing perspective for me!

One of my pastor friends said to me about being the reverend mommy who baptizes her daughter, "Now you can tell her, I brought you into this world, and I washed away your original sin....and I can put it back on you!" That last part was a joke. But the first is powerful...I brought her into the world, and I brought her into the Kingdom. What a privilege and a blessing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One of "Those" Christians and Our God

I spent a wonderful day last Saturday at Carowinds with some youth and adults. It was Christian music day, so the park was filled with "good Christian folk." Throughout the day, I overheard conversations with some of these strangers (yet brothers and sisters in Christ) and I got a little perturbed. Some of these Christians tick me off. They talk about God as if they own him and say how wonderful God is, but then they talk about other people in a way I'm sure God would not. They also paint the disturbing picture of a God who is like a vengeful, evil wizard and who zaps people who sin. When I hear these Christians, I think to myself, "How dare they make God out to be like that? And do they think they are really that holy?" Much as these Christians bug me, I am often one of them. I am often a person painting an inaccurate portrait of our God. I am reminded of my own imperfect ideas of God, and I am reminded that I am not the authority on who God is. As a pastor, I am the authority on the church, in a small respect, but in the grand scheme of our faith in our God, I am no authority at all. I am simply a believer, like the rest of those Christians, God's children. I am simply loved by our God, like the rest of those Christians (and even those non-Christians, too). As evidence of my not-an-authority on the nature of God, and my own shortfalls in the faith, I recently finished a great book about God: The Shack. Without giving too much away for those of you who haven't read it, The Shack is a book that gives the reader a vivid picture of God's love for us. As I read, I found myself secretly asking, "Can God really be that good? Can eternity with God really be like that?" And there I was, one of God's children, not understanding his love and not believing in his goodness. So, the next time I go eavesdropping on conversations, I need to remember that I'm one of those children of God who misses the point, who lacks faith and understanding, but I'm one of all of God's children who is loved...anyway.

There's No "God" in Charge Conference

Mrs Jarena Lee , Preacher of the A.M.E. Church, Aged 60 years in the 11th day of the 2nd month 1844, Philadelphia 1844
In the spirit of the motivational slogan, "There's no 'I' in team," I'm throwing this one out there: "There's no 'God' in Charge Conference." Literally, the word, "God," cannot be spelled out of the letters of the words: "Charge Conference." For those of you non-Methodists reading this post, bless your hearts, Charge Conference is another term for tons and tons of administrative paperwork, record-keeping, and yearly reports culminating in a meeting sometime in the fall. For many of us pastors, Charge Conference is the bane of our existence...I am only just learning what a bane it is, as this is my first official Charge Conference in which I am responsible for compiling, seeking out, and producing copies of said reports, records, and paperwork. My play on words aside, in the last month, I have really come to express my thoughts that God can't have any part in Charge Conference preparations...they are so rigid, so orderly, and well, doesn't the Bible say something about love keeping no records, and if God is love, then?? get the picture. I am grasping at straws for some way to allow myself just a little bit of hatred for all of this business. I want God to say to me, "You know, it really doesn't matter. Don't worry your pretty little head over it." But in actuality, God has been saying something quite different. I've tried putting my fingers in my ears to drown out the words, but still God says to me:"There is something holy about this work you're doing. There is discipline there, and you need discipline in your life. There is hope in the numbers and the reports and the record-keeping, because it is in these details that we see I [God] am still at work, and that my church is still working toward my[God's] kingdom." Much as I'd like not to hear it, this work of Charge Conference is important. And, I'll go ahead and say it, there is grace in Charge Conference. Literally, the letters of the word, "grace" are there, but realistically, God's grace is there, too. In all of the details of the life of the church, there is the gift of God's love. There is the church. There is a bit of evidence for the Kingdom. There's a connection of the past and the present church, and much like this photograph of an early Methodist preacher shows, we're all a part of the connection. There's a reminder of where we have been and a looking forward to where we will someday be. Now, I'll try to remember that as I stop procrastinating and get back to the grace-filled business of Charge Conference preparations.

P.S.: For those of you saints who have helped in the completion of above-mentioned forms and records, God bless you and grant you many stars in your crowns!