Opening the Good Book UUCM 10-14-18

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Sermon Notes:

Read any good books lately?  I have one to recommend, but like any good book, it is important to read it with a questioning mind and an open heart.  What does a particular book tell me about my own life?  Are the characters and situations believable?  Most important, from a religious standpoint, is the message of the book uplifting?  Does it contain something that has at least the potential for making me a better person for having read it?

 

Jewish and Christian scripture, the Bible, is one of the six sources from which our living tradition of Unitarian Universalism is drawn.  There are references to Biblical stories everywhere in our culture, including in our music.  If we don’t understand those stories, we can be at a cultural disadvantage.

 

The right of individuals to interpret sacred scripture for themselves, whether that scripture is the Bible or Doctor Seuss, is fundamental to our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition.

 

Have you ever cried in church?  I have. Sometimes the tears are good, and in times of grief or disappointment, just letting them flow can be very healing. We cry when our hearts are touched, and we can cry when we feel like we have found a place to belong, where all of all we are is welcomed and embraced.  Rev. Marcus spoke about that a few weeks ago.

 

But people also cry in churches because their church is hurting them, telling them that they are somehow less than worthy, less than whole. They may be told that God doesn’t love them just as they are if they are gay.  They may also be told that they are less than worthy if they happen to be female. All that is in the Bible after all.

 

This morning we are going to try and unpack some common misunderstandings about the Bible. I hope you learn something new and I hope it might help you resist anyone who may be wounding your heart with their literal interpretations of scripture.  We are going to open up that good book and take another look and see if we can find the Gospel there.

 

The word Gospel comes from the Greek and means quite literally “good news.” It does not mean absolute fact, something that can’t be questioned.

 

If you study it, you will find that while the Bible may contain some good news, especially for the poor and oppressed, and much human wisdom, it is far from fact. It is not literal and to interpret that way is, dare I say it, fake news.

 

My Old Testament professor in seminary, a Franciscan priest, was fond of saying that the Bible is not history, it is not science, and it should never be used as a club.

 

 

The Bible, he said, is simply a collection of the stories of a particular people and their struggles to be in right relationship with the divine, with God. It is full of metaphor and full of inconsistencies.  It wasn’t written down all at one time; and God didn’t dictate it.

 

Biblical scholars, using modern methods, have determined that the bible is in fact a collection of many stories, most of which were originally oral traditions, and almost all of which were edited and changed over time.

 

And there is not just one Bible, a fact that many Biblical literalists don’t know.  The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of 24 books. The Protestant Old Testament contains all the same books, but arranges them differently. The Roman Catholic Old Testament is larger than the Protestant version; containing 15 additional books. The Greek Orthodox Church includes even more, and the Ethiopian Church yet again more.

 

So, if someone tells you that they follow what is in the Bible, it would not be at all unreasonable to ask, “Which one?”

 

Most of those individual books have also been edited.  Some are clearly combinations of different earlier versions.

Scholars have determined that there were originally as many as five separate and distinct written versions of the material in the Torah that were combined at a later time.

 

Have you ever wondered why there are two versions of the creation story in Genesis?  Genesis one describes creation as happening in seven days and God creating both man and woman in his image at the same time.  It is in Genesis 2 that God takes a rib from Adam to create Eve.

 

From the story of the flood to the tales of Abraham and Sarah, from the parting of the Red Seas to the listing of the Ten Commandments, to the genealogy of Jesus, there are both repetitions and differences in what the Bible says.  So, if someone tells you they believe what the Bible says, after they tell you which version, you might want to ask, which part of that version?

 

You also might want to ask them, if they say the Bible is the literal truth, if they think men really have one less rib than women.  Did anyone else ever try to count their own ribs and those of an opposite gender friend or sibling?  I did. It was very confusing.  It also wasn’t particularly easy and I don’t remember even getting a firm number.

