Sunday, June 27, 2010

One Tenth of Everything Part 2

I have posted three newer entries that seem to have vanished into thin air! Weird. I apologize to anyone who might be waiting for me to write something. I don't know what happened there, but the material is all gone, so I'm going to start over.

Explaining tithing to a child is really great practice for explaining stewardship to a congregation. Our kids get their allowance every Sunday morning: $2.50 for a week's worth of chores. We settled on the $2.50 amount because it is easily broken into 1/10 increments--the kids can bring 1 quarter to church and put it in the offering plate. The kids get the money on Sundays so they can see a direct transfer of that quarter from their pockets to God.

This morning things weren't as smooth as I'd hoped. "WHY do I have to give MY money to something that I can't even SEE?" asked my oldest. Direct and to the point, I think she just gave the title for my next Stewardship sermon! Why indeed? It made me ask the question of myself. Of course, God is real, and I explained to her that even though we can't see God, we were made in God's image and everything we have is from God. We enjoy good food, a good place to live, and each other. We should joyfully, thankfully give back 1/10 of our best harvest to God.

"But I EARNED that money!!! It is mine. God didn't give it to me." But honey, God put you in the position to have good things. Everything we enjoy is sort of on loan. Yes, you worked for that money, but you have been given an able body to work, you are healthy, with loving parents. We remember that God is the author of everything when we give some of our hard earned money every week.

"But WHERE is it going? WHO gets it? WHY don't I have a CHOICE??" A harder question. It goes into the church budget. We pledge money to keep up church operation. Our pledge and membership helps to sustain the organized body of Christ. I didn't say any of that to her. I didn't think she'd get it.

I'm not sure I get it anymore either. With so many of the conversations around church Sessions revolving around "getting folks in the door and pledging" it seems we are working hard a propping up an institution that no longer serves the original purpose: to glorify God and serve humanity. That isn't to say there is no good working happening in churches--there is! But we've become obsessed with surviving as a mainline denomination. And, my church friends, the people who are eating bagels and reading the paper on Sunday morning hate us for that short-sightedness.

On the other hand, there are many I know who give at least 1/10 of their earnings to good causes. This is wonderful. The trouble with that approach, however, is a sense of entitlement and ability to withdraw those funds if economic times become strained or the giver becomes disgruntled. We owe EVERYTHING to God. The tithe is more than just a charity case, it is a way of life. If we are truly tithing to God, we need to give, and then let go of the idea that we can strong-arm that money into our own pet projects. The money is God's. The question then becomes, do we trust God to handle it properly?

Our family continues to make our tithe to God through the church. Do we feel this is a perfect arrangement? No. Do we agree with everything the church is doing? No. Do we have ideas on how that money should be spent? Sure. But it's out of our hands. We try to think of it as God's, even before we give it. And even though the institution of church as we know it is going by the wayside and is broken in so many ways, it remains the best attempt to be a faithful people of God in the world that I can see.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

One Tenth of Everything

We've got one of those yards that is more clover than grass right now, especially in the back. We laugh because we can imagine the golf course maintenance guys coming over any minute to ask us if we could please get that under control so it doesn't spread to the green. The clover everwhere in Knoxville is flowering with soft, round, white flowers and kids are loving it. With dandelions done, it's the next best treasure to offer mom or dad.

I like that kids pick flowers spontaneously and offer them to adults. I like that kids really honestly think it's something special to give another person a colorful plant grabbed straight from the earth. Usually the flowers are weeds, although occasionally they are plucked from the neighbor's garden. The kids don't know the weeds are pests or to be avoided. All they know is the flower is colorful and it makes adults smile. Similarly, offering up one of the neighbor's tulips does not harm the garden but creates another glad event.

As I drove into the driveway last night I noticed our Magnolia was blooming, and there was one white flower hanging within arm's reach. It appeared as if the tree itself were reaching down and offering the flower to whoever would come and take it. It occured to me then that although we technically own the land where that tree goes, we have not ourselves produced the flower that it gives. We don't know how to make flowers!

This is the basis of stewardship, I think. Recognizing that we are not entitled to the land where we live but that we are recipients of its good graces.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Laughing With Black People: A Revelation

Ed note: I am having a revelation trying to write this blog. Why? Because it deals with race. I am trying to speak about race relations in a positive way, but I find myself starting sentences over and over, for fear of being offensive, or sounding too trendy, or desperate, or whatever. So take this for what it's worth: the language I use here is the best language I know how to use to present an insight into how race assumptions played into a church meeting I recently attended. I intend this post to be positive, amusing, and maybe even thought-provoking. I am going to just write it as it comes and stop worrying about being politically correct. (end disclaimer)

Yesterday, I presented our idea for cafe style worship to the Session at 4th United Presbyterian church in Knoxville. They had previously voted to allow our small group of worshippers to use their gathering hall for our service, and we were giving them a taste of what the service would be like: non-traditional, sitting around tables, powerpoint, interactive prayer.

It was a positive and friendly atmosphere, and an interesting group. We were 6 black people and 3 white, 4 women and 5 men. 4th United has been a predominantly black congregation, and our group of about 10 is all white.

As we talked about our plans for the church in the coming months, it came up that a young couple (white) had been attending services for several weeks. We shared our joy about that and were comparing notes to see if anyone had known them beforehand. One of their co-pastors, a black woman named Sonya, said, "Oh I just assumed they were with your group!"

Instantly my comedic self began to war with my politically correct self. It was obvious why she thought they were with our group, because they were white. But do I dare make a joke about this and risk an awkward moment? Fortunately, I know Sonya well enough to know that she has a very strong sense of humor. Comedy won: "Why did you think that Sonya? Because they're white? I don't know all the white people in Knoxville, you know!" Sonya's reply was quick, "Frankly my sister, that's exactly what I thought!" Thank the living God, everybody got it and everybody laughed.

And in that moment, I realized how very freaked out I still am, and I imagine most of us are, about race relations. After that exchange the room itself seemed to relax a little bit. I felt as if the subtext for me and Sonya in that moment was, "Hey! We're blacks and whites talking together. How strange and potentionally hilarious!" I realized in an instant that it is one thing to respect the congregation at 4th United for their dedication to God and each other; it is one thing to feel profound gratitude for their generosity with our house-church group, but it is quite another to feel free enough to laugh about racial assumptions with people of a different race.

