"Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.... Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting."

Frederick Buechner

Monday, October 27, 2014

Friends Through Life

Many years ago I worked in an office. It was a creative company whose clientele were some of the wealthiest in the country. The owner of the business was temperamental to say the least. It was a tough job. While there I formed a friendship with Sallie. In time she became the Godmother of my children and was "in the know" of almost every aspect of my daily life, the way really good friends are. Before too many years had past we both left that office and moved on to other things. I became a full time mom and a very part-time massage therapist. She went off to college where she got a bachelor's, a master's and eventually a PhD. Eventually I got two master's degrees and a new vocation that I've worked in for almost 15 years.

As life would have it we lost contact a few years ago. My many moves and some chaos and cell phone changes and so on and so forth meant that some relationships fell by the wayside. Her career, a full time job, and working on a PhD left her in a similar state. Life had to grow narrow in order to cope.

Once my life settled down I began the process of trying to find Sallie again. I tried to email her but got no reply. Her email address must have changed. I no longer had her cell phone number. (Did we even have cell phone numbers before we lost contact? I think we did). I tried looking her up at the university where she worked. I tried to find her through Facebook, but privacy settings wouldn't let me contact her to make sure she was the person I knew. Finally I found her on Linkdin. I never really use Linkdin, but I found her there and sent her a contact request. Within a very short time, (hours?), we were back in contact. Unbelievable.

Yesterday I met up with Sallie. My daughter Jessica came along to see her beloved Godmother and friend. Oh the stories! Oh the day. So much to catch up on. We talked and ate and talked and shopped and talked some more. It was delightful!

Good friends are precious, especially friends who have known us through so many life transitions. Sallie met me just after I was married. She knew my mother (not many people I know today actually knew my mother). She knows all of "my stuff" -  the struggles of a woman in her late twenties trying to find her way in the world. And I know hers. It's amazing to see where our lives have gone and how those early struggles have manifested into the lives we've lived. We have, by and large, managed to live the lives we hoped for.

A good part of our conversation yesterday was listening to my daughter express many of the same early struggles that Sal and I faced. I loved listening to Sallie share her story with my daughter. I've often told Jessica that her decisions are following a similar path as Sal's, especially not going to college straight from high school and trying to figure out as a woman in her mid-twenties, what to do with her life. I loved listening to Sallie's understanding of Jessi's thoughts and concerns.

I'm so glad that life has expanded again and we've reconnected. Yesterday was a day of celebrating life's challenges and accomplishments and, most importantly,  friendship.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Five: Sweet or Salty???

RevDeb over at RevGals offers this Friday Five: Ain't gonna lie... Even though there are no Trick-or-Treaters in our home, I still eye the candy aisle with undisguised lust.
What shall it be? Can I resist? Maybe you have a craving for a little something from time to time... join me for this week's Friday Five!
1. First, Sweet or Salty? Or both? Describe that gotta-have-it treat. (It can be healthy or paleo-friendly, or decadent. We won't judge!)  My go to treat lately is KIND bars. I like the dark chocolate nutty bars with 7 grams of protein and I really love the sweet and salty caramel bars with 6 grams of protein. YUM! And they don't mess around with my digestion issues. I also the Equal Exchange dark chocolate bars with almond or the caramel and sea salt. I like sweet and salty.
2. Self-control: How do you help yourself stay strong with the temptation of All That Sugar? As a child I loved Halloween. I loved getting a big bag of candy and then sequestering myself in my bedroom with a pile of books, reading and indulging in candy. It was not the healthiest thing to do, but for a couple of years it was something I enjoyed. Now I really can't eat much sugar, it makes me feel ill. So a little goes a long way with me. 
3. Have you successfully cut (or decreased) sugar out of your diet? How did you do it? I did! Last June I decided try to go refine-free: I cut out all refined sugars and refined carbs for a month. It did not make a huge difference, but it made some difference. I had better, more consistent energy, I slept better, and most of all I lost weight. I've tried to lose weight for years to no avail. This time instead of watching calories I cut sugar and carbs and increased my exercise a little and to date I've lost 14 pounds. I may have reached the limit of weight loss from that approach, but it's good enough. I feel better and my clothes fit again. 
4. What's one sweet you won't do without. Ever. Honey. I use raw, unfiltered, unrefined locally harvest honey in my coffee and tea. I started using it for my allergies and now I just like it. I also use a little in my protein shakes or on plain yogurt. 
5. Just for fun: if you were a candy bar, which one would you be? I use to love Almond Joy - coconut, almond, and chocolate! 

BONUS: Share a recipe or tip that uses up the leftover sweets at your house. At one church I served we collected all the left over Halloween candy from parishioners and boxed it up and sent it to our college students. It was fun. Hasn't worked here as well - not much candy is left over, apparently. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Selfie of God....

