Sunday, January 30, 2011

Annual Meeting Aftermath

Well, the meeting went better than the I had anticipated.  Of course, the "interesting members" were not there.  I guess this is a blessing.  It was also nice having the observer from the Bishop's office there.  She is a great person and I think she did help to keep things in line.

I have one board member, a friend of the former secretary, who was not at the Annual Meeting.  The observer from the Bishop's office, was not happy and was about to remove here right then.  I am going to contact the person to see what is happening,  We may have one more person leaving the congregation.  Hopefully, at this point, the major poison will be moving out of the system.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Epiphany 4 A

Readings for this Sunday

If you remember last week, we were talking about how each of us, with our various thought, feelings, and life experiences can come together and be of one mind and of one purpose. And we also spoke of how we could maintain our Christian identity and still disagree with each other; how we could disagree without being disagreeable. We discussed this and hopefully started to see how we could bring our gifts and our talents to God and trust in God to use them to spread God’s light and love to the world.

In today’s epistle reading, Paul continues the discussion on how to be a Christian in the world. Last week, Paul asks us to be of one mind, and this week he helps us to understand the challenges we have when we bring our message to the world. Paul tells us that the message of Christ is going to sound very different than the message we hear from the world. In fact the message of Christ is going to sound like foolishness.

In our world, I don’t think it would be a surprise if I were to say that when we are allowed to our own devices, we will usually take the path of least resistance. In fact, there is an adage in psychology that says to change a behavior, find an easier way to get the reward. Why is gambling so popular? If we can win money, it is much easier than earning it! It is easier to do drive though than to cook it ourselves. For the most part, we usually look for the easiest way to do things.

And although we so often follow the path of least resistance, we know that the path of least resistance is not often the best way. Quite frankly, the path of least resistance can be very unfulfilling. We have an interstate highway system that can quickly get us from here to there, but in flying along through the countryside, we miss the little towns and the Giant Balls of Twine. When we fly from one place to another, we get there in hours instead of days but we also miss the mountain passes and the roadside artisans. Sure, we have gained something, we are getting to where we are going more quickly, but I also have to believe that we are losing something.

But Paul tells us that God wants something more of us. God wants us to have a full life, not just an easy life. And truly, when we compare the words of Paul to the world, the way of Christianity certainly does look foolishness. And Jesus fleshes out this foolishness in the gospel reading for today. We are supposed to give to the poor instead of keeping everything for ourselves. We are supposed to work toward peace instead of immediately going to war. We are supposed to speak the truth instead of just following the crowd. We are to risk the anger of the crowd in order to speak truth to those in power.

Our world would tell us that we need to look out for ourselves first, but Christ would have us look to the care of our family, friends, neighbors, and community. Jesus is telling us to take the harder path in life. Jesus is NOT saying that easier is better. Jesus is telling his followers, and that would include you and me, that we need to be looking for the better way. And again, this better way is often not the easier way.

When we forget that we are people on a journey, I think we lose a lot. So often we get so caught up in our arrival that we forget to stop and look at the scenery along the way. We get so caught up in looking to our afterlife in Heaven that we forget to look at the world that surrounds us. We get so caught up in the though of living with the angels that we forget to attend to the saints that surround us.

This kind of thing always reminds me of one of those trite saying that used to get passed around the internet: Today is a gift; that is why it is called the “present.” We have been given today as a gift and we are to make the most of the gift we have been given. But quite often, to get the most out of the gift, we need to put some work into it. To enjoy books, we need to learn to read. To enjoy friendships, we need to cultivate a friendly attitude. To enjoy the view from the mountain top, we need to climb the mountain! I guess we could listen to the book on cd or have a helicopter drop us off on the mountain top, but there is something in working achieve the end that brings us greater pleasure than if the end is just placed in our lap. In some ways, the struggle to achieve the results is part of the gift.

I once had a piano instructor who kept nagging me about practicing. He said that even if he could give me a pill that would allow me to play the Bach Inventions flawlessly, he would not give it to me. He said that the beauty of the music does not come from the flawless execution, but from the work that goes into its preparation. It is not the ease that makes the music beautiful, but the work and the insight that comes from the work.

So, too, with life. God knows that if we are to follow the way that is easy, we may have something, but that something in not going to be very beautiful. If we follow the way that is the easiest, we will have a life, but we will not really be living. If we follow the way that the world tells us, we will get from birth to death, but it will be a pretty lonely trip.

