Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hard Decisions

As a certified administrator and interpreter of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I find a lot of insight in thinking about the different ways we have of seeing and interacting with the world, taking in information, and making decisions. When I work with an individual, group, or a couple who have taken the indicator, I always try to be clear that the MBTI simply measures a few scales by how a person answers the questions. It cannot tell someone how brilliant they are, how well adapted or not they are, or even how intelligent they are.

In explaining the scale of how a person makes decisions—thinking or feeling, both of which are rational functions, I often refer to a group exercise sometimes known as “lifeboat triage.” The group is told that they are the survivors of a shipwreck, riding in a lifeboat with some supplies. They are far more days away from land or rescue than they can possibly survive on those supplies if all are to share equally. On board the lifeboat, the members vary in age and ability. What is the group to do? Share equally until all die equally before hope of rescue? Or does the group make decisions on who shall survive? This is where the triage comes in. How does one decide who shall survive, or who shall die first?

This is not an easy exercise for anyone, but a “thinking” type who makes decision on an objective basis might, just might, be able to reach decisions more easily than a “feeling” type who makes decision on a subjective basis. They each have the same information but they will weigh it according to different criteria. 

In case it seems to be simply an exercise for a group to explore, let me remind us it is not. Recently, I heard someone dealing with a tough decision about an employee who is not, and has not for a long time, performed up to the standard of the job, so much so that other colleagues have had to bear the brunt of the employee’s incompetence. On one hand, protecting against the squandering of resources is an important stewardship.  On the other hand, the employee has a family for which to provide.

Justice may be blind as she weighs out the determining factors in the case, but how does mercy bear on the matter? This is not an easy decision to make. I say this as someone who tends to operate more by the mercy factor. I have tended to live with the uncomfortable consequences of a situation rather than force a “just” conclusion. I admit that at times matters become more complicated because of this tendency. Sometimes, I have wished that I could just not care about how a decision would affect another person so I could just make it and be done with it, but that is not how I am made.

How do justice and mercy work together? How can they walk together? I do know that it is important for them to remain hand in hand. Justice without mercy is cold and hard. Mercy without justice can be slippery without resolution. For now, I do not have the answers. All I know is to pray for wisdom, and for forgiveness.

Leviticus 19:15
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.

Psalm 51:1

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Micah 6:8
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

All SHALL Be Well

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

I know I wrote using this quote from Julian of Norwich only a few months ago, but this is my lifeline, my call, and my mantra just now. I wear a chain with a silver möbius strip around my neck. Julian's words are etched into the silver. I find myself fingering the twisted circle as I think and pray. This reminds me that I am a small finite part of this divine dance of God's grace and love. The entirety is much larger than I in so many ways. 

This past Sunday, our district superintendent, Cathy Abbott, preached in worship at Christ Crossman reminding us that our greatest call is to align ourselves as closely as ever we can with God's will--not my will, but your will, O God, you who call us to do justice, to love mercy/kindness, to walk humbly with you. If our hearts are aligned with yours then we will seek this path in all our relationships. Still, there is no guarantee that we will not make mistakes, that we will not mishear, that we will not misjudge our steps. What is our recourse? With the psalmist, I cry:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning.

More than those who watch for the morning,
O Israel, hope in the Lord!

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

Thus, it is not a simplistic statement of faith. Rather it is a deep abiding affirmation that our beginning, our end, and our present are within the God who stands with those watching in the morning. Look, there is our hope. See, there is love. All SHALL be well!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Does It Mean?

What does it mean to the church when our candidate wins? It means that we work at being the Body of Christ in the world: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving water to those who are thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the oppressed, forgiving our enemies, loving God and neighbor.

What does it mean to be the church when our candidate loses? It means that we work at being the Body of Christ in the world: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving water to those who are thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the oppressed, forgiving our enemies, loving God and neighbor.

Our work is the same regardless. When Mary sang her song, it did not mean a new reverse triumphalism wins. It means always that we who are God’s people are on the side of the poor. It still means that the ways of God are not the ways of the world which looks for quid pro quo. We are the people who have received grace and mercy, knowing always that this is what informs our stance in the world.

So our candidate wins. Celebrate a little, then keep being God’s people working on behalf of all God’s children.

So our candidate loses. Grieve a little, then keep being God’s people working on behalf of all God’s children.

Romans 12:12-14
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Courage to Discover

Last week, I started to write about how the prefix dis- changes the meaning of the word cover. The prefix itself means "apart," "asunder," "away," or having a reversing force. There are times when we have to pull something apart either in actuality or figuratively to find out how it is made up. An anthropological archeologist may pull apart the dirt itself in order to find relics or evidence of previous civilizations. A person on a spiritual journey may need to sunder the layers of their life in order to learn what has gone into the composition of their attitudes and behaviors. In the word "discover," the prefix that most often has negative connotations is used to bring about a sense of wonder.

