Offering Good News This Week

Offering Good News this WeekOne of my husband, Dan’s requests in accepting his new call to Legacy Presbyterian Church in Frisco, Texas, was to have a ministry coach to help guide him as he and the congregation seek to grow in mission and ministry. Last weekend his coach, Pastor Tim Roehl, came from Minnesota to Texas for a weekend visit. He spent time with Dan getting to know the community of Frisco, asking great questions, visiting Legacy’s worship service, and teaching an evangelism workshop with the congregation’s lay leaders. I was blessed to tag along and participate in much of Tim’s visit.

During the Evangelism training, Tim asked a question I just love, “Who can I ‘good news’ today?” We struggle with the word, “evangelism” because it has negative connotations of beating people over the head with the Bible, convincing them of their sin and the right way to believe, or kindling a fear of eternal damnation. But Biblically, evangelism means simply to bring “good news.” How can we bring good news to everyone we meet throughout our day? It may be with a smile, holding open a door, a word of affirmation or encouragement, offering unexpected help, or really listening to someone with all of our attention.

Tim’s evangelism training reminded us that communication is only 7% words, and 35% tone and 58% body language! We can always tell if someone is really interested in and listening to us, and vice versa! Do visitors to our worship service feel we listen to and are interested in them? Do we engage them and listen deeply? Many admit they don’t know what to say to people they don’t know, or how to engage them, even at church. Tim offered a simple, memorable way to “good news” visitors to our congregation, WIN:

W=Welcome - Let them know you’re glad they’re here, introduce yourself, ask their names, and about their family.
I=Interests - Ask about their work, activities of their children, or how they spend their free time. This enables you to introduce them to others in the congregation with whom they share a common interest.
N-Need: Ask how you or the congregation can serve them, and then, how you can pray for them.

When lay leaders make this kind of effort at connecting with visitors and praying for them, newcomers can begin to personally experience God’s love and care through your church on their first visit.

This formula offers a wonderful tool for getting to know a new person in any context. Listening and communicating interest, connection, care and prayer is a great way to ‘good news’ anyone you meet. Who will God put in your path to WIN this week?

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The Challenge and Gift of Forgiveness in My #MeToo Stories

The Challenge and Gift of Forgiveness in My MeToo StoriesAfter reading my “#MeToo” story, a friend asked whether I had forgiven the colleagues and professors I had written about. As a spiritual and religious person, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had not thought much about forgiveness in the context of my personal harassment. So as we welcomed and celebrated the Incarnation of God in the human being of Jesus, I pondered this question. I’ve come to realize that forgiveness for those who failed me in various ways when I was a young female pastor had been a part of developing spiritual and emotional maturity; it rarely came as an intentional decision.

I saw that I’d overlooked forgiving my harassers, in part, because my anger at them was conflated with my frustration with the institutional church, which failed to listen, to take me seriously, and to help me seek justice; it failed even to require appropriate behavior from its male leaders. Further, the church had failed to provide much-needed support as I tried to serve my first two congregations.

The first congregation had longstanding internal power struggles. It was an inappropriate post for a first-time pastor of either gender, yet my requests for help and guidance from colleagues and judicatory staff went unheeded. Eventually I resigned and embarked upon eight months of therapy to put myself back together, spiritually and psychically. My next call, in a different state, was from an inner-city church in need of an urban ministry strategy. I turned to that judicatory staff for help with developing a cooperative vision and a plan for resourcing and supporting it; again, I was met with inaction. Independently, for four years, I formed partnerships there with other congregations where feasible, as I pastored a congregation in frequent crisis.

But then, after almost a decade of being a female intern and novice pastor seeking help from my church leaders and finding none, I resigned from the ministry and answered another call – to become a full-time mom and to heal an exhausted mind, body, and spirit. During my extended leave, I focused on my family and self-care. Not on forgiveness.