A reflection on the readings for Proper 24A: Exodus 33:12-23 and Matthew 22:15-21

How many of you have your cell phones on you? If your cell phone has a camera, take out your cell phone and take a picture of your self. 

Now look at the picture and notice what your see. Notice the color of your eyes and their shape. Notice the shape of your face and your skin tone. What are your thoughts as you do this? Are you judging yourself and being critical? Are you okay with how you look? Have you never really thought about how you look? 

In the last ten years there has been an increase in people taking photographs of themselves with the camera on the cell phones. These are called “selfies.” A television star name Kim Kardashian is supposedly writing a book called “Selfish” on how to take selfies. It will include some 200 selfies that she has taken. 

Also in the news are reports that there is an increase in plastic surgery since selfies have become so popular. People are so dismayed at the images they see from their camera phones that they choose to have plastic surgery in order to look better on their selfies.

Now go back to that selfie and as you look at that selfie realize that the face you see is God. It’s your face - but it’s also God’s face.

Does that change the image you see? Is it startling to imagine seeing God in your face? Are you able to see that the image in the selfie is you and is also an image of God? God has your eye color, your skin tone, and the same shaped face as you. 

God looks like each one of us and all of us at the same. God reveals God’s self in and through every human being. God is black and brown, pink, and white, olive toned, and all shades of skin color. God has blue eyes, brown eyes, black eyes, gray eyes, green eyes, and every shade of eye color. God has all hair color and all textures. 

At the same time God has none of our human characteristics - because God is not limited or confined by human constructs - God made us in God’s image - thus God is like all of us - but God is also more, much more than all of us. 

And yet, as Christians we know God first and foremost as a being with whom we are and can be in relationship. That God revealed God’s self in the person of Jesus, gives us the idea that we can see God in human form. 

Now take a good look at yourself agin. And then take a look at the person sitting near you. Yes, this will feel a little uncomfortable. But try it anyway. As you look at a person sitting near you, say out loud, “You are the face of God. In you I see Jesus.”

Just sit with that for a moment. “You are the face of God, in you I see Jesus.”

There is no need for any one us to be dissatisfied with how we look. There is no need for any of us to judge ourselves or another person for how we look or who we are. Each one of us is the face of God, in us God’s love made manifest in Jesus is revealed to the world. 

Imagine doing this with every person you know or meet, seeing them the face of God. 

Imagine how difficult this will be when we encounter people who are cruel or evil? And yet, God is in them too. 

That does not mean that God is cruel or evil. Rather it means that God is trying to call that person into being the best version of themselves that is possible. Christian teachings suggest that God keeps working in and through us and never gives up. So transformation may be possible, even after death.

Our readings this morning from Exodus and Matthew offer us ideas on God and how we see God, ourselves, and others in world. Matthew in particular calls us to ponder what we idolize. In this country we tend to idolize movie stars and athletes. We pay them a ton of money to look good in film or photos or to be a star athlete. We measure ourselves to them - why else would Kim Kardashian be given a contract to write a book and publish 200 photos of herself taken with her cell phone? 

Now I think selfies can be a lot of fun and hilarious. And in that context I am all for them. The danger is when we start to idolize looking perfect, and obsessing over it. 

The same can be said about a faith community. Churches can become too self-focused, worried about how they look or worried about finances or some other obsession that takes them away from their mission. Such worries take us away from God and keep us stuck, frozen in an image of self that does not reflect how God sees us.

Think about that - as you sit looking at your image in the selfie - God is looking back at you. What does God see? 

God sees a beloved human being. God sees a person that God loves deeply. God looks at you tenderly and with compassion, holding all your fears and worries with love. God looks at you and says, you are my most precious creation, with you I am well pleased. 

God does the same thing with our church. God looks at us, with all our flaws, and says, Christ Church in Dearborn, is my most precious creation. God does this for every church, every synagogue, mosque, and house of worship. God loves God’s creation. 

We have many profound ways of expressing God’s presence in and through us and out into the world around us. As a Community- Centered church we reveal the face of God, the love of Christ to those who come into our building for dance classes, martial arts, stretching, voice lessons, preschool, AA meetings, even to the postal carriers who come here every day. Some of them bring our mail. Others just need a place to use the bathroom and come in from the cold. One postal carrier gave us a $500 donation as a thanksgiving for leaving our doors open so she can use a bathroom or come in from the cold. At least two different postal carriers come in to our building every day for this purpose. 

We are the face of Christ as we feed hungry people. Soon we are going to ask for donations to our food pantry for turkeys and the ingredients for people in need to make aThanksgiving dinner. I don’t know if Leon’s does this, but if they sell gift cards we could purchase some of them so that people who have no place to cook can go to Leon’s for a hearty Thanksgiving meal.