As we look toward our future together as a congregation, what are we looking toward? What are we hoping for? Are we looking for the easiest ways to do things or are we looking for the ways that will bring depth and beauty? Are we looking for ways that will just allow us to live or are we looking for ways to thrive? As we contemplate our future as God’s people, what is God asking of us?

Are we content with the easy way or are we willing to trust in God and try what the world may call foolish? Are we willing to just sit in the valley and think ourselves safe or are we willing to risk climbing to the top of the mountain and seeing what might on the other side? Are we content to isolate ourselves from those around us or are we willing to do the work of reaching out, engaging the community around us, knowing that in reaching out we may be hurt? Are we content to grab that which is within reach, knowing that we find the sweetest fruit higher up on the tree?

I will be truthful with you: This is not the easiest to do. This is not what the world would tell us. The world would have us go for the sure-fire pay-off and the safe investments. But our God and our faith is not here to approve of every aspect our lives; our God and our faith is here to challenge us to be more than we ever dreamed. Just like a coach is going to challenge the couch potatoes, our God wants more for us than just the path of least resistance. God wants us to experience more than just the usual. God created this wonderful world for us to experience and enjoy. God created this wonderful world for us to go out and share. God wants us to see the views from the mountain tops! God wants us to be part of the variety and wonder that is our world! God is challenging us to be more than just a little church across from a high-school.

Yes, God’s ways are foolishness to the world. And to those who don’t understand, it may appear to be a waste. But God calls us away from the world, not to make us appear foolish, but to give us a greater gift than the world can ever give. The world can give fame and money, but God gives us love, peace, and forgiveness. These are things that can never be bought. These are only gifts that can be given. And these are the gifts that God calls us to share with each other and our world.

So, What's Been Happening Here?

Well, tomorrow should be interesting.

It is the Annual Meeting.  I am not sure what is going to happen.  I am hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

In preparation, I have an observer from the Bishop's office coming.  Hopefully people will more likely be on their best behavior if we have "company."  I just hope that people will not get nutzo.

As I said before, I sent out  a "play nice or leave" letter.  It was a good letter if I do say so, myself.  I did tell them that I was not kicking them out, but they would need to change their behavior.  I got a letter for the Former Secretary telling me that the letter was hateful and she cannot understand why I am making mountains out of mole hills, that my attitude is what is toxic, and that speaking to my colleagues and finding out about the history of the congregation is rumor-mongering.  She still claims utter innocence on any of this.

I know that I am probably over reacting to this, but it is what it is.  I know that it is a catastrophic response, and I am taking the drugs that I need to take.  But I still am of the assumption that something needs to change here (and quickly!) or I need to go.  When I have extreme abdominal pain and I actually get excited because if I am in the hospital I don't have to deal with the Annual Meeting, I think this is very telling.  So either I need therapy, the congregation needs therapy, or most likely, we both need therapy.

I am actually planning on doing a preemptive strike by addressing the letter to the Former Secretary and the rumors she has been spreading that I kicked them out.  Hopefully by bringing it up first, it will defuse any plans they had.  I hate speaking like I am going to battle, but that is how it feels.

Maybe I should also keep with my initial plan and have a letter of resignation ready, just in case.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Being of one mind. Epiphany 3A

NOTE:  I really had a hard time with this one.  I think it may be too close to what is happening in the congregation.

