Giving Thanks IN all Circumstances

Lord knows I have been through a lot of shit in the past 5 or so years!! Anyone who knows me can tell you!! But I am a survivor of it all, and I know I will survive whatever else happens in my life because all of it has taught me that God walks through it ALL with us. Granted, there are some places God will go with me that I just don’t wanna go! I have always taken strength from I Thessalonians 5:16-18, Giving Thanks to God IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances.  This Thanksgiving has been a true test of how much I believe it! We are in the midst of a move, my father is in the hospital, we are in a financial crisis…you get the picture! We are not a part of any faith community right now, well, that is kinda not true but kinda true, we meet with a group of Outlaw Preachers in Memphis, all of which (besides us)  are active in “churches” but we (my family and I) are not, for us (as for many others) Outlaw Preachers is it! It has done my heart good to have a place on line where I can go to and remember why I am a follower of the Risen Lord. Sure, it has been a broken family at times, but until recently, it was a place that gave me hope!

Today, my hope was tested, my joy was replaced with sadness.  I looked at Twitter and saw a beloved brother in obvious pain (you know the kind that manifests as loud, pained cries?) and I watch another beloved brother add to that pain in an attempt to prove himself a good person (one could make the argument that it was self-defense). This is NOT the first time this kind of thing has happened with the Outlaw Preachers, matter of fact, we have an unfortunate reputation for crossing the line that separates “struggling with what we believe” and “making OUR point” or becoming EXACTLY what we are trying to escape, a judgmental, authoritarian “Structure” that TELLS us how we are to believe if we are going to be the “right” kind of Christian. I have experienced an increasing intolerance for one another and it hurts a Momma’s heart to watch and to be a part of.

I have NEVER given up on this bunch of broken toys who found one another, I have always believed that like working with abused (which we all have been Spiritually abused) folks it takes love, time, effort, and patience…and you do get hurt sometimes, because you HAVE to be transparent and vulnerable until trust can grow. Problem is, sometimes we don’t remember that ALL of us are wounded, and we are ALL working through things and we don’t give each other space to do that.  I have been guilty, we all have if we have stuck around long enough to invest ourselves in this “Community”.  The key words here are Transparency, Community and Trust. I DO NOT believe that we can build this community without total transparency. I do not believe we can build trust if there are things hidden or a man behind the curtain (Wizard of Oz reference) because THAT can NOT build trust. We are an open community and we MUST work through things in an open and loving way. This does NOT give anyone the right to start bashing everyone they disagree with, but it does give the power too the community to BE the community.

As I read my favorite words from I Thessalonians, God really asked me to read more, to put it in context this time, and to see what was really being said!!  I want to share that with you:

I Thessalonians 5:12-28

12 We beg you, our friends, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life.13 Treat them with the greatest respect and love because of the work they do. Be at peace among yourselves.

14 We urge you, our friends, to warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.15 See that no one pays back wrong for wrong, but at all times make it your aim to do good to one another and to all people.

16 Be joyful always,17 pray at all times,18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.

19 Do not restrain the Holy Spirit;20 do not despise inspired messages.21 Put all things to the test: keep what is good22 and avoid every kind of evil.

23 May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24 He who calls you will do it, because he is faithful.

25 Pray also for us, friends.

26 Greet all the believers with the kiss of peace.

27 I urge you by the authority of the Lord to read this letter to all the believers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

These words come as a farewell from Paul and as a challenge to those he is leaving to live in community even when it is tough. To hold one another accountable, but not without recognizing the need for compassion, healing and gentleness.  Now, I think the question that the COMMUNITY must ask itself is “Who are those who work among us? who guide and and instruct us?” “How do we lovingly encourage those who need to work on things?” “How do we keep from returning wrongs with wrongs?”

If we can not work through this text together, I am afraid we can no longer call ourselves community. Outlaw Preachers was a wonderful idea, a place for people who’s beliefs gave them no place to be but in this little life raft, but if we spend all of our time trying to kick one another off, for fear of loosing our “safe space” instead of helping more into the boat we are punching holes in the raft that God supplied us!

As Paul closed his letter, I wish to close mine, Please pray for me, that I may serve God in all circumstances, greet one another with a kiss of peace (intimate, relational and incarnate) and may the Grace of the Lord be with you.

