Monday, September 29, 2008

Group Decision Making

Last Sunday we had to make a decision at church about whether to add to our renovation budget enough money to cover additional unanticipated expenses of the sound system. The discussion was difficult, not because the current sound system is good (it has some serious issues), or because the presenters did not adequately describe the reasons why they believed it would be good to move on this now. The process was difficult because of the variety of ways there are to look at decision making in a church.

There were some there who did not argue with the materials presented, but did question whether our church could responsibly commit to providing the additional funds. They would have liked for the decision to be made less by voting and more by seeing whether the need could be completely covered by pledges. If God would provide the money, then they would be glad to go ahead with the project.

Others felt that we should discern what God wanted, vote for that, and then trust God to provide the funds as they are needed.

I can see both sides. But I can't really tell you which side I feel most comfortable on.

Then there was a whole other aspect to the discussion that no one really talked about. There were some people who had been made aware of the need for a sound system even before it came to the church as a whole. Some of these people had already made large donations toward the sound system.

This can be seen two ways as well.

It can certainly be seen as great generosity in helping to provide something that might otherwise not been affordable.

It can also be seen as having the vote swayed by those who are most affluent in the congregation. This is because everyone can see that money is there, but it is for this specific project. The money is no longer there if this project doesn't happen.

To their credit, I do not think the donors intend to throw their monetary weight around. I think they intend to give hope to those of us who might see the project as insurmountable.

But still, I wonder if there is a better way to do this.

It is a problem that within days a price increase was scheduled. There was no way to avoid that. It was not a high pressure sales tactic, but rather unfortunate timing of when the information became available and how long it takes to schedule and carry out a church meeting. So to take advantage of the lower prices, we did not have the time to take a week to decide what we could pledge.

If there had been no pledges made in advance would we have had an accurate sense of how difficult it might be to raise the money? Do we have an accurate sense even now?

I wonder how other churches make these kinds of decisions.

For me there are some priorities:
---We find some way to work together to discern God's will.
---We treat each other with humility and respect in the process.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Class Reunion

We went to Chuck's 35th anniversary high school class reunion yesterday and today. More than half the class attended. It had been fifteen years since the last reunion and some people were pretty hard to recognize.

It is weird to think about how separate we are now from the people we spent 7-8 hours with every weekday so long ago. And then for a weekend you get together and the old cliques don't really matter anymore, the nerds are the ones who really got somewhere, and some people are almost exactly the same (personality-wise) as they were 35 years ago.

Then it's over again and everyone goes back to being separate.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Patience

From “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
“(Patience) is remembering that things unfold in their own time…Being in a hurry doesn’t help, and it can create a great deal of suffering---sometimes in us, sometimes in those who have to be around us.”

“Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it.”

“we attempt to bring balance to the present moment, understanding that in patience lies wisdom, knowing that what will come next will be determined in large measure by how we are now.”

Some of the hardest things I have been through did not have a fix. I wanted a fix. I wanted to tell people what they were doing wrong so that my pain would stop. Under the surface of my impatience was anger, and overwhelming energy of wanting things to be different, and blaming people for it.

I make bad choices when I am impatient.

We used to be told as parents that consequences had to be immediate in order to be effective.

That is a lie.

Neither we nor our children are dogs that must be trained.

But it is a lie that I bought into for quite a long time. The other lie that complicated things was this: you must follow through with consequences. If you didn’t your children would not have consistency and it would damage them.

The issue, of course, is patience. When our kids get crazy in one way or another we want it to stop. It is hard. Sometimes it is painful. Often it is emotionally draining. Naturally we lose patience, and beneath that loss of patience is anger, a natural reaction to feeling controlled by another’s choices.

As we raise our children there is an expectation that we are molding them in some way, smoothing out their rough spots, correcting their errors. And we are.