We all say we want to be "color-blind." But I'm not sure that's the best approach. It is clear that there are black people and white people in our city, and that for the most part we live separate lives. We pass each other pleasantly enough on the street or in our work places, but as groups we circulate in cultural bubbles that rarely mix. It does us no good to dwell exclusively on our racial differences but to act like we don't notice the difference is artificial and denies us some potentially rich relationships.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pastoral Care vs. Personal Agenda: Helping the Homeless

I attended a fundraiser lunch today. The speaker was Steve Lopez, columnist for the LA Times, who wrote the book "The Soloist." This book has been recently made into a movie, and is the story of a friendship between Lopez and Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a Julliard level musician who had become homeless because of his condition as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Lopez first saw Ayers on the streets of LA, playing a beat up old violin in the shadow of a statue of Beethoven. Lopez decided Ayers would make an interesting column, so he began to learn about his early life and subsequent decline into mental illness. The resulting columns earned both Lopez and Ayers national recognition. As the writer put it himself at the lunch this afternoon, "I have never before had such a reaction to a column. I think it is because everyone who reads about Nathaniel thinks 'there but for the grace of God go I.'"

As recorded in the book, Lopez continually tried to help Ayers by coaxing him inside, getting him sheet music and passing on donated instruments. Some of this help was met with gratitude, but other overtures, such as coercing Ayers to participate in a mission community, providing him an apartment to sleep in, and offering him a chance to perform for an audience were initially rejected. Lopez reported that today, 5 years after they first met, Ayers still hears voices in his head and is on no medication, but that he is now part of the LAMP mission community, and is still living in the same apartment he had 4 years ago. These are all considered part of a success story.

Certainly Nathaniel Ayers' life has been blessed by friendship with Steve Lopez, there is no doubt about that. Friendship is a theme in both the book and movie, and the social workers who know Nathaniel say friendship alone has been the most helpful aspect to his healing.

So my question is this: who is more helped by moving Nathaniel off the streets and into an apartment? Who is more helped by introducing him to a mission community? Is 'normalizing' Nathaniel Ayers truly in his best interest? We can never know his internal struggle, but we have all decided that his life appears better now than it was, at least from the outside looking in.

I am not asking the question to be rude or argumentative. I sincerely wonder what it is that motivates us to house the homeless. The CEO of the sponsoring organization stated emphatically today that, "some homeless people say they choose to live on the streets. But this is not true. Their illness chooses to live on the streets." I'm just not comfortable with this blanket statement. Who are we to say that living without a home is lesser in every case? When does, "there but for the grace of God go I" morph into "not in my back yard?"

I think the story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is a wonderful tribute to friendship and the breaking down of barriers and misconceptions about mental illness. But most compelling for me is the columist's struggle to find a balance between "fixing" and "walking alongside" Mr. Ayers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Heaven and New Earth: What was wrong with the old one?

An old friend posted on his facebook profile the other day, "I've seen the new heaven and the new earth and as an Episcopalean I'm wondering, what was wrong with the old heaven??" This made me laugh, in light of my recent sermonizing on Revelation 21:1-6, the passage from which the "new heaven and new earth' line comes from.

In my sermon I stressed that Revelation 21 had the following three things to say to people who were feeling oppressed:

1. God is good.

2. God cares.

3. God is powerful. Powerful enough to beat out whatever evil assails us.

The book of Revelation is nerve-wracking with all the apocalyptic language: crazy beasts, cryptic symbology, messages of doom, a graphic war between good and evil. And chapter 21 declares that all that we know, this old earth AND heaven are going to pass away and be replaced by a new one. Panic sets in as we all dash to rescue the photo album before it goes.

But I believe that Revelation, like all apocalyptic texts in the Bible, points us to something that is already happening, rather than warning us about events that are yet to come. Perhaps the old heaven and old earth come out of the old way that we humans have related to one another and have understood God before the resurrection. This knowledge of life beating death in such a dramatic way is nerve-wracking in its own right. It just isn't natural. It's like the earthquake that shakes everything.

Think about it. We thrive on stories of death and destruction. For example, it is much easier to play the blame game with British Petroleum over the oil spill while driving our SUVs than it is to put our neck out there and make personal changes that free us from our dependence on oil. BP was only giving us what we want, after all. We are arm-chair critics for everything, and we LOVE to hate "those other guys." That is the world where death is the final word.

A world where resurrection is realized is one in which life is celebrated, in which we recognize good in the midst of corporate evil, and where we participate in the creation ourselves by taking responsibility for the Earth--old and new.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Learning About Mission on the Elementary School Playground

Last week my daughter, a first-grader, shared with me that one of the kids in her class had "thrown a beer bottle" at another during recess. I pressed her for more information, and was told that the whole playground was covered in garbage. I knew that her school was in a run-down neighborhood, but had just assumed someone at the school would take on the job of keeping the playground beer-bottle free.

I considered what to do. Write a letter? Cowardly. Talk to the PTA president? I'd probably have to get all sorts of permission and it might take forever. Complain to the principal? She is a woman who never looks like she has time to eat, let alone talk to me about the playground problem. None of those were real "get-something-done" options.

So I decided to just go clean the place myself without asking anybody permission. I invited one of the other moms from the class, the kind of person who gets things done and asks questions later, and we showed up one day at the school with plastic bags, ready to take the place on.

I was concerned that we'd be stopped at the office, or that we'd see a sign I hadn't noticed before: "No unauthorized helping allowed." But there was none. When my friend told one secretary what we were doing, I cringed, ready to receive a reprimand for not going through the proper channels. Instead, she said, "that's fantastic! It's about time somebody went out there and cleaned up!" (I know you're wondering what the janitor is doing all day...and so am I...but that is a different post.)

When we got out to the playground, the whole first grade happened to be out playing. The teachers waved at us, and as we started picking up garbage around the fence, a few students came by to ask us what we were doing. Before long, we had about 20 kids fanning out in all directions searching for trash, and returning to put it in the plastic bags. They were beaming with pleasure! One girl screamed, "this is FUN!!!" and another boy yelled, "I think I got the MOST of ANYBODY!" With the kids' help, we cleaned up a huge area in about 20 minutes. The teachers thanked us sincerely, and my friend and I had a great time talking about all sorts of things while we were working.

It occurred to me as we were doing this important but neglected job that perhaps the most effective mission projects are those where folks see a need and just do something themselves to make it right. Furthermore, I am sure that it would have taken up alot more of my own energy to complain about the junk in the playground than it did to just clean it up myself. I'm not saying we should take on all the problems of the world without help, but I am saying that if there seems to be a need, and we are capable of meeting that need, then we should act first and ask permission later.

It is also worth noting that a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds left their playground to help us, and had a blast doing it. This tells me that working together to improve our surroundings and take care of the earth are concepts that kids not only can understand, but that they can enjoy. They probably had almost as much fun as I did.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Resuming: Life After Lent

Well, sorry everyone about April, the Great Black Hole of blog posts. April felt sort of like the down-hill part of a rollercoaster. It was a little out of control and the blog suffered because of it.

