Monday, January 30, 2012

The book and its cover

     Recently, I took a walk around my new neighborhood. The day was glorious, as New Mexico days tend to be and after I finished oogling at the cloudless, azure sky, I took notice of the homes in the neighborhood. Interesting to look at these houses with new-ish eyes.
     Here is what I noticed about the homes I passed: virtually every one was adobe-like; many of them had flat roofs - that is common around New Mexico though a few others had red-tiled pitched roofs, which is a bit less common. Some homes had an overhang that gave shade from the winter midday sun. I imagine in the summer, the shade is welcomed. In my previous experience, many windows had adornment around them to set them off - show them off - displaying decoration reflecting the owners taste, but what I saw were windows that we rather plain. Yard decorations and plantings, on the other hand, were expressive, different and inviting. I was jealous that I only have a balcony to adorn, but I returned home determined to make my balcony my own.
     This walk reminded me that I never saw the inside of any one of those homes. From the outside, they looked common but shortly I visited one of my congregation members and was amazed at the individuality and the beauty I saw there. As one who has moved far too many times, I feel a huge loss that I am not able to create such a space for myself. Maybe soon.
     This sameness and surprising individuality reminds me of the UCC churches in Albuquerque. There are four of us and each may seem the same from the outside: Open and Affirming (ONA), Extravagant Welcome, Faith that is 2,000 years old with thinking that is current. We all subscribe to the same set of doctrines but we express them individually. In one congregation, the people who attend may be more formal, in another more spontaneous and in yet another, more Spanish speaking.
     If you were visiting St. Paul's UCC in Rio Rancho on a Sunday morning, you would find a graying congregation (surprise about that) who is struggling to see what "revitalization" means to them. They are asking themselves and each other how clawing their way up from the brink of death will change their church family. Already, we have more contemporary music. In attempting to break a lifetime of referring to God as "he" we stumble on the pronoun and sometimes just go back to the old way of thinking of God as a man in the sky. At least then we knew what God was, now as we refer to "the mystery we call God" the issue confronting us may be "are stones God's being as well?" Sometimes we meet in our coffee room to view and discuss youtube videos. Even a regular Sunday sermon might challenge us to respond to issues the come through the preaching.
     From our "UCC" identity, our "ONA" stance, from our challenge to think of scripture with our 21st Century vocabulary, we all look the same. Inside, we are truly individual. Just looking at architecture you would never know! If you are int he neighborhood, stop in and say Hi!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

O, What a Beautiful Mornin' O, What a Beautiful Day

YESTERDAY WAS A DAY OFF - MLK Day - and I spent it
  • Listening to the radio station that replayed King’s speeches 
  • Exercising some 
  • Being lazy some 
  • At the eye doctor - 20 minutes and 
  • Trading my way-too-big car in on a smaller car - 4 hours. 
  • The CX7 Mazda was a good car for the winter road in Pennsylvania. It has engine assets that made driving on snowy or icy (or snowy and icy) roads possible. Once, when I had to pull over to let an emergency vehicle go past me, I was able to go up hill, out of the ice and get back on the road with no problem. This was something that my beloved New Beetle, 8 years old when she died, would have strained to do. 
  • When driving at night, I never worried that I would hit a deer or a bear as I was driving because the SUV was big enough to take the hit, sez she. 
  • As I prepared to travel from PA to New Mexico, I knew the cats would have sufficient room to move around a bit. They had been cramped when in the VW we drove from Colorado to Pennsylvania. 
     THE MAZDA WAS STURDY, it was safe, it was UGLY. And so big that I felt lost in it. So I have been doing some shopping to see what would replace this vehicle - miles per gallon were prime consideration right up there with safety. Gotta have both.

     A FRIEND’S ADVICE? Pick fun over sturdy.

     PRE-PURCHASE WORK - I had looked online at other cars suitable for someone my age, and they were not exciting. But do-able. I went to a Honda dealer last week, and the salesperson was uninspiring and must have decided I was not a viable purchaser, though I was dressed in work clothes, because he dismissed me.

      YESTERDAY morning, on my way back from the eye doctor, I stopped at a Nissan dealer to look at what they had and drove out with a
     One year old, and cute as a bug. Fun to drive, great gas mileage, lots of airbags. Lifted my spirits right away.
     Often, rather than spend money, I look to God (FREE) to lift my spirits - it is what ministers do.
     SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT SO FORTUNATE. Nothing - not a car, not God, not a kind voice - lifts their spirits. A member of my congregation just brought me a book for our church library: Wound 328 by Sue Lynch. The book is the story of a woman who lived with misdiagnosed Bipolar Disorder. She eventually committed suicide. I did not know the woman, but I do know others who live a sad life overshadowed by depression. My heart breaks for those who must face darkness so much of their lives. In my optimistic youth, I used to think that anyone could just change their outlook, jump out of bed, feel good and get on with it. Experience with friends has taught me otherwise.

     This morning at the end of my prayer time, I asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit and have that Holy Spirit energize me for the day. I know that almost every day is bright as I live with the outlook of a glass-half-full. Then I came to church and the women in the craft group lifted my spirits. Later, it is sermon prep time and that is always a positive experience. Then two cats welcome me home. So much positive in my life, so much to be thankful for. May I always remember and thank God for all my graces and blessings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Doing What Comes Naturally

Whoever said that ministry was an easy job – I know people who think it is – need to walk in my shoes for a few days. Ministry, especially a specialized ministry such as church planting and church revitalization is tough. Not a job for the feint of heart. I think I heard that from some people when I chose this path, but somehow knew that I could succeed where others had not. After four years of this life, here is what I have learned: First, the selection tests that ask over and over if I can take rejection need to put me (the candidate) out in a field, make it a driving rain that is cold and wet, take away all food, shelter and supports, leave me there for two weeks and then ask me to volunteer to go back out for a few more days. If I say yes, I will go then perhaps – maybe - I have the stuff it takes to face the adversities that are inherent whenever a church is built from the ground up or when long-time members of a church have (knowingly) voted to go for revitalization. Second: building from the ground up is far easier, because the only person that has to be pleased is the church planter. All who join the church as it is taking root and growing are coming because they like what the planting pastor has to offer. Coming to a church that has been hurt and split more times than the members can count is tough. Rather than listen to my own good sense about what to do and when to do it, I listen to the tired members who have lost hope as they try to go backwards. There was comfort in the way things “used to be” though when these good folk look around and don’t see their friends, they do realize that change has already taken place. Three: Change is unpleasant. The change that has occurred in the church was unpleasant – good friends died, others moved to warmer climates to be with children, still others found comfort in a church that offered a choir that was wonderful (leaving the choir behind they had belonged to) or found a new preacher who seemed to talk directly to them. Whatever the reason, some dear friends left while others stuck it out and continue to stay even if there appears to be little hope of new growth. That is when they call me: When there appears to be no hope. They want me to bring them back to life – to re-vitalize WITHOUT CHANGE because change is uncomfortable, scary, it may not work and we may fail. Darn, I know that. It is scary for me too. I too wish that things could be as they were before. Here is a contemporary example: I approach each new cell phone the same way. It is scary – I knew the old phone and what worked on it and what did not. I knew that I could not text on that phone because it was not “smart” and now church gurus want all of us in the church building field to text a lot – to Twitter – to FB and there are a couple of new terms. I liked it when I was as smart as the phone – somewhat like my congregation liked it when they were in the church of the 1950s. But neither the not-so-smart phone nor the old-time religion is viable. So I lead us forward with only theory to guide me. And God above me, God beside me, God below me, God to my right and God to my left and most of all God in front of me. I could say heaven help us, but I know that heaven already is.