Pull out an anatomy textbook later, or ask your doctor if you still aren’t sure.  We aren’t going to engage in rib counting this morning here in church. If you want, I suppose you can do that later, in the privacy of your own homes.

 

It is also important to read the Bible from a historical perspective.  Human sacrifice was common in the ancient desert world.  First born sons were often sacrificed and sometimes murdered.

It was one of the plagues suffered by the Egyptians, and King Herod was said to have killed Jewish babies trying to murder the infant Jesus. If you read the story of Abraham and Isaac with that understanding, maybe the point wasn’t a test of Abraham’s obedience to God, but instead was a message that God values life. Don’t kill the children. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Divine.  Leave your arrogance behind.  That is the message I like to take from Scripture.

 

There is so much in the Bible, ancient as it is, that can have relevance for our modern lives. If you grew up in a large family, or if you have more than one child of your own, maybe you know about sibling rivalry. Starting with Cain and Abel, there are so many stories about this.  Joseph and his jealous brothers when he got a new coat, Jacob when he stole Esau’s inheritance, and the older brother who is hurt when the prodigal son returns and is celebrated.  Those stories can help illustrate the challenges of parenting.  How can we treat all of our children both fairly and as individuals?  It isn’t always simple.

 

There are also stories in the Bible of alcoholism and abuse.  Noah, of the ark fame, after the flood, was drunk and naked and his son Ham saw him and told his brothers.  For telling, Ham was cursed and exiled. So many secrets we are asked to keep, and when you have the courage to tell them it is a risk and we may be punished.

Ham is the hero for me in that story.  He told the truth and in fact was set free from that dysfunctional household.

 

Then there is the story of Judith.  It is in the Catholic Bible, but not in the modern Protestant or Jewish scriptures. Holofernes was an evil and abusive conqueror who brought Judith to his tent to rape her, but he passed out drunk first. Judith then took his sword and cut off his head.  I am not for capital punishment, but in those times, it was a fitting response to a drunk who wanted to commit sexual assault.  Today, we seem to make them Supreme Court justices instead.

 

I just mentioned that the Book of Judith is only in the Roman Catholic Bible.  There was much controversy in the early Christian church over what writings should be included.  There was a lot of very diverse material floating around as well as some very different oral traditions.

 

Some writings were lost for more than a thousand years, but scholars were aware of their existence because of historical records that made reference to them.

 

You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary, from which Anne read a portion earlier.  Often referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, they were discovered in 1945 in Egypt.

 

These writings reflect the incredible diversity of Christian belief in the earliest years.

 

 

 

So, when someone tells you women should be silent in church because it says that in the Bible, maybe you might want to quote from the Gospel of Mary where Levi calls Peter hot headed because he does not want to listen to Mary.

 

You might also ask them why Paul felt the need to tell women they should be quiet.  Most likely they were speaking up and he wanted to silence them.  Many men are still trying to silence women, especially those who are saying #metoo.

 

I haven’t gone into the whole issue of translations, but it is pretty clear that Jesus didn’t speak King James English.  He didn’t even speak Greek.  Anyone who speaks more than one language knows very well that translations are, at best, approximate.

 

When in a silly argument with someone who says that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality, I like to quote Luke 17:34 from the King James Version, the favorite translation of conservative Christians.  The verse reads, literally:

“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.”

Now, when you interpret that verse literally it is pretty clear that at least half of the gay people go to heaven, isn’t it?

I don’t suggest that you leave here today and go out and start arguments with biblical literalists. But if it interests you, do some reading about modern biblical scholarship.

But what I most want to leave you with today are some more questions.  What is yourholy text, and what good news does it contain?

 

Do you find meaning in scripture; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or perhaps another tradition?  Do you find it in poetry, in nature, in connections with other people?

 

Each of us must find our own truth.  We find it in our own lives and in the lives of others that we come to know.  We find it in the world around us.  It is also helpful to read, to study, and to learn what others believe to be true.

