Monday, July 10, 2017

Dear Millennial

I read your article “59 percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out – and They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” – along with similar articles making the rounds in recent months.

I’ve seen many of my friends ‘like’ the article on Facebook – although how they can hit the ‘like’ button, wail AND wring their hands at the same time is beyond both my understanding or dexterity.

All those ‘likers’ are faithful churchgoers - some ordained, some just ‘lay’ folks like me sitting in the pews on most Sunday mornings.
Frankly I’ve been amazed that not a single one of them voiced any concern about either the content or the tone of your observations.

Since you say you “need someone consistently speaking truth”, I thought I’d oblige and step up since I sense that no one else has or will. Think of this as a loving reality check from a big sister; ok, a mom. Oh alright, an indulgent Grandma.

I read your words – several times actually – and what I heard over and over again is “Me… me, me, me”. Listen to me; value me, elevate me, include me, conform to me, prove to me, create opportunities for me, serve me.

I’m not sure how to break it to you but, at its very essence, Christian community is about as close to getting a memo from God saying “It’s NOT about you” as you’re likely to find.

You declare that you value “voice and receptivity above all else”.
Really? Above being still and listening for the small voice of God?
Maybe its not a church you’re looking for; maybe you need to consider a community forum or discussion group where your voice can be the focus.

That being said, you are, and would be recognized as, a unique, beloved child of God with specific gifts to offer in every congregation with which I’m familiar  - but the church and Christianity writ large doesn’t revolve around your feelings, your voice or your schedule.

You ask that we stop all the church jargon and get down to basics – Love God and Love Others – and I couldn’t agree more.
But here’s the rub – putting God first and faithfully serving those He loves the most -  who are generally the populations our society values the least – takes time. It involves building and sustaining relationships; it’s inconvenient. Sacrifices will be required and it won’t fit neatly into the small sliver of time you happen to have available on the random Sunday in between whatever team sports you and your children are more passionately committed to than the development of your faith.

And, please, don’t tell me I don’t understand about time pressures.
I don’t have to Google or check it on Snopes to know the days in 2017 have the exact same 24 hours allotted to them that they did when I was raising 2 sons as a single working mother with no husband and no extended family as backup.

Being an adult – being a Christian adult – means making hard choices in time allocation.
You want a closer relationship with God? A deeper understanding of the life and love of Jesus? Then spend time in silence with them; read about them; discuss what others know about them and how living a life based on the teachings of the church have changed their lives. Intimate relationships don’t just happen; they’re a reflection of the time and effort you put into them - or not.

No one is preventing you from becoming involved, deeply involved, in the life of the church and impacting decisions about our shared spiritual life.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say we should stop creating ‘Christian activity’.
You say “community happens best in service with a shared purpose”.
Again, maybe its not a church you’re looking for. Maybe the Kiwanis or Lions would suit you better.

We don’t ‘do’ activity as Christians for the sake of doing activity.

We pay attention to the brokenness of the world and we work in hundreds of small, often unrecognized, ways to bring this world closer to the Kingdom of God where resources, sorrows, joys and life are shared. We recognize that every gift we have is from a loving God, that none of it is ‘ours’ and we are called to freely share those gifts with others.

We struggle weekly with how to be as counter cultural and radical as Christ was.
We don’t have a lock on how to do it and we often don’t even agree on what that looks like and what our priorities for outreach should be.
Feel free to join us and add your voice and thoughts to the struggle.

On any given Sunday, our parish bulletin lists dozens of ways to engage in efforts to make a difference on a local, national and international level. All of these efforts are led by congregational members who are responding with passion to a calling to change the world.
They are always open to anyone who wants to get more involved.
But you won’t get an engraved invitation.
You may actually have to take some initiative.

And those people holding leadership positions in the church?
They didn’t leave a Newcomer brunch and demand to be included.

They demonstrated the radical act of faith called showing up - serving selflessly, sometimes for years - setting up tables, cooking, cleaning, raking leaves, leading other peoples children through the turbulent teen years as Sunday school teachers and leaders. They made a joyful noise by singing in choir, weatherizing windows for the elderly, leading Mission trips, visiting shut ins … all the small acts of love that are essential to a congregations communal life. They let themselves be known, be vulnerable; they made mistakes, asked forgiveness and tried again. They dug deep when times called for sacrifice; they supported each other during good times and bad - because that’s what families do - Gods family especially. They did all those small acts which made us stronger as a community so we could do the work we’re called to do as church.

Dear Millennial, what have YOU contributed to the life of your church?

How are YOU serving and building up the body of Christ so that together we can accomplish all that God is calling us to do?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Wopila, Maggie

It came as unexpected gift;
a blessing wholly undeserved.
 
Acrylic, canvas and talent 
capturing spirit and the hint of a smile, 
the twinkle of an eye.

I remember,
with a child's heart,
the rare occasions when a smile would break open -
delight overcoming her awkwardness about less than perfect teeth.

I remember being enveloped by soft brown arms,
resting my blonde curly head on her ample bosom;
not individual breasts but a shelf of comfort;
refuge from the latest injustice inflicted on my tender heart
by careless parents and siblings.

I knew then the old spiritual our church choir sang on Sundays
was wrong -
the bosom of Abraham had nothing to compare to the bosom of Mary.
O rocka my soul!

For a child longing to be part of something bigger than the brokenness she knew,
her embrace was home.

Her face was the first glimpse I ever had of God.

I tried to calculate the odds that led to the paintings creation:
a chance meeting years ago
between a New Jersey born and bred social worker
and a beautiful artist from the Inner Hebrides of Scotland;
a meeting at a barbeque on a Lakota reservation
in a forgotten corner of the plains in South Dakota,
just north of the Nebraska Sandhills.

I quickly stopped the calculations,
not because I'm bad at New Math (although I am),
but because there can honestly be no other explanation 
beyond the timelessness of Gods grace.

My heart filled to overflowing with gratitude for the presence of her in my life - 
the 'her' encompassing both artist and subject.

I marvel at the realization that 
while I only had my great grandmother in my life for a decade - 
much of which I was pre-verbal and inarticulate -
she silently shaped my world
and my soul
with unconditional love
in ways unequaled by anyone else.

I wonder if she knew how much I loved her in return.
I do know that one day -
maybe years from now,
maybe sooner -
when I leave this world to join the ancestors on the other side,
she'll be there waiting for me;
with a twinkle in her eyes 
and a hint of a smile;
ready for the delight in the reunion
to overcome any of our perceived imperfections.

I also know that in her embrace
I'll be home again.