But the long hiatus has given me a chance to reflect on what it's like to be back on Facebook, and to talk about moving this blog in a new direction. (Does anyone know how to change the name of a blog when the previous title is outdated? Or should I just start a new one?)

Being back on Facebook feels like coming back to a positive community, although I do find myself falling into the same old patterns of thinking up status updates and wanting to check it constantly. I realize that my compulsion surrounding Facebook is more about me being compulsive than it is about Facebook per se, or any internet community for that matter. During Lent, my compulsive habits channeled themselves into other avenues such as email, blogging, and TV. It's good to know this about oneself, and to wonder what is going on that causes us to become obsessed by one thing or another.

I do currently feel a bit separated from some of the friends that I've made through Facebook, but I think this is a matter of reconnecting with intention. Friendship is, in great part, habit. However we order our days, the friends that fit into that routine become close for that time. In my own life I observe that if I change a habit, it does change the pattern around which my friendships are based. Of course, I'm lucky to have a few really good friends with whom I'm close no matter what is happening in my life or theirs. Those are people to be treasured! that I'm back to the normal compulsions, and now that April with its many distractions is finished, I will resume this blog.

I am currently helping to lead a small faith community here in Knoxville, which has formed around a desire for a meaningful prayer life, an open minded faith, and a place where people can truly come to worship as they are. We have been having weekly theological discussions around various issues, passages of the Bible, and 'burning questions' that some of our members have. I'll write about those, and what it's like to be part of a church community which looks so different from the traditional.

I hope you'll continue to read and comment!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 25: The Pulpit at the Prow of the World

I have begun to read Moby Dick. It's one of those books I was supposed to read in 11th grade AP English class but opted for the Cliff's notes instead. I realize now this was my loss! But at that young age I wouldn't have appreciated it anyway, at least not nearly as much as I do now. Melville is a master who has written this novel without a single careless word. Every description of people and places has such wonderfully drawn details, and the observations that "Ishmael" makes about the world of whaling are specific to the time and place but universal to the human condition.

I've just finished Chapter 8: "The Pulpit." In this chapter Ishmael visits a whaleman's chapel in New Bedford for Sunday services. I won't go into all the fabulous descriptive detail, but when the preacher arrives to give his sermon, he uses a rope ladder like that used to board a ship to climb into the pulpit, which is quite high and prominent in the sanctuary. When he has climbed into the pulpit he turns and raises the rope ladder, as if to ward off invasion. The pulpit itself is shaped like a ship's bow, with the Bible placed on the foremost tip.

Of this, Melville writes, "What could be more full of meaning?--for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world... Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow."

These powerful words causes me to consider with what authority do I myself climb that rope ladder into the prow of the world each Sunday. Who do I think I am, that I would stand there at the place where the seas of the universe part? What have I got to say that might change the course of humanity?

Well, of course, if it's just me talking, not much. But if God is the Captain in charge then wouldn't the person at the prow be the one to call out what they see, so as to help prepare the deck hands for stormy weather or treacherous iceburgs? If Melville's got the measure of the pulpit, then the preacher does not set the course, but rather keeps her eye on the horizon, scanning for troubled skies, lost ships, and ports of call.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 24: Everybody Singing

I'm still thinking about worship, its importance and relevance, and had this conversation with a friend on Sunday about it. She told me about the church where her mom is a member. It is a very old and established church in the country with traditional worship, familiar hymns and old wooden pews. The congregation is sensing that the energy has gone out of their worship, and has formed a task force to look into ways to revitalize the experience. My friend's mom, who is always open to new ideas, suggested that they try some different music. They are currently working with that and many other ideas to come up with a plan.

My friend said that she disagreed with this approach to making worship "better" and by way of example shared her experience of the Sunday morning worship at 4th United, the congregation that has opened its doors to our house church community. I was there too, so I knew exactly what she meant.

The worship was competely traditional: we sat in wooden pews; the order of worship was much the same as it is in most presbyterian churches. We sang hymns right out of the hymnal. There was a sermon of about 20 minutes after which we prayed decently and in order, and then everyone greeted each other when it was done.

But something about that worship service was very different. It was traditional on paper, but miraculous in person.

My friend believes that what was different was the full engagement of the people. We sang "There is a Balm in Gilead!" and everyone, I mean everyone, sang it at the top of their lungs. It felt like we were going to raise the roof on that place. During the sermon, the occasional person who liked what they heard would exclaim, "Amen!" or "Mmm-hmm!" When it was time to share joys and concerns nearly everyone had something to share. They weren't filibustering or simply enjoying the sound of their own voices; they were lifting up prayer requests in a community that cares for one another. There were babies in laps everywhere. Even my 7 year old daughter said she liked church (and she never, ever says that.) I asked her why and she said simply, "everybody sang." My friend was so moved during the Gloria Patri that she (gasp) raised her hands in praise. And she is decidedly not a hand-raiser.

So when we sit down in committee to talk about worship practices we can be mindful that meaningful worship is not just a matter of "traditional vs. contemporary." It is a matter of the people being fully present to each other and to God. And music in worship, which is usually the most contentious issue, is quite possibly more than just a decision between praise band and choir. It's more a matter of creating a space where folks feel free enough to let loose and sing. Whether it is Thy Word or The Church's One Foundation does not matter. Are the people singing? That's what matters.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Day 23: Anointing Jesus at Bethany: the first act of worship!

At our house church meeting today we talked about John 12:1-8, the passage in which Mary anoints Jesus by pouring expensive nard oil on his feet and washing them with her hair. I'm a big fan of Mary for doing this.

Here we have Jesus sitting down to a meal with his disciples and his good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. It will be the last time this particular group gathers in such an intimate setting before the roller coaster ride of the Passion kicks in, because in this gospel the next scene is Jesus' entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate as Palm Sunday. Aside from the fact that this meal features none other than the Son of God and a man whom he raised from the dead, it is Mary who sets this scene apart.

When she pours the oil on Jesus' feet, Mary performs the first act of worship of Jesus as Lord. All Christians ought to sit up and take notice of this act, because Jesus fully approves of what Mary does, even defending her against Judas' sensible suggestion that the oil could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. ( even though Judas is discounted parenthetically for being a thief in the text, I actually think his suggestion to sell the oil and give the money to the poor is worth talking about at some point. This is an argument we have in churches today, and worth struggling over).

