Monday, February 16, 2015

Lenten disciplines in a time of turmoil

Yesterday, I celebrated at a parish that's going through a rough patch. I was planning to preach on the Transfiguration and psychedelic drugs, but I ended up giving them this list of Lenten disciplines instead. I think they might be more generally useful, and so I'm sharing them here. Please know that this list is not in any way proscriptive. If it is helpful, then use it, and if not, not. These are just some thoughts I’ve had in the past couple of days that might be useful for groups or individuals, depending on what's going on for them. Take what you need and leave the rest.

5 things to give up 
  1. Give up ascribing motives. I find that this is incredibly difficult because what we each want to know is why. Why did this happen? And that’s why it’s so tempting to try to figure out people’s motivations. It gives meaning to the story that we’re currently confused about. But for right now, all we can really determine is what did or did not happen, what was or was not done. Ascribing motives leads us to be suspect of the positive behaviors of those we disagree with (“I wonder what s/he’s really trying to get from me”), or to excuse the negative behaviors of those in our camp (“but s/he didn’t mean it”). 
  2. Give up figuring out what you or anyone else should have done or could have done. It didn’t happen. For whatever reason, whatever it is you think should have happened didn’t happen. There is no use trying to go back because whatever it is that happened is in the past. Yes, we can learn from this. But now, in the midst of the crisis, is not the best time. Let it go. Forgive yourself and others. 
  3. Give up the need to be right. Every single person is going to have a perspective on what is going on, based on personal experience, history, and the information s/he possesses. That perspective is neither more nor less right than your own. When we give up the need to be right, it helps us to listen, to recognize that this person’s perspective is valid without needing to answer, without needing to prove, without it being a springboard to our own response. 
  4. Give up anticipating the future. We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know what new development may appear even as soon as tomorrow. When we anticipate the future, it closes us off to other possible futures that the Holy Spirit may want to lead us into – the possibility that God, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. 
  5. Give up trying to fix or save. It’s such a temptation to leap in with grand gestures and solutions to everything. But at this point, fixing or saving is more about trying to reach an anticipated future or trying to correct the past. 

5 things to take on

That’s not to say that we should sit back and do nothing. There are things we can do, things we can take on for Lent. They may seem simple, but I believe they are the actions that will bring healing, trust, and community.

  1. Take on small kindnesses. One thing I learned early on in my ministry was that there was a much better chance I could be there for people when they were in the middle of a crisis if I was there for people in all of the small, day to day things. One percent of the time, they needed me to show up when something went really wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they just needed me to answer their friggin’ email. What are the small kindnesses we can do to care for one another? The accretion of these small gestures, day after day, are what is going to make the difference in the long run, building the foundation of trust, support, and hope as you work together. 
  2. Take on time to pause and reflect. In the midst of temptation to do something to make things better, sometimes the best thing to do is to sit quietly, look around, and see where you are. And that may mean feeling a range of feelings: sorrow, anger, relief, grief, guilt, confusion... But I believe that it is in sitting there and feeling the feelings that the healing hand of God is allowed to enter. It’s when we show God our wounds that we are able to be healed. And that happens when we take time to actually find the parts that hurt. 
  3. Take on smiling at each other. This sounds very small, but I think there’s something important that happens when we simply look at one another and smile. Please note that I’m not saying, “Keep on smilin’!” What I’m trying to get at here is staying connected with one another with hope. You don’t need to agree about anything to acknowledge another person’s humanity and connection to you. 
  4. Take on breathing. It’s amazing how important this is and how much it helps. About a week ago, I got a “Wellness Newsletter” from our HR department. I was stressed and anxious about a ton of things I needed to do and said to myself, “I don’t have time for this ‘Wellness’ crap!” But I looked at it, and on the list of suggestions of things to do, it said, “Breathe 3 times.” Well, I figured I had time to do that. So I breathed 3 times. And then, because it felt so good, I breathed a fourth time. And I was thrown by how much difference this small thing made in how I felt about the day. So when the anxiety comes up, breathe three times. Maybe four. 
  5. Take on the mantra, “All will be well.” Julian of Norwich was a 14th Century anchoress and mystic who lived through the plague that wiped out 1/3 of the population of Europe. In the midst of this and in the midst of her own suffering, she received this word: “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall all be very well.” It may be helpful to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is all small potatoes. As you breathe, remind yourself that all will be well, and all will be well, and all things will all be well. God loves you. God will always love you. God will always be with you, no matter what. And all manner of things shall all be very well.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