These are just a few of the ways that we reveal God’s love made manifest in Jesus, God’s love in us, through the mission and ministries of this church. 

We are intentionally nurturing an attitude of gratitude. For it is through our ability to be grateful for all that we have and all that we are - without comparing ourselves to others and without judgement - but with thanksgiving - that we are able to become even more grateful. It takes practice. It is, as I said last week, a discipline of perception, formed by how we choose to see our lives and the world around us. 

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude becomes the inspiration from which we are able to Grace it Forward - sharing the love of God that we’ve come to know in our lives  - with others in the world. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Seeking One's Truest Self

I've been reading, again, Terry Tempest Williams' book, "When Women Were Birds." She tells the story of her mother's death and subsequent reading her mother's journals. She reflects on the impact they had on her. William's writes: 
In Mormon culture, women are expected to do two things: keep a journal and bear children. Both gestures are a participatory bow to the past and the future. In telling a story, personal knowledge and continuity are maintained.

"When Women Were Birds" tells an engaging story of voice; silence and finding one's voice. She reflects on these from the lens feminism within Mormon culture, a perspective that was unknown to me in my experience of growing up in the Mormon Church. The women in my family, although Mormon for generations since it's origin in the early 1800's did not keep journals. A few of the women have done genealogy and written stories about our foremothers and father's. But neither my mother nor my grandmothers kept journals.

I have not been a practicing Mormon for 43 years. I often wonder, though, if we had stayed in Utah, if I would have remained Mormon? Would I be the non-practicing sort, like many in my family? Or would I be faithful, like others in my family? Would I have found my way to feminist thinking within the Mormon church? I loved my church as a child and can only imagine that I might have stayed with it. Instead I like to think that I have returned to the "mother church" since all of my family came from England, Wales, or Scotland. Becoming Episcopalian realigns me with my early ancestors who were members of the Church of England, many of my family from the Manchester area who were married in the Cathedral.

My life has taken quite a different path than it might have. I look back over the intersections of decisions - "this?" or "that?" and wonder how it might have played out if I had made other decisions. Now, almost sixty years old, I cast my gaze over the years of my life, what was, what is, what never will be.

I'm sad that my life has included so many disconnections from my family of origin. Even now, making an effort to stay in touch with my long distant family is a challenge. We don't call one another. At best we might text or "like" something on Facebook. This is not a criticism, it is just an observation.

I come from a long stock of pioneer women who were disconnected from their families of origin. Women who left their parents and siblings in England and travelled across water and land for five months, to Utah to practice their faith. But, at what cost? I wonder how they felt? I wonder if that kind of disconnection was replaced by another family comprised of friends and children in their new home? I have no idea, since the women in my family did not keep journals - or if they did I don't have any of them.

I am grateful that my life has included a family of my own, with a husband of nearly thirty years, and two great children. This life, of being a wife and mother, has not been easy. But the primary effort has been to stay together, while each being their own person. I raised my kids to be their own person, but to be in relationship with their family. My children, now in their twenties, are growing into themselves, learning how to be healthy adults in a demanding world. I'm learning how to be a mother of grown children, including how to be a mother-in-law to our daughter's husband, and in-laws with his parents. Thankfully I really like our son-in-law and his family, so navigating this new aspect of our family is not difficult. Rather it's wonderful to have our family expand in such a delightful way.

On the other hand, I have observed some interesting emotions inside of me now that my daughter is married. It has hit me quite hard that she changed her name and that she is shifting from being our "little girl" to being an independent married woman with an entire side of her life that has less to do with us and more to do with her husband and his family and friends. This is how it should be. I did the same thing - made that shift. But given my history of disconnected relationships this has stirred up in me a lot of emotion. These emotions are not rational -by nature emotions never are - but they do reveal my fears, anxieties, and hopes. I worry about "losing" my daughter to her new family. This worry is a challenge and requires me to be fully aware and careful about my ability to be mature and give her room to mature as well.  This means that I don't make efforts to keep her in a dependent role with me, mother and daughter, but that we stay in relationship in a new way. I can't solve or fix her problems like I might have when she was little. I can, however, listen and honor her struggles and her strengths. I can ask questions that might lead her to think about her life with greater insight so she can make her own decisions. I can remind her of the strengths in her character that I admire. I can tell her that I love her and the woman she has become.

This is one of the aspects of "When Women Were Birds" that I most resonate with - the letters and notes that Williams' mother wrote to her. My mother never did that, never reflected back to me who I am, nor is she was proud of me, nor if she loved me. To my mother I was always an extension of her, she struggled to see me as an independent person, which is a reflection of the brokenness of her life. But I love how William's mother was able to do this and what a treasure it is to have your mother's mirror of you put into written words, to reflect on throughout one's life. I hope to do this for my daughter, so she has a mirror of herself from my perspective, one that fully honors her as a woman in her own right.