 

But in the end, we must each make our own peace with the meaning of our own lives, and our own peace with whatever we mean when we say the word God.

 

There is some gospel, some really good news, however. We don’t have to do any of this alone. There are other souls engaged in similar journeys.  Maybe we can learn from one another.  Maybe people can stop using sacred texts like the Bible to justify their own bias and bigotry.

 

Maybe other people can stop being afraid of what the Bible says and understand that it is not literal and is not meant to be a club to beat you about the head, but is instead a collection of stories told by people trying to understand their lives and the world they lived in.

Isn’t that what we all are trying to do?  Amen and Blessed Be.

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Daily Bread (Week 25)

Now that I have fully transitioned back onto real food, I am going to recycle this gross shaker.  It is not like I didn’t rinse it after each use and wash it with soap, but the residue from the shakes simply did not come out.   When I used the dishwater, the gunk got baked on.

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It makes me wonder what the inside of my stomach looks like.  Kind of creepy, but the program worked, so I am not complaining.  I have lost a significant amount of weight and am primed to continue losing until I reach a weight that works for me and keeps me healthier.  The Kaiser recommendation is to continue to use 3 products a day for the rest of my life.  I have decided to ignore that.  Once I finish my last 3 shakes I am done. The shakes are too gross to me at this point and the bars, while handy in a pinch, don’t seem necessary for every day.  Costco also sells protein bars for half the cost of the Optimist products.  Eating every 3 hours or so makes sense to keep hunger at bay, but I think I can do that eating somewhat more natural food.  (Are low-fat mozzarella cheese sticks real food?  They are a handy protein though.  Hummus, fruit, all of those type of choices can work just fine.) I certainly don’t want to discourage others who might make different choices about the products, but this is what feels right to me.

This week I have been pondering how my body feels.  It is smaller.  I have more muscle and less fat.  I am stronger.  My skin even feels smoother.  My ankles are no longer swollen and the lipodermatosclerosis in my legs is way less painful. I can open the solar pool cover all by myself, something that wasn’t possible 2 months ago. I will need to buy some new clothes soon as most of my old ones are way too big.  I actually feel thin.  I am not thin, however, and anyone else, looking at me, would still see me as fat.  But I FEEL thin.  When I last worked for the federal government, there was a lot of talk about reinventing it.  We also talked about “right-sizing” rather than “down-sizing.”  I never understood the differences as we went through round after round of hiring freezes which caused service declines, but the term of “right-sizing” makes some sense in my current situation.  I want to get to a size and a weight that feels healthy.  If I feel good, I don’t really give a damn what other people think.  I am too old and have been through too much in my life to start worrying about other people’s opinions now.  We talked about goals this week in class. We got the always important reminder that we are the most important person in our lives and that we need to continuing prioritizing our own well-being if we want to be able to help others.  My motivation remains that of improving my health.

I took a class in seminary where we were assigned the task of doing a theological reflection about a core life issue.  We got extra points for tying the reflection to a scripture from a religious tradition of our choice.  Working on that assignment, I realized that the story of the prophet Jeremiah really spoke to me.  He was one of the dudes who kept speaking truth to power, calling the wealthy to help the poor, etc.  They kept throwing him down a well, but he never shut up.  Speaking the truth is important, even if those in power don’t listen and don’t care.  Even in the bottom of a well, you can create ripples that can change things several millennia down the road.   The walls of the wells that confine us will eventually crumble.  Speak your truth.  Never give up.  Rock on Jeremiah. Rock on Anita Hill.   Rock on Christine Blasey Ford.

 

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down 4.3 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for  330 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 57.6 pounds.)

Daily Bread (Week 24)

This last week, I ate out for the first time in almost 6 months.  Twice!  It is the facilitator’s fault.  She passed out menus from fast food restaurants last week and asked us to try and find healthy choices.  I did better, I think, with Thai food (chicken/cabbage/red curry) and the grilled kanpachi with veggies I had at a decent fish restaurant.