Ok, we have a problem with the epistle reading for today.  How are we all supposed to be of the same mind and the same purpose without becoming carbon copies of each other?  Isn’t that what we think of when we hear this?  Doesn’t it sound like, if we want to be of the same mind, then we all need to agree on everything, right?  And I don’t know about you, but I find the concept of having to agree on everything to be totally undoable.  So if we want to be of the same mind and the same purpose, what does that mean?
I think the first thing to do is to talk about what it is not.  Being of the same mind is not just turning over and agreeing about everything.  Can you imagine how boring that would be!  It is not having an opinion or just biting our lips and saying nothing.  We have God-given brains and God-given intellects.  We each have a unique set of experiences and have gifts and lessons we have learned from these experiences.  We have a life time of experiences that God has given to each of us to build up the church, the world, and each other.  With all the experience that is gathered just in this room, it would be a shame to force everyone to agree on everything and to force everyone to have the exact same attitude about everything that happens.
If we are forced to see everything the same way, we lose the depth of experience we have in the world.  When we restrict the list of acceptable thoughts and feelings to a select few, we lose the emotional color that makes our world the wonderful gift that it is.  Our God created so many thoughts, so many feelings, so many experiences; to say that we all must agree on a select few to be of the same mind is to ignore the great gifts that God has placed in our midst.
So we all are not supposed to have the same thoughts, we are not all supposed to be in lock-step.  So what dose it mean to be of the same mind?  What does it mean to not be divided?
I think the problem with this, for us, is we seem to think that either you agree with us or you are an enemy.  Just look at the world right now.  If we were to pay attention to the news broadcasters, it would appear that the only people we can ever live with are people who think the same way we do.  We can only function with people who have the exact same thoughts and feelings as we do.  Everyone must agree with us.  And if somebody does not agree with us, then that person is not just evil, but Hitler and the Anti-Christ rolled into one.  In our world today, there is no room for any kind of civil discourse; it is an all or nothing proposition.  Either you agree, or you are evil; that is it, cut and dried.  And unfortunately, I think this “all or nothing” thinking spills over into our functioning as the church.
We can see this in the split between the fundamentalist churches and the more main-line churches.  We each take the view that our way of seeing God and understanding God is the only way.  If someone else has a different view, it is often written off.  Some may say that the people are just religious freaks, but others will often go so far as to say that groups are being used by Satan to spread evil.  As Christians, we should be looking for ways to be of one mind, to be united.  We should be looking for ways to see the best in the actions of those around us.  Being of one mind does not mean that we have to agree with everyone on every point, but it does mean that even were we do disagree, we do it with love and compassion.
I think to be of one mind, we need to truly rely on God.  We need to be able to give our egos over to God and allow God to stir our thoughts, our words, and our actions.  To be of one mind, we need to ask God to give us the words we need to say, but also give us the insight to see where we need to be quite and listen.  We need to add our part when it is necessary, but we also need to be open to learning when we encounter a teacher.  And then we also need to trust that God will guide us through the whole process.
When I think about being of one mind, I always think of Brenda.  I think I may have told you about Brenda, but I will refresh your memory:

The thing that I loved about Brenda is that she trusted God and she trusted the system.  She said what she needed to say, but then, in the end, trusted that God would work through the council and do what needed to be done.  She said that after the choice had been made, to keep trying to force her will on the situation was not to act in a Christian manner.
It is not that we can’t have a conflicting point of view, it is how we go about expressing that point of view.  Often a conflicting point of view can make the entire project better.  A conflicting point of view can point out downfalls that may have been overlooked.  A different point of view can enhance what is already in process.  To disagree does not mean that we are not of one mind.  To disagree may just mean that we have different ideas of how to achieve our goals.
When we act as Paul tells and work with the same mind and to the same purpose, we can truly do the work of God.  We are called to bring our gifts and talents to the table, but then we are to finally trust that the Holy Spirit will work in the process.  How this process ends up looking may be way different than what we originally had in mind.  (I was supposed to have a large church in southern California by now!)  But we need to trust that if we continue to work in faith, that God will prevail.  If we are of the same mind, we can approach our disagreements without being disagreeable.
So often I think our ego gets in the way.  We become too invested in “looking good” instead of doing what is good for God.  We want the recognition, we want the glory.  We get caught up in those things that the world tells us is important.  We look for ways to make sure that we are recognized.
Now, being recognized is a pleasant feeling, but it is only a passing thing.  What we are to do as Christians is to work to see that the Word of God is spread throughout the world.  We do what we can, we say what we feel we must, and then we join together and go out into the world.  We add our part and then trust that the Holy Spirit will move us to the places where we need to go.
Is this easy to do?  No.  But it is part of our calling as Christians.  It is part of how we show Christ’s love to the world.  It is part of our humility in being able to admit that we don’t know everything that is going on.  In being of one mind, we are giving the best that we have for the good of God, and then trusting in God to use us to bring God glory.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I Should Feel Happy

But I don't.

I got a resignation letter from the Husband of the Former Secretary resigning from the council.  Now I don't know if this means resignation from the congregation also. 

I just hope that they will be able to find someplace that will not have as many problems.  I hope they will be able to find a place where they can be part of a community and not be so angry over what has happened previously.

