Thursday, March 20, 2014

god doesn't take, god receives

Last summer two of my Stephen Ministers (lay church people trained to do pastoral care) helped me start a grief support group at church.  If you're not in ministry this may sound weird but... it was great!  We had a good group that was open to sharing, and with three leaders conversation remained thoughtful and purposeful.  

Since last summer, though, attendance has declined a bit.  We're down to three people, and three leaders.  Honestly, I love our small group, but the size has been a bit disappointing to me, personally.  Like most pastors, I get caught up with numbers.  "Where are all the grieving people for our grief group!?" I ask myself.  But then I realize how strange that sounds.  "The number of people at grief group is not a measure of my success as a pastor."  This is one of my mantras.  

In reality we've had a number of people graduate from the group, which is a good thing.  It means that they are processing, and doing well.  The scarier reality, though, is that I want people to need me, which is not a good thing.  Granted, it's something we all do.  And, I'm aware of it, which helps.  

I often find that when I get disappointed or frustrated with my work, God has infinite ways of humbling me.  And I was reminded of this yesterday when our grief group met.  Three leaders, only two participants.  My thoughts going in, while I knew they were irrational, were, "this is a waste of our time," and, "what the heck am I doing here?"  Just keeping it real, folks.  Pastors have bad thoughts, too.

As soon as the conversation started, though, I felt the Holy Spirit moving- as She is apt to do.  We started talking about how sometimes God gives us gifts that are confusing- how grief might be a gift because, in time, it allows us to be more empathetic people.  Sorrow makes way for compassion, and that is how God makes goodness out of the badness in the world.

The question came up, of course, about how sometimes it seems impossible that God could be involved in the bad things that happen, like when a child dies.  "Why would God take a child?" someone asked.  

As per usual in grief group I didn't offer too much, right away.  The talking continued and the question was discussed without interjection from the pastor- I like to hold back and see how the conversation unfolds.  And although I wanted to hear what they all had to say, in my grumbly, self-righteous mood I was not prepared to be blown away by what they had to say.

As if it was scripted by some famous theologian, one of the Stephen Ministers answered, "I don't think God takes.  I believe that God receives."

Tears came to my eyes.  What a response.  How beautiful?  "God doesn't take, God receives."

I had never heard this before, so if it does come from some theological source I'm not aware of it.  And, frankly, how much more of a reminder did I need that ministry is not about me?  Thankfully God doesn't keep score, because I was at a loss for words.

Sometimes we don't even need to pay attention for these moments of grace, because they hit us like a ton of bricks right on the chest.  These words that just flow from people's mouths that are so wonderful they make it hard to breathe in the good news you just heard them say.

I walked away from grief group reminded of why I love church.  Where two or three are gathered, there you will find Jesus.  Whether you expected to or not.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the internet, and sharing joy with care

We all know that Facebook is not the real world.  It's a virtual world where many of us only show our best, which is, I think, a good thing.  

Facebook is a place where we can share good news, accomplishments, and joy.  It's a venue to showcase our proudest moments.  But, that's also what makes it a rather taxing experience, for some.  

For some people Facebook is not fun place to visit.  It's a world filled with things they don't have, and probably want: the highest degree, a new job, a beautiful family, an engagement or marriage, a new baby, a great group of friends, a wonderful home, etc. etc.  It can be a painful experience to see all the things everyone else has, even if you remind yourself not to compare.  

On an intellectual level, I think we all know life isn't perfect for those people who seem to have it altogether.  But, it can be really difficult to remember that when you see pictures and updates of all the good things other people are getting, that you don't yet have.

I'm not saying that we should all filter to the point of never sharing our joys with our Facebook and internet worlds.  And I'm not saying we should sensor our pride for the accomplishments we've worked really hard for.  I'm also not saying that you should put bad stuff on the internet to "be real" or make other people feel better.  

I have seen some really beautiful posts on Facebook about struggles and grief, and they have elicited some amazingly supportive responses.  There is a place for that on Facebook, among other places on the internet, to be sure.  But, for the most part, you have to wonder what is going on when someone shares their low lows on Facebook.  And, you have to wonder even more when they do it consistently.  Sometimes when I read one negative post after another I cringe, and say a prayer for that person to go find someone to talk to other than the internet.  

What I'm generally concerned about for myself, and for others is this: how do I remain faithful in this specific world?  How do I care about people in this context?

I recently had a baby, and it really affected my perspective on the internet.  I didn't go to one extreme of never posting pictures of my child- I think Facebook is a valuable way for me to share this joy with those I love around the world.  But, I also limit how much of my joy I'm putting out there.  Do I post pictures of my baby every day?  No.  Did I brag about how easy my pregnancy and delivery was?  No.    There's a fine line, and everyone has to figure it out for themselves.  And the line that I use is this: am I really hurting anyone, in any way, by posting this on the internet?

Here's a re-gram.  Hard to resist as a parent, right?


I'm not perfect.  I've probably posted too many pictures for some, or bragged about something I shouldn't have that affected someone else.  That's not really the point, though.  The point is that I'm thinking about it, and considering the feelings of others.  

In my job I have the privilege of hearing about people's most joyful moments, and their deepest suffering.  It's a gift to listen, but it also makes me hyper-aware of what others might be going through that we don't necessarily see on the outside.  And that's why I try and watch what I put on the internet.  I don't want to put someone who is already hurting over the edge.  

Here's the last thing I'll say: people who don't have everything aren't always envious of what we have, either.  I know plenty of single, childless people making little to no money who are very happy!  And they're happy for others who are married, having babies, and making money!  So, we also shouldn't assume that people who don't have what we have lead unfulfilling lives, and we shouldn't' assume they're not happy for us.  

So, take this as a public service announcement of sorts, or take it as a way to be a more faithful, caring Christian on the internet.  Either way, know that I love seeing what you're all up to, and I love being connected to your joys and sorrows- virtually, and in person.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

this is what a pastor writes like

I am back after yet another hiatus.  Maybe this will just be the norm?  We'll see.  

Maybe I was doubting myself a bit with ye olde blog.  I figure what do I have to say?  Blogs seem kind of self indulgent, sometimes.  And, aren't there enough mainline pastors out there, churning out book reviews, discussing the latest current event through their own theological lens, or trying to amp up their hipster side with a post about how Mumford and Sons will definitely preach?  

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but good to check ourselves once in awhile, no?

So, I'm back because I was inspired last week.  You see, I belong to a little group called The Young Clergywomen Project.  We have a private group on Facebook where we share stories and questions, and offer one another support and ideas.  It's pretty cool.  And, last week, a young clergywoman, while wearing her clerical collar, was told, "you're not what I expect a pastor to look like."  Or something like that.  Well, SHE decided that we needed to band together and share with each other exactly what a pastor looks like.

We all took selfies of what we were doing at that moment with the hashtag #thisiswhatapastorlookslike, and uploaded them to our group.  And all of a sudden there were probably 100 photos uploaded of beautiful, smart, funny, brave, faithful women sharing photos of EXACTLY what a pastor looks like.  

I uploaded mine- actually, I was one of the first.  I added the hashtag #runrevrun.

I decided to come back to blog because my audience isn't just other pastors.  I write as ministry.  I write to support other women (especially young women).  I write as a spiritual practice.  I write because I'm a pastor with a congregation who might want to know what I have to say.  I write because the internet is a magical world where we can all be published.  I write because I am called, and faithful, and I have truth to share.  I write because #thisiswhatapastorwriteslike.

Just had to get that out.  Onward and upward!