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I forgot to take a picture of my actual meal, but it was pretty much like the above, except the cauliflower was roasted not creamed.  I did have the chimichurri sauce which had olive oil. It is impossible to figure out the actual calories when you eat out, but I did try and be smart about it.  No rice or bread, and I avoided heavy sauces.

I think I stayed within my calorie budget, but I only lost .3 pounds last week.  That is OK.     Any loss is better than a gain, which is kind of the opposite of the rest of life.

We did nutrition this week in class, macro mainly, carbs, fat and protein.  I have been watching my carbs for years, to keep my blood sugar from spiking, so that is routine for me by now.  We need carbohydrates of course, and I am trying to get most of mine from the complex range, vegetables and a few whole grains.  Life is complex, but white bread and potatoes not so much.    I yearn sometimes for a simpler life, but it is not what my body needs when it comes to food.

I am also starting to thinking about going completely off the Optimist products.  (They recommend using 3 a day for the rest of our live!) I hate Nestle, the evil corporation that makes it, and the products are far from healthy natural food.  I think I can do better with snacks of string cheese, hard boiled eggs, fruit, veggies and other brands of protein bars in a pinch.  I am still in the thinking stage on that, but I have never been one for eating a lot of processed or packaged foods.  The Optifast products are definitely in that category.

This week has been hard emotionally. I have been very triggered by the US Supreme Court nominee and the Republican defense of sexual assault. I wrote the following poem this morning.

A Holy Rage

I remember this feeling

Tightness in my chest

Fists clenching

Panicked tears.

 

The day my father was baptized

Was the day I stopped

Attending church.

It took me 30 years

To go back.

 

They knew what he was like

But it did not matter

I did not matter

They never asked me

They never cared enough.

 

Another drunken abuser

Is about to stagger into more power

Where he will no doubt

Abuse us all.

 

Where is our sacrament?

Where is our blessing?

Where is the salvation,

For the victims,

For the survivors?

 

I tell you this:

I am no longer a child

I know the truth

I will remember

And I will not forgive.

My rage is holy now.

 

May all our rage be Holy. May we do what is good for ourselves and for each other.  May we be tender with the (so many) wounded among us.

 

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down  .3 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 300 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 53.3 pounds.)

A Holy Rage

I remember this feeling

Tightness in my chest

Fists clenching

Panicked tears.

 

The day my father was baptized

Was the day I stopped

Attending church.

It took me 30 years

To go back.

 

They knew what he was like

But it did not matter

I did not matter

They never asked me

They never cared enough.

 

Another drunken abuser

Is about to stagger into more power

Where he will no doubt

Abuse us all.

 

Where is our sacrament?

Where is our blessing?

Where is the salvation,

For the victims,

For the survivors?

 

I tell you this:

I am no longer a child

I know the truth

I will remember

And I will not forgive.

My rage is holy now.

 

 

 

Daily Bread (Week 23)

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I was very moved a few days ago by an article published on-line by my denomination.  You can read it (Here).  The series of short articles is called Braver/Wiser:    “Life is full of hard edges and complicated choices. Braver/Wiser gives you weekly messages of courage and compassion for life as it is. Every Wednesday we deliver an original written reflection by a contemporary religious leader, and brief prayer, grounded in Unitarian Universalism.”  How we need both courage and compassion in these times! In the relatively near future, I will be honored by having some words of my own included.

But, oh my! The Reverend Misha Sanders in her article reports an elderly woman, a stranger, saying to her in a store, “You have beautiful hair. If you slim down, Honey, you’ll have to fight off the men.”  I’ll let you read the article to find out how she responded, but it made me cry.  Read it please.

Her article also made me reflect on some of my own way of being in the world.