More Confessions of a Control Freak

Our Family life has been CHAOS the last few weeks…well more like months…well it kinda all started to get weird in 2006.  See it’s like this, I thought I had things all figured out in 2005…I was finishing Seminary, then I would be comissioned, and get my first “Real” church as a probationary member of the UMC clergy…WELL…as the good book says, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” That never happened, and I thank God every day it didn’t!! I was so in love with the institution that I had forgotten who had called me to ministry and why!  I was so into being “clergy” and the meetings and retreats and theological lunches and POWER that went along with all that that I did VERY little ministry AT ALL!

It wasn’t until I was stripped of all titles, teaching a Bible Study to a room full of homeless, near homeless, hopeless, hopeful, unstable, kindhearted people who sometimes smelled of alcohol and streets that I remembered who I was called to be.  Pastoring is not about being in the right clergy group in the appropiate attire, or about how many hours you study to make sure that your sermon is in line with the Book of Discipline’s Social Principles, pastoring is about giving a teaspoon of hope to someone who might otherwise not make it until the next time you meet.  That bringing of hope is not limited to the context I served in, it is also what we are called to give the family like mine who struggles each day not sure of what new setback, financial or personal, they will have to deal with tomorrow.  It is to bring hope to those who work each day and are doing well, but understand that there is more to life.  It is even to those who have the means to be unaffected financially by the world of today but who understand that there is something missing in their lives that “creature comforts” are not filling.

Now HOW is this the confession of a Control Freak? Well it is simple…no matter how often God lets me know that being a pastor is NOT what I expected and no matter how many times God shuts doors on the old model of what I expected life Post-Seminary to be…I KEEP looking for a way to stuff ministry back in to the box that says “Paid Profession” on it! AND when it won’t fit, my inner voice of doubt begins to chew away at my call. That pesky inner voice buzzes like a bee in my ear with doubt, anger, sadness, uselessness, failure, rejection, and a laundry list of other Soul Sucking, Ministry Killing words that open tiny wounds and then I feel plunged into hand sanitizer!!

So, how can someone who stuggles every day have anything to say to others who are stuggling? Well, that can be answered with a song I believe we sang every single day I attended Harding Academy from 2nd-12th grade…”Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you…” So, I keep seeking, and everytime I bump into a word from God, I share it and strive to use it to replace one of my pesky words my inner voice uses. 

I am pretty sure I will never be in control, doesn’t mean I am not gonna keep trying to wrestle control away from God, but maybe, someday, I will begin to understand that God is not leading me to a place where I will be miserable but relax and trust that God is leading me to a place I never expected that is just perfect!

Let Us Pray: Loving and Patient God, Help your children to trust that you are here with us each moment of each day and that IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES you will be present.  Remind us how many times in scripture You or Your messangers told us to “not be afaid” so that we may trust that all WILL be well, even if we can only see the next 5 minutes of our lives with any clarity at all. AMEN

Confessions of a Control Freak

I am struggling already today and it isn’t even 9am. I had a phone call from a wonderful, Godly friend this morning that reminded me of something…I can’t do it all!! Can you believe that? God knows I try, but it appears that that just isn’t enough. I always think of a poster in the kids Sunday School room years ago that had a picture of a giant, smiling FROG that had the words Fully Rely On God printed at the bottom. I have NEVER felt that I was very good at that!! I also realize that years of Spiritual Direction taught me that God more often reveals a stepping stone than a complete plan.

Today is one of those days where there are so many things hanging over my head I hardly know what to do first. If I am not careful, I will do nothing because I just don’t know where to start. But thanks to that wonderful friend who called this morning, I will start with the kitchen! It always makes me feel better when the heart of my home is ready to show hospitality to whoever shows up! So, while I scrub dishes, counters and floors I will take time to remember GOD is in control and I will focus on the next small item on the list!! Like my professor used to tell us EVERY semester…”How do ya eat a thousand acre soda cracker?? One Bite at a Time!!”

Blessings for everyone who is overwhelmed! May the peace of God decend on you and focus your efforts!

Defining Leadership, Inclusion and Grace

Wikipedia defines Leadership as follows:

Leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task“. Definitions inclusive of nature of leadership have also emerged. Alan Keith of Genentech states that, “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.” According to Ken “SKC” Ogbonnia, “effective leadership is the ability to successfully integrate and maximize available resources within the internal and external environment for the attainment of organizational or societal goals.”

I would agree with the definition but would also add, in the context of Christ’s followers, that leadership is a servant role filled by person/persons who can encourage those in the community to contribute within the scope of the gifts and graces God has given them to build up the body and beyond that the Realm of God and to spread the news of God’s Grace.

