Sunday, January 31, 2010

Always Good To Know

How long could you survive chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor?
Created by Oatmeal

You never know when information like this could come in handy!

Tiring Day

Well, I told my congregation today that I would be leaving.  I am excited about all that is going on, but I am also sad to be leaving.  I really do care about these people and feel, in a way, that I am abandoning them.  I know that I have to believe that God is in this whole thing and that God will be there for the congregation too.

We actually had a good talk the congregation was able to see how they have grown and how they are more able to be "Church" now.  I am happy that they were able to see that hey have grown and that they are able to see this not as a defeat, but as a challenge.

I had to have someone else read the part that said that I was leaving because I started crying like a schoolgirl.  This is such a combination of joys and sorrows.  AND AM I TIRED!

Well, I will be meeting with the new congregation this week and hopefully that will answer a few things.

Nick and I were looking for apartments.  We wanted to find a house because all the stained glass stuff takes a lot of room.  We found an apartment with a "bonus room" that could be usable.  I hate looking for apartments.

Now I am just chilling and getting my thoughts together.  I have to send stuff to the bishop's office but that can wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Wordles are visual representation of word usage. Below is the latest for Dr. Benton Quest.

Wordle: Blog

(Click to embiggen)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Things Move Fast!

Well, the assistant to the Bishop told me that I better give my current congregation a 60 day notice and Nick and I should start looking for a place to live!

Not a done deal yet, but things are starting to do all kinds of weird things.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Annual Meetings and "Comfortable" Congregations

Maybe I just like to worry about things, I don't know.

This weekend we have the annual meeting at church.  I have to write a report.  I want to be real with the people, but I also don't want to beat them over the head.  I am not sure where I want to go with the report.

The big problem is that over the past year, no a whole lot has changed.  We changed the worship times, but we have not gained any more people.  We have lost some people over the past year, but that seems to have stopped.  We have an organist that plays twice a month, but she will be quitting soon.

We are $8000 under budget as of right now, which means asking for more money is out of the question.  But, even with the BUX job, Nick and I were still strapped for money.  Now that I am not working a second job, the money situation is bound to become worse.

I don't want to leave the church that I am currently at, but they seem to be content with the "private club" feel and do not seem to want to reach out to the community.  I would help with reaching out, but until recently, I have been working.  It feels like quite the catch-22:  I have to work a second job to keep at the church, but working a second job makes working the church job almost impossible.

I want to get the people fired up to reach out, but I don't want to beat them down because they have been beaten down before.

It feels so "rock and a hard place."  I guess it is a good thing that I am not working so that I can have some time to process this whole thing.

11 Months to Go!

(Gosh, seems like Christmas was just a month ago!)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Us vs. Them

