Saturday, September 10, 2022

Harvest Moon Reflections

When did Christianity become so disconnected from the Earth? So separate from the rhythms of nature that bring us back to the place of wonder and humility as we find again the brilliance of life rising out of the water?

We headed to the shore this evening to watch the moonrise. I hated the resurgence of the mosquitos, which considerably dampened my experience (but since they have been fairly absent for most of the summer...No, I will not give these minute terrors any excuses as I sit here, suffering from literally 20 bites on my legs. Believe me, I counted them as I slathered on the Benadryl cream.)

A few of us gathered on the beach eagerly awaiting the rising of the moon, trying to guess where it would appear, all the while trying to prevent my children from splashing in the water (in their PJs) or making sand angels. It felt like a holy space, the anticipation of the slow rising of light and the delight in discovering the hazy red glow of the Harvest Moon before us. 

I knew God was there, though there was no Invocation (but for the casual conversations as our eyes scanned the horizon). There was no Prayer of Confession, except, perhaps, for the realization that there are forces at work far larger than us - that even though I don't see the moon (yet), the moon sees me even through the clouds and grants forgiveness for ever doubting its presence. There was no Proclamation of the Word or sermon but for the silent rising that declared the constant presence of a God that bears silent witness to all that is carried in the shadowed places and meets it all with love and grace. There was no Benediction but for the laughter of tired children running back to the car, somehow unscathed by mosquito bites but also sandy as all get out.

How much have we lost by not acknowledging and celebrating these small, sacred moments? Not as a substitute for the larger gathering of the Body of Christ (because, as one of my new favorite quotes from Rev. Lillian Daniel states, "Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon.”) but as equally deserving of notice and attention - a kind of worship that draws us back to creation and our utter reliance upon the very rhythms that mark time and season.

There's something about the island that allows us to come back to that space, that invites us to remember how much we are governed by forces beyond our control, not in a spirit of determinism, but in one that is a give and take of action and response, of movement and stillness, of high tide - and low tide. Certain streams of Christianity would have us think that we (in partnership of God, of course!) are the makers of our own future - that any future we so desire and aspire to is one within the will of God. 

Watching the moon rise, seeing the tide come in, feeling the sun slowly warm the sand, reminds us just how much we are not able to control our lives. 

I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this, except this evening, as I watched the moon climb higher in the sky, as I noticed other people share on social media their own rituals this particular moonrise, I feel the desire to dig deep and acknowledge the ways God is made known in Jesus who walks alongside us, is made known in the works fashioned and sustained by God's own heart, is made known in the gathered body on Sunday mornings and on Saturday nights to watch the glorious moon rise above the water.

I'll Stay Here With You

Right now, my youngest is going through a bit of an unpredictable phase when it comes to sleep. There are nights (and naps) where she will consent to being placed in her bed and will let me walk out of the room. There are other times when she wants to be held. On occasion, I have to pick her up and place her in bed 10 times before she'll stay. Sometimes, the only way for her to calm her body enough for sleep is for me to lie down with her and tuck her in once she's drowsy enough.

(No doubt I'll get parent-shamed for not keeping to a consistent bedtime routine. We've tried routines; they only work until they don't anymore...and our routine up until the actual bed is remarkably predictable).

A week ago, I put Genevieve in her crib upstairs for a nap. She wanted to be held, but I said that I couldn't do that right now, but that I'd stay with her while she fell asleep. 

Hearing myself say that phrase - it caught my attention. "I'll stay here with you." 

I had a conversation over Labor Day weekend with my husband's aunt and uncle who have been up in Maine visiting for the past few weeks. Part of their life's journey have included the death of a child and an MS diagnosis. As we were talking one afternoon, she shared a bit about what it was like in those spaces, to have so many relationships renegotiated because other people didn't know how to deal with what they were going through. They didn't know what to say, or didn't want to burden them with their problems because "yours are so much worse," or they simply drifted away. Over time, relationships sifted out and his aunt shared about the wonderful circle of friends she has now who embrace her for all of who she is.