Yesterday I watched the final episode of season three of "Call the Midwife." I won't offer any spoilers here, except to say that it had a very powerful mother-daughter dynamic between Chummy and her mother. It reminded me of the challenges with my mother, albeit in different ways. My mother's death has not left me with remorse over what might have been. I felt that remorse while she was still living, and knew too well the limitations of our ability to create a healthier relationship. Sometimes we humans are too damaged from life's trauma to every really heal. I navigated a relationship with my mother that was tenuous at best - sometimes good and then quickly and for no apparent (to me) reason, she cut me off - and then, in time, we'd be back in relationship. The tide always turned on her ability to be in relationship or not. I just had to be there, be present, and be willing. I had to be able to manage my feelings to not take hers too personally. It was a lot of work and very sad. I grieved for years that she and I did not, could not, have a better mother-daughter relationship. As an adult woman, with a husband and children, and many years of therapy, losing myself in my mother was no longer an option. I grieved what might have been. In her death that grief was resurrected but it was not new. Now I live with little regret. She and I each did the best we could.

When I launched this blog in 2006 I was struggling mightily with my "voice." I struggled with my preaching voice, with being heard in the wider church, and even with my voice as a mother of teen-agers. Much of that struggle had to do with my feelings of inadequacy and an in ability to be comfortable in my own skin. In the last eight years I have grown and matured and my voice has become more confident. I have become comfortable with who I am and more confident too. That has come from a lot of hard work, interior work to know myself and trust myself.

I have from time to time considered changing the name of this blog, but it continues to resonate with me. I am, may always be, seeking authentic voice, in some form or another.

I recently read a definition of "authenticity" as being true to one's self in relationship. My grandmothers of generations past may have written journals about their lives, but I don't have them. I don't know what they thought or worried about or hoped for. I can only imagine, given some of the details of their lives, what these might have been. For me I see them as strong women of faith who made the best of challenging circumstances. I hope they felt some joy and peace in their lives but that may have evaded them. Life had to be difficult in foreign land without family near by.

It occurs to me that this blog is one way I am connecting to the energy of my female ancestors. Reflecting on my life here is one way I strive to be connected to the people in my life, family and friends. This blog is like my journal, the telling of my story as I seek my voice, strive to be my truest self, and work at being in relationship with those I know, love, and work with. Here are eight years of my story of faith and hope, a love story of self.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grace Rising, Unstoppable

A reflection on the readings for Proper 23A: Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

The other night I had a sudden urge to make homemade bread. I looked through the cabinets and found all the ingredients: yeast, honey, olive oil, whole wheat flour, white flour, and salt. I wanted to make an herb bread so I also needed oregano, basil, rosemary and marjoram. 

I have made a lot of bread in my lifetime, it’s something I really love to do. I am especially fond of kneading bread, and always think of my great-grandmother. She had some peculiar ideas about cooking. For example, she thought it was important to only stir cake batter in one direction so that the molecules aligned in the same direction. I guess stirring in multiple directions would mix up the molecules and the cake wouldn’t turn out well? I have no idea if that is true, but I try to follow her instructions anyway. 

This particular baking process was a little doomed from the start. First of all, the yeast expired on Sept. 24. Well, I thought, there’s no harm in mixing it with some warm water and a little honey, and see if it’s still good. So I did, and after ten minutes the yeast was frothy and clearly still alive. 

Into the frothy yeast I added oil, salt, and the herbs and stirred them. Then I measure two cups of whole wheat flour and one cup of white flour, and dumped all three cups into the liquid all at once.

And then I gasped. Flour is never poured in all at once into a bread recipe. For bread the flour must be added a little at a time, stirred in and then kneaded in, until the dough as achieved just the right consistency - not too wet and sticky and not too dry. 

But now that the flour was soaking into the liquid there was nothing to do but stir it in a little and then pour out the dense mixture and make an effort to knead it. The dough was heavy, dry, thick. But I kneaded it anyway, hoping to get a little elasticity out of the dough. After a couple of minutes I formed the dough into a ball, rubbed oil over it, placed it in a bowl and covered it with a towel. I left it sit in a warm place, hoping it would rise. An hour later it had almost doubled in size, so I punched it down, shaped into a round loaf, let it rise again, and then baked it.

The bread turned out almost perfect - the texture was even although it was a little dry - but nothing a dollop of butter wouldn’t fix. 

It’s amazing to me that with all of these problems - expired yeast, way too much flour, and not nearly enough kneading - the bread still turned out well. I’ve always thought that bread making was a fine art - requiring a certain amount of skill to know just how much flour or kneading the dough required on any given day. But now I wonder if bread is incredibly flexible and adaptive, prone to turn out well, even under challenging circumstances? 

