Recipe for Gratitude

Many congregations, including the one that I am working with right now as a consultant, care for their members by putting in the mail cards full of love and support when someone has fallen ill or is bereaved.

Some congregations have a committee that keeps a stock of stationary for this very purpose. Once a month, they gather for fellowship and write cards together.

Other churches have created a culture where the members know that any name listed on the prayer list on Sunday can be found in the church directory and that those prayers on Sunday morning reach right on into the week with a flurry of stamped envelopes sent to that dear person who needs a boost in the midst of the chaos of life.

When I was serving as a solo pastor in Washington state, it was my own practice. I asked the administrator of the church to order me special stationary with the church logo and each week, I’d conclude my week by writing five thank you notes. I’d make notes of my gratitude over the week. I’d notice on Sunday that a new acolyte had lit the candles in worship and send that child a note to say what a great job he did. I’d attend a meeting and notice the skill that a member of the church had exhibited in leading a tough conversation. I’d notice that two people stay after Bible Study to talk about something that one of them had shared. I’d send a note to both of them to thank them for reminding me (again) how much the community of Jesus Christ makes a difference in this world. I’d send notes to staff members and musicians just to say I’m so grateful for sharing in this awesome work together.

Since I left that church, I’ve had two big events in my life that have required me to keep a spreadsheet of names, addresses and gifts. I’ve restocked my stationary supply twice now. First, it was for my wedding and I’m still pretty sure that I missed some words of thanks. And at this very moment, I am surrounded by pink stationary with words of thanks in a childish font to send to dear ones that have already showered our baby with love. (She is due in October, by the way.) I have to admit that I love writing these notes. I love getting the chance to take a moment to focus my words on gratitude for the love that has been showed to me.  It’s something I think that we need more of in the world. We need more gratitude and opportunities and praise. It is for this reason that I offer you this recipe for gratitude.

This particular recipe is not focused on churches — though it certainly could be. It is instead a prayer practice I invite you to share with me.

RECIPE FOR MINISTRY (2)

Don’t worry about how many cards you might send. At first, just start with one and just wait and see how it changes how you pay attention to the world around you.

 

 

 

Recipe for Learning to Pray

Last week, I finally finished Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. It really shouldn’t have taken me that long and it is certainly no reflection on the book. It’s me. I had three chapters back in April and then felt this overwhelming need to never read a book about church again. Of course, that didn’t last that long and I returned to these pages again. What I love about this book is that it’s really about the kind of community we can be in the church. It’s about technology, yes, but more about how we are creating community right now which inevitably involves social media for that so-called “new generation” (of which, I guess, I am a part). It’s about the kind of community we are looking for which Carol explains in this way:

When we are surrounded by a supportive community who is helping us discern and who feels free to agree and disagree with what we are hearing from God, then our listening for God can become a humbling experience rather than an exercise that puts a divine rubber stamp on our own decisions.

It is an act of prayer. It’s something we like to believe we’ll just find ourselves in. All of the sudden just surrounded by a group of supportive people who can help with such discernment.

We need someone that will walk with us and help us see what we can not see for ourselves.  We need a partner, a friend, someone who gets it. Someone who can listen and isn’t afraid to ask questions. Someone who won’t just say it’ll all work out in the end but someone who will dare to ask the hard questions. Do you know someone like that?

This is what prayer is all about. It is a practice in staying in the conversation. It is an intention to listen. It is the hope that I might be open enough to hear what God might be saying. It’s a practice that quite honestly I have to remind myself to which I need to pay better attention — and it seems to me that it’s really better to do together.

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Learn more about Prayer Partners here

There are tons of ways to pay attention to the ways of God on your own. Some of my favorite practices include Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and the Daily Examen but I want to offer you a little something from my kitchen because I really do believe that practicing with another person makes all of the difference in the world. It’s something I wish for my own prayer life and something I hope will bless yours.

It’s an invitation to partner in prayer. I recommend it for congregations and friends. It’s something that I hope can be used in more ways that I can even imagine because, really, no one of us can know the will of God. It’s only something we can pray to understand together. You can order your very own guide here.

Like so many recipes for ministry, the directions sound incredibly simple but it takes a little flair to make these ingredients come together. It takes the right people and extra dab of trust and a big heaping of love that the recipe might not call for. For that reason, the recipe is incredibly hard to write but here goes nothing.