World In Prayer, February 13

It was my week to write the World in Prayer prayers. The top news stories were the peace accord hammered out in Ukraine, and the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC. But the story that struck me was that of a group of 6 prison inmates in Taiwan who had taken some prison guards hostage and, after a 14-hour stand-off, committed suicide. 

These were not nice people, it sounds like. And yet I felt very called to pray for them. Which then moved me to pray for other people that I would much rather not pray for. And I was reminded of the great commandments, and of Jesus' words, "I was in prison and you visited me," and "Whatever you do for the least of these, you have done for me." And that led me to these prayers.

As we prepare ourselves for the holy season of Lent, let us reflect in prayer on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: that when we love the least of these, we love you, Lord.

Help us to love the least of these in prison. We pray for prisoners throughout the world. We pray that they may receive justice, that those who are innocent may be freed and those who are guilty may be restored and reconciled. We pray especially this week for Taiwan where 6 inmates held several guards hostage before committing suicide.

Help us to love the least of these who are refugees. We pray for the souls of the 300 migrants who drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. We pray too for all those who tried to rescue them, as they have done so many times over the past months and years, and help them deal with the grief and horror of the tragedy. We pray for the children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and elsewhere, held in family detention camps in New Mexico, USA. We pray for all those who have been displaced from their homes.

Help us to love the least of those who seek peace. We give thanks for the ceasefire announced in Ukraine and pray that it may hold. We pray for Syria, Burkina Faso, Iraq, Afghanistan, and for countries affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, especially Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger.

Help us to love the least of those of all faiths and tribes. We pray for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan who were killed this week in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA by their neighbor.

Help us, O Lord, to love our neighbors as You have commanded us to do. Help us to see in them the image of the living God who has come to dwell with us. And may we be transformed when we see You before us in the face of the least of these.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

How to get Fred Rogers a spot on the Lent Madness bracket

Hello, Lent Madness global reading public! For reasons known mostly to Scott Gunn, for the past several years I've had the pleasure of being a so-called Celebrity Blogger for Lent Madness. Though I admit the title earns me nothing but mockery and eye-rolling here at home.

As a long-time follower of Lent Madness, I've seen a yearly tradition arise of petitioning the Supreme
Executive Committee to put various people on the bracket, notably Fred Rogers. The problem is that, though the SEC would love to put more people on the bracket, they have established as a baseline that the contestants of Lent Madness are limited to the people who are recognized as saints in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA). Reasonably enough.

But there is hope, Fred Rogers supporters! The liturgical calendar and our church's manner of recognizing people of faith is constantly evolving. What's more, there are definitely ways in which mere mortals such as ourselves can affect this change. I am firmly convinced that we can take steps this month to get Fred Rogers on the radar, so to speak.

Namely: Create a local commemoration of Fred Rogers for your faith community on or near the date he died, February 27!

One of the criteria given for inclusion in the Episcopal Church's calendar is local observance. I quote from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music's blog post from one year ago:
Criterion 5  Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant remembrance of a particular person already exists within the Church at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Church’s larger story.
I'm not saying the official recognition will happen this year. "Local and regional commemoration normally occurs for many years prior to national recognition," according to Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Still...if we really want Fred Rogers as part of our national collection of Holy Women and Holy Men (and in Lent Madness), it's great to take that first step.

Oh, and before you party-poopers step in and say, "A person needs to be dead for 50 years before we recognize him," I point you to last year's Lent Madness finalist Harriet Bedell who died in 1969. So unless I suddenly turned 50 without my noticing it, my basic math skills would suggest that Bedell was placed on the calendar well before her required 50 were up.

And whether or not Fred Rogers ever makes it on the bracket or in our church's official commemorations, the truth is, we will still have him as a model of gentleness and compassion. And I'm sure Mr. Rogers doesn't care about a golden halo.