Mary transforms dinner among friends into a sacred happening. She gives all that she has, a very expensive amount of oil (equivalent to a year's salary!). Furthermore, she is physically committed to the act, getting down on her hands and knees to wipe the oil from his feet. This is an extremely intimate and worshipful posture, and in itself a costly act. It was not considered socially acceptable for women to loose their hair in public, so by doing this Mary opens herself to the possibility of ridicule and shame. Yet the rebel Jesus totally approves!

Do we not all hope that our worship will be seen as acceptable in God's sight? If we are to learn anything from Mary, it is that worship ought to be an event set apart, made special in some way, by the costly expenditure of oil in Mary's case, or perhaps by the use of precious time in ours. We also should put our whole bodies into the act of worship. We are used to engaging our eyes and ears in worship, but what about touch, smell, even taste? Are we fully caught up with acknowledging Jesus as Lord?

Coming back to Judas' criticism, Jesus is clear: the poor you always have with you, I am only with you for a time. We talked in our group about the great value of charitable organizations who care for the poor, sick, and lost. The Christian church is one such organization, but we are not only that. It is our worship, that sacred space that we make to honor God as the one divine being whom we adore, that sets us apart. It is the rituals we enact, the stories we tell, the candles we light, and the intention with which we draw near to God that mark us as chosen to serve and love God and the world. Mary recognized her opportunity to worship Jesus when he was there with them at the table. We also believe that whenever two or more are gathered in Jesus' name he will be there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 22: The Prodigal Son

In church this week we talked about the story of the Prodigal Son. This is a parable known by almost anyone who has ever graced the church with their presence. It is nearly as popular as the 23rd psalm.

I began talking to the folks who had gathered for our worship that this parable had caused my aunt and uncle to stop going to church. They felt it was unfair that the younger son was welcomed back into the family with no consequences. They completely related to the older son, whom they called "the responsible one." They felt he had a right to be angry with the father for welcoming back the prodigal, who had been rude and wasteful. It was a stumbling block for them, and I'm sad to say they never returned to church.

But this is a story about grace. Not just grace and forgiveness toward a son who essentially disowned his family and squandered his inheritance, but grace and forgiveness for the older brother whose own self interest kept him from celebrating the joy and relief his father felt when the younger returned. This is not a story about the world's justice, which might have accepted the younger brother's return, but would have exacted logical consequences such as having to pay back the money or work it off. This is instead a story about God's love, which time and time again says, "no matter what you've done, if you decide to come back to me, you have a home. Always."

We all have a bit of the prodigal and the older brother in us when it comes to our relationship with God. It's not so far-fetched to see that we have at some time or other asked God for all his goodness and bounty, and then headed off in our own self-motivated direction without even a second thought to the One who gave us everything. It's also not so far-fetched to see that we have often-times begrudged others their place in the family of God because of some misbehavior that we perceive.

The shared characteristic of the two brothers at the end of the story is this: they are both home, and in the company of a parent who loves them beyond measure. That should be enough for them to love one another. It should be enough for all of us, too. I only wish my aunt and uncle could have known, in their later years, that same comfort.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 21: Are all welcome at the table? Facebook edition

As I continue to think about inclusion and the gospel, I wonder how internet communities like Facebook differ or are the same. Facebook has caused a dilemma for me in that there is no distinction between types of friends. What I mean is, all 500 something of my Facebook friends are lumped into the same category, "friend," when what I'd really like is a hierarchy. Maybe something like:

1. Good friend. Friend whose page I want to visit every day, and whose status updates matter to me. I will look at their pictures, post comments on their wall, and actually call them once in awhile.

2. Friend. Someone I know well but not intimately, and want to keep up with them because they're funny, or cool, or I just enjoy seeing what they have to say.

3. Acquaintance. A person I like and don't mind seeing in the news feed on a daily basis.

4. Annoying acquaintance. The friend of a friend who plays Mafia Wars and posts status updates every minute about what they're watching on TV.

4. Old high school person who was a jerk back then but friended me anyway. Don't mind having them as a friend because it's the polite thing to do, but am not at all interested in their daily lives.

See that's the problem. Annoying Acquaintance and Old High School are easy to avoid in real life, but on the internet, 'de-friending' someone is a serious act. There is no really graceful way to do it. I have one relationship with a man at church in which our mutual dislike is so strong we don't even look at each other when we pass, but we are still Facebook friends. Yet something keeps me from making the "de-friend" move. Is it a thread of hope that reconciliation is possible? Or is it our inability to draw those boundaries with people.

Ann Lamott spoke in Atlanta a few years back and I was fortunate enough to be there. She was adamant that we should surround ourselves with people who lift up our spirits rather than those who use us or take our energy away. She said it was a waste of time to be with people whom we don't enjoy and in whose presence we do not grow and learn. She encourged us to clear our calendars of meetings with those types of people and move on.

I thought that was pretty harsh when I first heard the statement, but I do see the wisdom in it. As our lives become more and more complicated, does it not make sense to go for quality in relationships, rather than quantity? And taking that a bit further, when was the last time you were able to sit and talk to a good friend for as long as the conversation lasted, rather than looking at your watch and worrying about making it to your next appointment? Is it worth reducing the amount of "get-togethers" we have so that the ones that really matter can become deep and meaningful.

And thinking about Facebook, could weeding out "annoying acquaintance and Old High School from your friend list improve the quality of that community?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 19: Are all welcome at the table? part 1

In the Presbyterian Church when we celebrate Holy Communion the words of invitation often include a phrase something like, "this is not a Presbyterian table, this is Christ's table. All are welcome in His name." The idea behind this is that at Christ's banquet all of our differences melt away: denomination, race, gender, political persuasion, sexual orientation, economic status. We are all children of God, we are all invited to gather around and partake of his body and blood and be thankful for it.

I grew up with this understanding of the church. Everyone was welcome, regardless of how different they might be. Never mind that the church where I grew up consisted of pretty much all white, upper middle class individuals who were very similar already. Still, I don't discount the message of inclusion that I received. When I was an awkward middle schooler and struggling with friendships at school, the church was a place where I belonged, and it made a huge difference to me knowing there was some place where I would always be welcome.

But have you ever been part of an intentional group related to a church: a small group perhaps, Bible study or interest group, that started as an open invitation but then grew into something deeper? And then have you been faced with the task as a group of deciding whether or not to close the membership? And did that involve telling people they weren't welcome?

I have recently been part of such a conversation in a group which has become a fellowship of sharing on a deeper-than-your-average-book-club level. It started as an open invitation to an entire congregation, but now that we have become so close and like-minded about what we want the group to be, there is discussion of closing the group to new members, and telling those who have been more casual about attendance that they need to look elsewhere for their fellowship.