RECIPE FOR MINISTRY

 

 

How Things Change

Doing a New ThingNot long ago, I wanted to give up. Or I felt like I wanted to give up. I’m really not much of a quitter. I’m too damn stubborn. But, I was frustrated and my energy for this project was waning.

How things change.

Almost immediately after I published that post, my little internet home for this military ministry started to get some attention. Just when I thought that I might be going about this all wrong, this showed up on Twitter. Just a few hours later, in one of the Facebook groups I’ve joined of blogging military spouses, there was another post wondering who was behind Beyond Acronyms. There was some enthusiasm. We’re not talking thousands of people. Or even hundreds. More like five. Five people were excited about this thing but five people can make all of the difference in the world. Five people can make you think like anything is possible because five people are suddenly like… hey, yeah, I’d be into that. I love these five people.

So now, with the encouragement of these five people, I’m starting to see myself as an entrepreneur. I even created a board for such a possibility on Pinterest which clearly means I must be serious. (That was sarcasm.)

Even with that new identity, I’m still struggling because what I’ve created so far is an online community. That’s not exactly what I wanted. I knew there would be some element of this when I started but it’s not what I want this to be. It’s not my hope. And yet, as much as I want to shift this internet-based ministry into something that manifests with real live actual people meeting together, I’ve been trying really hard to remind myself that that day will come. For now, this can be an online thing which means that I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make connections with real live actual people on the internet. I’m reading things like how Connie Schultz built a unique online community on Facebook and relying on my own network.

The RevGalBlogPals have been one of the tremendous resources of my ministry over the years which might have something to do with one of its many leaders is a dear friend of mine. So, I’ve been leaning into this online ministry to figure out how it has grown from a few haphazard blogs to what it is today. Here’s what I learned: the internet has changed a lot. It’s changed since I helped to create this thing called The Young Clergy Women Project. What worked then will not work now. But, this very dear friend of mine offered to do a little promotion for me. You can see that here. That’s really what started the stir of those five people talking about this — and how I got the little burst of energy a few weeks ago. I’m ever grateful. God bless RevGals!

It was about that time that I realized that I needed some more support. So I started to gather a startup community. Not a board or a set of officers but a startup community. I don’t actually remember which book I read about this in — and really should locate it because I have to do a better job of explaining this as I bring members of my startup community on board. But the idea is simply this: there is a constellation of people with different skills who seek to support you in this entrepreneurial thing by offering you bits of wisdom or advice or simply letting you vent all of your frustrations — but in the language of the United Church of Christ, it’s covenantal thing. You sign on to this. It’s an intentional commitment to be in this relationship. It’s something you’re actively doing which may mean that any one of these people calls me out whey they haven’t heard a word from me. So far this little community includes three women — two of whom are pastors and one is a graphic designer/tech genius. And in truth, I haven’t utilized their skills much yet.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a friend who is a military chaplain that has given me pause. She spoke a truth that I’ve been struggling to admit myself. I have been creating this blog with this media content — but my heart is not in it. It’s not really what I want to do. I don’t want to be writing about such possibilities but want to be engaged in the real ministry. The stuff that’s not so much about what’s on the internet but what is before you in the place that you are. Last week, I gave myself that out. I posted this on the blog so that I wouldn’t have to worry about posting anymore. I could focus on the other stuff that I hope to do but am still not sure how to do. (It also happens that this post speaks to the kind of community I hope for — the kind that wants to end racism and is actively taking a part in this struggle.) My military chaplain friend said it this way: the way that I approach this has to build up and support the good work of progressive chaplains. It has to be a complement. It has to work together rather than over and against. What she didn’t know is that I feel like I’ve been putting up content to put up content. I’m posting about things I don’t really know but imagine to be. So, I need to do some more work. I need to get into the trenches. (No pun intended.) I need to make some connections.

It is this that I hoped to do this summer. I thought I would start with some local churches near the base we’re at now but then I remembered that it’s summer. It’s summer in church world and things slow to an incredibly slow pace in most congregations. It’s a time of rest and planning that I loved as a local church pastor. It wasn’t a time of meetings but a time to chart out the year in preaching and teaching by the pool. (This does not meet that pastors are lazy. They are anything but lazy as they sit and read theology on the beach. They are trying to make 1000 things happen at once all year long and summer often provides a little more leisure to do some big picture thinking.) I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that precious time. So, I’m thinking that I might do a little more networking in the military world. I don’t really know how or where — but that summer can be a time to build some relationships rather than blogging. It can be a time to ask big questions within the new community I find myself.