We all have our share of burdens. So many people I know are carrying heavy loads right now, whether it's feeling the state of the world, supporting hurting communities, navigating personal struggles, or some combination of the three. Oftentimes we don't know how to show up in the lives of our friends and neighbors who are in the thick of it. Pain makes us uncomfortable, so we try to fix it or share uplifting platitudes or put some distance between us and our friend. We somehow think that if we can't make what's happening in our friend's life better, what use do we have?

Over Lent, the church I serve worked through Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie's book Good Enough. Reading these devotionals and listening to several episodes of Kate Bowler's Podcast Everything Happens have reinforced this idea that the impulse to fix or "help" those who are hurting needs to take a back seat to presence. Support doesn't always look like the "everything will turn out OK" lines we're taught to say - support more often looks like "I'll stay here with you. I see your hurt. I see your pain. I don't know what to say, but I will be here with you. I will bear witness in this season."

Isn't that the beauty of being human together? It for sure is about the joyful moments, it is also about the moments we sit with one another in the ashes. There's beauty in the hard places where we stay raw to the hurts and wounds of those around us. 

God stays here with us - so we can stay here with each other.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Finding Lost Things and Other Talents

A few weeks.ago or so , I went to my favorite beach with the kids. We had a morning to kill before heading off-island in the afternoon to run some errands. (I still marvel from time to time that I live in a place where it's so easy to pop off to the beach for an hour or two and not have it be a Whole Ordeal).

The kids immediately wandered off (mostly to dig in the muddy low tide sand) while I set about to my favorite activity (pictured here). Sea glass, sea pottery - all sorts of treasures - wash up regularly on this beach.

Eventually my meanderings took me over to a section of a beach where a friend and her family, along with an islander armed with a metal detector, were combing a particular section of sand and seaweed. A men's wedding ring had been lost the night before, and what had been thought to have been safely tucked away  in a shoe, turned out not to have been the case. A Facebook plea to the community had turned up some help with the search. (One of the folks looking for the lost ring gave me the lovely floral sea pottery piece that I'm holding near the tips of my fingers; it looks like it had once belonged to a teacup).

As I continued my own wanderings (eyes sharpened to keep watch for a white gold metal band), I immediately thought of the Parable of the Lost Coin, where a woman turns her house inside out to find one of her lost silver coins, and when it is found, invites her community to rejoice with her.

It led me to thinking about how we all have our roles and ways of being as it relates to the unfolding of God's kingdom - like in 1 Corinthians, where Paul talks about planting the seed of the gospel among them and talks about Apollo watering that seed (and the growth coming from God). Toss in this beautiful modern remix of 1 Corinthians 12 from enfleshed and there are so many ways to witness and embody God's hopes and dreams for this world. (Of course, I also thought about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, when Chief Engineer Hemmer tells Uhura what his purpose in life is: it is to fix what is broken. Layers of meaning there.)

Finding what is lost. Fixing what is broken. Planting seeds of hope. Practicing resurrection. Communication across barriers. Nourishing others. How wonderful would it be if we could all distill our purposes down to a short, single phrase? Our purposes get incarnated in a thousand different ways over the course of our lifetimes, and even then, we may find that purpose changing and shifting and intersecting each other.

In my household, I joke that I am the Finder of Things. I have an uncanny ability in recovering That Which Is Needed (be it a treasured stuffie, Ben's winter hat, the One Specific Lego, etc). Granted, this is something that I do for the other people in my house; I can only sometimes find That Which Is Needed For Myself. I have a visual memory and somehow my brain just passively notices and stores all these things so that I can locate the car key or the wallet or the phone when required. When looking for a particular quote in a book, more often than not I remember where on the page it's situated.

A couple months ago, I was talking with my spiritual director, filling him in on bits and pieces of what my life looks like right now and the time of transition I'm in as we look to inhabit our Very Much Still In-Process place on Fire House Road. I shared a bit of the story and how this property held so many special memories for folks on the island and how glad so many folks were that we'd taken it on as a project. I joked that that was kind of our Modus Operandi as a couple - the vocational bent of our shared life has been about bringing dead places back to life. He responded sharing that it wasn't just bringing it back to life, but a resurrected, new life. 

That's what we do in this kingdom life. I know others who are Nourishers, Practicers of Radical Hospitality, Revealers of Beauty, Truth-Tellers, Fishers of People. Each brings their purpose into everything they do; it's just part of who they are, as easy as breathing. It doesn't matter if they are pastoring a congregation, farming the land, restoring and renovating a house, retired, or serving lunches at a school. It's not about what they are paid to do; it's a part of who they are.