Jan. 24, 2010  Epiphany 3 Year C  1 Corinth. 12:12-31a  Rev. Benton Quest

There has always been an experiment I wanted to do.  I wanted to take the “Men” and “Women” signs off the rest rooms and change them.  Now I wasn’t going to do anything mean like put the “Men’s” sign on the “Women’s” restroom and place the “Women’s” sign on the Men’s, what I was going to do was replace the signs with ones that read “Us” and “Them.”  After I put the signs up, I would ask the people why they chose either “Us” or “Them.”  What were the criteria that made a person an “Us” or made that person a “Them”?  It could be kind of fun!
Then I was thinking, “This experiment has all kinds of potential for expansion.  We could add signs on the doors to clubs like the Eagles or the YMCA.  We could put signs up on grocery stores and department stores doors.  We could put signs up on the doors to bars and restaurants!  While we are at it, we could put signs up on the doors to Churches!  We could put “Us” and “Them” signs all over the place!
So how would these Us/Them doors work?  Of course the “Us” door would lead into the place where the person was going.  The “Us” door would get the person to the destination they sought.  But what about the “Them” door? What would happen if a person went through the “Them” door?  At the Eagles club, maybe it would lead back to the kitchen.  At the Y it might lead to the janitor’s closet.  At the grocery store it might lead to the food stamp line.  At the restaurant, it just might lead right out the back door.  If we had a “Them” door here at St. Swithin’s, where might that door lead?
Now I am not trying to come down hard on you; we all divide people up into us/them groups.  “Us” people are usually people who are like us; people who have the same color skin, same language, or same nationality as us. “Them” people are usually the people who are different; people who may not look like us or act like us or share our political views.  It is natural to divide people into us/them groups.  There are those of us who believe there are two groups of people and then there are “them” other people who don’t believe there are two groups.
Our usual response to the other group -- to “them” -- is to see them as marginal.  We usually see our side as good and needed while their side is bad and wasteful.  If what makes us “Us” is our ability to speak English, then those who don’t speak English are seen as lazy or uncaring, as in, “They should learn the language if they want to live here.”  If what makes us “Us” is our employment, then those who have no jobs are seen as unmotivated and mooching off the system.  It is generally assumed that what is “Us” is “Good.” 
As I said, to look upon “Them” as something bad or at least something neutral is our usual response.  And we would usually like to say that since it is our “natural response” it is ok.  But it is not ok.  It is attitudes like this that made slavery possible. It is attitudes like this that allow genocide to still flourish in our world.  It may be natural to divide up into “Us” and “Them,” but that is not ok.  Besides, as Christians we are asked to be more.  As Christians we are called to be more than just “natural.”  As Christians we are called to realize that there is no “Us” or “Them.”  As Christians, we are called to see that there is only God and God’s people.
Our reading from Corinthians tells us that we are all here for the service of God.  We have all been given gifts and talents with which to serve.  We each have a unique assortment of traits that can be used by God for God’s greater glory.  Each and every one of us has something to contribute to the body of Christ, the church.  I will say that again, every one of us has something to contribute to the body of Christ; no one is left out.
Sometimes we like to look upon our strengths, our talents, our gifts as the most important gifts.  We like to think that God has specially blessed us.  What we have, what makes us “Us,” is what is important.  What they have, what makes them “Them,” needs to be changed so as to be more like us!  We may think that way, but what a boring world that would be!  And frankly, if the world were full of people like me, it would be quite chaotic!
But everyone has their God given gifts.  Even though I may not like what Rush Limbaugh has to say, he has the unique gift of making me so angry that I stay awake during long drives.  I may get frustrated with people who are really time driven, but they help me turn my dreams into reality.   Even those people whom we find most annoying have something to offer, some gift to give.  These people are also a gift from God.
I find that I lose sight of the gifts of others when I close my vision in and consider only my dreams and desires.  When I am only working on my agenda I begin to see people in terms of how they can help my cause or hinder my cause.  I neglect to see them as God sees them; as marvelous and wonderful creations.  And I must say that when I reduce people only to how they are useful to me, I do that to my detriment.  I am sure there are many wonderful people I have passed by just because they did not fit into my definition of “useful” or “Us.”
But see, all of these various gifts and talents that surround us, they are all given by God.  All of these gifts are given to aid us in the work of the Spirit.  All of the many parts of the body, the members of Christ’s family, are gathered to serve the one who made us and redeemed us.  Each person is important in this great body of Christ!  None are higher or lower, the scripture tells us that the “weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor.”  All are important!
There is a benefit to being a part of the body of Christ.  Because we are all part of the body and because all of us are unique and needed, none of us has to be everything.  Your gifts become mine and my gifts become yours.  In using our gifts to serve Christ, we also serve each other.
That is how I can say to you here today; today’s gospel reading is as true now as it was when Jesus first uttered the words.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  No one of us can bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives, and give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.  No one person can do that, only Jesus could do that.  But gathered together as the body of Christ, we are able to do so much more than we could do alone.  As we bring our gifts to the table, we realize that all people are called and all people are blessed in service.  In serving the One, we are blessed to serve the many.  Us/Them categories disappear.  The light and love of Christ is bog enough for us all.
The reign of God on earth may seem impossible to attain and quite frankly it is.  Alone we cannot ever approach anything even near to what the Prophet Isaiah saw.  Alone we do not have the gifts or talents.  Among “Us” we have a better chance.  When we gather as “Us” we have more skills and talent.  We more closely resemble the body of Christ.  But when it is just “Us” we still fall short.  We still are missing some of the important parts of the body!  We are missing “THEM!”
When we realize that in God’s eyes there is no “Us” or “Them”, we begin to see that a whole new world of possibilities opens to us and to the world we inhabit.  When we remove the stigma of Them, we begin to see how much we really have in common.  When we see that we are all fallen people but also all forgiven in Christ, we can begin to see differences not as means of separating us from each other but as a way of bringing us together; it is then that we begin to realize the reign of God in our world.
It is a great circle!  We come as many to Christ.  Through the lens of Christ we see that if one is missing from the body, the body suffers.  Then the one, Christ, gives us the strength to combine our strengths and talents to go out to those who have not yet heard the good news!  Then we, with those to whom we have reached, return to Christ to be strengthened and again sent into the world!
No more “Us,” no more “Them.”  Just the people of God reaching out to the people of God; those who have found shelter reaching out to those who are still ravaged by the elements.  Just as we can’t sleep when our feet are cold, we cannot rest until the people of God have been found.  Can we do it?  Can we reach the whole world?  Not on our own.  But when we put our talents together for the one, the One will empower us in ways we never thought possible!  We can reach out knowing that Christ reached out to us first.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Going Into The Last Week