So, that’s what I’ll be trying this summer but I’d hate to leave you without something to do. Here’s what I’d like to ask you to do as new experiments arise in ministry. Go on over to Instagram and follow along on the adventure. Follow Beyond Acronyms here and please don’t ever forget to pray for this community. Pray for every spouse and every service member that finds themselves in a changing culture especially after the Supreme Court decision on marriage. They need your prayers and your hopes more than I do.

Wanting to Give Up

Doing a New ThingIt’s true. Over the past few weeks, when I haven’t been posting about my latest escapades of entrepreneurial ministry, I have wanted to give up. I have wanted to throw in the towel. I have seriously contemplated why I ever thought this might be possible.

There was the first blow a couple weeks ago where the person who is supposed to be the connection to everything was less than supportive. I still haven’t fully recovered from that. I haven’t written back. I haven’t informed him of my grand plan because I don’t really have one. I wish that were not true. But, I’m afraid it is. I don’t have a grand plan. I’m not really sure what I’m doing.

The problem isn’t this one person — as easy as it might be to blame anyone but myself. But, the truth of the matter is: the problem is me. I have found myself in this new place and in this new life. I have a whole new identity that I don’t quite understand. I want to understand it but I don’t really know anything about being a military spouse. And I’m trying to create community for people like me. Except that they are not like me. They are actual military spouses. They’ve been through more than one deployment. They’ve moved with their spouse every two or three years. They know things about military life that I just don’t know yet. Maybe I thought I would. Or that somehow it would be as it was on Lifetime’s Army Wives. But, it’s not like that. My life is nothing like it is on TV.

Woe is me, right?

In the first retreat of this program I’m participating in (and have considered quitting), Stanford professor Dave Evans introduced us to design thinking. He suggested that there are such a things as wicked problems. This fascinated me so that I preached a sermon about it before I left my last call. In wicked problems, using the tools of design thinking, you’re supposed to ideate. You throw as many different solutions at that wicked problem as you can imagine. It’s not a reflective process but one that demands action. You don’t give up. You just try out a new idea. And so, it was suggested that it’s time for me to ideate. I have hit a wall. I’ve lost hope — but I can’t get stalled there. I can’t give up. I have to try something. Ideate! Ideate! That’s what they say. It’s how you’ll push through this feeling.

It was about that time — when I was told to ideate — that I read this article entitled Stop Doing Intergenerational Ministry. I panicked a bit because I love intergenerational ministry. I think it’s what we should be about in the church. So I clicked over to the article and was relieved to discover that the author hooked me. It’s really a reminder to the church not to do multigenerational ministry where the youth and the little kids and the parents and the seniors are all separate programs for each age group. Stop doing that, the author demands. Yes, I thought. We should stop doing that. We should stop doing ministry that separates and divides. We should be building communities without divisions — divisions like that divides civilians from the military. It’s a divide I’d like to bridge. Such a hope appeared on my blog only a few weeks ago. But, it requires doing a different kind of ministry where there isn’t a program called military ministry. But there is a military culture.

Most of the programs I’ve found have been in more conservative churches. There are few progressive churches that send care packages to the troops but none seem to be centered on military families. The soldiers are out there — like the people that are served on mission trips. They aren’t part of the community. They aren’t part of the culture. Even in the more conservative churches, there is a program that cares of the needs of the military family. But, it seems that most of them fail to welcome the family as part of the community. Or so I found out when I asked around on Twitter. So maybe that’s where my energy should head. Not to building community within and among military families — but to create meaningful connections to worshipping bodies. Or, honestly, helping those worshipping bodies figure out how to create such a culture of welcome.

At the same time, I read this beautiful post by a colleague and friend in the United Church of Christ. This began a conversation about — between the two of us — how mental health impacts soldiers and their families. This interests me but there are a ton of more qualified people already doing this good work. So I’m not so excited about this idea.

There’s still part of me that wants to give up. There’s still part of me that wonders if any of this is possible — but I gotta believe that there is some wild and crazy reason that I signed up for this thing. There is something that I’m supposed to learn. There is something I’m supposed to try. And maybe that will just keep me going.