The ring, blessedly, was found on the path leading back to the main road. There was much rejoicing (which I got to share in.) Surely prayer made a difference; what also made a difference was the volunteer efforts of one man who used his gifts (and a metal detector) to Find What Was Lost, this bringing joy and relief to a family who needed it in that moment. There was a high degree of confidence in his efforts, as during the search he had shared the stories of all the other items he had found for others who had lost them.

We all have our purposes - our parts to play. What is yours? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Random Thoughts on Summer and Adaptive Change

 Summer is here at last. Our seasonal friends (well, they aren't only friends in the summer, just friends that are here in the summer) are returning. School is out. Days are longer and warmer and there's a certain change in the air that is the promise of lots of time at the beach - but only a promise because I look at my schedule and see a rapidly approaching house deadline, several funerals/gravesides/memorials scheduled (in addition to normal Sunday morning worship) and three days of childcare for the small one (and two days for the older one) and wonder "how the heck do I keep my sanity in the midst of everything?" 

There's a certain degree of intentionality with which I want to live and maintain our household, with lots of rhythm and routine (baking the bread for the week, storing the vegetables for the winter - even though I am a sucky gardener at this point, order the house, etc). I am nowhere near that yet. Right now I am in the throes of survival to get to the point where I have enough space to create the life God is inviting me into.

I'll be honest in saying that I'm in a Not Great place lately. I'm tired. The pressure to "make the most of this summer" is overwhelming from every corner. Now that the pandemic is "over", the full court press is on for activities, gatherings, Doing the Normal Things Because That's What We Do, and I find myself feeling out of step from the rest of the world which seems to have no problem returning to Normal with a vengeance. Except so many people are tired, or have reprioritized their lives and are more protective(?) with their time and energy.

I'm not sure that organizations and institutions have really grappled with the fact that the pandemic has changed the landscape of participation. Layer the realities of gun violence, the war in Ukraine, the January 6th hearings, SCOTUS decisions, and we're all just so burdened. The fabric of our society is unraveling - and to be sure, that's anxiety inducing and unsettling. So many institutions - like our churches - aren't immune to the effects. But, anxious organizations hold ever more tightly to those practices that are familiar, give comfort, and provide a sense of stability. Such adherence to the status quo doesn't actually engage with reality; it merely delays any adaptive change that might help move an organization forward and thrive in the midst of anxious times.

To be sure, many leaders had to have Adaptive Mindsets to the Max over these past few years. Yet now that the pandemic is "over", it is not the time to go running back to normal. It's time to step back, pay attention, notice where the energies are actually flowing and partner with that. I think about this particularly with churches. Discernment and curious questions are key in this time. Ask why people aren't flocking back to worship instead of throwing every band-aid solution at luring them back in. Ask why families have been so reluctant to reengage with congregational life. Ask why new leaders aren't stepping up or why new ministries aren't emerging. Ask what is happening in your community that is life-giving to folks. Spend more time there. (I can almost guarantee you that for most people, worship isn't it.) 

Such principles are always easier to talk about than practice. Many leaders - pastors especially - are entrenched in systems that have Acted in Certain Ways for Generations, in communities that have established patterns of behaviors (this gets exacerbated in small towns and even more so in Unbridged Island Communities). I believe, however, that the churches that are going to make it as we move into the future are the ones that can practice this contemplative stance together and who aren't afraid to ditch the things that feel normal for the sake of a thriving body that serves the community.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

One Year Later

 It’s been a year.

Looking back, there were some things I anticipated about the church I serve leaving the United Methodist Church - the enormous amount of work forming an independent entity, the need for finding connection and community in new ways, the importance of my own discernment regarding my relationship with the denomination that formed my faith since birth and the need to figure out where I would eventually land.

What I didn’t anticipate was how profoundly the events of Annual Conference last year would reveal how toxic a system the congregation I serve was leaving.