Our readings this morning from Philippians and Matthew suggest that we are prone to come out well even when faced with challenging circumstances. The community in Philippi is struggling through some conflict. Paul writes to assure the community, settle them down, and focus them on their mission as the Body of the Christ. Likewise in Matthew we are reminded that God will go to great lengths to bring everyone into the kingdom - and all we need to do to qualify for God’s kingdom is to live a life of transformation - like bread dough rising from the yeast within, a life where we are striving to become the best version of ourselves that we can manage to achieve. 

So, if we are to come out well, even when facing challenges, how do we do this? Again, our readings offer us some insight: we practice living our faith in and through the challenges we are facing. We practice by nurturing an attitude of gratitude in and through the challenges. Paul calls this “forbearance” and it leads to joy. 

Joy is a “discipline of perception,” it comes from how we view the circumstances of our lives. People facing difficult times can still live with joy in their hearts. This is not platitudinous, nor is this a naive thing to say. The joy that comes from having God and Christ at the center of our lives is a spiritual reality. When are able to focus of our lives in such a way that we develop an awareness of God’s presence, regardless of life’s circumstances, we feel a sense of peace and peace leads to joy. 

Paul is encouraging the people in Philippi to understand that joy grows from the soil of life’s challenges because it is in and through the challenges that we are broken open enough to see and feel God’s presence, and this leads to joy. Mixed up ingredients in bread still makes for delicious bread - mixed up ingredients in life can lead to peace and joy because God is with us.

Through out the 105 years of this congregation we have shown a great deal of forbearance, which has produced much joy. In the last three years we have buried many of our beloved parishioners, and that has been sad, and yet we give thanks for their presence in our lives. We have had financial challenges and transitions of clergy and staff. These are all stressful events. At the same time however we have welcomed new people into the church and through relationships with one another we have each experienced relationships that have transformed us in the best of ways. We have responded to many global and local needs  - for example in the 19990’s we helped resettle refugees from Kosovo and built wells for water in Africa. In the 2000’s we responded to the damage from the earthquake in Haiti and most recently we partnered with a church in Liberia to build a k-12 school, helped launch Blessings in a Backpack which has become a successful response to hungry kids in the Dearborn school system, created and supported the annual Holiday Market to help local artists, and initiated a food pantry in the church that feeds many hungry people. We have supported Chapel Day preschool and a local Boy Scout troop for fifty years. This summer we were hit with a major flood and lost the use of our basement during Summer Arts Camp - in a week that also included a wedding and a professional recording session for Renaissance Voices. That was a tough week - but it was a great week too - filled with much grace and many blessings as we all adapted and made the best of a very bad set of circumstances. 

Being adaptive and making the best of challenges is one of our strengths. It leads to the heart of our character as a Community-Centered church and the joy that lives in and through our mission and ministries as we respond to the ever-changing needs of this community and the world. As a Community-Centered Church our mission is building transformational relationships with each other here at Christ Church, with others in the wider church and interfaith community, and in the world around us. These transformational relationships are built on grace, on the love and the many gifts of our lives that come from God, as we Nurture an Attitude of Gratitude, gracing forward the blessings God has give us.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Acts of Hospitality

A reflection on Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32 for Proper 21A

A young woman approached the check out line at a grocery store. With a thick accent she asked if the person standing near by was in line. The person could not understand her and got a little exasperated. The woman was embarrassed by her inability to communicate. She left the store in tears and hurried back to her home. To soothe her sorrow she decided to make a cup of tea. Pulling a mug from the cabinet, she thought of her grandmother. Her grandmother was known for her hospitality, always offering someone a cup of tea. Why not invite my neighbors in for a cup of tea, the woman thought. And before she could lose her courage she went to her neighbor’s homes and invited them over. Six people were available to join her for tea. Before long her house was known as a place of hospitality, where a cup of tea was always offered, along with a listening ear, and lively conversation. 

Hospitality is an expression of gratitude. Hospitality is the key point in many Bible stories. Jesus’ entire ministry was about hospitality. Hospitality is the foundation of our mission. As a Community-Centered church our mission is to nurture and nourish people in all walks of life as we share our building and grounds. Among the many expressions of hospitality offered here are: AA, feeding the homeless and the hungry through our food pantry and Blessings in a Backpack, Chapel Day Preschool, providing organizations like the League of Women Voters and Creating Hope International with office space for their ministries. We provide space for music, voice, dance lessons and recitals, and martial arts and a stretching class.