Well, I have 40 hours left at the land 'o Bux.  I am not sad at all.  I wish things were a little more settled, but I am not upset to be leaving. 

What I find interesting is the change in attitudes that I see.  Maybe it is just that I am less tense so I am not injecting my tension into the system.  Also the Lead Barista FINALLY CAME OUT!  Not that I didn't have it figured out.  But the Lead has a few control issues.  He told me that that he came out to me because it was the right time.  I know that he had been told that he would be sleeping alone if he didn't come out.  (Oh the stories we tell ourselves!)

I still wonder about my part in this whole thing.  It is no secret that I really don't like the job and that it really is not suited to my personality type.  But I hoped I would be adult enough to put those things aside and just do what I needed to.  However, I just found that it became intolerable.  How do people do this for years and years?  How do intelligent people do menial jobs and not go all postal?

Well, the weekend was busy.  Hopefully after this week there will be a time to rest after this whole ting is done.  And hopefully there will be job appearing soon!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Diminishing Life at Work

How nuts is the place where I (currently) work? I put in my 2-Week notice to my middle manager on Monday. On Friday, my immediate supervisor looked at the schedule and saw a note saying "Happy Trails Ben!" and asked, "What, are you going somewhere?"

I said, "Yes, I put in my notice on Monday. My last day is next Friday." She shook her head and walked away.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pull out those gifts!