This is a dilemma for me. What would you do? I have in mind one person whom I think would be devastated to be told she cannot come but who is unable to commit to meeting every week. Is it better to allow her sporadic attendance, knowing it might change the direction of the conversation? Or is it better to be completely intentional about the group, and to draw clear boundaries, possibly leaving some people out and hurting their feelings?

I look to Christ and the disciples that he called. Jesus was very intentional about those with whom he chose to share his daily life. He sought them out and called them by name. He desired their particular set of skills and weaknesses to be current witnesses to his ministry, and he called some of them 'friend.' For the disciples' part, they often drew boundaries, turning away people who were asking for healing, or children, or crowds eager to hear him speak. They argued among themselves which of them were closer to their Master.

But in all of those instances, Jesus always seems to choose the more inconvenient path: taking time to make whole the bleeding woman, embracing the children, and feeding the hungry crowds. These people did not share Jesus' ministry in the same intimate way the disciples did, but neither were they discounted.

So I wonder, can a small group make an intentional covenant to share deeply with one another, while still ministering to others? It seems to me that intentional time together in the Christian context must always be open to the stranger and the inconvenient petition.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 15-18: Washington D.C.

There isn't much to write for these four days because our family took a trip to Washington D.C. I will say, on a personal note, that we reconnected with some friends from long ago and had a fantastic time. They are the type of friends that no matter how long it's been since you've seen them, you can pick up as if it were yesterday. Even my daughter said of their kids, whom she had just met, "I feel like I've know them since before I was born!"

And a shout out to our nation's capitol. Even though the events of 9/11 have taken the joy out of tours of the Capitol building and the White House, the Smithsonian museums are as amazing as I remember as a kid. You can't help but learn something, and where else can you see a stuffed walrus, dinosaur bones, Apollo Ono's skates, a moon rock, and the Enola Gay all in one day?

I am sure, though, that the main event for my kids was riding the Metro. "I just LOVE this underground train, mom!!" There is something exhilirating about sharing a big city with your kids, trusting them to stop at street corners and hang on to their subway tickets. I recommend it to everyone.

It was a great trip. Now it's time to get back to blogging. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day 20: Are all welcome at the table? Part 2

I was discussing this dilemma of whether our small group should become "closed" to outsiders and those who were less committed and my minister friend offered this, "It is easier to expect accountability than it is to expect grace." I find that statement very profound and food for thought. What I take her to mean is that it's easier for groups to rally around 'rules of engagement' with one another than it is for them to rally around the possibility of God's goodness and selfless love working within them. I think she is right.

What was really fascinating is that as we continued our conversation she shared a strong dislike for the following statement made by people who are in the process of forgiving or being forgiven, "I don't want this to be cheap grace." I thought I knew where she was going with that, so I jumped in and said, "of course! Because grace is never cheap, it is FREE!" But she countered and said, "No. All grace is costly to someone. Be it Jesus on the cross, or the pain of letting go, the giving of oneself, whatever it is. There is no cheap grace."

So, which is grace? Free or costly? Or both? I think probably the latter. The forgiveness and wholeness we are given by Jesus was bought with a price, but one that was gladly and freely paid so that we might be freed of our bonds. That kind of grace is meant to be received gladly and freely, without guilt. The same goes for true forgiveness between people. The price is vulnerability and humility on both sides, but when gladly given, should be accepted guilt-free.

What does this have to do with the closed or open small group? I'm not sure. Only I think there is something to be said for trying to create a group atmosphere that is more expectant of grace than of accountability. More expectant of costly intimacy and freely given love than commitment. What would that look like? What do you think?

Days 13 and 14: The Elementary School Terror Drill

Today my seven year old told me they had a drill at school where everyone had to hug the wall as flat as they could for a few minutes. This didn't sound like the typical fire-drill, so I asked her what it was for. "Sometimes people come into our school who aren't supposed to be there, who want to hurt us. We're supposed to try to be invisible." Did she know that this was just a drill, and that such a person was not actually at the school? She said yes, she knew that, but she spoke about these would-be intruders as if they had already come.

I was shocked to hear that this was how the afternoon was spent at her elementary school. Back in our day at school in Florida we had fire drills and hurricane drills, and that was it. Now there is a whole new crisis to add to the list, the gunman drill.

My suspicion is that this new exercise in fear-management was in response to an incident at a school near here, when a disgruntled 4th grade teacher shot the principal and the assistant principal. I heard on a local radio show yesterday that the Knox County School District was being forced to look at the situation in two parts: to investigate how this man was able to become a teacher in the first place, and to implement strategies for how to deal with such events in the future.

That's all just fine, but my question is, why is the Knox County School District not also investigating ways to make the system more healthy, so that teachers don't find themselves overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid, and constantly freaking out about testing standards? Why, indeed, is our response to disasters such as this always to blame somebody and then to put more ineffective yet annoying safety measures into place? Look at how we suffer still from the attack on 9/11. We suffer not because the terrorists are still flying planes around, but because we have isolated ourselves, paralyzed by the anticipation of another attack, and because we are playing the blame-game with the lives of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But I'll back up, because that's political, and apparently it's unbecoming of the clergy to have opinions on such matters. It just makes me mad. I am mad that while I had to sign a permission slip to let my daughter see President Obama's speech to school children a few months back, no one bothered to ask if I was OK with her participating in a school drill where she was told "bad people might come in the school" and to make herself invisible against the wall. We are worried about what our President might say, but we're OK with fear-mongering? People, that is just plain wrong.

So here's another thing I love about the rebel Jesus. He was by no means a fear-monger. He didn't try to sugar coat his message, but he was not in the business of scaring people into faith. I heard a great sermon on Sunday in which the preacher said, "Jesus did not say 'come unto my religious institution so that you might be dragged to me by guilt.' Jesus said, "come unto me.'"

How does approaching the Savior, as he has invited us to do, inform what's going on in our children's schools? I think it's more than just a lack of concern over this world because soon enough we'll be in paradise. I think it's an attitude of love, and trust and faith that will keep us sane. Jesus also said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." He said this to a people who knew what it was to carry heavy burdens on their backs for miles.

We are also a burdened people. Our yoke is fear: fear of being hurt, fear of being blamed, fear of change, you name it, we're scared of it. But Jesus preaches a different way, a way where with him we can go anywhere with confidence. In Christ we are not made bulletproof, but we are invited into his loving embrace so that we might participate bravely in the world as people who shine with his reflected glory.

If Jesus were to walk among us today, would the little children feel free to come to him? Or would they be flattened against a cinder-block wall somewhere, hoping to God he won't see them?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Days 11 and 12: God in the Whirlwind

We have just had the most amazing weekend. I haven't had time to miss Facebook, which is saying something, because every other day of my "fast" I have really missed it.