In 2010 Christ Church was the recipient of large bequest - a portion of someone’s estate - given to the church without any restrictions. Undesignated gifts are allocated by the Vestry according to our policy: 25% is distributed between the operating budget, a property reserve fund, and the diocese. The remaining 75% is placed in a restricted fund called the Undesignated Gifts Fund. The policy invites parishioners to make proposals for the use of the money in the undesignated gifts fund. To date we have had a number of proposals approved. The criteria for granting a proposal states that the request must fit the mission of the church and be either a new project or an outreach project. Thus far we have used this fund to support “Opportunity Resource” an organization that provides loans for homes or small business ventures to people in SE Michigan who do not quality for a standard loan. We have used the fund to help build the school in Liberia. We have used the fund to provide each of you with the opportunity to Grace It Forward, by helping anyone you wish. And we are using the fund to help pay for the exterior plaza. 

I wrote to the executor of the estate for the family who gave us the bequest, to let him know how we are spending the money.  He responded by saying how pleased the family would have been  with how we are using the money - and -  if they had known that we would spend the money with such grace and hospitality and so expansively, they would have given us more money. 

We are Nurturing our Attitude of Gratitude with Acts of Hospitality that are transforming the world around us, near and far. 

No doubt the SCHOOL project in Liberia was a risky act of hospitality. We anticipated the construction of the school would take years, but now, only one year later, it is more than 50% built. In it’s partially completed state the school is already being used for Sunday School classes and community events. It is already transforming lives. Certainly it has had an impact on us, for we have tangible evidence of what can happen when we “Grace It Forward” and take a risk with God’s generosity. 

The exterior plaza may be our boldest initiative yet. At Christ Church we struggle with the idea of spending money on our selves. We tend to think that spending money on “outreach” has the greatest value. There’s truth in that thinking. We certainly do no want to become so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of the world around us. So how is the exterior plaza an act of hospitality and not just “self” focused? 

At the end of every funeral or wedding people pour out the front door and gather to greet the family or the couple. Have you tried to do this? Have you noticed the effort it takes to not lose your footing, to not trip on the uneven ground between sidewalk and grass? Offering hospitality during times of celebration and grief is a primary way we nurture an attitude of gratitude and grace it forward. 

The church grounds offer several beautiful spaces for people to come for respite. People walk the labyrinth, sit in the benches and read or reflect, spend time in the memorial garden, or wander around our community vegetable garden, admiring our crop. People come with dogs, letting their animals run the back part of the land. Our property is community-centered and offers respite and hospitality to many. The exterior plaza will expand and extend the acts of hospitality that come from our Community-Centered church. It will afford people additional places to sit, read, reflect, gather, and even provide a drink of water for humans or pets with an outdoor water fountain. The opportunities for gathering on the exterior plaza are endless - from music concerts to parties, to outdoor worship. The exterior plaza will be an act of hospitality to friend and stranger alike.

We all were strangers once, before each of us took a risk and found our way to Christ Church. Do you remember the first day you came to here? For some of you, that was not too long ago. For others, it was many years ago. And for a few, there has never been a time when you were not part of this church, born and raised in it. Regardless, God has welcomed each one of us into this place and through growing in relationship with one another we have been transformed from strangers into friends. 

The spirit of hospitality we form in this place, through our care for one another, spreads beyond these walls. The sprit of hospitality is shared with every person who walks through our doors and in this building. The spirit of hospitality reaches out into the wider Dearborn community as we fill backpacks with food. The spirit of hospitality reaches across the globe as we partner with our sister church in Liberia to build a school. The spirit of hospitality given to us by the family who left us the bequest reaches beyond their wildest dreams and ours, too. This spirit of hospitality is risky and transformational - it can be none other than the Spirit of God, working in and through us. May we continue to enable the same mind that is in Christ be in us, as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, and may we be willing to go out into the vineyard and do God’s work in the world, offering acts of hospitality to friend and stranger alike. 

Nurtured by An Attitude of Gratitude as we Grace it Forward may we be the Community-Centered Church known for acts of hospitality whether a meal shared or a place to rest or a helping hand. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Five: Applesauce and other fine fall treats!