Just a few short weeks ago we celebrated Christmas.  By now most the decorations are put away or at least sitting in boxes in the living room waiting to go to the basement or attic.  How many of you got gifts for Christmas?  How many of you left those gifts wrapped and stuck them unopened in the closet?  Not many of us would even think of leaving those pretty packages unopened.  No, we tend to tear into them to see what Aunt Mary or that friend from work got us.  Sometimes, we find something special; other times we wonder what the giver was thinking in giving us THAT!  You know the kind of things I mean – kind of like the pink bunny pajamas in the movie, “A Christmas Story”.  Usually, people give some thought to the gifts we give – we take time to consider the person and to give something that “fits the person.”
Our epistle lesson talks about gifts that we are given by the Holy Spirit.  Paul starts this chapter telling us that he does not want us to be ignorant about spiritual gifts.  People in the Corinthian church were aware of the gifts, but the gifts were becoming a source of classism.  People with the gift of tongues, for instance, thought themselves somehow better, more blessed or more important than someone with some of those “other” gifts.  Paul was writing to set the record straight – All of the gifts are important, none more so than any other.
All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit come from one source – the Holy Spirit.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are exactly that, gifts.  We do not have a whole lot of say in what we get or what those around us might get.  The Holy Spirit does not give us a gift card that allows us to select our favorite gift.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed upon us. 
When I think of the distribution of gifts, I picture the sorting hat from Harry Potter – the Holy Spirit carefully considers each individual and distributes to each person a unique blending of gifts that will be suit that person and also best serve the common good.  It is this blend that is important.  And it is this blend of gifts that we need to recognize and celebrate!
Imagine if everyone here today was a brilliant preacher, but no one had the gift of generosity.  We’d have a lot of wonderful sermons, but because we did not have the money to pay the utilities and taxes, we would have nowhere to meet and to listen.  Every person, and indeed every congregation, is given the unique blend of gifts that, when discovered, developed, and displayed, will empower that person or congregation to best function as a part of the reign of God on earth.  But, still, unfortunately, we tend to fall into the old patterns, and the old assumptions, that the Corinthians did all those years ago.
Also, unfortunately, it is these assumptions that get in our way and may prevent us from doing the truly miraculous!  You know, everything we see around us didn’t just appear.  It happened because someone had an idea and trusted the idea.  Someone went out on a limb and decided that the idea, no matter how small, was worth pursuing.  All of this came about because someone didn’t believe when he or she was told that their gift was not good enough or big enough or whatever. 
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tomorrow.  It would be easy to just look at Martin Luther King and think he was some super human person.  It would be easy to think he was something beyond what we could ever be.  It would be easy to think that he had special gifts and that God loved him more.  But if we are truthful with ourselves, we know that he was not so different from you or me.  He was a person just like us. 
What would be the state of the African American community if Martin Luther King had ignored his gifts or had thought that he should have had a different mix of gifts?  What would have happened if someone had told him that his gifts were not good enough?  We don’t know, but just think what if King had just stayed at his church in Montgomery, Alabama.  The lives of millions of people and indeed the way of the world would have been worse off if he had believed his gifts were not good enough or refused to use the gifts he had been given.  Thankfully, he rose to the call on his life and used his gifts for the good of humanity and through him the world was changed forever.
We may never change the world, but we can change a life.  We may never change the destiny of a people, but we can change the life of our community.  We may never have a day set aside to honor our life, but that doesn’t mean we are let off the hook.  We have each been given gifts and it is in using these gifts, and honoring these gifts in others, that we bring the light of Christ into the world.
I have been preaching about reaching out and going out into the community to spread the word, but unfortunately I think that many feel that we just don’t have what we need to be the love and light of Christ in Middleofnowhere.  We may feel that we just are not big enough or active enough or whatever…to be the Church here and now.  Or we personally may feel that we just do not know enough, or speak well enough, or whatever…to reach out.  Or we may not be comfortable speaking to others.  Or we may not be sure what we, ourselves, are actually feeling about the whole God and Jesus thing.  Or worse yet, we may have been told that what we had to offer was just not good enough.  But to believe that we are just not good enough to spread God’s love is to deny what the Holy Spirit has given to each of us and to us as a congregation. 
Sometimes I believe we do NOT want to be gifted.  Let’s face it, King’s gifts made his life a bit more “interesting” than most of us would like.  But again, this would be like taking a well thought out, conscientiously selected present and placing it in a box, never to be seen again.  I know I would be upset to learn that a gift I gave to someone was put away, unopened.  I am sure God is not happy when we just place our spiritual gifts on the shelf.
Sometimes, using our gifts can be scary.  We do not know how people will react.  But it is at times like this that we need to trust in Holy Spirit, the giver of the gift.  We need to trust that the Spirit carefully selected the gifts for us and that the Spirit will be with us in the use of our gifts.  We can trust that our gifts are not there to hurt us, but to help us!
Through the use of our Spiritual gifts not only is our life is made richer, but that the reign of God is brought to the world.  How sad it would have been if Martin Luther King, Jr. had ignored his gifts and never shared his dream with the world.  How sad if we down-play or ignore the gifts we have been given and not share those gifts with our friends, our family, our community, and those whom God brings into our life.
We have been given gifts.  We are asked to share those gifts with others.  We are asked to help others find their own gifts.  In this process, not only are others blessed, but we are blessed too!  How cool is that?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Counting Down

All kinds of emotions happening right now.  I am happy to be over with this job.  I am frustrated that the time isn't going faster.  I am scared about the future. 

At work, my managers are pretty much avoiding me.  The one who yelled at me because I wasn't doing her job has yet to even acknowledge that she did anything wrong.  Oh well.  The healer in me wants to try to help the system heal, the human in me just can't do it.  I have to realize that!

I still have a crappy work schedule this week.  I work 1-7:30 today, 8:30-5 tomorrow and Friday, and then 5:30 am - 10 am on Saturday.  I am not even going to talk about next week.  Next week they have thrown in the dreaded off at 7:30 pm and in at 5:30 am.  Yes, I love this job.

My biggest problem is that I just keep second guessing myself.  "Am I being a baby?"  "Could I stick this out?"  "Am I a quitter?"  I know this is the best thing to do, but the old tapes keep playing.  And having been raised Roman Catholic, those tapes have gotten transferred to MP3 and are on continuous loop!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Today is the Day!

If you are getting tired of hearing about the whole BUX thing I guess I have some good news.  Today I will be giving work my two-week notice.  If you don't want to hear any more about this, then I would send you to Swimpixx for some pictures of cute guys in speedos.

