Friday, January 31, 2014

What does it mean?

Today, I heard someone talk about being engaged to a "Christian" man.  That started me thinking.  What do we mean when we say someone is Christian?  That they pray?  That they are an active part of a community of faith?  That they go to Bible study?  Or, do we mean that they hold a certain belief about Christ?  Or God?  Or salvation?  Or do we mean that they behave a certain way?  With kindness?

I suppose many would say that being Christian has to do with belief.  But, I don't know about that.  I mean, a person can believe in Christ and do terrible the name of Christ.  The Crusades.  Slavery.  Oppression.  So, I don't think belief quite covers it.   I think Christian in its purest form means relationship with Christ.  It means responding to people in ways that love him.

That's hard.  It is much easier to go to church, go to Bible study, and believe.  It is harder to love him when it comes to our dealings with others.  The poor.  The mean.  The aggravating.  It's harder to love him when it requires me to put someone else first.  We talked about that this week in my little ministers' study group and the notion that we should consider others as better than ourselves.  That is so counter cultural.  And, yet relationship with Christ provides so much love that we don't have to compare ourselves with others to make sure that we are ahead of them.  We don't have judge the behavior of others to make sure we are better than they are.

Just some ponderings I had today.  What does it mean to be called Christian?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You never know

I write a lot of notes.  Well, maybe not a LOT, but I am definitely a note writer.  I like to write notes.  I like the personal feel of a pen between my fingers.  I like knowing that the card or paper that has touched my hands will soon be in the hands of the intended recipient.  And, I like the intimacy that a written note brings - it just seems warmer to me than a typed email.

So, I try to send thank-you notes when I receive a gift.  I try to send notes to people in the congregation when they are going through a difficult time, or when they have agreed to serve in a new capacity, or when I simply think about them and want them to know it.  I send notes to visitors, too.

Today, I was at the post office, and I ran into someone who attends another church but who visited our church about two years ago.  I wrote her a note.  She thanked me for her note, and said she keeps it in her Bible and moves it as she reads.  Wow!  Who knew that a note from two years ago would still be in circulation...and still appreciated?

I should know that.  I keep notes that I receive.  Some are tucked in my Bible.  Some are tucked in a drawer.  Some are tucked in notebooks and journals.  But, I turn to them often when I need encouragement, or when I need to remember that no matter how frustrated I may be, the work is important.  It makes a difference.  Sometimes, rereading a note feels like a little whiff of Holy Spirit and it fuels me for what is to come.  You just never know.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Judgment Day

I've been thinking a lot lately about, not judgment that involves hell fire and damnation, but the kind of judgment that can be so flagrantly present in our thoughts and conversations.  I am tempted to continue on saying that "we do this' and "we do that" but I'll refrain from that judgment and speak only for myself!

Something happens.  For example, a car pulls out in front of me.  Or, I have to make more changes in my dissertation.  Or, I can't get my gas logs to work.  Or, it rains, or the sun shines, or it is cold, or it is hot.  Something happens, and I assign a value to it.  This is good.  This is better.  This is bad.  This is worse.  Often, I will think it necessary to express my judgment with a few more opinions thrown in, just in case my point did not come across clearly.

A colleague recently said, "I am learning that I don't have to have a judgment for everything."  Wow!  He is right.  I don't have to have a judgment either, and even when I do, I certainly do not have to make it public.  Can you imagine keeping an opinion to yourself???  Who does such a wild and crazy thing?

But, the truth is, when I judge something as good or bad, I feel either good or bad.  When I make my judgment public, I bring you into my feeling, for better or for worse.  And, sometimes things are not so easily labeled.  Somethings things just ARE.  "It is what it is" is a saying that holds much truth.

It is not good.  It is not bad.  It simply is what it is.  I am going to try to remember that.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Breath of Fresh Air

Two local ministers and I meet for lunch and every now and again.  We've been meeting like this for a few years, and I always feel a little lighter after we've been together.  Sometimes we talk about church stuff. Sometimes we talk about personal stuff.  Sometimes we talk about upcoming services, or decisions we have to make, or difficult situations that we are trying to faithfully navigate.  And, sometimes, we just talk about Downton Abbey and cats!  Our little fellowship has been very important to me as a source of support and friendship.

When we got together prior to Christmas, one minister gave us a beautiful commentary called "Dwelling with Philippians:  A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word."  You can see that my cat is enjoying the book, too.  When I say that it is "beautiful," I mean that it is full of art, poetry, prayers, reflection, and the obligatory good scholarship.  I love it.  We made plans to meet as a threesome to study it together.

Our first meeting was yesterday, and wow, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed engaging the scripture as a participant and not as a leader.  I think we were all hungry for that because we talked non-stop!  But, it was helpful to hear how they read scripture as it applies to specific work things and things that we've learned along the way. I was so relieved when we scheduled our next meeting for next week instead of next month.

It helped today as I began to prepare for Sunday's sermon.  It helped me as I interacted with various people. It helped me to know that I've got good peers even rural JC!

I start 2014 very grateful for that.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Red M & M

Tomorrow is Epiphany which means that the official Christmas season is coming to a close.  I did not get my tree up until much later than usual this year, so I have been thoroughly enjoying the season after December 25.  In fact, I think my favorite time of year might now be those days right after Christmas Day when the pace slows, and I have time to try out new recipes, read books that interest me, look at the lights on my tree, go to movies at the cheap theater (and eat popcorn) and putter around in my house.

But, it always makes me a little sad how quickly my neighborhood takes down its decorations.  Of course, they put them up before Thanksgiving, but still, it seems a shame to pack everything up so quickly.  I mean, what better way to ring in the New Year than to still have tangible reminders around your home that the light does indeed shine in the darkness?

So, over the weekend, I was driving home after dark feeling a little glum that Christmas had already been boxed up for next year.  Then, I saw it.  The inflatable red M & M - glowing, moving a little bit in the breeze, and just being festive.  Yes, I know that inflatables can be tacky, but you know, I believe that Baby Jesus would really have enjoyed that big M & M.  Smiling and waving around in the darkness.

And, I thought, "We still have cheer.  We still have joy.  And, I am thankful for this big M & M to remind me."  This year, I think I'll look for those reminders all year long...the places where God's love meets our cheer...and even our sadness.  They might come in the official holy places like church.  But, they might show up in inflatable yard decor.  One thing is certain, I will smile every time I open a bag of M & M's.