Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fateful Meeting

Well, we are still alive as a congregation.  We may be gone in a month, but as of now we are still here.

The meeting was a whole lot of fun.  The one council member who decided to dog me when I was gone decided to come to the meeting.  But this was only because another council member asked her.  She would not respond to any of my notes, calls, or e-mails.  Even when confronted with her behavior, she would not say anything.  Then she was told that the Bishop had removed her from the council.  Another council member wanted to tell the congregation that she quit.  The assistant to the Bishop said, "No, she was removed from the council.  If she wanted to quit, she had plenty of opportunity."  When she came to the meeting, I asked if she would come into my meeting so we could talk, and she would not.  If finally took the Assistant to the Bishop almost lifting her up to make her go to the office.  When she found out she was not going to get the "quit" out, she walked out of my office and out of the church.  She sent through the other council member that she had also quit the congregation. I am sure in her mind I did all the wrong things and that I should not have called her or her friends on their behavior.

We finally got the meeting going.  We talked about what we did well and what we needed help with.  The favorite thing was the "Family Atmosphere" but their least favorite thing is the decreasing/aging population.  So if we don't want new people, how are we supposed to grow?

The big thing is that we have enough money to keep the doors open for about 30 days.  We shall see.

The Assistant had mentioned something about training me for interim ministry.  This might be a good thing.  I think I could do it.  It is one thing going into a troubled congregation knowing there is trouble and knowing you are going to be there for a limited amount of time.  When you come in expecting to stay for a while, there is a whole different way of approaching things.  The Assistant said that no matter what happens, this is not my fault and that I have done the best I could.

We shall see what happens.

And, yes, I am VERY tired.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Epiphany 8 A Where are your priority?