The resignation letter goes out today.  When I started working at BUX, (over three years ago), it was supposed to be a stop-gap position until I could find a church.  We always hear how churches are in need of clergy, I figured this would be a no-brainer:  Short time doing a seemingly fun job and then get back to the real work of doing the church thang.  Well, it wasn't so fast going back to the church thang.  And being in BUX has definitely lost its luster.

I am a pretty highly introverted person.  In the church, this can be dealt with; office doors can be closed while work is being done.  Or, in the age of laptop computers, sermons and other things can be written while having a BUX instead of making it.  But when you work at BUX, there is no escaping from the thronging masses; even when feeling overwhelmed. 

My feelings about being gay that I stated previously is not that I hate being gay, it is that I get so frustrated when people try to say that their opinions on all things GLBT really has no impact.  Yes, it does have an impact!  Nick likened this to the great doctor who could not practice because he was black.  Not saying I am a great preacher, but prejudice hurts us in ways we don't necessarily consider.  Also, I don't think people know how their opinions (and votes) truly impact actual people, not just imaginary or stereotypical "gay people."

I had to make a decision with work:  Do I change myself to fit the job or do I try to change the job?  Trying to change the job is the bigger task so I first tried to change my thoughts and expectations.  When I reached that "I can't change any more" point, I tried to change the work setting.  (A much more difficult prospect!)  Now that this is not working, I have finally decided that I need to remove myself from the setting.  Too many thoughts of hurting myself or others.  This is not a good thing!  (And me with no therapist or medication!)

Well, that is it for now.  I am sure more will appear as it occurs.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Night Time

Night is always the worst for me.  My brain always seems to be abuzz.  Tonight is no different.

I get angry when I think about my classmates going on vacations, buying houses, having full time congregations.  I get angry when I think of all those "normal" things that a pastor should be doing.  I get angry because I do not have these.  Not because of something that I have done that is bad, but because I am gay.  I left the church because I am gay.  I lost my house because I am gay.  I had to take my sucky jobs because I a gay.  It makes me angry.

I guess I should look at all of this from the viewpoint that I am still blessed to have some kind of income and all that happy horsesh@t, but I am not.  I am not feeling blessed at all.  (Well, that would be wrong, I am blessed to have Nick in my life.)  But besides that, I am not feeling at all blessed.  I am leaving a crappy, mentally abusive job.  I hate the person I become when I leave the job but I have no psychic reserves left to deal with anything.  I am unable to do the things that I love.  I love the people at my congregation, but they are not able to pay me enough money to keep me out of the crappy jobs.  Jobs that pay enough or are not so crappy do not have the  flexibility to allow for ministry.

I feel trapped.  I feel better about leaving, but am afraid that I will get away for a while, get rested, and will then be able to return to BUX.  But, by this time, the job will be gone.

I so want to trust that God will be waiting there to help.  I need to trust that God will be there.  If I don't believe, I am sure I will sink into the pit of despair.  I have been there once and do not want to return.

Nick asked if I would still be quitting if I were still on Celexa, I rightly don't know.  Would I be quitting or would I be allowing myself to be used and abused by a screwed up system?  I don't know.  But I keep on going.

Later Breaking Events

Well, Nick and I have talked about me quitting and I think I am in a much better place.

It may not be the easiest for us, but we will make it through.  The situation had become quite intolerable at work and not healthy for me.  So it is time to leave.

I think I have said before that there are some things brewing in the wings that could be very good!  It is just that I would like to have things happen sooner as opposed to later!  I have a friend who says we need to follow the rules of the Wing Walker and make sure you have a new handhold before you let go of the old handhold.  But right now, I think I am in trapeze mode:  I need to let go and fly through the air for a while.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Panic Setting In?

Every metaphor I think of has to do with drowning.  The most vivid involves swimming toward the surface of the water and seeing the light ahead.  And although the light can be seen, your lungs are burning and you can't hold your breath any longer.  Salvation is just ahead but you cannot hold on any longer.  So you take a breath and fill your lungs with water and sink to the bottom.

My father once told me that I could not do anything right and that everything I touch I break.  I know these words were said in anger, but they still haunt me.  It feels like I am destined to go through life breaking things and destroying what is around me.  Why can't I just go with the flow and be a happy Doobee?

I want to trust that God is in this and that I can just put my faith in God.  I want to believe that this will turn out well.  But I can also see this failing miserably.  I am so scared.

Nick is a good man and said he would stick beside me, but why should he have to go through all of this crap?  He didn't sign on for this.