Some straight women say they want to be thin in order to be more attractive to men. This objectifies the female body in unhealthy ways, and if a fat women becomes thin and “finds a man” she will always wonder if he would have loved her if she had stayed fat.  God, I hate that idea.  Fat people are every bit as lovable as thin ones, and to deny that fact is part of the patriarchal rape culture.  In that culture, men see women as created for their pleasure, to use, so they can just be “boys being boys.”  So many of my sisters are filled with rage right now as rape is being defended by Republicans so desperate to control the Supreme Court that they don’t mind adding (another) sexual predator to that lofty bench.

That rage is almost all-consuming as I listen to as much of the hearings as I can stand.  But I am going to try to think of something else for a moment.  I have never been a serial dieter.  I can laugh that I lost the same 20 pounds twice, but others I know have done the yo-yo thing their whole lives.  I never wanted to be thinner in order to attract men, because, as a lesbian, my sense of other women is that they are attracted to the spirit of the person, the personality, not just the surface appearance.  I certainly did not want men, “fighting over me.”  Why does that phrase remind me of dogs fighting over a bone?  Bones have no agency.  Meat.  It is a frightening and disgusting concept that a woman would want that.

I obviously can’t change the subject today.  I can’t even think, because, yes, #metoo, and all survivors are triggered by what is happening.  I am stunned, but not surprised, by the callousness of the old white men sitting in judgement today, not really caring.  And I am awed by the courage of a woman brave enough to speak the truth.

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down  1.2 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 330 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 53 pounds.)

Vengeance

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Vengeance will be ours

For every time you did not stop

To ask if it was OK with us

And for every time we said no

And you did not listen

For every cat call and every grope

For every pair of pants

You couldn’t keep zipped.

For every girl-child and woman

Who was afraid to speak

For every female you blamed

And slimed with the shame

That was your own creation

 

Be afraid for your time is ending

As ours is being born

Our daughters will rise as warriors

Our sons will be steady, kind, and strong.

 

Judith came with her knife

And Holofernes found his reward

We will all be smiling

When your heads, finally,

Begin to roll.

Feel free to hope

That the knife is only

A metaphor.

 

Daily Bread (Week 22)

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I have been seriously pissed off since the news of the attempted rape by the current nominee for the Supreme Court.  Why am I not surprised that the “groper in chief” would nominate another privileged and entitled white male who thinks the world and women were created for his use and pleasure?   Class and race issues abound here as well.  Our prisons are full of poor people and people of color who made a mistake when they were young, but this dude is unlikely to be held even marginally accountable.  Punk he was then and punk he still is.

Anger and stress are not necessarily great for staying on program, but last night we learned about “eustress” a stress that is experienced as beneficial, for example a challenge that can invigorate an person to engage in meeting and overcoming an obstacle.  For a problem to generate eustress, there needs, I think, to be some sense that we have the power within us to meet the challenge.  This is why the phrases, “you’ve got this” and “you can do it” are so helpful in support groups and frankly, in parenting.  No one makes progress when they are in despair.  I am sticking to the program, and to the Resistance, simply because I have to do so.   Keeping hope alive is an essential part of living well and fully.

There was a bump in the road this week when I read the following article:

Everything you know about obesity is wrong. 

So much was excellent about the article.

The comments about the medical profession rang true:

“Ask almost any fat person about her interactions with the health care system and you will hear a story, sometimes three,…. rolled eyes, skeptical questions, treatments denied or delayed or revoked. Doctors are supposed to be trusted authorities, a patient’s primary gateway to healing. But for fat people, they are a source of unique and persistent trauma. No matter what you go in for or how much you’re hurting, the first thing you will be told is that it would all get better if you could just put down the Cheetos.”

And that may be all you are told.  If you are fat, your actual medical condition which may need immediate treatment, is often overlooked and dismissed.  It has happened to me.

The article also did a good job of describing the harmful impacts of fat shaming.

“Paradoxically, as the number of larger Americans has risen, the biases against them have become more severe. More than 40 percent of Americans classified as obese now say they experience stigma on a daily basis, a rate far higher than any other minority group.”