Now, turning my attention to that left-behind matter, I find that something has changed, even without my awareness or intention. First, I found that I’ve often thought of forgiveness as something to offer when someone who has wronged me apologizes — forgiveness wipes the slate clean and erases a debt, giving the relationship a fresh start. Such reconciliation is essential in our close, on-going relationships with friends and family. I am grateful to have experienced this in one situation of harassment. The Bible, however, reminds me that I am called upon to forgive others simply because God has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32). God’s forgiveness is free, unmerited, a gift of love and grace. God expects us to offer this same selfless mercy to others, whether or not it is requested, undeserved, or the hurt goes deep. This kind of forgiveness frees the other, but also frees us from bitterness, resentment, and the spiritual and physical illnesses that can result from hanging on to toxic emotions.

Still, forgiving does not mean continuing to put ourselves in harm’s way. Forgiving does not mean accepting or condoning a wrong-doer’s behavior. Forgiving does not mean that we do not pursue justice through administrative or legal channels. Forgiving does mean letting go of the desire for revenge. “Repay no one evil for evil … Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19). At its fullest, forgiveness frees us from giving those who have harmed us power over our emotions, choices, thoughts and self-identity; we stop giving them free rent in our heads and hearts. This can be done alongside an adjudication process, or without such a process. Each of us must wrestle with the healing path that is best for us.

Taking leave to raise my children was a first step in the forgiveness process — a decision to get myself out of harm’s way to heal. What I’ve learned over that time has helped me with other important aspects of forgiveness—forgiveness both for my perpetrators and the institutional church. That included looking at myself and confronting my own expectations. I needed to stop being surprised by sin and to stop expecting the church — or any human institution for that matter — to be free of sin and brokenness. Of course, the church and the people in it fail me and others on a regular basis — as do I, and all of us! My sin has been putting my faith and trust in something other than God incarnate in Jesus Christ (a wonderful reflection as we celebrate the Nativity).

It is freeing to understand that I am not to expect nor look to the church or anyone in it, to take care of me; that is my job through my relationship with God. I learned the distinction between asking someone to care for and about me in a healthy way versus asking them to take care of me and giving up my own personal power, volition, and responsibility. Without this shift, I would have been perpetually wounded and disappointed by the fact that the church and its leaders are all part of our fallen world. This realization opened me up to forgiving the church. This growing spiritual maturity has resulted in deeper emotional freedom. I have stopped giving my perpetrators power over my identity and confidence and, over time, I have stopped letting mistrust of male colleagues prevent me from exploring team ministry. The last step in this process has been to forgive myself, both for having unrealistic expectations and for hanging on to fear, even unconsciously. Reflecting on and writing about this has helped move me into this last step of self-forgiveness.

After nine years at home with my children and running a home business, in 2006 I returned to parish ministry. The ELCA (Evangelical Church in America) as an institution also had grown and changed over these years. For instance, there are more policies in place to make congregations safe for everyone, including children, and when pastors or other leaders commit boundary violations, there are procedures and ways to find help. In addition, it's thrilling to be part of a denomination that welcomes LGBTQ+ people into the full life of the church, its ministry, and its marriage rites! In fact, I can say that I love the ELCA now more than I ever have since my ordination in 1989. This reveals my own spiritual and emotional growth toward the freedom and fullness of forgiveness that includes my perpetrators, the institution, and myself.

This love leads me to care for the church – to help it be faithful when it fails, to seek the path of truth, reconciliation, justice, accountability, and forgiveness — but not to expect it to take care of me. I need to be okay at my core because of the salvation God freely gives in Jesus Christ, and that’s true both when the church and its leaders are faithful, and when we fail. For me, that’s the freedom of forgiveness that comes from a process of deepening my own spiritual life rooted in the love and mercy of God. Through God’s unmerited forgiveness of me, and love for me, I am freed to forgive others, and freed to love and serve as God calls me to today, regardless of what has happened in my past.

Image: Downloaded from quotefancy.

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Focus for 2018: Balancing Inner and Outer Wisdom

Focus for 2018Thank you for your patience--website is as good as new!

With the turn of the new year, gurus in every area of human accomplishment and fulfillment are promoting new on-line classes in everything from meditation and ministry to confidence-building and business-launching. When I peruse all the topics of learning, the number of podcasts that interest me, and add the fiction I would like to read or hear, it’s overwhelming. If all I do is stop to prioritize my learning and reading goals for this new year as a tool to pick and choose in what to invest my time and resources, I have missed the deeper spiritual yearning such desires awaken.