Leadership is not usually sought out, because honestly, who would want the job if they could help it. Look at Biblical Leaders, all too human folk who’s business good, bad and ugly was written down for generation after generation after generation to critique and proclaim how much better THEY would do in the situation. I mean, look at Moses…I would have NEVER struck the rock God told me to touch…well guess what, on a perfect day, neither would Moses, but it happened while he was doing the best he could while being under a lot of pressure AND being completely human.

Inclusion is really a lot harder to define, because it’s use is situational, some of the definitions include:

1. the act of including or the state of being included
2. something included
3. geology  a solid fragment, liquid globule, or pocket of gas enclosed in a mineral or rock
4. maths
  a. X Y  the relation between two sets that obtains when all the members of the first are members of the second
  b. strict inclusion , proper inclusion X Y  the relation that obtains between two sets when the first includes the second but not vice versa
5. engineering  a foreign particle in a metal, such as a particle of metal oxide

And in the Medical Dictionary:

  1. A nonliving mass, such as a droplet of fat, in the cytoplasm of a cell.
  2. The process by which a foreign or heterogenous structure is misplaced in another tissue.

—Synonyms for inclusion:
1. embody. Include, comprehend, comprise, embrace  imply containing parts of a whole. To include  is to contain as a part or member, or among the parts and members, of a whole: The list includes many new names. To comprehend  is to have within the limits, scope, or range of references, as either a part or the whole number of items concerned: The plan comprehends several projects. To comprise  is to consist of, as the various parts serving to make up the whole: This genus comprises 50 species. Embrace  emphasizes the extent or assortment of that which is included: The report embraces a great variety of subjects.

Inclusion must be defined within the context you are using it, because it can mean anything from acknowledging that something is a part of the whole to a gas bubble in a diamond. As a salesperson in a jewelry store I have dealt with the issue of an inclusion that clouds an otherwise wonderful stone, and now as someone who cares about a community that has tried to define inclusion in the context of who we are becoming I have seen the same kind of clouds form that ruin perfectly good diamonds.

Finding faults in Diamonds is usually easy, sometime with the naked eye, sometimes with a magnifier you can see peices of carbon, inclusions of gas, small fissures and faults that threaten to corrupt the integrety or stucture of the stone.  Most time the gem cutter has already seen these issues and has still produced a cut stone that glimmers and shines and is beautiful to behold, something truly precious.

My question is, as we work together to try to build a precious community that we know is full of imperfections and human failings how can we have conversations that do not threaten the integrety or stucture of what God is doing in our midst? It is so much easier to critize and point out flaws than it is to build up and encourage growth where there is weakness. Critizing and pointing out flaws gets us lots of attention, but how does it show leadership? How does it help to define inclusion? How does it show grace?

Now, let’s look at the definition of Grace.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace Wikipedia says that Grace has many applications and contexts…Under Religious Grace alone it has 7 highlighted entries based on denominational understandings and theologies. So, do we really know what Grace is? HOW do we know what grace is, or inclusion or leadership for that matter!

All I can tell you is this, I know most of those who are serving as “leadership” in this community and they have hearts to serve as God sees fit. I have experienced inclusion as invitation into the “whole” body of Christ recognizing that the invitation to THIS expression of community may not be right for all and also giving those who do not wish inclusion the love and grace to choose exclusion while recognizing that they are still included in the “whole” body.  I have seen grace extended to me as I understand it, not as much by the members of this community, but by the God who gave me community and is with me as I try not to strike the rocks on a bad day, but continues to be in relationship with me even when I do.

So, what is the point of this blog? To ask each of us to take time to pray, reflect, think, however you process situations and ask ourselves if we are truly in a conversation to help encourage, refine and appreciate something that we identify as a grace that God has given us, including all the inclusions, and help to lead us into the future God has for us together, or are we simply pointing out all the obvious flaws and damage and places where things could fall apart? If we are honest in our answers then it may be time for some of us to step up and live into that, and for some of us to find a place where we DO feel called to that restorative work, understanding our choice of exclusion does not mean that we are not still included in the “Whole” of Christ’s Body. Because ultimately, all communities and their flaws comprise the Body of Christ even those community we choose not to be included in.

The Wild Goose and the Ostrich

My Friend Melissa and I arrived at the Wild Goose Festival at 3am Friday morning and wondered around in the dark until we found a spot to set up our tent (in the dark) and get a couple hours of sleep before the beginning of the events for the day. And WOW did the events start early and there where a lot of events to participate in and people to see and Ostrich to eat…? Yep! There was an Ostrich vendor (luckily he had other things because I am NOT that brave!!).  For me, the giant inflatible Ostrich head became the symbol of my Wild Goose experience.  Something quite out of the ordinary, but the source of nurishment.