I am just trying to become exhausted enough so I can pass out.  Sleep is eluding me.  And I have a sermon to write.

To quote John Mellencamp: "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone."

I am not quite ready for life to be over, but the luster has sure gone off of it.

Enough is Enough

I will be putting my two-week notice in at work.  Today was the day that did it.

Between working 40-hours/week over the course of 6 days.  Having to do church things.  And just the general frustration of working with a man who can get away with anything; I have decided that my tenure with BUX is at an end.

Granted, we are short of staff, but it is not like this has not been foreseen.  And we are lacking in proper trainers, not that this had not been pointed out.  It was suggested that I be trained as a coach back in August.  We have been without a Learning Coach for almost six months with nothing said or done.

Then today I get yelled at by my boss because I do not know who to call because the equipment is not working.  I had told the Lead weeks before that the equipment was not working properly, but nothing was done.  Now the Lead is not at work and I am supposed to be calling people to fix the equipment.  Hey, I am not trained to do this!  It was suggested that I get the training back in August (see previous paragraph) but that never happened. 

I cannot do church and BUX and keep from going ballistic.  So, the coffee job has to go.  I wish I had a hand hold to move to, but I do not.  But to keep going the way I am going is not going to work either. 

If you are the praying type; they would be appreciated.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

How Trippy!

I had a "Twilight Zone" moment happen to me on New Year's Eve.

Nick and I were invited to the home of a parishioner of mine.  These people are life long Episcopalians and were founding members of the my current church.  So what I saw on the counter left me totally speechless.

I walked in and saw a coffee cup on the counter.  Now, this is not something that would be odd except for the fact that the cup said, St. Joseph Lutheran Church, Middleofnowhere, MI.  St. Joseph was the first church I pastored!  Even more trippy, I was the one who instigated the purchase of the cups to give to visitors! 

How weird!  Life-long Episcopalians having a coffee cup from a little Lutheran church that is in a little town about 150 miles away, that I encouraged the congregation to buy about nine years ago.  Sometimes life just gets odd.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Moving Of The Holy Spirit

A while ago, Dr. Ur-Spo asked me to write something about the Holy Spirit.  I guess the spirit finally moved me to do so!

When I think of the Holy Spirit, I guess there are a couple of things that need to be made clear.  The first is that this is NOT a personal phenomenon, it is the phenomenon of a group.  I guess it may be likened to the Collective Consciousness of Jungian Theory.

Now, having said that it is not a personal phenomenon, it is a phenomenon that happens to people.  The Holy Spirit works with individuals.  I guess the best analogy I can think of is people moving in a crowd or fish in a school, each one acts individually, but together, they create an epiphenomenon.

This is an important point to make.  If the person just functions in a vacuum, that person may be claiming just about anything as "Spirit Inspired."  I had a parishioner who would call at all kinds of weird hours claiming the "Holy Spirit told me to call."  When I finally confronted him by asking why the Holy Spirit would tell him to call when I was out running, or why the Holy Spirit would care how many seats are in an auditorium, he finally stopped.

Now, that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit couldn't be working through the parishioner, but that is where the whole group phenomenon comes into play.  I believe that if something is of the Spirit, it is reinforced by the community.  This doesn't mean that some truly miraculous things can't happen.  I am reminded of the scene in "Field of Dreams" where Ray tells his wife that he thinks he should build a baseball field.  His wife's response is that it is totally nuts, but she agrees.

The working of the Spirit is something that cannot be nailed down.  It is a series of feelings and intuition.  But it is a series of feelings and intuitions that are guided by a community of faith.  And it is the community of faith that is the important aspect.

In the ELCA Lutheran Church, becoming a pastor is a discernment process.  When a person says they feel called to the clergy, it goes through a process of meeting with various groups to see if this is just an ego trip for the candidate or if this is really of the Spirit.  This process continues all through seminary with continued meetings for discernment.  Finally, the person is not ordained until a church actually calls the person.  I have known people who have gone through seminary only to not find a call to a church and not receive ordination.  These people were not bad people, it just appears that the Spirit was moving in a different direction.

This is NOT an exact science.  Just s each fish in a school of fish may not know why it is doing what it is doing, the group effect is quite impressive.  We may not be privy to the whole plan but we need to be willing to do what we can and be in contact with the community. The community affects our behavior and we affect the behavior of the community.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

What Is Happening

Well, I am home alone on a Sunday afternoon. This is kind of a rarity for me. Usually, I am accompanying Nick as we travel  up to his congregation and then back home afterward.  I was feeling tired and decided to stay home.