When looking at the situation our congregation currently finds itself, the first thing that I wanted to yell was, “WE NEED MONEY!  HOW ARE WE GOING TO FIND THE MONEY?”  I am sure many of you out there probably are in the same situation.  Truthfully, our situation looks dire and if we want to do anything, we DO need to take care of this financial shortfall.  This was where my head was, and this was the type of message I was pulling together.  I was all ready to approach our financial situation head on and grab that bull by the horns.  I was ready to hit everyone over the head with the checking account balance and say, “So what are we going to do about this?”  But then I saw the gospel reading for today.  We are to trust in God; we are to serve God, not money.  How am I supposed to preach on that?  WE HAVE MONEY PROBLEMS!  But with some guidance from a wonderfully insightful Canon to the Ordinary, I began to see that I had it backwards and that we, as a congregation, seem to have it backwards too.  If we approach our situation from a purely financial viewpoint, if we just focus on how we can make money, we are indeed trying to serve wealth and not God.  But God does not want us to be focusing on money, God wants us to be focusing on God.  And it is in bringing our focus back to God that we can find our way out of the valley we seem to be currently stuck in.
Our gospel reading for today would have us look at how we, as a community of faith, are serving God.  How are we showing the world that we are a community who is looking beyond itself to the greater truths we are taught in Christ.  Our vision is to be toward those ideals that Christ sets before us; feeding the hungry, tending to the sick; going out and making disciples.  That is what we are to aim for and where our energy is to be focused.  Once we have our focus set on God, then, and only then, are we to start focusing on other aspects, such as “how are we going to make this happen?”  Once we have our vision, it is then that we are to look for the practical tools to make the vision a reality.
You know I just got back from a vacation, so I am still thinking in a vacation mindset.  But when we go on a vacation do we just start saving money and then decide where we are going to go?  Generally not.  Usually we have a destination in mind and once we have our goal, then we start thinking about how we are going to finance this endeavor.  First we plan what we want to do, and then we look for ways to make this happen.  When we start out with the financial end of things, when we have a pool of money sitting there for “whatever,” it becomes too easy to just tap into it for “whatever.”  We need money to paint the building?  Just go to the piggy bank.  We want to buy a new instrument, just go to the piggy bank.  When we have the piggy bank sitting there, we can just keep taking money out of it for whatever reason.  And eventually we will find that the piggy bank is empty and we really don’t have anything to show for it.
But when we first focus on God and on serving God, we have goals for the money in the piggy bank.  Just as we are more likely to save money if we are planning a trip to Italy; we are more likely forgo lunch at McDonalds if we know that money will go for the Food Pantry.  We are more likely to find the financial resources we need when we see those resources being used for projects we have a passion for.  In our congregation, service to God and a passion for that service MUST come first.  If that passion is not there, then anything else we do WILL fall flat.  Without a passion for service, and without placing God as our priority, we will become a ghost.
Now when we turn our attention to God, we must also open our minds to what God wants us to know.  Short of a psychotic break, God is not usually talking to us in actual words.  God gives us our talents, our passions, and our desires, as a way of leading us to find our full potential.  God brings us together as a diverse people to give us the tools we need to spread the word.  God uses our “God Given Talents” to help us be about God’s work in the world.  When we pay attention to these gifts and passions, we each can bring our part to the working of God in the world.
But why do we have such difficulty with setting our sights on God’s will?  Why are we afraid to casting a vision?  Are we afraid of falling short?  Are we afraid of missing the target?  Are we just afraid, period?  Often when we look to the future, fear is an understandable emotion.  But what is the thing that the risen Christ was saying to his disciples?  That is right, “Do not be afraid.”  Quite often we fear when we turn our focus away from God.  We fear when we place other things in place of God.  But we are told to trust in God and not fear.  And we too are told to not fear by the risen Christ.
The prospect of change usually brings fear, but why?  What are we fearing?  Are we fearing being left alone?  Are we fearing God abandoning us?  Are we afraid that our plans may not be God’s plans?  Are we afraid of not being in control?  We fear and then we stop moving, stop acting.  We fear and we place blocks to the changes that are occurring.  We become afraid and we move away from trusting in God and begin to place our faith in our own limited vision.  That is a very easy thing to do, and a very human thing to do.
But Jesus asks us to move beyond the easy.  Jesus calls us to seek the righteousness of God and to trust that God will provide for our needs.  Jesus commands us to aim for the vision that the Holy Spirit has placed in us and trust that God will provide.  The risen Christ tells us to not be afraid and to seek God’s vision and then to step out in faith.
We have also been given reason.  Going back to the vacation example; we may want to go to Paris, France, but we may only have the money to go to Paris, TX.  Just because we cannot go to France, does that mean we don’t go on vacation at all?  No, we keep the dream of France and work toward what we can do.  We might not be able to afford a full out pipe organ, but does that mean we stop dreaming?  No, maybe a different keyboard.  Maybe we need to give everyone tambourines.  We look to God, we dream our dreams, and then we trust in God’s working in our lives.
I believe God still has a plan for us.  I believe God wants us to trust and to believe.  I believe God wants us to be a community of faith that can be a beacon of hope to others.  I believe this, and that is well and good.  The question is do you believe it?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Bit of a Rant (or something)

(A bit of the same old, same old.  If you are getting tired of it (as I am) move one, there is nothing to see here.)

Well, as I said, vacation was a great thing.  Unfortunately, we have to return to the real world.  So I am back in the real world and I am not so happy about that.

I know that searching for "happy" does not make one happy, but is it really a bad thing to want to be happy more than one is unhappy?

I got back to the church only to hear that one of the council members, the one that has missed the Annual Meeting and the council meeting before that, and is also a friend of the Former Secretary, was in church when I was not there and was maligning me when I could not defend myself.  Then, of course, she was not at the regularly scheduled council meeting.

At the meeting, we found out that we may be broke by April.  So we have a member of council having a snit while the church she supposedly "loves" is going down the tubes and she can't get over things enough to come and try to save it??  I am confused.

Maybe I get in my own way, but I have to stop and think:  Why does it seem that the places I get called to are in crisis?  I look and see that the common denominator is me.  I have to wonder if I am appropriate for this life-path.  I always feel like I just want to pitch the whole thing and do something else, but when I look for what else, I can't seem to find anything.

