Saturday, October 20, 2018

Two week hiatus

Hi, all,

I will be on the road for parts of the next two weeks - I'll be back to the blog once I return.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Perspectives: Giant Eraser


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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Offering Grace

I'm in the concluding chapter of The Return of the Prodigal Son (Henri Nouwen), so these thoughts are generated by that reading.

There is a technique for exploring Bible passages that involves placing yourself in each character of the story.  For the characters in Jesus' parable of the two sons, we can explore how we are like the younger son, who runs away and looses everything, only to return.  We can explore how we are like the older son, who resents the joy with which the father accepts the return of the younger son.  And there is the father.  Are we like one of the sons? Or are we like the father?\

Nouwen writes:  Do I want to be like the father? Do I want to be not just the one who is being forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but the one who offers it as well?

We talk so much about being like the sons when the real question is: Are you interested in being like that father?  It feels somehow good to be able to say: "These sons are like me." It gives a sense of being understood.  But how does it feel to say: "The father is like me"?

Do we only want to be the recipient of grace? Are we willing to be the one who offers it?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Two Hands

We've talked about this image before.  Take a look again.

In the book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen encourages us to look at the father's hands in the image.  One of them - the father's left hand - for Nouwen, looks fatherly - masculine. Embracing, strong.  The father's right hand looks motherly - feminine.  In fact, scholars had compared the father's right hand to the right hand of the woman in the Rembrandt's painting, The Jewish Bride.  

At the WV Annual Conference last year, we considered a potential amendment to the United Methodist Constitution designed to make a statement about the worthiness of girls and women - designed to protect them from abuse.  I talked about my disappointment in the discussion about it here.

The amendment that was brought before the Annual Conference for approval in 2017 read:
Amendment 1: As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl's equality and well-being.
See the underlined sentence?  That sentence was what caused such a heated discussion in our Annual Conference. It actually had been dropped by the General Conference but included in the version that went out for approval by mistake.  The version without that sentence was resent to Annual Conferences for a vote this year, in 2018.

But take a look at that sentence in the light of the Rembrant painting - in the light of scripture.  Don't we see what we might consider both maleness and femaleness in God's actions in the Bible? Don't we see God acting as a mother and acting as a father? Why are some people so threatened by the idea that God is bigger than our ability to describe him? (Or her?).  Our words, as you can see, don't work. 

I think of God as male, because I always have, but I know my thoughts about God are limited. My image of God is created by me and is not God. I love the idea that Rembrant, in 1669, understood that.  Why can't we?

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Burn Your Post-it

I'm enjoying and being enriched by the videos produced and published at the  This site produces videos of women who are trailblazers - who are making change, who are making the world a better place.  

One series on the site contains interviews with Rev. Nadia Boltz Weber - Have a Little Faith.  In one of those videos, she starts with the story of a worship service at the church she started. She asked everyone to write on a post-it note the thing they tell themselves most often. She was saddened by the messages on the post-its, and I can imagine you know what they said. Phrases like, "I'm not good enough." "I'm a failure." "Know one wants me around." "Know one knows who I really am."  

At the end of the service, they burned all the post-it notes.

What is the phrase that you tell yourself over and over? Do you know (do I know) how much it damages you? And do you know that God loves the person you really are? The person you hide? The person you would never tell anyone about?  

God loves that person. Without reservation. Without apology. Without improvement.

Burn your post-it.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Perspectives: Decisions

What decisions are you facing this week.  How do you decide? Where do you start?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

God is with us

Interesting how social media can throw thoughts at you and how those thoughts can collide.

Take a look at this video (language warning, but you can handle it).

"Faith tells me that my worthiness does not come from my busy-ness."

Compare that to something I saw on Facebook on almost the same day, shared by a person of faith I know.  It was a quote that said, "God is saying to you today, 'I know you are physically and emotionally drained.  But you have to keep on going. I will see you through."

So, what is God really telling us?

I was in the break room at work one day, and a young mother was speaking to another woman in the room. They were discussing someone they had in common, who had recently had a baby.  The newest mother they were speaking about was having a hard time getting it all done - she was exhausted -  and the two in the room were discussing what hints to give her to help her.  So I, who was not part of the conversation, threw in my two cents.  They were: your house will not always be clean, and its OK.  Take time for yourself. You cannot do it all.  

They both looked at me as if I had two heads.  I felt as if they were saying, "Well, what kind of mother are you?"

What kind of mother am I? I'm a great mom, whose boys know I love them, whose house is never clean, who has a career she loves, whose husband is her best friend, and who takes time for herself, to the benefit of everyone.  I'm a mother who is 55 years old (Is that right? I lose count), and who is confident in life enough to know that I know what I'm talking about.  Your house will not always be clean, and it is OK.  Take time for yourself.  You cannot do it all.

So, back to the Question - what is God really telling us?  I think God is telling us God loves us.  God's love for us does not depend on us working ourselves literally to death.  In fact, God is saying - Stop it!  Take a Sabbath.  Take a rest.  Stop trying to do all of it.  And know that when those times come that we cannot control what is happening to us, and we have to work through it even though we are to the breaking point - God is with us.   