As I said, I should feel happy, but I am not.  But I do hope this is the beginning of the end.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Come and See

Epiphany 2 Year A             John 1:29-42              January 16, 2010    The Rev.Benton Quest

In today’s gospel lesson, we have one of the great tools of evangelism: it is not very hard and we can all do it.  This tool of evangelism is the simple words of Jesus, “Come and see.”  This is the invitation that Jesus gives in the time of the Bible, it is also the invitation that Jesus used to draw his followers to him and it is still as applicable to us today as it was all those years ago.
When we think about this invitation, we first need to ask ourselves, “Who is it that offered the invitation to ‘Come and see’”?  Well, that is a fairly easy one; it was Jesus, the Master, the Teacher, and the Messiah.  Jesus made this invitation, but it was not only made to John’s followers, Jesus has made this invitation to believers down through the ages.  Jesus invites all believers, and that would include you and me, to “Come and see.”  “Come and see” where life in Christ can and will lead you.  “Come and see” the miracles that Jesus will do in and through you.”  “Come and see” where a journey, undertaken in faith, can and will lead.  Jesus calls John’s followers, and calls all of us, all Christians, to “come and see.”
Since we now know who is making this invitation, the next question would have to be, “To whom was the invitation offered?”  Well, it was offered to two disciples of John, people who were seeking the truth.  Jesus was not offended that John or his followers did not “get” who they were talking to.  Jesus just saw the men before him.  Jesus saw the men, invited the men, called the men to be a part the greatest ministry in all of history.  Jesus invited these simple men.  Jesus gave this invitation to those who was not of high rank or noble birth.  Jesus gave this invitation and this invitation rings down through the ages to us.  Simple as we are; skeptical, doubtful, sinful, and rough around the edges as we are; Jesus sees beyond the here and now of our lives and sees our future; our future in his love and presence.  Jesus called out to John’s disciples, and Jesus calls to us.  Calls us all, just as we are.
If we continue to think about this phrase, “Come and see”, I would hope we would begin to wonder how it applies to each of us as people.  Do we respond to the invitation; opening ourselves to the amazing things that God is doing in our midst and in the world?  Do we really “come and see” or do we stand back and wait?  Do we keep our eyes, ears, and minds open to the possibilities that can be found in Christ?  Or do get so wrapped up in the ordinary everyday world?  Do we lose sight of the possibilities and power that has been promised to each of us just by responding to Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see”?  Or do we only look to the creation that surrounds us and forget about looking to the creator?
As a congregation whose founding call was to be in mission and to keep putting that invitation to come and see the love of Christ in action; how are doing?  Do we offer the invitation only to certain people?  Are we selective?  Do we look for people who think, or act, or look, or believe, or worship like us?  Or do we look beyond the moment, beyond the outward and worldly appearances?  Do we see the presence of Christ and that potential in everyone we encounter?  Or do we only look to see how someone can be of greatest use to us?
If we are selective in offering the invitation, then we are not understanding the ministry and teaching of Christ.  If we are only reaching out to those certain few, then we need to recommit ourselves to reaching the lost, the hurting, the hungry, the disenfranchised, the “outsider”.  There is room on this journey and at Christ’s table not for a select few, but for everyone. 
Imagine if someone in your past had been selective in offering the invitation --- would you be here?  Would you be on this journey with Christ?  I’m not sure if I would be; but I encountered people like Bishop Gibbs and others who invited me to “come and see.”  I encountered people who continued to walk with me and did not cast me out when it was discovered that I was something less than perfect.  I found people, who like Jesus, were able to look beyond the simple skeptic and see the potential that lives within.
But there is another question that still needs to be asked:  Just what was Jesus inviting John’s followers to “come and see?”  What great thing did Jesus have for the disciples that would be worth them turning their whole live upside-down for?  We are never told.  We are told that they came and they stayed with Jesus, but that is all.
If we extend the invitation for someone to “come and see” what is here at St. Swithin's, what will they find?  Will they find life as usual?  Or will they find something beyond what their previous life could have prepared them for?  Will they find the tried and the comfortable?  Or will they find the exciting and the energizing?  If we invite people to come and see, will what they find here be worth the trip?  If we invite people to come and see, will people find a love that will change their lives or will they find a social club?
As I hope you do, I find the love of Christ to be inspiring and life giving.  But for many people, Sunday worship is just another chore in a long list of things that are demanding of a person’s time.  Worship becomes something that saps life instead of restores life.  If we want to invite people to come and see, then we need to be sure that when they get here, they can find the love that Christ is all about.
The easiest way to do that?  Daily step out and look at the world with the eyes of faith.  Trust in the journey that is set before you.  Coming and seeing is not a one time event, it is something that continues throughout our lives.  And if the journey seems to be troubling, continue on knowing that God will not abandon you.  Share the good things you have seen in Christ with those around you.  If you can’t find any good thing that you have in Christ, ask God to open your eyes; they are there, it is just that sometimes we have become blinded by the world.  And always know that Christ doesn’t call the prepared, Christ prepares the called.  And part of that preparation is the call Christ give which brings you here, to the table, to be fed, nurtured, and energized.
Christ’s table is a big table!  Big enough for all to attend.  If you are feeling lost, then please, come to the table and see.  Come and see the love that is there.  And if you know someone who needs to hear the good news, then invite them to the table, invite them to come and see! 
Come and see, that is the call that is given to us, and that is the call we are to spread to the world.  Come and see, a life beyond anything the world can promise.