Tired is feeling that I seem to be getting too used to.  We have lost one-third of the work staff at BUX, and this happened right before Christmas.  We now have four people to staff the place, 13 hours per day, seven days per week.  I had been trying to get LESS hours but now I am back up to 40 hours per week.  We also do not have a learning coach.  This was supposed to be remedied back in August.  Now, we will have to train two people and we have a Lead Barista who likes the limelight.  Last time something like this happened, we ended up doing the training while the Lead got the extra pay for doing the training.  THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

I do know from a credible source the the Lead has been getting more sex in the past three weeks than he has had in his whole life.  I hope this will make the Lead easier to work with.  I do know that he has been in a better mood and less ego-centric.  That is a good thing.

Nick and I have started to take down the Christmas decorations.  I really don't feel like Christmas even happened.  Taking down the decorations is sad, but leaving them up is also rather sad.  Having them up reminds me that Christmas was a bust, but taking them down feels like we haven't even celebrated.

I am not sure how long I can keep going at this pace.  I already see things I do not like in myself.  I find myself getting snappy with my coworkers.  I had trouble focusing during church this morning.  I hate it when I cannot keep track of what has been happening.  I should be able to do a church service with my eyes closed, but now twice within the past two weeks I just drew a complete blank.  (How embarrassing!)

I need to get some things done here.  I need to finish Nick's Christmas present.  I told him that I would rather give him his present late as opposed to giving him a piece of crap.  (Unless I were to give him a Mr. Hankie!)  So I have some things I need to do.

I am also a bit frustrated.  My computer is about to die.  I have had it for almost 10 years.  I need it (well, I guess I don't NEED it, but it makes my life a whole lot easier!) for sermon writing.  I cannot even afford a netbook.  I also know that my congregation could not afford to buy me a computer.

I so hope a full-time call comes through soon.  I am not sure how long I can keep going.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Home By a Different Route