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Discipline of Gratitude

Think about gratitude. Gratitude is a necessary. It's not an obligation, like saying the "magic words" of thank you when someone does something for you.  It's a way of living.  It's how we step away from resentment, greed, and selfishness.  It's how we open ourselves up to a life with God.  

Read this from Henri Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal Son:
Gratitude, however, goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.  In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
Have you ever considered gratitude to be a discipline? Do you make an explicit, intentional effort to recognize that "all you are and have is given to you as a gift of love."

What would change in your life (and in mine) if we practiced the discipline of gratitude?

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Monday, October 08, 2018

Stingy Kindness

Are our acts of kindness "stringy?"

Yesterday, a person thanked me for doing something.  She called it kind, and she said that she hoped she would be able to pay it back someday. Truthfully, when I was doing it, I didn't think of it as an act of kindness - I just saw it as something that needed to be done, but if it was kindness, I didn't do it for "payback." I didn't, and don't, intend for there to be a reciprical action.

When I said so to this person, she said, "Yes, I know, pay it forward, right?"

No.  It's kindness.  It's an act of grace.  There are no expectations. No demands.  No strings.  I told her that, and she had trouble, I think, accepting it.

Do we have trouble accepting grace? Are we kind with the expectation of reciprocity? Stringy kindness is not grace.  It's not free.  And it might not actually be very kind.

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Thursday, October 04, 2018

Perspectives: Light and LIfe

I took this image on a walk through the woods around the lake at Snowshoe Resort.  Notice how bare the trees are - this was summer.  The leaves overhead block the light from the bottom parts of the trees.  Where there is no light, there is no life.

We are to share the light of Chist with others.  It brings life.


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Stewardship and Generosity, Part 3

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday - are the words stewardship and generosity synonyms?

A stewardship that is an outgrowth of true discipleship, can't help but be a generous stewardship.  As disciples we learn about what it means to follow Christ. As stewards, we put what we have learned into action.  One of the ways we are Christ following stewards is that we give of what we have received, and in that giving, we reflect the nature of God in which we were created.

We are created in the image of God. As disciples, we learn what that means, and what God is calling us to do. As stewards of what we have learned and been given, we relect the nature of God within us.  What does that mean? 

As stewards, we are creative. We are kind. We love, we forgive, we stand for justice. And as stewards, we are generous - with our time, our heart, our gifts, and our money.  

Are stewardship and generosity synonyms?  No, I don't believe they are, but they are so wrapped up in each other that we might not be able to separate them.  The steward who is putting feet on his discipleship will be generous.  

It reminds me of the "great debate" over the words of James: "faith without words is dead." Works are such an expression of faith that without the words, we question the faith. Without generosity, we question whether the steward is reflecting the image of God and behaving as a disciple.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Stewardship and Generosity, Part 2

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday - are the words stewardship and generosity synonyms?

Yesterday, I wrote about my perceptions of the words discipleship and stewardship, largely formed from Dan R. Dick's book, Beyond Money.  I wrote about particular definitions of each word, and how they relate. 

Today, let's define generosity.  Bishop Robert Schnase, in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, defines extravagant generosity this way:

As people grow in relationship to Christ, they grow also in the practice of extravagant generosity, offering more of themselves for the purposes of Christ and providing the resources that strengthen ministry and that help the church touch the lives of more and more people in thee same way their own lives have been transformed by God.

For me, generosity is a characteristic of God.  God has given us life, all that we have, all the gifts we possess, all that is good around us.  God gave us his son, and his son gave his life for us.  We are created in the image of God, and by grace, we become (are transformed) more and more into that image every day.  Generosity, as one of the spiritual gifts we receive as we grow more like God, is one of the ways we reflect God's image in us.

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Monday, October 01, 2018

Stewardship and Generosity, Part 1

Sorry to have been gone so long - it's been busy, and there have been many Sundays (when I usually write for the blog) where I've been out of town.  There are a few more coming - I'll hope to work ahead, but if you see I'm gone for a week or two, that's why.  We should be back to normal in November.


A friend said to me the other day, "Aren't the words stewardship and generosity synonyms?"  Yes, I talk about stewardship and generosity with my friends, so what?

Anyway, I said that to me, they weren't the same.  I'm preparing to help with a presentation in Ohio about Creating a Culture of Generosity, so the question itself has been rattling around in my mind.

My foundational reading - over a decade ago - about stewardship was from a book called Beyond Money by Dan R. Dick.  He talks about the relationship between discipleship and stewardship this way: 

"One way to look at the relationship [between discipleship and stewardship] is to define the terms: disciples are students, followers, and apprentices; while stewards are teachers, leaders, and practitioners.  Disciples gain new knowledge and skills, while stewards manage this knowledge and skill and put it into practice.  However, one cannot happen without the other.... in all times, we are both disciples and  stewards."

This perspective on stewardship - as the doing of discipleship - has stuck with me, has wormed its way into sermons I have preached, lessons I have taught, and conversations I have had about stewardship.  For me, it removes the idea that stewardship is solely about fundraising, that stewardship is a "campaign" we have in church in the fall to fund the next year's budget, and it eliminates the perception that stewardship is something we can avoid talking about.  How can we be active in the work of God as God "makes disciples" if we only talk about stewardship once a year? And in a way that is only about money?