Monday, January 17, 2011

Reading and Renewing

I am currently on a month long study leave. In the United Methodist Church, pastors are encouraged to take a week each year and a month each four years. After 28+ years, this is the first study leave I have taken.

It is in my nature to plan. I want structure, clear guidelines and obvious goals. When on vacation, I want to know when, where, and how long. Let's just say, flexibility and spontaneity are not my strong suits.

So, I chose NOT to structure this leave. I knew I wanted to read, to reflect and to rest. I knew I wanted to spend some time learning to use my "gadgets" better. I wanted some down time and some learning.

I have rested and for the first time in a long time, I don't wake up tired. I am enjoying reading. I have read or finished reading some amazing books. Some I had picked and put down because of lack of time, but not lack of interest. I have been journaling for the first time in years. I am scheduled for a social media class which I think will challenging and fascinating.

For renewal I have been using the books Guerrillas of Grace, by Ted Loder, The Illuminated Life, by Joan Chittister and A Guide to Prayer for all who Seek God, by Rueben Job.

What I have finished reading:

Saving Jesus from the the Church, by Robin Meyers.
Traveling with Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Monk
An Altar in this World, by Barbara Brown Taylor
The Starfish and The Spider, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
take this bread, by Sara Miles

My favorites in order have been take this bread, Saving Jesus from the Church and An Altar in this World. I really appreciated The Starfish and the Spider for its insights into leadership and organizations.

Coming up:

Exclusion & Embrace by Miroslav Volf. Having started this book, I know it will take some deep digging, but I am truly enjoying it. Engage, by Brian Solis needs to be read by Wednesday before my class. Engage, like The Starfish and the Spider come out of the business world and look at leadership, customer service and how to be flexible in changing times.

So my reading continues and I am always,

Graced to Serve.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rewrite of the blog post: Words Matter

On June 1, 2009, I wrote this post in the aftermath of the shooting of Dr. George Tiller. I am reposting it with some changes as a response to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the death of six victims including Judge John Roll and a nine year old child and 12 more injured. There is already a flurry and war of words going on in the media, among the rigth and the left and everyone in between. I felt an edited version of this blog post might be helpful in this time.

When I was a child we used to chant, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I most often chanted that when someone was calling me a name. Somehow in some way, if I used those "magic words" whatever hurtful, insulting or hateful things people were saying wouldn't matter.

Truth be told, it never worked. The names hurt, the words were painful for all that I attempted to be strong. Those persons who called me names or laughed at me or mocked me, knew the power they held.

As a preacher for 29 years, I know the power of the word. Words can comfort a grieving soul, words can inspire people to do great things. Words have the power to give voice to deep held emotions and beliefs. Words can share the depth of love and of faith.

Words also have the capacity to wound, to destroy and to incite persons to acts of hatred and violence. In that way, words are not neutral. What we say as human beings matter and matters deeply.

Not all persons are Christians, but followers of Christ have an interesting understanding of the power of words and the Word. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took the commandments from the Hebrew Scriptures and said paraphrased, "You shall not kill, but any one angry with their brother or sister or insults them or calls them 'fool' is liable." Jesus goes on to say in the fifth chapter of Matthew that what we do in our hearts and minds is just the same as if we physically acted out those thoughts.

When we say hateful, violent words, when we wish ill or death or violence on another human being it is the same as if we actually lived out the action. I believe in a very real way, those who have posted on web sites, opinion lines, those who have passed out flyer's and leaflets, and gone on radio and television spewing hatred, spewing prejudice and encouraging violence have a responsibility when their words are taken seriously and acted upon.

For the past two years, in the midst of an election cycle, all kinds of hateful, vile and violent words have been used between candidates for election. The election was ugly and both sides promoted misinformation. The words hurled back and forth created an environment seemly closed to dialogue and to debate other than to shout down and shut down others.

The past two days comments on cnn, msnbc, fox, Wichita Eagle and Kansas television stations have not surprised me. I find the battle of words continues with insults to others who comment. In the online world where anonymity rules, some people really believe they can say anything they want and it does not matter. The more shocking, the more hateful, the more likely a reaction will occur.

For people who claim the name Christian, words matter. We are held responsible for the actions that occur because of what we say and do. We are called to a higher way of being, one of love, one of peace and one of grace. We can deeply disagree about our faith and how we live that out, but that does not leave any room for name calling, the hurling of insults or anonymous posts.

As a preacher, because I know the power of words, I find myself "filtering" rather than saying things that will had fuel to the fire, and promote more hatred and violence in the world. Words are sometimes "too easy" and I must be careful. A turn of phrase, a cutting edge to my voice, a slightly veiled insult does not promote what I believe is good and true. So, I continue to attempt to use my words to bring peace, love, justice and grace into the world. I know that words will break hearts and spirits. I will not use my words to incite anger and violence. I will lift up the families of all the victims, the community stunned by this senseless violence and all those struggling to heal from their wounds in my prayers as they walk through this difficult time.

I am committing myself once again, to lowering the violent rhetoric, to creating space for deep dialogue and disagreement and reminding everyone, words really do matter.

I am Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year

I hadn't realized it had been two months since I last blogged. I had it on my "to do" list, but obviously it was never at the top of the list. There were many times I thought, "I should reflect on this or that" but never did in writing.

January is often a time of renewing, reflecting, "resolving" and beginning again. For the first time in twenty-nine years of ministry I am taking a study leave. In the United Methodist Church, our "Discipline" allows and encourages pastors to take a month every four years. Mostly, we, as in clergy, do not take advantage of it.

It is a surprise to me, that I am. I find it very difficult to unplug from the church. I know I need to, but nevertheless, it is hard. In the depth of my soul I find I am hungry for some deep rest, renewal and reconnecting with the God who loves and calls me not only into ministry, but into relationship.

So, I have a stack of books to read, some "technical" learning so I can use my devices and technology more efficiently and time enough to absorb it. I have time enough to rest, to spend time in the presence of the Divine and to renew my spirit.

I am grateful for this time and will use this space to reflect on it in the coming days. With this gift of study/renewal leave, I am, as always

Graced to Serve.