For those who took the time to call, text, write, or email in the aftermath of those days, I am deeply grateful. I didn’t anticipate how deeply painful those few days would be - from having your future debated without being able to be present to having the integrity of your ministry questioned to the outright manipulation of the process. There are many specifics of those days I do not remember clearly (though I can go back and read the transcripts or see the screenshots of the outright lies shared on social media if I ever wanted to remind myself of how horrific it was) but my body continues to remember these things. It knows the cost. I continue to feel the deep relational betrayal - not primarily from those who were most vocal against disaffiliation, but from the many who sat in silence, including those who had nurtured my call to ministry, supported me as I went to seminary and in the work of planting a new faith community.

In light of how those proceedings were held, even though there was a pathway created for retaining United Methodist credentialing while I considered my own relationship to the UMC while serving a disaffiliated congregation, there was no way I could continue to remain professionally associated with United Methodism and hold on to my own professional, personal, and spiritual integrity.

About a month after the church’s disaffiliation became official, I was asked to surrender the piece of paper that granted my license for ministry, despite it clearly stating on that document that I was only authorized for pastoral ministry until the appointment was terminated. This, of course, would clearly have been given that the congregation was no longer United Methodist. This letter, along with a cursory email checking in on my status before the church disaffiliated and a brief email confirming receipt of my license, was the extent of any official communication from the New England Annual Conference or its committees as it pertained to my experience. I sent in the license (decorated with the signatures of people who continue to affirm my call and ministry) along with a letter to the bishop, which detailed my concerns about the events that transpired on the floor of Annual Conference last year, with copies sent to my former district superintendent and the co-chairs of the Board of Ordained Ministry. (Incidentally, I know of no other local pastor who has been asked to turn in their license upon ending their appointments).

For those people who have reached out to me for conversation and sharing, I am deeply grateful. I appreciate all who have prayed for me and for the church I serve as we’ve navigated this year. For me, it has been a year of mourning, as I grieve the loss of the people called United Methodist in New England, who have been my community since I attended my first Annual Conference in high school. It has been a year of unlearning a lot of assumptions about what connectionalism can and should be. It has been a year of emerging relationships and networks and taking tentative steps into new beginnings. It's been hard and liberating and clarifying and there are times I continue to mourn - for myself and what I had hoped the UMC could be. There has also been incredible freedom in pursuing new paths and new relationships.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve never been much of an institutionalist. I’ve always gravitated toward ministry on the edges and in the more overlooked places, from the streets of downtown Haverhill to the resilient shores of Chebeague Island. I’ve always had a heart for God’s unfolding dream among a people and in a place, and I’ve sought to follow God’s leading faithfully. I’ve also been one to hope that the UMC, particularly in New England, could position itself to adapt to the uncertainty facing the denomination’s future, particularly in light of our changing religious landscape in our country. I also had a sense that God could work powerfully within the system and there were times I served on conference committees, believing that the work made a difference for the church and for the world.

However, last year’s Annual Conference demonstrated that allegiance to institution is the paramount value that drives the denomination, that there is only one permitted way to faithfully respond to God’s call for inclusion which is to stay and fight, and that there are relational costs to pay for divestment. 

To those of you attending Annual Conference in New England this week, I’m sure there will be acknowledgements of how painful last year was. There will be comments about broken trust, the need to heal. An image of the Beloved Community will be lifted up. I’m sure you will talk about brave space conversations and the hope of moving into the future marked by liberation and inclusion. To me, those are empty words, bereft of the work of confession and repentance. You want to “heal” not for the sake of transformation, but to absolve yourself of the guilt and harm you’ve caused - not just this past year, but for decades. I don't want to minimize the pain that others experienced last year, but please don't pretend that hurt and pain was all one-sided.

Jesus said you will know them by their fruits. What I observed and experienced last year - the lies, the manipulation, the weaponized pain, the silencing - demonstrate that there are more serious and systemic issues to grapple with than policy change. While full inclusion is a necessary step for justice, cycles of harm will continue unless deep work happens around how people extend grace to one another, honor pain, and entrust each other to God's care.

As you move forward this year at Annual Conference, please consider what that work might actually look like and have the courage to do it. It won’t be through empty words or hollow resolutions, but through reflection and repentance for the harm caused as part of the disaffiliation process. While there may be no way for me to restore my trust in you as a body or as people seeking to faithfully embody Jesus in this world, I pray that you may have the wisdom to show others more grace than you did me.