Friday night, a group of folks interested in starting a new Presbyterian church in Knoxville met at our house to explore possibilities. There were 11 adults and 6 children. Everyone shared a strong desire to be part of a group that could pray for each other, and wasn't afraid to be "real" with one another. They want to start doing mission rather than just talking about it. They also want a safe place to explore and question their faith, and they want to worship in new ways, because they are tired of traditional church.

This morning our group attended church with a predominantly African American congregation in the center of town. They are a congregation of about 50 members, the product of a recent merge of two churches. The service flowed beautifully; there were children making happy noises and no one gave them the "evil eye." Everyone, and I mean everyone sang the hymns with gusto. And the members were warm and welcoming, without even acting shocked that 10 white people had suddenly appeared in their midst. Afterward, the pastor gave us a tour and showed us a room that would be perfect for our worshipping community. He said once the renovations are finished it could be our space, to use for whatever purposes we might have. He also told us that several of their members would probably like to be part of what we're doing, and the pianist would be interested in participating if we would have him. Our group was so excited to hear all of this, and you could feel the Spirit as everyone looked around, imagining worship in this amazing space that was being offered to us without our even asking.

Afterward we gathered in the home of one group member and shared lunch, and made a plan for gathering together through Lent. I must admit I'm blown away by how all of this is falling into place. If ever there was a time when God was making moves, I think it is now. No one is trying to push their own agenda, instead all seem to genuinely want something greater, a real relationship with the Lord. For once, I do not feel the need to coerce people into church attendance, or into service of some kind. They are gathering because they feel drawn to Christ in this way. It is beautiful to witness.

I don't have any grand theological insights today, but wanted to share this story of something new unfolding in our town. I can't remember a time when I have felt so swept away by the Spirit into new territory. I have absolutely no idea where this is all going to end up, but amazingly I feel no anxiety. Thanks be to God!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Day 10: In Praise of Facebook

I was honored with a very kind email from a sorority sister from my Sewanee days today. She wrote in response to reading this blog, and it warmed my heart and reminded me of the many positive things I enjoy about being on Facebook.

It is because of Facebook that she and I reconnected after nearly 20 years. I have to sing the praises of our internet community for that. It is almost magical how in one day I can receive messages from people so varied as a college friend, a minister colleague, someone from my opera-singing days, a person from my home church in Florida, a neighbor, and a church member, to name only a few.

I find it fascinating that while we are starving for a feeling of belonging and community in our own back yard, we are thriving in community on the internet. And for a person like me, who is terrible at keeping in touch, it is a God-send. I am able to keep up with folks as far away as Tbilisi, Georgia while at the same time instant messaging my next door neighbor about the grey fox in our shared back yard. So many people from different parts of our lives all gathered into one ether-consciousness.

So, ten days in, I am reflecting in gratitude on how Facebook has enriched my life by putting me in touch with some amazing people around the world and from every phase of my life. It is a remarkable age we live in, and sometimes it does us credit to enjoy the way things are.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 9: I Don't Know What to Call Day Nine

The worst part of worship prep for me is the sermon title. Oh how I hate having to commit to a topic by Wednesday, when the sermon itself will not be preached until Sunday. So much can happen in between! And no matter how much preparation and research I put in, there is always something left to write early Sunday morning. Always. I struggle to feel comfortable with that living aspect to preaching, because I honestly think it's the Spirit's way of keeping me out of the way of the message. But I'd really like to tie everything up nicely in each sermon, give it a really fabulous ending and then receive high-fives from everyone in the receiving line at the back of the sanctuary. Unfortunately, it never works that way.

Two weeks ago I preached a sermon that was well on its way to being finished early on Saturday night. It was on the Transfiguration from Luke 9. I had done some language work on it, read a few commentaries, and it was 3/4 done. And then, it was as if God turned out the light and said, "it's finished. Go to bed." So I did. The next morning, the anxiety to work out a good ending never came, so I went to church with my 3/4 completed sermon. I got up to preach, knowing full well that I had no ending, but I was still not bothered.

When the black type ran out and the blank page took over, the words from Luke 9:35 rang out as if they were being spoken aloud in the sanctuary: 'This is my Son, my Chosen One, Listen to Him." So simple, yet so clear. It was as if the voice spoke to us all, coming from that powerful event two thousand years ago to the present. Jesus spoke of love and justice and did it in a powerful and subversive way. "Listen to him," the voice said.

Silly, silly preacher woman. Every week, I, like poor Peter on that mountaintop, have hoped to build some sort of permanent dwelling for the prophets of God with my words. Some sort of lasting tribute in each sermon with perfectly crafted sentences and sound theology. But I, like Peter, have been missing the point. We can't contain the glory of the Lord in a dwelling place, a Temple, or an award winning sermon. The words worth repeating have already been written. And God has commanded us through scripture once again to take heed.

Day 8: Too Much Time On My Hands

I have given up a few minor addictions in my lifetime: caffeine and Tetris being probably the most onerous. With caffeine the worst part is physical, a headache that lasts for a week and a weird fatigue that makes you wonder if you've contracted some horrible sickness. With Tetris it's just a matter of waiting until you no longer see the little colored blocks falling when you close your eyes.

But giving up Facebook, which I consider another of my minor addictions, has left me with a new sensation. Extra Time. This afternoon I got all the laundry folded and then did the dishes, had a good conversation with a friend on the phone, made dinner for the kids, attended a budget meeting and still had time left over to wonder what to do with myself next. I'm not used to having that kind of extra time. And even though most people say they just wish they had more time in the day, I wonder if we're really all that comfortable with having enough time to do what we need to do.

Because when every waking moment is not filled with tasks, we're just left with ourselves and our thoughts. Time to crank up the radio or find a volunteer opportunity. It's much easier to plow through a bunch of activities than it is to hang out with our own unique, fearful, wonderful, quirky, insecure, overwhelmed selves. And we've got to keep the loud music and the wild schedule going or something worse might happen: God might have something to say to us as well.

Personally, I do think I try to drown out my own thoughts and the voice of God with silly activities. I'm not proud of it but it's the truth. Because if God actually gets a word in through all the noise in my head, it might be a call to some place I do not want to go, or a command to forgive someone I enjoy hating, or a nudge to look in the mirror and recognize that a bad situation just might be my own fault. Better to keep the static going so when Jesus asks, "Can you hear me now?" I can answer, "you're breaking up...what was that? Hang on, I'll have to call you back later...."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 7: Response to Bruce Reyes Chow on "What Not to Give Up For Lent."