The part that threw me off for awhile, however, was this:

“For 60 years, doctors and researchers have known two things that could have improved, or even saved, millions of lives. The first is that diets do not work. Not just paleo or Atkins or Weight Watchers or Goop, but all diets. Since 1959, research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and that two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible. As early as 1969, research showed that losing just 3 percent of your body weight resulted in a 17 percent slowdown in your metabolism—a body-wide starvation response that blasts you with hunger hormones and drops your internal temperature until you rise back to your highest weight. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.”

This isn’t something I wanted to hear while I am in the middle of a weight management program that seems to be working.  I really question the statistics in the highlighted sentence, however, especially since no reference was given and I could not find that statistic on-line.  The last sentence also doesn’t ring true.  I have not felt hunger while on this program, cravings for certain foods, yes, but not actual hunger.  I really don’t expect to be battling hunger for the rest of my life.  Paying attention, yes, being careful about what and how much I eat, yes, prioritizing exercise, yes, but I am now seeing significant improvements in my health as a result of the weight I have already lost.  That is a incredible motivator as is the awesome support of the other members of my group.

And this week I made another milestone – over 50 pounds down!  I can see the changes when I look in the mirror, but even better, I can feel the changes when I need to climb some stairs.

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May 16                                                                                      September 19

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down  3.1 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 310 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 51.8 pounds.)

Daily Bread (Week 21)

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This scale is my friend.  The other one is just OK,  although we were told last night that weighing ourselves daily isn’t a bad idea.  It will get us used to daily fluctuations and ultimately reduce our stress levels about weight loss or gain.  The weekly weight losses are slowing down now, and while that is OK and to be expected, it can be a bit depressing.

This program is so much harder now with real food.  At 1250-1350 calories I am still not hungry, so that part isn’t hard.  But it is so complicated!  I try to get enough protein and not too much, and to keep drinking water which will help protect my kidneys with this relatively high protein diet.  And vitamins and minerals matter too.  Weighing and measuring everything takes time and concentration.  How did I survive simply eating all those years and I never got scurvy or any other vitamin deficiency disease?  It must have been a miracle, or maybe it was because I ate a lot of almost everything, and some empty calories don’t matter if you are eating a lot.  So, protein, veggies, a lot of water, and a few slices a week of a whole grain bread is what I am doing now to try and stay healthy.  I am sometimes find it hard enough to eat enough to keep my metabolism humming along and out of starvation mode.  I haven’t really dieted much in the past so hopefully I haven’t slowed my metabolism over the years the way frequent dieters seem to do.  Another reason to stick with the program.  It just gets harder every time you try,

We learned some simple strength-building exercises to go along with more aerobic ones a few weeks ago, and I am trying to do at least 15 minutes of them daily.  Ever hear of wall push-ups?  Sort of easy, and sort of not.  The wall doesn’t move, but my arms get a good workout.  As the weather gets cooler, I won’t be able to swim every day so it will be time to hop on the exercise bike again.

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Some folks have dropped out of the program recently.  I hate that.  Another thing I hate is listening to people who have never weighed more than 140 pounds talk about their struggles with weight.  Give it a rest, please.  You really don’t understand.  Just be supportive.

We also talked about lapses, relapses, and drifting this week.  The definitions are kind of complicated.  Lapses are to be expected, and planned ones are in fact just fine.  There will be times that I get to eat cake. Relapses are when you eat cake for several days in a row.  Drifting is when you think eating cake everyday will not cause you to gain weight again.  It doesn’t have to be cake.  It can be wine, a martini, or pasta.  It can be forgetting to exercise for a month.  Get back on the bike!

Like I said, this stuff is hard.

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down  .5 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 330 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 48.7 pounds.)

Storms

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Will the roof hold through the howling wind?

Will the flames stay behind the firebreak, the highways?