I think one of the problems that we, those of us who are life long Christians, have is that we tend to approach the various Bible stories in an “I already know that story” manner.  I know I have mentioned this before.  And, yep!  This Sunday we have another of those stories that we can just gloss over if we are not careful.
We know the story:  Wise men see star.  Wise men bring totally impractical gifts.  Wise men go home never to be heard from again.  Now if we want to get a little deeper into the story, we may bring up the idea that we are not really sure who the three wise men were or if there was even three of them.  We also may bring up the fact the wise men did not return to tell Herod that they found had in fact found the baby nor where the baby was.
We know these things, but what do we learn from the whole thing, the whole story?  Really, with that understanding of the arrival of the magi, all we get is a few more figurines to place in the nativity scene.  But with this understanding of the story of the magi, we don’t find the life-changing message that we should expect from the Good News of Christ’s birth.  I suggest we take the story apart and look at the characters and see what we can learn and how we might possibly be able to apply what we learn to our lives.  I suggest we look at how the good news of Christ’s birth and see how we can make those life-changing transformations that could be a New Year’s Resolution that we actually look forward to fulfilling!
One of the first people we should look at in this story is King Herod.  You know, he really doesn’t get a whole lot of thought when we think about the story of the Magi.  He is often seen as just a stumbling block in the Magi’s journey.  But we can learn some things from him.  As the Magi approach the region where the star seems to be leading them, they stop to speak to King Herod and to ask where they might find this one whom they seek. 
Herod’s reaction to their question is one of anger and angst.  He feels threatened – this baby is destined to become King?!  What does that do to Herod’s position?  He is fearful of losing his position of influence and power.  What’s more, he reacts in anger to the thought of being unseated, not by the army of a rival, but by a baby!  Not only is he angry that he is about to be unseated, but he is also angry that this news was brought by a bunch of foreigners!  Why was he – The King – not kept informed of potential threats against his kingdom?  Why didn’t he know about this threat long before?  If what the Magi say is correct, then Herod know that things are going to get quit difficult for him.  And you can bet, he is angry!
How many people do we know today react to the news of Christ with anger or worry?  Those who truly believe that Christ is “God with us” often worry that their actions of the past or present will be brought into the light and that they will be punished.  They believe that Christ is God, but do not believe that the gift that Christ brings is the gift of forgiveness. 
There are others who react in anger at the very hint that there might be one in their midst who is more important than they are.  We tend to live in an age where position and power seem to be everything, and for a lot of folks, having either of those threatened draws the same kind of response as that of Herod.  A lot of people do not want to hear about Jesus.  They don’t want to hear because hearing and receiving good news would mean that they might have to change, have to give up some of their “self”, and recognize the presence and grace of Christ in others.
But Herod is not the only character in the story.  When Herod receives the Magi and is questioned about the birth, he calls in the chief priests and other religious leaders to ask them what this is all about.  It is interesting to note that the chief priests seem to have an immediate answer.  The priests are aware of the prophecies, but they appear to be apathetic to the possible fulfillment of those prophecies.  The priests should have been on the forefront, they should have been watching for the one the prophecies spoke.  The priests should have been the ones rejoicing at the possibility that, after waiting for centuries, the prophecies might finally be fulfilled. 
Of course, if this prophecy were fulfilled, that would take away their authority over the religious lives of the people.  They were very happy with the way things were and didn’t want it to change.  They were respected, listened to, consulted by the king, and wielded immense authority and power.  They had all they wanted.  Why mess with that?  Why let it be known that they did not have as much power as the people though?
Believers, and the church, have recognized and claimed the incarnation of God and all that accompanies that recognition.  Yet, sadly there is much apathy in the church – news that should be met with true life changing joy and that should be proclaimed from the rooftops is often locked away Monday through Saturday.  For too many, the public proclamation of faith in Christ would upset the status quo.  Our positions and priorities would be threatened.  The world, sadly, meets the good news of Emmanuel, God with us, with the same apathy that the priests showed 2000 years ago.
So, we have seen that the people who should have rejoiced the most met the events with anger, angst, and apathy.  But now we come to the Magi.  These strangers from far off lands came seeking something.  Very possibly they weren’t even sure why they were there other than for sheer curiosity.  Yet, they followed that star and when they neared the end of their journey, they sought help.  Then they went on to Bethlehem and there they came into the very presence of God – they met this event with awe and adoration.  They brought gifts; they knelt in reverence.  Their lives were changed in that very moment. 
How did the Christmas event affect these wise and learned visitors?  I always find it interesting that the angel warned them to return to their land by a different route or as some translations put it, “in a different way.”  We immediately assume that this change was for their physical route because of the threats of Herod, but what if there is something more to it?  Could it be that their encounter with the Christ CHANGED the direction of their lives?  Once they encountered God, face to face, their lives were never the same.  Once they were able to see the one who was foretold, they were not able to return to their old ways.
How does Christmas and our encounter with the living Christ, affect our lives?  Do we meet him with the anger and angst of Herod?  Do we meet him with the apathy of the chief priests?  Or do we meet him with the awe and adoration of the Magi?  Are our lives changed by our encounter with Emmanuel? 
You know, we never hear of these visitors again, but I cannot believe that they simply fell off the face of the earth or that they remained silent.  I believe that they returned to their lands and told the story of their journey and told of the encounter they had with the Christ Child.  I believe that the transformation that took place in their lives as a result of their encounter with God was evident as they continued their lives.  I believe they told the story with joy, knowing that the truth they witnessed was greater than any story fabricated by the world.
We are coming to the end of the Christmas season.  Soon, the “Welcome Home” bulletin board will be coming down.  If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that we had moved from the small church in the field, through Christ being born, and finally to the magi arriving to give their praises.  But just because the board is coming down, that does not mean that the welcome has ended.  Actually, the opposite is true, the welcome has just begun!
Just as the magi went home by a different route, I hope our encounter with incarnate Christ will send us out into a world in a new and exciting way.  I pray that we look to spread the message of “Welcome” to those whom we may not have initially considered.  The magi did not return to Herod nor to the chief priests, they returned to their home.  They did not go to the ones who had already heard the message and rejected it; they went to those who needed to hear the message.  They were told to go out and spread the message to those who needed to feel the love of Christ.
We have been welcomed home through Christ, but now it is our time to spread that same welcome to others.  It is time to reach out to the ones who may not quickly come to mind.  Our encounter with the living Christ will lead us to New Year’s Resolutions that can only boggle our mind!  The magi didn’t know what they would encounter, and neither do we, but if we are willing to reach out, go a new way, follow a star in the east, I can guarantee, we will not be disappointed.