10 Observations for Right Now

It seems to me that there are so many great teachers out there. It’s why TED is so popular. There are just so many people that are pulsing with wisdom and creativity. It isn’t a select few that have these great ideas but something that is shared across disciplines among all different kinds of people.

For years, I’ve been safely tucking ideas from great teachers into my files on Evernote. I save them for some future date when I might be able to use them in my ministry. Maybe they’ll become a sermon illustration or maybe they’ll work their way into some of my consulting work or maybe I’ll use them for some small group resource I’m writing. Among those things saved in my files on Evernote are actual assignments that teachers assign their students that have caught my interest including Paul Thek’s “Teaching Notes.”

On my walk today, with Krista Tippett in my ears, I heard from another wise teacher and while I’m tempted to file the idea away on Evernote, it grabs my attention enough to know that it’s something that I should probably attempt to practice right now. In OnBeing’s “The Power of Words to Save Us,” the poet Maria Howe offers this assignment that I’m feeling nudged to practice. She explains:

I ask my students every week to write 10 observations of the actual world. It’s very hard for them… They really find it hard…

Just tell me what you saw this morning like in two lines. I saw a water glass on a brown tablecloth, and the light came through it in three places. No metaphor. And to resist metaphor is very difficult because you have to actually endure the thing itself, which hurts us for some reason…

We want to say, “It was like this; it was like that.” We want to look away. And to be with a glass of water or to be with anything — and then they say, “Well, there’s nothing important enough.” And that’s whole thing. It’s the point… And then they say, “Oh, I saw a lot of people who really want” — and, “No, no, no. No abstractions, no interpretations.” But then this amazing thing happens, Krista. The fourth week or so, they come in and clinkety, clank, clank, clank, onto the table pours all this stuff. And it so thrilling. I mean, it is thrilling. Everybody can feel it. Everyone is just like, “Wow.” The slice of apple, and then that gleam of the knife, and the sound of the trashcan closing, and the maple tree outside, and the blue jay. I mean, it almost comes clanking into the room. And it’s just amazing.

There’s an added dimension to this assignment. Not only are these students called to pay attention to the thing in front of them or even the world around them, they are not supposed to use any metaphors.

Jesus loves a good metaphor. He invites people past and present to imagine the kingdom of God in all of these fantastic illustrations. It’s like treasure hidden in a field. It’s like a merchant in search of beautiful pearls. It’s like a king who wants to settle all of his accounts or perhaps like landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire laborers to tend to his vineyard.

This great teacher, Maria Howe, advises against it. No matter how much Jesus might love a metaphor, Howe says to avoid it. Don’t compare the thing. Don’t illustrate it. Don’t try to connect it to anything else. Just describe the glass of water as it is.

Right now, it feels like there is so much happening in the world and even in my own life. It feels like are moving fast and slightly out of control and perhaps what I need most is just to slow down and pay attention and notice what’s in front of me. Every day, just write 10 observations of the actual world.

It feels like enough for such a time as this.

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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

 

 

The Stewardship of Eating

I have met people – ok, just one person comes to mind – who don’t like to eat. I am not one of those people. Food is to be savor end and enjoyed. It inspires conversation and gives space at the table for connection. I don’t understand what is not to be enjoyed any better than I can understand it as a simple biological function. No, to me, eating is as close as I can get to God.

With that holy awareness comes lots of responsibility. The church that I’m serving as interim pastor just spent the last several weeks rolling and dipping peanut butter and coconut filled chocolate eggs. Today was pick up day. It was the day that all of the orders were filled and the hard work of selling these eggs to friends and family begins. For, you see, it’s also their biggest fundraiser of the year. I watched in coffee hour as orders were piled. I noted some overwhelming preference for the peanut butter filled and then I went into the kitchen to try to get a few for myself. I had somehow failed to place an order and I was feeling guilty. Guilt, as you know, is an awesome motivator for holy observance. So I was ready to spend my money on the ministry of this church except that I didn’t actually want the eggs.

Two weeks ago, I happily wolfed down two boxes of Girl Scout cookies. (I had help.) But, as the wedding gets closer and closer, I’m making better decisions about what I eat. I don’t like that my upcoming wedding has made me into the most vain person alive but resistance seems futile. So, I stopped myself from buying the eggs. There are other ways that I can contribute to the ministry of this church. I can practice stewardship in so many other ways.