The constant glut of information and opportunities can tempt us away from seeking the wisdom that God has planted within us — our unique contributions, insights, and faith that come from the indwelling Spirit who enlightens our own particular incarnation in space and time. It’s easy to think that the answer to our struggles or unmet goals—whatever they might be—is “out there” somewhere, if we just find the right mentor, program or continuing education event.

The urging of the Spirit inside, however, calls me to set aside time to listen inwardly in contemplation before I look outside me for the direction or answers I seek. That’s not to say that I cannot be helped by others’ teachings; human development requires us to share our wisdom with those who come after us. But we rob ourselves and others, when we do not listen to the insight, hopes, plans, and dreams that bubble up from the God who makes a home in each of our hearts.

With this in mind, I have coined a phrase for my focus in 2018: “explorational balance.” I want to balance outward seeking with inward listening, reading with meditation, consumption with contemplation. I pursue a life that seeks new ideas, a deep growing spiritual life, faithful decisions, and a greater embodiment of love in and for the world — all of which can happen only when I moderate my search for learning from others with time to listen to the wisdom within.

We are each a one of kind embodiment of spirit and matter, energy and consciousness that has come into being after nearly 13.8 billion years of the evolution of Creation. What is the unique message the Spirit calls you to share in 2018? I invite you to join me in listening deeply with explorational balance!

Image: Mandala 77, Downloaded from hadas64.deviantart.com.

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Mary, Joseph, and #MeToo

Mary Joseph and MeTooHave you ever wondered what enabled Mary, the mother of Jesus, to say “yes” to God? Her pregnancy outside of wedlock brought good news to us, but it was bad news for Mary. To conceive outside of marriage broke the religious and cultural laws of her time; the punishment was death by stoning. Joseph would be expected to break their engagement, as any self-respecting first century Palestinian Jew would. Her family would disown her; if they let her live, which was unlikely, she would be ostracized and alone. A virgin made pregnant by the Holy Spirit? No one would believe that. The visit of the angel Gabriel to this young teenage girl, already betrothed, must have felt like the kiss of death.

This Scripture story sounds different to me this Christmas, after a season of #MeToo stories coming out weekly in the news. Why have women waited so long in silence before telling their truth? Perhaps because telling their stories would have felt like the kiss of death; they could lose everything—their careers, their credibility, maybe even the support of their families. They could be ostracized and left alone.

It would be easy to spiritualize Mary’s response and believe she said “yes” because she had a deep faith and connection to God. I think this was true in part. But perhaps there was also a more practical, human, relational reason Mary was able to step into this precarious and dangerous role. What if Mary said “yes” to God because she trusted that no matter how unlikely her story sounded, Joseph, her fiancé, would believe her?

To believe her, Joseph would have to let go of his power and privilege and risk everything with Mary. He also would have to physically protect her. Joseph could have gone to Bethlehem alone to register for the census, but instead, Mary traveled with him in the ninth month of her pregnancy. Perhaps it was the only way Joseph could keep her alive.

Today, women don’t need men to protect them physically in the same way, but women do need Josephs who will believe their stories of harassment and abuse. Women need colleagues, friends and family members — male and female — to listen to the truth of their experiences, even and especially when it puts at risk their own power and privilege, even and especially when that story is radically different from the hearer’s own experience. We need men to hold each other accountable for appropriate behavior in all arenas of society. We need men who, recognizing their own past failings as they listen to #MeToo reports, make amends by shifting their behavior, and by advocating for necessary changes in cultural attitudes and in workplace policies and practice.

Of course, this is what all marginalized people need: to have the advocacy and support of those with greater access to power. People of color need Caucasians fighting racism; gay and lesbian people need straight people promoting equal treatment; transgendered people need cisgendered people creating equal access; poor people need wealthy people fighting for their economic opportunity; immigrants need citizens supporting DACA.

When we seek the good of the whole community, we enable more and more people to say “yes” with Mary, to all of whom God calls them to be.

Image: LDS Media Library

 

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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