Deb, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five, after canning applesauce and apple butter:
1. What’s your best homemade treat? Is it worth all the effort? (It doesn’t have to be something canned. ) I make a lot of food from scratch. I tend to be seasonal in what I make - potato salad, cole slaw, a mixed veggie sautee of zucchini, tomato, kale, onion and garlic, refrigerator pickles, and salsa have been favorites this summer. I have also made several amazing zucchini bundt cakes and layer cakes with dark chocolate chunks. I have a good recipe for a dark chocolate layer cake with zucchini that is a family favorite. Heading into fall I like to make oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries (or cherries) and white chocolate. 
2. At our house, applesauce and football are the harbingers of fall. What are they at your house? In the fall we cease grilling and begin to make roasts and pot-roasts, chili, and stews. I like to play around with chili and make it with different kinds of beans, seasonings, and meat (or no meat). Spicy white bean and chicken is a favorite or black bean with pork roast. 
3. Someone gave me an “automatic” apple peeler from one of those home cooking product shows. (It doesn’t work all that great.) What’s one kitchen contraption or tool you’d gladly trade me for it? I can't think of anything I'd trade for an apple peeler - although it would be really great if someone would invent a good, but reasonably priced apple peeler and corer and cherry pitter. 
4. Whose the best chef in your home? Why? Well, that would have to me because I do all of the cooking. My husband grills and assists me. 
5. Cider, apple juice, or hard cider? Discuss. None of them, all too harsh for my stomach, too acidic. My son does like a hard cider now and then but if I drink alcohol it's just a glass of wine. 
BONUS: Recipes! You know we love ‘em! I adapt this recipe for my dark chocolate zucchini cake

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Just the Basics

A reflection on Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16, 
Every day, all around us, on street corners and the exit ramps of highways we see them. People who are struggling, people who have deep needs for the basics, people who share a portion of their story in a few words: homeless, need money. 
What do you do when you see a man or a woman holding a sign at an intersection?  Do you pretend to fiddle with the radio or suddenly notice an interesting cloud in the other direction?
On a certain day in Oklahoma City, if you had turned your head, you would have missed Doug Eaton's birthday celebration.
Eaton turned 65 that day and decided to celebrate by spending 65 minutes handing out $5 bills to people driving by. 
He stood at an intersection holding a sign that said: "I have a home . . . and a car . . . and a job. Do you need a few bucks for some coffee?"
People didn't know what to think. One driver said, ”I think this is the craziest guy I've ever seen in my life.” Others said,  "It's fantastic. I'm enjoying the moment out here."
Eaton also described the experience as fantastic. "Some people who don't take the money just say, 'Man, I love what you're doing. I won't take it, but would you give it to somebody who needs it?’"
What do you when you encounter a person on the corner? More over, what do you do when you encounter people on every street corner, each one looking more lost and desperate than the last?
Here at Christ Church we have started a food pantry. It began a few years ago when we were still collecting food for Crossroads. The food would sit in the kitchen until someone was available to take it downtown. But in the meantime hungry people were coming to the church looking for money, or food. Some needed food that required no preparation, prepackaged protein food that they could carry with them. Others needed food to feed a family. Jan and I started giving away the food intended for Crossroads, along with our usual $10 Kroger gift card.
Last fall we designated a closet in the kitchen for food. We have tuna and mac and cheese, canned vegetables and fruit, cereal and coffee. We try and stock some high protein food that requires no preparation like prepared tuna salad or protein bars. 
Recently we acquired a second refrigerator that we use for staff and parish events. The other refrigerator has been designated for the food pantry and we’ve stocked it with milk and eggs. The first  day we added eggs we did this we gave away nine dozen eggs in five hours. We’re thinking of adding cheese and butter. 
Some weeks the food pantry empties faster than we can fill it. We have noticed a distinct up turn in need following the flood last month. The food is provided in part by a collaboration we have with Divine Child school, a project developed by Serge, one of our parishioners who works at Divine Child. The rest of the food is provided by all of us. Some of us have used our “Grace It Forward” money to contribute food. 
One person recently emailed the Stewardship Commission with this response to her Grace It Forward gift: “I am grateful for the opportunity the committee gave me to  give back to the community. I used the cash I was given in church to purchase tuna fish and canned chili for the food pantry. Now I plan to make a habit of contributing to the food pantry.” 
As a Community-Centered Church our mission is to care for those who come into the church and those who are in the world around us - a circular flow, in and out, like breathing, like grace, like nurturing an attitude of gratitude. Ghandi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” We are a Community Centered Church revealing God’s grace in and through our building, our Mission, our ministries, and our lives. We have much to be grateful for. 
There is a difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. Feeling grateful is a response to something that aroused the feeling. Being grateful is a way of life and influences every aspect of our being and our perception of life and the world around us. 
Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude takes practice. Perhaps adopting a daily Gratitude inventory is one way we might nurture our attitude of gratitude? At the end of each day recall the events of your day and see the day through the perspective of “Gift” - how is that the events of your day were a gift?
No doubt, if I wish to do so, I can find something to complain about, in every aspect of my life. I could complain about the constant need to sweep and dust dog and cat fur around the house. I could complain that summer is over, and it really wasn’t much of a summer anyway. I could complain about anything and everything, if that is how I want to view my life. I could be just like the Hebrews in the reading from Exodus or the laborers in Matthew. I could complain because life is not fair and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 
But, if I want to nurture an attitude of gratitude I might say, that my pets are a gift that fill me with delight. I might say that the cool, rainy summer has enabled the grass to be green all summer and restored the water tables of the Great Lakes.   And so on and so forth. 
Taking an inventory of my day and considering it through a lens that emphasizes gift and gratitude changes my perspective. Doing this regularly impacts how I live my life and feel about life. I live with less anxiety and less worry. I live with more hope and generosity. 
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude takes practice. Some things we can to help nurture gratitude in our lives in addition to a daily inventory can include writing things down. Keep a journal and make note of the times and events you feel grateful for. Talk about gratitude, share with others. Especially thank people for whom you are grateful. We don’t do enough of that - thanking people and acknowledging  our gratitude for the people in our lives.  Seek opportunities - look for things that make you grateful - the blue sky on a sunny day, a delicious meal, the kindness of a stranger, the compassion of a friend or family member. 
Robert Emmons, a prominent expert who works for the University of California, has conducted many studies on gratitude. He promotes the idea that gratitude needs to be nurtured and that when we do so we benefit physically, psychologically and socially. Nurturing an attitude of gratitude enables us to be happier, healthier, people. 
The message we hear in our readings today reminds us that we have a choice. We can nurture anxiety within and complain about life. Or we can nurture an attitude of gratitude and embrace life with hope, love, and compassion. Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude becomes infectious, influencing others in the world around us as we “Grace It Forward.” 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Five: New to me....