All modesty aside, I am a bright guy.  It just seems like I have painted myself into a career corner and now I cannot get out.  At this time in my life, I should be nicely ensconced in a thriving church and having a wonderful time.  That is all I want.  I want to have a great time with my congregation reveling in the love of God.  Why does it have to be so difficult.

Again, I have to wonder if every time I get into a church I get frustrated; is this what I should be doing?  I can do stained glass, sort of, but not enough to make a living at it.  We can not live off of Nick's earnings so I could go back to school.  (Again!)  But I am frustrated.

I just sit in the living room and sink deeper and deeper into despair.  Am I trying to force something that I should let go?  I hope I am not expecting too much from life.  I mean, I only get one shot at life, why can't it be more enjoyable?  Maybe I am just damaged like my father would tell me.  (That probably is more what is behind this.  But years of programming by my dad are not easily removed, if ever.)

I have already written one resignation letter to the congregation.  Even though I am on "Happy Pills," I still get to the point where I just want to run away from all of this and do something else.  It used to be hang out in the woods, now I can add "being a beach bum" to that list.

I keep thinking of the veterinarians who have to deal with animals who do not understand that the treatment is meant to help the animal.  The vet keeps working and loving the animal even though the animal is trying to bite.  I wish I could be that magnanimous.  I am tired of being bitten.

I read in a joke psychology journal an article about "Thanatos Therapy."  This is where you, the therapist, get so tired of hearing the patient whine about their life that you agree that life is not worth living just so the patient offs themselves.  I don't know if it is me that wants to off myself, or if I want my congregation to off itself so that I can move onto something that could be better.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of course...

we gay people are pushing our sexuality into the face of the world...

Thoughts on Congregational Life

I know it probably seems like I court adversity.  Maybe I do need to have crises to feel alive, but I don't think so.  But with that being said, my congregation is facing another crisis and this could be fatal.

What I find so difficult is we have become a congregation of stagnation.  The youngest adult in the congregation is over 40.  We have four children who attend.  And the modal age must be somewhere in the 60's.  The congregation had been very active, but through things such as alcoholic priests, power struggles, and just following the path of least resistance, it has become tired and complacent.

It has lived off of money it had invested after selling the parsonage some years ago.  Now with the decline in the economy and the fixed income status of the members, that investment has been taking a harder and harder hit.  We are now hitting the account at the rate of $2000 per month just to pay our bills.  At this rate, we have about six months left.

I want to believe that God can work miracles, God brought forth the nation of Isreal through Abraham and Sarah, but when I look at the "Sea of Gray" in the congregation, I feel frustrated.  How can we be a thriving vibrant congregation when most of our people are not willing to drive at night and are ready to have "the younger people do it"?  The "younger people" are getting burnt-out and there was no concerted effort to evangelize.  Also, many people have left because of tension and strife in the congregation.

Change has started to happen, some of the "poison people" have moved on, but I think it might be too little too late.  The poison has started to dissipate.  But we need to make some big changes, fast!  I would like to say I am optimistic, but I would be lying.  I feel guilty that I cannot authentically say the congregation is going to live.

And with all the crap that happened earlier this year, I cannot say that I would be sad to be moving on to another location.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Epiphany 7 A Love Your Enemies