This was a experience for me to do more listening than talking (Everyone who knows me knows also how GOOD I am at talking). I listened to Father Rohr talk about split people spliting people and whole people bringing wholeness, I listened to Phylis Tickle talk about the Holy Spirit and the wholeness of God, I listened to Jay Bakker talk about how we must seek justice for ALL before we can all be whole.  I listened to voices raise from the Beer Garden in oneness and wholeness with great, joyous praise, and I heared skilled musicians like Reverend Vince, Derek Webb, David Bazon and Jennifer Knapp lead us through story and song to truth and understanding.  And as Jennifer Knapp recorded her PSA for “It Get’s Better” from the stage and turned the cameras to us…it didn’t feel as if we were trying to send a message of hope to others, but claim that message of hope for ourselves, in hopes that the witness we gave would give that hope. 

You really couldn’t walk anywhere you didn’t find groups of people gathered, talking and laughing, listening and learning, singing and playing, or hugging and praying.  There where all kinds of booths as well, giving information about many different ministries and non-profits filled with people proclaiming with passion what God had called them to be not to do!  I heard speakers who challenged me and reminded me of who God has called me to be.  I saw friends and made friends from all over the map and remembered that we are not alone in our stuggles and passions, but that God is doing a new thing all over, a new thing that may be symbolized by a Wild Goose…but also, at least for me, by a giant inflatable Ostrich!

Momma Outlaw’s Statement of Faith

We are Family
We are ALL God’s Children
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Many Gifts, One Spirit

We believe in One Eternal Father
Our Creator
Perfect in Love

We believe in one Perfect Brother, Christ Jesus
Who has always been with the Father
Who chose to enter our everyday human world
And show us sacrificial love even as we rejected and crucified Him

We believe in One Holy Spirit
Sent by God
To Comfort us and Teach us
To Stay with us and Guide us

When we were orphans, God called us to God’s Self
Bathed away our tears in Baptism
Fed us at Christ’s Table
Clothed us anew in God’s Grace
And gave us Community, the church universal
While Christ prepares our home eternal

We are Family
We are ALL God’s Children
Many Gifts, One Spirit

The Rapture is Really Screwing up my week!

So, we are a little over 3 days for the end of the world as we know it. If all goes as the billboards expect, I should be at the church consuming sinful quantities of Shrimp and fixings when “the end” comes. Guess there could be worse places to be! The problem is…I don’t BELIEVE in the Rapture, and God bless um, these folks who believe so firmly in it occurring May 21, 2011 are gonna be SO disappointed!!

Sunday night, May 15th we had our first official worship gathering as Outlaw community in Memphis.  We began with a study of the book of Acts, covering the first and a little of the second chapter.  We took a moment to reflect on Act 1:10-11 in which tells of the disciples gazing into heaven after Jesus’ ascension when two men in white robes stood with them and basically said “Why are you staring up in to the heavens, he’ll be back when he gets back: and they returned to Jerusalem to get to the work of figuring out how to be a community.  Do I think they probably always kept one eye to the sky hoping to see Jesus returning, SURE! It is very likely, especially with the persecution really heated up that they were rather impatiently peering up for Jesus to drop from the clouds like the first welcomed drop of rain after a long drought. And so has every generation since!

See, the way I see it, Jesus comes for someone everyday, every day, hour, minute of every day, someone passes from this life into the next and sees what every one of us would love to see (and live to tell about it).  How arrogant is it, that after 2,000 years of folks looking toward heaven just in case Jesus appears that a small band of “smart folk” figure they have it all figured out! If only we could learn to do less suitcase sitting, staring at the heavens and do more work building the kingdom right here. Why do we have to hurry up and tell people about Jesus before the world ends, why can’t we hurry up and help people because there are so many who need help! Instead of watching for signs (you know, natural disasters that have been a constant for 2,000 years but seem like the end of the world when they happen to you) why can’t we send our time caring for those affected by them.

Here is my point. If we all have our heads down doing the work of being the body of Christ if and when Jesus does return, I doubt we would miss his glorious return but I also bet he wouldn’t mind if we did miss his entrance if we were too busy doing his work! Kinda think he’d be proud we finally go it!

 So, May 29th we will be having a party to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and JUST IN CASE the world ends, the party will be moved to the Heavenly Banquet I have heard so much about. Either way, it will be a wonderful party!! See you ALL there.