I just found out that our own PCUSA moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, has written an article on why not to give up social networking for Lent. Oops! Guilty as charged! Since I've been outed for going against the moderator's wishes I thought I should at least respond. He's got some thoughtful insights, as usual. I do feel that I 'know' Bruce even though we have never met because of his commitment to internet communication, and he is my friend on Facebook, for which I am grateful.

The big tag line in Bruce's article is this: "If the community one finds on social networking is something to give up for Lent, would it be OK for folks to give up going to church?" The assumption seems to be that internet social networking is comparable to church membership and he goes on to give three scenarios one should consider before giving up a network like Facebook. The first says if the networking/church has become destructive and an addiction, by all means give it up--possibly for good. The second says if the networking/church has kept one from God and that overshadows the good the connection brings, give it up and then return to it with "better practices for the long term." The third says if the social networking is life giving and positive, keep it and find something else to give up. (All my paraphrasing..apologies to Bruce).

I think that's all really good advice. I probably fall somewhere between categories 2 and 3. I do, for the most part, find my interactions on Facebook to be life-giving, affirming, and community-building. That said, I do think it can become addictive, and it does feed on narcissistic tendencies, and I recognize the need to watch those in myself.

But I disagree with Bruce on his assertion that giving up a social network for Lent is comparable to giving up church attendance. The church is first and foremost a center for humans to worship together. Part of the human experience is being rooted to earth inside a physical body. When we engage with people on the internet, much of our physicality is lost. We barely even move. I do not think it is possible to worship God without engaging our entire being, at least some of the time, during worship. Even if we post-modern folks consider church to be merely a social club with a God agenda, we still cannot be fully engaged in that community without fully engaging our bodies. There is an entire section in our Presbyterian Book of Order regarding Space and Time in worship. That is because physical space matters.

We are more than well-crafted sentences. We are flesh and blood, and full intimacy of faith depends on physical proximity to one another. While a social network like Facebook is a wonderful way to maintain contact with loved ones far away, share pictures of our kids on vacation, make new friends, and even promote good causes and extend the web of care, it is not a substitute for a home visit, a shared cup of coffee, or a good long hug, and it never will be.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 6: Liturgy for the Techno Age part 2

I am still thinking about liturgy for worship in the modern age of technology. It occurs to me, at least in my personal life, that a prayer of confession surrounding the use, or misuse of the internet in particular would be helpful. So many of our church problems or issues now stem from communication problems that surround emails, Facebook or otherwise. Have you been on the receiving end of a "nasty-gram" regarding church business? Have you written some angry diatribe, pushed send, and then wished to God you hadn't done it?

I can answer yes to both questions, and I'm fairly certain that I am not alone. The fact is, emailing makes communication easier on the one hand, and it destroys it on the other. In my opinion these email blunders are a sign of our basic cowardice. We wouldn't dare say half the things we say on the internet to someone's face. Just look at the garbage that gets posted as comments on any public site.

There is no point burying our heads in the sand and swearing off email, nor is there any benefit in remaining angry with ourselves for this cowardice. It's one more form of total depravity. When offered an opportunity to share harsh opinions without immediate repercussions, we jump at the chance. But we can take responsibility for the things we write to one another, and we can acknowledge our tendency to behave badly at the computer screen.

I would love to see a prayer of confession something like this spoken by almost every Session I've ever worked with. And I wonder if there might be a place for this type of language in congregational behavioral covenants:

Gracious God, we are a fearful people. We fear confrontation, and yet we are desperate to be heard. Our anxiety of controversy is so high that we resort to cowardly means to share our views. Forgive our mean-spirited, knee-jerk reactions through email. Forgive our use of words as weapons. We also know that we are quick to take offense. Give us a patient heart, and the courage to ask someone what their true intent is before responding in anger. Forgive our insecurities, Lord. Give us words the build up rather than tear down, and cover our debates and disagreements with your justice and your love. In Jesus Christ we pray these things, Amen.

Day 5: Liturgy for the Techno Age part 1

At a preaching conference this past summer in Montreat, North Carolina, the worship leader invited us all to take out our cell phones. We all did so, and she acknowledged that we were all probably thinking, "yes, yes, silence those stupid things. There's no place for them in worship." But instead, she asked us to hold the phones in one hand and to place our other hand on top. She acknowledged that without this particular technology, many of us would not have been able to get away from our jobs and families to be at the conference at all. We then prayed for all the people with whom we kept in touch for the week using our phones, and praised God for those connections that would not be possible without them.

I loved that prayer! It was the first time I saw a technological device embraced as good and helpful in a worship service. So it occurred to me there could be liturgy written for worship with the specific intention of lifting up the joys brought by technology. The church I most recently served might pray the following prayer of the (21st Century) people:

Lord, thank you for this screen and projector, which illuminate your words, and cause us to lift our heads to speak your name. The colors and images there show us your love in new and exciting ways! Thank you God, for the knowledge and craft of those who work our sound system, for through them we hear music which gathers us in and won't let us go until we have felt something real. Bless our website God. Even now, there may be someone who is searching for a place of faith where they can be themselves and belong. We offer up all: screen, DVD, and computer, to your glory. Guide us we use them to do your will. Amen

It sounds a little silly when I read this out loud; somehow the modern words seem out of place in a worship setting. But maybe that's part of the problem. Why shouldn't we pray for guidance as we use our phones, our laptops, projector screens, iPods, and the internet? If we start acknowledging the world we live in in our worship practices, then maybe somehow our worship will become more relevant to the world.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day Four: Wisdom from Desperate Housewives

Facebook was a major illustration in today's sermon at presbytery. The preacher, a friend of mine, compared our churches to our Facebook pages, saying that on Facebook we make ourselves sound so productive, healthy, and interesting, even though the reality is we are a sitting at home in our bathrobe eating chocolate chips out of the bag trying to come up with clever things to post. She said that people in church behave in a similar way. On Sunday mornings, we dress ourselves up, put on our happy face, and show up to worship squeaky clean and with perfect children. Little does anyone know that behind the fake smile lurks depression, a looming divorce, mental illness, grief, loss of our job, or any of a number of heartbreaks.

At a recent church meeting an Elder told us that church is the last place she wanted to be when things were going badly in her life. She said she liked to come to church in a happy frame of mind, and she liked to receive an uplifting message. If things are bad, she said, best to keep it to yourself. I pity her, because what happens when one is no longer able to keep up the facade? Then the perfect and happy church can easily become a place of pain. Is it right to stay away from our faith community because we're having an off day? What does it say about our church that we don't feel we can bring our whole selves to the table?