Somewhere along the way, someone told most of us something that will probably trip us up for the rest of our lives.  And just what was this “something?”  Well, it was the idea that being a Christian was something that would make our lives easier.  Somewhere we got the idea that the ways of Christianity were going to lead us to a life of leisure and ease.  If we just became Christian, we were going to have an easy life.  But what usually happens is that we find Christianity often makes our lives more difficult.  Our gospel reading for today gives us a view of how difficult being a Christian can really be.
The way the world would tell us to behave is to return evil for evil.  And actually, returning evil for evil is in the Bible!  In Leviticus and Deuteronomy we have laws of retribution.  We know these laws: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  This seems to make some sense when we think about it; if you hurt me, I hurt you in equal measure.  If you take something from me, I take an equal amount from you.  Sounds logical.  And it is also a means of making sure that we do not over punish or under punishing someone.  It does make sense.  But as Gandhi would say, if we follow this law of an eye for an eye, all it does is leaves “everyone blind.”  Frankly, if we follow this law, it does not bring any kind of closure to a situation, all it does is makes the situation worse.
But this is the world we live in.  Even if we may not acknowledge it, we still do, on some level, feel entitled to equal justice.  Many people justify shop-lifting by saying that the companies have taken so much from us for so long that they owe us the candy bar we popped in our pocket.  Or that the frustration we cause another is justified because of how mean that person was to us.  We feel justified in cutting someone off in traffic because that person is being an aggressive driver, or we feel ok gossiping about another because we feel that person has wronged us.  So, although we may say that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” it is pretty well ingrained into our system that if we are wronged, we can wrong that person in return.
So how do we go about trying to live up to the standard Jesus has set for us in our gospel reading for today?  How do we make the change from “getting closure” (which in my opinion is just a nice way of saying “getting revenge”) to truly loving our enemy?  What practices or disciplines can we set up for ourselves to help us become the people Christ intended?
Christ tells us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Those can be very difficult things to do!  But if we stop to think it through, hopefully we can see this practice as a way that can help us through the troubles in our lives.
I think one of our big problems is that we get tangled up in what it means to “love.”  We just got over Valentine’s Day with all of its images of little cherubs shooting arrows and big lacy, frilly hearts.  We get movies that present love as this big warm-fuzzy that will bowl us over if we are not careful.  This is what is presented as “being in love” and this is what we often think of as love.  But for anyone who has been in a relationship for more than a few months, there will come times when leaving the toilet seat up will not be met with, “Aw, isn’t that cute?” but met with, “How often have I told the idiot not to do that?”  There will be times when the warm-fuzzy can feel like a cold-prickly.  But just because we are not feeling the warm-fuzzies, this does not mean that we do not love the person.  What it means is that we are frustrated with the behavior of the person. 
And so it is with our lives.  Just because we do not feel like we want to jump for joy every time we see the person does not mean that we do not love the person.  And in truth, we may not even LIKE the person but we can love the person.  Love means wishing for that other person what we would want for ourselves.  Love means seeing the world through that person’s eyes and helping that person to achieve their dreams just as we would like others to help us achieve our dreams.  Love is more than a feeling, it is something that we actively DO. The pop psychologist, John Bradshaw, would say that the emotions are exactly that e-motions; energy in motion.  So Love as an emotion is all about how we place our energy in motion, again, what we actively do.
One of the things that I love about our God is that God is really practical.  God knows that doing good things for people who are our persecutors is going to be difficult, and in some cases down-right impossible.  When someone seems to be actively hurting you, trying to act in a loving manner can test even the most saintly among us.  So Jesus gives us another option; Jesus tells us to pray for those who would persecute us.  I think we can all do that, can’t we?  Can’t we all pray for those whom we feel are opposing us?
Who knows what will happen if we pray.  When we pray for God to shine God’s light into the life of another, quite often that light will spill over onto us.  When we pray for God to lead that person to understanding, we are often also led to understanding ourselves.  When we pray that God changes THAT person, we are often given the tools to help THAT person see a new way.  And sometimes, when we pray that THAT person sees the light, we find that it is actually US who are fumbling around in the dark.  When we angry or frustrated with someone, prayer is the first thing we should do.  I know that there has been more times than I care to count where I have said something to a colleague and the colleague’s response was, “Have you prayed for them?”
Praying for the person whom we find angering, frustrating, or persecutive, is a wonderful way of moving ourselves out of the way and allowing God’s love to work in the situation.  Praying for those with whom we are troubled allows the Holy Spirit to enter our lives and show us ways to be a friend to that person.  Prayer allows us to “get into that person’s skin” and see life from their point of view.  It doesn’t necessarily give the person a free pass, but it often affords us a way of dealing with situations beyond the knee-jerk fashion to which we often get used.
I had been told that one of the best ways to settle something with someone you dislike is to sit down and eat with the person; it is hard to remain angry with someone when you are eating with them.  The same can be said for prayer:  It is hard to remain angry with someone when you are praying that God being blessing into their lives.
This is not easy to do.  But if you are looking for easy, then you need to join a country club.  God is asking more of us than the path of least resistance.  God is asking more of us than to just do what is easiest.  God is asking more of us but God is promising more too.  In the easy life of the country club, we may get exactly what we want, but we are paying for it too.  We pay through our cash, through our segregation, and through the  rules and mores that are present.  With God, more is asked of us, but we have the promise of love, forgiveness, and eternal life.  With God, we are wonderful because we were made that way, not because we have lots of cash.  With God, the world is something that we are drawn to; to explore, to share, and to love; not something that we hide away from.  With God, all are welcome, there is no gate keeping people out.
We are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We are called to go the extra mile and to reach out to those who would attack us.  We are called to spread Christ’s love to those who need to feel this love.  We are called to move beyond our walls and become the church in the world.  We are called to be Christ in the world.
We will be having a meeting next Sunday after worship.  During this time, we will be discussing our eventual fate as a congregation.  We will be discussing the vision for what we, as a congregation, wish to be in the world.  Hopefully we will find ways to move beyond the concept of “church as country club” and move back to the vision of “church as agent of change” that energized the founding of this congregation.  We will be discussing good stewardship of our time and our finances and ways we can keep our doors open as we strive for ways to become the presence of God’s love in our neighborhood.  We are not looking for ways to just put a band-aid on things, we are listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit working among us to make us more than we can imagine!  I encourage you to pray for guidance over the next week and keep your mind open to the workings of God.  I don’t think God is done with us yet, but if we just choose to sit down, God will allow us to do that too.

