Archive for September 2011
Last week I talked with a church that was going through severe staff reductions because the economy had hit their area particularly hard. This pastor lamented that they now were going to have to cover all those ministries with volunteers. As gently as I could, I tried to suggest that maybe that was who should have been doing the ministry all along.
Churches with financial resources inevitably gravitate more and more to professional staff doing ministry on behalf of the congregation. What should be true is that NO staff member should ever be hired to do ministry, but only to facilitate the church doing ministry.
So, too, in our own lives, we hire people to clean our houses and maintain our yards when those jobs can be a very therapeutic relief to the work we do all day, every day. We feel over-worked, but past generations knew that hard work wasn’t the source of unhappiness. Our grandparents worked from dusk to dawn to provide for their families, and study after study show that those women and men who had so little in the way of material things were much happier than our generation, which needs to rent storage or buy bigger houses for our excess stuff.
As tragic as this economic struggle has been for so many, perhaps some good can come out of it. Like that church, perhaps we have to be forced to reevaluate our values, reconsider our choices, simplify our lives. If we are not someone (a church) impacted by the economy then perhaps we need to open our hearts to the suffering around us and make the changes anyway.
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
People try to read the future in the stars, on their palms, via the bumps on their head, even in the weather forecast. (I think the psychics are more accurate than Texas meteorologists, though!) Most folks want to know what the future will hold, but seem to have very little hope or optimism about it. A majority of Americans regularly read their horoscopes, but surveys indicate we are four times more likely to take them seriously if it is negative.
Everyone wants to live forever, but few people can give you even one good reason why. Perhaps we fear death because we’ve never really known what it means to be fully alive. It’s little wonder that despair and depression and unhappiness are epidemic. People are afraid to die, but have no reason to live.
Life without purpose, meaning, or direction is only existence. The other day, a fellow was driving too fast. When his lover complained that he was going to kill them, he said, “That’s ridiculous. We can’t die; we just ordered new china.”
If earning a living and paying bills could give life meaning and purpose, we would be the most fulfilled people to ever live.
Dostoevsky said, “The ant knows the formula for the anthill. The bee knows the formula for the beehive. It seems only humans do not know their own formula for life.”
If the life of faith has any meaning it is that our faith system gives us a clear set of values that create our vision of what our life should be. For Christians, those are the values of Jesus, and who he is and how he lived is ultimately the formula for how life is to be lived.
In the Gospels, Jesus referred to himself as “The Human One.” The King James Version of the Bible translated that phrase as “Son of Man.” Jesus was the one who lived humanly and humanely in the fullest. He is what we should be. The Orthodox Church says it this way, “Jesus became all that we are so that we might become all that he is.”
What does that look like for you?
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
One of my favorite people in the world is a 90-something-year-old woman in Houston, Texas named Blake. She is on my mind today because tomorrow is the funeral service for her beloved husband. I can’t imagine how painful her loss is, but I know two things. First, she is surrounded by hundreds of people who simply adore them both, and, second, Blake is one tough cookie.
She and her husband fought and lobbied and marched for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights in Texas where it still isn’t the chic and popular thing to do. They were members of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and they once were honorary grand marshals of the LGBT pride parade.
A stalwart Episcopalian, Blake somehow discovered that I was planting a new church in Houston, and there she was every Sunday evening. Her devotion and faithfulness made me look forward each week to making the trip from wherever I was in the world to be with her and the congregation in Houston. Whenever I was tempted to complain that I was “too old” or “too busy” or “too tired” to plant a new church in a distant place, I’d think of Blake and, red-faced, apologize to God. I often told her that she was my hero and my idol. Helping to plant a new inclusive church in her 90s is just who Blake is, and I pray that her tribe will increase.
I don’t know what decade of your life you are in, but I ask you to think of Blake; or Philip Johnson who designed the Cathedral of Hope (pictured at right) while in his 90s; or Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus) who, in his 90s, was still writing opinion pieces trying to get the city of Dallas to get on with renewing downtown. I am honored to have known these three great souls, and it gives me hope for what I might be able to do should I live into my 90s. The problem is, for me to contribute like them for that long, means I need to start now. How about you? What decade of your life are you in? Are you busy making a difference?
What are you waiting on?
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
Sometimes life takes an unexpected wrong turn
in the right direction.
~ Natalie Smith
There are many intersections on our journeys towards God’s vision, and it is inevitable that we will make some wrong turns. We rush into a particular mission or project without adequate discernment. We try taking part in a greater effort toward good that is not a great fit for us. We focus on an issue or initiative that is relevant only for the short term.
These wrong turns should not demoralize us. Instead, we should see these dead ends, U-turns, and detours as ideal opportunities to hear more specifically what God has called us, particularly, to do, as opposed to what God is leading others to undertake. The individuality that makes us uniquely beautiful children of Godalso makes us uniquely equipped for certain actions towards God’s vision for the world!
Those who live a suburban life may start by aiding busy mothers only to find themselves perfectly positioned to address the alienation that can come from long commutes and working so far from home. Those in wealthy areas might first seek work with those in the inner city only to find their purpose in addressing the challenges of materialism and the need for those who have much to share their wealth and time with others. Those who live in, and know intimately the issues of, impoverished neighborhoods can find themselves providing more than assistance to their neighbors, supporting the rich communities that exist even in the poorest conditions.
It is up to each of us to listen to our wrong turns to hear what gifts we are given by our unique circumstances. Don’t give up when you see the “Wrong Way” sign in your path; you are only getting closer to the right road.Enlightening God, help us to see your lessons in each of our wrong turns. Find us when we are lost on a detour or dead end. Guide us back from confusion each time toward a greater understanding of your vision for our lives. Amen.
Director of Community Outreach
160 Birch Street
Redwood City, CA
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