Stewardship is really all about making choices to savor and uphold what matters most. It is a practice that starts at the table. This week, the weather is going to be off-the-charts beautiful. It’s going to be in the 70s and the sun is going to be shining and I want more than anything for one of our local farmers markets to open. But, I have to wait another six weeks and it is agony! It is not only because I miss the produce but that I don’t know how to practice my faith at the table when I can’t get local produce. I do not believe the signs at the supermarket. I want to support my farmers directly. I want to be connected to their work and their love. It is part of what makes eating so holy for me. It’s a practice I began around the same time that Barbara Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in which her husband Steven Hopp expresses the stewardship in my heart:

“If you’re picturing Farmer Juan and his family gratefully wiping sweat from their brows when you buy that Ecuadorian banana, picture this instead: the CEO of Dole Inc. in his air-conditioned office in Westlake Village, California. He’s worth $1.4 billion; Juan gets about $6 a day. Much money is made in the global reshuffling of food, but the main beneficiaries are processors, brokers, shippers, supermakets, and oil companies.”

I want my money and my life to support Farmer Juan, not the corporations. I want to build up God’s people with love. But, in this place, there are no alternatives to the summer farmers markets. It baffles and frustrates me but I try to keep the faith and hold onto my holy practice as best I can.

So, I’m furiously googling to see if there might be some slim chance that there is a farm on the way to my meetings this week. No such luck yet so I’m off to the grocery store today. Last week, I brought this delicious salad to share with an old friend who just had a baby. It was so good. I want to eat it all of the time. Because the weather is suppose to be nice, I am hoping my beloved might be willing to grill. I pulled our Bon Appetit Grilling Guide from last summer off the shelf and found this recipe in its pages. My beloved has been hankering for some Korean BBQ so this should be perfect. We will enjoy this on the side. The weather also makes me want to eat a ton of salads so we’ll be enjoy this one and this one this week. I also have a hankering for hummus so I’ll be making this delicious hummus that is all the rage. We’ll enjoy it with this.

I don’t feel like I’m at my best in practicing stewardship but I’m trying. I still eat bananas but I’m trying. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the practice to which I aspire, but I’m trying. That has to be enough for today. How do you practice a stewardship of eating?

Lent Comes

Lent has come.

And so I found myself seated in the back of the local Episcopal Church. Because I am not pastoring a church anymore. I concluded my second call on Sunday. It’s over — just before Lent was to begin. I’m trying hard to resist the joke that I gave up being a pastor for Lent. Because it’s not true. I’m still a pastor. I’m just not serving a church right now. So, I found myself being led by an unfamiliar liturgy in another Christian tradition.

Listening to familiar words in an unfamiliar space, I heard something I hadn’t heard before in the readings for this day. This reminder over and over again to change. Or as the homily mused: be reconciled. Be reconciled as it says in that first verse in the reading from the Second Letter to the Church in Corinth. And this is about change. Change your heart and your mind. Change your very being. Perhaps that means we should stop doing things like our giving patterns. Or change the way we pray as it says in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew. But, especially in this season, I am not sure what to change. I’m not sure how to change. Because everything feels like change.

Because I am without a congregation and am not sure how I want to live into this possibility of resurrection when I don’t know where I will be on Easter Sunday whether I’ll be at the wedding of a dear friend or celebrating with my family or somewhere else, I have been uncertain about how to approach this season. Because I am without a congregation to lead and uncertain where God will lead me, I am not sure what to do with this admonishment to be reconciled. And because I am not sure I do not know how to practice, but I know that I will need something to guide me through this season. So I’ve been searching for ideas which led me to find Rachel Held Evan’s 40 Ideas for Lent where she mentions how she once “committed to rising just before dawn each day to pray.” I like this idea. Because I hate it. I love sleeping in. I love sleep. I don’t want to give up my sleep and this might just be the very reason I need to do it — but maybe not before the sun rises. Maybe just waking up earlier than usual is enough. Waking up early and allowing myself the space to do morning pages.

Sure. We’ll try that because as I live into these new (im)possible things, I really want to write more but I need to practice my way into that possibility — and I need partners. So, I’ll also be reading Rachel Hackenberg’s Sacred Pause. I had mostly decided this before worship this afternoon — but sitting there in that space, I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear from Holy Scripture. I’ve been in the practice of preaching every week which has required me to engage with Biblical texts each week but I won’t have that for this season. Hearing all of the readings for this day, as the Episcopalians tend to do, I was reminded how much these words mean to me and how much I need to struggle with them. So, no matter how word weary I might be, I’ll do morning pages with a slight twist. I’ll pull out an old friend and start my morning first with coffee then with scripture before I let my pen flow for three pages until the resurrection comes.