Nick's Santa for 2010

Even though it took into 2011 to get it to him!  But here it is, only seven more and the collection will be complete!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Letter Has Been Sent

Well, the letter has been sent.  What letter you may ask?  The letter that is going out to the Former Secretary and her husband.  The letter that says, "Play nice or go somewhere else."  I am so tired of it all and just want it to go away.  I know I should just "let it all go" but I have some difficulty in doing that.

What I hate is this just hangs on me and it tires me out to keep putting up the "happy face."  But when I do let my guard down, I become a one-trick pony; I even bore myself.  But putting on the false face makes me tired and crabby.  I really don't like myself when I get this way.  I just hope we can get this thing moving in a good way.

But the letter went out yesterday.  It should have landed in the mail box either today or tomorrow.  I am sure it will "go viral" some time soon after that.  What I am leery about it the board meeting on Sunday.  I will make it a point that we are not going to discuss the letter at the meeting and we are not going to discuss the person who has already quit at the meeting.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

More Late Night Thoughts

Actually, as of late, it seems like I have been sleeping less and futzing more.  To fall asleep after midnight is becoming more and more common.

I have gotten a letter written and approved by the Bishop, but I am constantly second guessing myself as to whether I should send it or not.  I really am not one who likes to cause problems and I am afraid that this letter is going to cause a BIG problem.  I am basically telling the Former Secretary to get on board or to leave.  I am concerned also for her husband because he can actually be nice at times.  He is also the reason people gave for why they are members of the church.  Just to boot him out is not a good thing.  And even though I tell them that I am not kicking them out of the congregation, I am afraid that is how it is going to be seen.

But to have them stay and undermine anything that I try to do is not ok either.

I just want to move to Montana and have a studio out in the woods where I can make stained glass and have naked soaks in the hot springs.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Year Check-in

Well, I know I haven't been too good about blogging.  I really didn't want to be whining all the time.  Things here in St. Swithin's Land have been pretty intense.  I just love getting hate mail and having false accusations thrown around.  I love it when the Bishop says we need to get over our differences and then the moment he walks out the door having two board members start attacking.  Even after the Bishop told the board that they were NOT my boss, the attacks continued.

Now we have the situation where one of the board members complained during the entire Christmas Eve service that it was not being done right and that we were not singing the right songs and all of this should have been planned weeks before...only to find that she left a resignation letter in my mail box.  If she was going to quit, why complain?  I have a degree in psych and I still don't get it.

The Bishop also told people that the Ministry Review was NOT a review of me.  But certain people kept saying that according to the contract, there needed to be a review.  Even after the Bishop said that he was my boss and he would decide when a review was needed, there was still argument that it was in the contract so it needed to occur.  (Again, the review IS for the congregation and the ministry of the congregation, not a review of me.)

What I find interesting is that the contract also says that I am supposed to get a physical every year, that they pay for, and I am supposed to get $500 for supplies that they are to pay for.  These points of the contract have conveniently ignored.

My anger with this situation is the selective reading of the contract:  when it suits them, they pick over it with a fine tooth comb; when it will cost them money, they conveniently ignore things.  Also, the Bishop said, "The contract is with me, not Fr. Ben.  If you have problems, contact me." (He is the first signature on it.)

So it has been a wonderful Christmas.  I am so ready to just walk away from the whole thing.  I find myself getting angry and easily irritated.  This is not fair to Nick at all.

A letter has been written which basically say to one couple in particular, "Your childish behavior needs to stop."  We will see how that goes over.  Probably like a fart in church.