In Acts 2:43-47 the author Luke describes life among the first followers of Jesus Christ. "All who believed were together and had all things in common." (v. 44) This is followed by a description of a life in which the people shared meals, worship time, and even their own possessions. This life of true fellowship, or koinonia in the Greek, was the model for the early church. They had ALL things in common. That means the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although communal living is not practical for everyone in our current society, the spirit of sharing that Luke wrote about is worth considering. Would it make a difference in your life if you knew church was a place you could take your hopes AND your fears, your successes AND your failures, your perfect days AND your chaos?

In one of my favorite scenes from Desperate Housewives (yes, I watched the first several seasons) Lynnette, mother of four, has a nervous breakdown because she feels overwhelmed by everything going on in her life. When her friends find her curled up and crying at the neighborhood soccer field, they gather around her and share stories of times in their own lives when they had been pushed to the brink of insanity by some stressful event or emotional upheaval. Lynnette looks at each of them and cries out, "why don't we TELL each other these things? It would be nice to know we weren't alone!"

That's what the church can provide. We may not be able to agree on doctrine, or politics, or even what color to paint the walls in the fellowship hall. But we can share our stories with one another: the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. Because the church at her best should be one place in this world where we are not alone.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day Three: Is Praying More Like a Text or a Phone Call?

Yesterday I heard the news that a plane had crashed into a building in Austin, Texas. I have a friend in Austin and instantly wanted to know if she and her family were alright, and what news she'd heard from ground zero. She and I met about 2 years ago through a mutual friend on Facebook, and since then we have logged hours of instant messages, but have only spoken on the phone twice. But due to my Lenten fast, I was forced to call her on the phone. What followed was a 45 minute conversation in which we not only discussed the crash, but branched off into psychology, theology, plans for a family trip together, and sharing about our frustrations and joys with our small children. We shared in less than an hour what would have taken probably 6 months to cover over Facebook, between instant messages and wall posts.

Why have we mostly forsaken actual talking, on the phone or in person, in favor of text messaging and internet blips? How is it that we can think of email and wall post interactions as a cultural advance, when through them we cannot hear voice inflection or see facial expressions? Why do we choose a mode of communication that slows us down and limits what we can say?

If I'm honest with myself, I prefer the text or the IM because I can engage in it on my own time. If I'm feeling overwhelmed by all I have to do in a day, it's easier to fire off a quick text to someone than it is to speak with them, exchange the polite greetings, inquire after their family and health, and sign off respectfully. Have you noticed that many emails dispense with the "Dear So-and-so" and "Best Regards, So-and-so"?

On the third day of my Facebook fast I am thinking about prayer, and wondering if our technological advances have not only affected the way we communicate with each other, but also the way we communicate with God. I was at a family retreat recently where we learned about a deck of cards resource for parents: prayers for the "family on the go." It was the prayer equivalent of text messaging to God: short-order phrases of gratitude or petition to say while driving to the store, waiting in the drive-thru line, or watching a soccer game. With this type of prayer a person could pray all day long without interrupting his or her schedule. The parents of young children who were present at the retreat, including myself, lined up to get our own deck.

All kinds of prayer are valid, and there is certainly a place for these types of prayers. But if all we do is text-message God, sending canned messages smashed in between events in our harried lives, then I think we miss something important.

Like a phone conversation or a face to face meeting, prayer with God could instead be a real conversation. When we meet people and actually talk with them, we get to share our stories in detail. When we spend time with others our relationships become stronger based on shared experience. Couldn't the same be said for our relationship with God? We might stop every now and then, and instead of sending the text message, go to meet God in the world. Invite God into our home or our workplace, and strike up a real conversation. There is a risk here, because it means we need to make ourselves available for a call at all the inconvenient hours of our busy lives. But our lives could be richer for it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day Two: Now What?

So, here it is, Day Two of my Facebook fast, and I'm in the shower imagining all the great status updates I can put up already: "I've already chosen the winner of American Idol." or "After a long imprisonment the Sun is out! Call the police and lock it away before it does any damage!" or "New toilet today...finally!" Then I realize, I won't be posting any of my oh-so-clever updates. I become aware in that instant how much time I actually spend crafting status updates in my head during the day. Something will happen and I'll think, "ooh, that's a good one. How can I get all that in one line?" It's like having a little news reporter in my head deciding which story ideas would be the most interesting. It's also a little Narcissistic. I wonder, is the constant stepping out of myself to view what's going on so that I can comment on it keeping me from being present in the moment; from feeling actual joy, sadness, fear, whatever? I'll have to pay more attention to that.

I've also spent some time reflecting on the reaction I've gotten from folks when I've told them I'm giving up Facebook for Lent. To my surprise, the majority have been negative. "Why would you want to give that up?" someone asked, "It's a form of communication, not a luxury!" One friend warned me that folks would feel abandoned by me because Facebook is a community, and to give it up is like giving up on a relationship. I hadn't thought about it that way.

At last night's Ash Wednesday service we had ashes placed on our foreheads, with the line "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." A reminder of our mortality, and the sense that we're just a blip on God's Holy "to-do" list. A reminder of our humanity, and the contrast between who we are and who God is. It makes the running news reporter commentary in my head seem downright silly. What would God's status update be for the day? "God...was most displeased to hear Pat Robertson's comments about Haiti." or "God...saved a few lives today, but left others to die. C'est la vie." Or is God's status update always the same, something like: "God....loves everybody. Wish they'd pay attention once in awhile."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day One: The Journey Begins

Perhaps someone famous said it, and if they didn't, someone should. Anything that you feel you can't live without could be a stumbling block to a healthy life. And so it is that I begin this Lenten journey of giving up facebook for forty days. Do I have doubts that I can live without it? Absolutely! And the truth is, I'm nervous about it. How will I keep in touch with all of those newly essential people from my past? How will I communicate without (horrors!) picking up the phone and speaking directly to people? How will I make public my opinions on politics, church life, and American Idol?

It occured to me, after the decision to go AWOL from the facebook community for 6 weeks, that it might be interesting to explore how the change affects my daily living. Is it possible to drop a new communications technology and survive? Will there be a sense of reclaiming some of the old-school methods of reaching out to friends such as text messaging and email? Will I spend more quality time with my kids, or find a new escape?

Not to mention the spiritual implications. There'll be alot of empty space in my day. I spend alot of my free moments trolling the facebook seas looking for a friend or discussion or funny video someone posted. Anything to feel connected. What will my brain do with the radio silence? The hope in Lent is that we spend more time focused on God's love, our own humanity, and the awesome wonder that God actually wants to be in relationship with us.

So invite you to join me on this journey. Like all good journeys, I have no idea where it will ultimately lead, but I know God is my companion always.

Soli Deo Gloria