Thoughts on Vacation and Being Back

Nick and I overlooking Chattanooga from Lookout Mt. 
Vacation was a wonderful thing.  I actually was able to relax and to totally put much of the troubles of the church out of my mind.  It is amazing what a few palm trees and the sound of the surf can do for one's psyche.

One of the things that I did notice while on vacation is how clueless people can be.  I don't know if it is just that they are away from home also so they feel like they don't have to care, or what.  One incident that comes to mind was in Universal Studios.  Nick and I were having lunch in an Irish Pub when a man started to play music on his guitar.  He had a list of songs and we were asked to give requests.  Once the man began playing, a child turned up his video device of choice so that it was louder than the floor show.  I asked the kid to please turn it down and he completely ignored me.  I touched him on the shoulder and he still acted as if I did not exist.  Finally the boy's male parental unit (don't know if it was his father or what) told the kid to turn it down.  Then the parental unit said something about being allowed to drink when the kids are occupied.  Why bring the kids all the way to Orlando just to have them play video games?   And how rude!  We would have been smacked if some adult talked to us and we totally ignored the person.

Then there were the two people breeding in the line to the Simpson's Ride.  If Nick and I had done what they were doing, we would probably have gotten kicked out of the park.  When I told them that I didn't want to see them have sex. they were offended.  But, of course, it is the gays who are constantly forcing our sexuality on other people.

I loved the laid-back attitude in the Keys, I could get to like that.  I know if I lived down there I would be broke!

Re-entry was fun, ha ha.  I was greeted with a letter in the newsletter by a friend of the former secretary telling the whole congregation that we need to get rid of the priest and the secretary so that we have enough money to sponsor a bowling team.  Well, not that simple, but that is the gist.  All we need to do is get rid of the priest and the congregation will just perk up and become a hotbed of volunteerism.  Of course this was not passed by me before it was distributed.  Another example of how there is no respect for any kind of authority.

We will be having a meeting next Sunday to discuss our fate.  A part of me really just wants to get out of here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011