How fragile life is

And human structures

How easy to hate

The blame spreading

Into war

How vicious the destruction

We have wrought

And brought

Upon ourselves

And our children

And our planet.

When our own small lives

Are finally at stake

It may be much too late

For repentance.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts about Ministry

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I have been reflecting about ministry differently these days, something that I suppose is natural as I have retired relatively recently from serving a congregation.  I had health issues to deal with, and it was increasingly difficult to do ministry the way I felt it needed to be done.  My health is now improving, but I will not serve a congregation again in the role of parish minister. I am still a minister, however, fellowshipped and ordained, and I will carry a stole on my shoulders for the rest of my days.  It isn’t always a stole made of cloth, but is always one of both tradition and commitment.  It is sometimes visible to the eye, but it is also woven into my bones.  I can feel it on my shoulders, a weight that can be heavy, but also gives me strength.

When I supervised intern ministers, I often told them that ministry is not about the minister, but about the people being served.  I also said it is not really just about the individuals in the congregation or other setting, although they are precious, but it is more importantly about the church or institution as a whole.  Underneath all of that is the mission of the larger faith tradition, and finally, what is the most important of all, is being true to the faith that called you, to serve God if you will, however one defines that Holy Mystery that surrounds us.

Being someone’s minister is an incredible honor.  To sit by a bedside when a beloved soul  draws their last breath, to listen to the anguish of a mother worried about a child who is ill or in trouble, to hold someone in your arms while they sob with grief, or to see the light in a child’s eyes as they are blessed and dedicated in the midst of gathered community – those moments are particularly precious and holy, and I miss being that conduit through which the Spirit sometimes shine through.

The stole above was given to me by the UU Church of Ogden, who named me Minister Emerita as I left them after seven sweet years together. Some of the cloth in that stole is also in the banners that hang in that sanctuary where I often felt the Spirit moving as we worshiped together.  On the back of the stole are words that I wrote when I felt the call to go there to be their minister.

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Every time I put on that stole, I feel the love of the congregation that really made me a minister.  Grace, I still believe, awaits us all.

All change involves some loss, of course.  I miss being an active minister.  But just this week, I realized that in my ten or so years of active ministry, I did not have a minister of my own.  Yes, I had friends and colleagues, all of whom ministered to me at times.  There were also denominational leaders who sometimes fulfilled a pastoral role for me.  But it just wasn’t the same.  Before I entered seminary and while I was studying for the ministry, I was close to almost all of the ministers who served my home congregation.   It was a closeness that had boundaries, we were not friends, but minister and congregant, a particular type of closeness.

I have lived that ministerial relationship from both sides now, and I know that it can be an incredible and special gift, a bond of tenderness, trust, and love.  I have missed being in the congregant side of that kind of relationship, and I was not really aware of how much.  But now, somewhat miraculously, I am feeling what it is like to have a minister again.

We rejoined our home congregation recently while there was an interim minister who was about to leave in a few months.  I enjoyed her services, but I saw her more as a colleague and not really as my minister.  And now, we have welcomed a new minister at our church.  I don’t know him very well yet, our previous relationship consisted of relatively brief encounters at denominational meetings.  But suddenly it seems, my heart is full to overflowing because I can literally feel his pastoral presence and caring attitude toward me and toward the congregation as a whole.  His service this morning was beyond simple competence and clarity of message; it was spirit filled and a delightful combination of warmth, humor, and challenge.  I really went to church this morning.

I will remain a colleague of this minister,  but he will also be my minister, a relationship that to me is is infused with elements of the Holy.  The very idea makes me weep with gratitude.  I will continue to miss the active ministry, and I hope to preach once in awhile, and to do some minor ministry in the role of a congregant who is retired clergy.  But it is good, so good, to have a minister again.  “And within it all, the precious beat of human hearts, of hopes and fears, and dreams, open now in anticipation, live with patience, Grace I must believe, awaits us all.”  Hallelujah!