Jan, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:
Only afterwards, do we realize that we have “found” something that we like–like a new way to look at something; a new (to me) author; a new song or hymn; a new food. Today share with us something that you like that seemed surprisingly “new” to you sometime in the near past. It could even be a RE-discovery.
Here is a list, but you can choose your own five items you would like to share! Please join us today in playing FF.
1. author - When I find an author I like I tend to read all of the books written by that person. Lately I've read a lot of Anna Quindlan. I also really like novel written by Amanda Eyre Ward. But mostly I am reading books for the Spiritual Direction Internship and the Family Systems workshops I am taking this fall. They are excellent books - Extraordinary Relationships, by Roberta M. Gilbert, for example, is fabulous. 
2. shampoo - My latest favorite shampoo is a brand I found at "Sally's" that does not use any of the usual sodium laureate, etc. to make the shampoo extra bubbly. It's a clean product with less stuff in it, a gentle fragrance and never leaves a residue on my scalp. I seem to be particular sensitive to shampoo and conditioner residue. For example as much I love the concept of AVEDA it's products are too rich. Other brands like Redkin require me to switch my shampoo every so often to give my scalp some relief. But this shampoo (I don't know what it's called) has not had that affect of me. 
3. food - Poblanaro peppers and Spanish smoked paprika are two of my favorite food items this summer. I've used them in a lot. Also, a colleague made a jar of jalapeƱo jelly (if you attended the RevGals Re-Group last week you may have tried it), and it is delicious on corn bread.
4. activity - I don't really have any new actives in my life - except working to make sure I find time to rest.
5. music - I don't listen to much music these days, either. I used to listen to music in the car, and spent a lot of time driving, but not so much these days. Now when I drive I listen to the radio but never really know the names of the bands being played. It's sad, I know. Some day I'll get back to listening to music again. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ministering to Ministers

Several months ago I volunteered to host a RevGal event called "ReGroup." This is the second time I have organized a RevGal event, and the first time I've hosted one. The first event I helped organize was the BE 2.0, held many years ago, when I lived and worked under very different circumstances. I was really sick that week - some crud that blew through the Arizona dust storm

Sun shining through a dust storm

and left me with a high fever and serious sinus issues that made me foggy-headed.

But it was still fun.

I met a lot of RevGals and learned much from Wil Gafney and her book, "Daughters of Miriam." The exercise I remember most from that event was "She-verbs" - replacing some Bible text with "she." (okay, maybe I don't remember that well, after all?).
Part of our worship space at the BE 2.0

Some of us went into town to a knitting store
We told stories around a bonfire

This was view of the retreat center grounds outside my room

The most fun of that week for me, however, was our after-the-event road trip to the Grand Canyon.

Dinner at the Bright Angel


This time the event was held at the church I work at and the focus was very different. We gathered to learn a tool to help us in our ministry, which by and large involves a lot of administrative work. Tending to the administrative stuff can keep us overly busy, we can use busyness as an ego boost, as a means to feel more important. But that can come at the risk of our own well-being and even our overall effectiveness as ministers.

We spent time reflecting, singing, praying, worshiping, and creating. It was a good day and half.

Opening worship led by the Rev. Martha Spong

Learning how to use the "Administry" tool

Some time to reflect on the "Administry" tool...

We got a little creative 

Closing worship

Sharing the feast of Christ

And, of course, the feet

And for fun, cookies decorated as feet made by one of my parishioners...