I said I started to write about this, but did not finish it because I was not sure what relevance this had to anyone's life besides being interesting. I do think that the process of dis- or un-covering is necessary to grow in maturity and depth. It is not always, or perhaps never, comfortable as we expose hidden aspects of our lives, or face new understandings.

In fact, engaging in a process like this takes courage. There are moments that bring great insight and even joy. These times can be en-couraging. They fuel us with courage to continue our discovery. Then there are, however, dry spells that may dis-courage us, sapping our desire to risk the journey.

While in many ways this work must be solitary, digging deeply into our own life, having companions along the way is important to infuse us with courage when our own is lacking. A small group of trusted allies helps bring illumination to the shadows, helping point a way when none seems to be there. 

1 Thessalonians 5:11

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Soulful Village

A soulful village…that’s how our church coach Paul Nixon referred to our congregation in the midst of the focus groups we had over the past weekend. Megan, our Leadership Team chair and I, as pastor, were a part of all four focus groups—three in a row on Saturday. I admit that I was somewhat anxious as we approached the day. The topics for each group were clear. They grew out of the intensive and extensive work we have been doing over the last couple of years. I know that some have had questions about the direction we are taking. There have been missteps, and there have been differences of opinions, so I inwardly took a deep breath waiting to hear what folks are thinking.

It ended up being an amazing experience. At Paul’s direction, we had invited a mix of “investeds” and “generalists” to each focus group. We heard from the heads and hearts of people who are seeking “to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We admitted that ours is probably a somewhat introverted and heady group of members. Even some of us who are extraverts tend to the shy side. Thus we realize that we have some work to do there.

It was in the third group of the day, I think, that Paul first used the term “soulful village” as we talked about our children’s ministries. I felt a sudden warming of my heart. It was more than an “aha” moment; it was a pouring out of blessing. While I had felt encouraged and hopeful in the earlier groups, I felt God’s smile of love and affection for this diverse mix of persons, of which I am a part.

I invite you to take a moment to consider just what it means to be a “soulful village” here in the busy, hectic, skeptical environs of the twenty-first century DMV. What is it to be a village?   What is it to be soulful? After you think about it for a bit, take some time to rest with the image of a village that is soulful. What other images come to mind? What gifts do we bring to each other and to our community?

Romans 12:9-10

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making Welcome Space

Driving down a dark road, standing water coming onto the outside lanes, rain still coming down, approaching an underpass my mind jumped back many years to learning the danger of trying to traverse the old underpasses dotting the cities in Tidewater Virginia. Fortunately, the ones this night were newer. The road underneath did not take a necessary dip because the road above was not high enough to allow traffic underneath otherwise. There had been eight inches or more of rain thanks to the storm Julia who decided to hang out over top. I had to go another route to get to my destination or I would have encountered impassable water on the road.

Arriving at my hosts' home was a welcome joy as they extended hospitality to me, opening the door to the brightness of their home. I think of a friend who is currently walking the Camino in Spain and finding all sorts of hospitality along the way, and my friends on the island of Iona in Scotland finding welcome in the fields and rocky beaches.

I confess that my response to the welcome was to relax into the space so much that I talked almost nonstop. Obviously I needed the sense of accepting the liberty I felt in their presence.

Where do we find welcome along our way? Where do we offer space for others? Do we expect people to come and find it in the church, or are we willing to offer it to others where they are?

Matthew 10:12-14
"When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Trust and Hope

While I care very much about the upcoming election, I realized that I was putting too much energy into wanting the “right” candidate to win over the “wrong” candidates. I was pulled up suddenly by a question that came into my spirit that I can only believe comes from the Spirit—where am I putting my trust and hope?

Regardless of who wins the popular vote in November and the electoral vote in December, and regardless who will occupy the White House beginning January 20, 2017, my hope and trust really is in the One who put all Creation into motion, who abides in the depths of all Creation, and who calls us forward in relationship. My fretting now will not change that.

Yes, of course, I personally think that a particular candidate is more likely than the others to lead our nation in a way that more closely aligns with how I think it should go, but no one person is right all the time. I have not agreed with everything done by any of the presidents who have been in office since I have been able to vote. I do know that our triune God is the center of all, seeks relationship with each of us, and inspires us to be in loving, healing relationship with others. I have decided that is where I will put my energy, my trust, and my hope.

Matthew 6:33

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. [The Message]