But when we get impatient…

when we combine the impatience we feel with pressure for immediacy and consistency in follow through…

and then add to that the fear that if we don’t do something immediately and consistently our children will be messed up somehow, then we are in trouble.
Lately, when I have a conflict with one of my sons, we talk about the problem and we agree that we will make decisions about it later. This is even for big problems like stealing. We don’t have an immediate consequence. We wait for cool heads and a sense of rightness.

Sometimes I even yell, “I can’t talk about this right now! I’m so angry I’ll say something I shouldn’t. I will talk about this after I take a break and calm down.”

If I do blow it and fire off an immediate consequence, I no longer feel bound to follow through with it. If God can be merciful, it is good for me to follow that example. Kids respond to relationship better than they respond to rigid rules for parenting.

Last time we had a really big problem it took two to three weeks to figure out how to make it right. But it was figured out so well that we all learned from the process. The offending person truly was sorry instead of angry at having some consequence slapped on him before he’d even had a chance to recognize how he had offended people. He wanted a consequence that made things right, not a consequence that had no connection with what had happened.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Questioning

I’ve been reading from “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” by Madeleine L’Engle.

“As St. Augustine of Hippo says, ‘If you think you understand, it isn’t God.’”

“We are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties…it is all right to be like the small child who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why?”

“If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear.”

If she is right, this is good news for me, because lately I am full of questions.

Last year we had Marion Bontrager teach our adult Sunday School class using his lectures from the freshman religion class he teaches at Hesston College. The emphasis of the class is the story of God, how God has revealed himself through the Bible and through history. There is a constant theme of God showing himself, people misunderstanding and trying to fit God into their own ideas of him, and then God breaking out of that limitation to reveal himself more truly again.

Because of that class I resolved to read through the Bible again. I chose a reading plan that includes all the parts of the Bible each week. Sunday is from the epistles, Monday from the law, Tuesday from history, Wednesday from Psalms, Thursday from poetry, Friday from prophecy, and Saturday from the gospels and Acts.

It is hard spiritual work. As long as I kept reading the passages in the devotional books I was using in the past, I did not come upon these difficult passages. But the difficult passages, combined with difficult world events, bring all kinds of questions.

The suffering of the people of Iraq, the suffering of the women of Darfur and the Sudan, the slavery still rampant around the world---I don’t know what to do with these. I read the Psalms about God hearing the cries of the brokenhearted. Are these not the brokenhearted?

And then I come to the Old Testament. The other day I read II Kings 1. Elijah prophesies against the king. The king is told about it and sends a commander and 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to the palace. Elijah calls down fire from heaven which consumes them all. This happens a second time. The third time a commander and 50soldiers come, the commander begs Elijah not to ask God to kill them. He is only a messenger. Elijah relents and goes to speak to the king. So God fought for Elijah. Elijah did not have to kill anyone in order to save his own life. But what about those 102 men? When God fights for Israel, people still die. Are they ‘collateral damage’?

God is good. I know this.

God is the champion for the underdog.

In Ezekiel there is a list of reasons why God allowed Israel and Judah to be conquered.
• Shedding of blood in their midst
• Being defiled by idols
• Treat parents with contempt
• Oppress the foreigner
• Mistreat the fatherless and the widows
• Despise holy things
• Desecrate the Sabbath
• Slander
• Eat at mountain shrines (idolatry)
• Sexual immorality
• Accept bribes to shed blood
• Take interest and profit from the poor
• Extort unjust gain from a neighbor
• Forgot God
• Priests do violence to the law
• Robbery
• Oppress poor and needy
• Deny justice

These are the things that ring true with me. This is the way I see God as revealed through Jesus. God cares deeply for those who are powerless. God demands holiness. God expects mercy toward those on the fringe.

But what do I do with the God who kills 100 men because Elijah calls for it?

If Jesus is the truest expression of God, and I believe that He is, then I can trust that there are things about these other stories that I just don’t understand. Nevertheless, the stories are there. They beg for explanation, for understanding, and I’m not there yet.

As for the world today…I wonder what responsibility we as the church, the body of Christ, have to act as God’s agents in the world. As we cry out to God, “Do something!” is God also crying out to us, “Do something!”?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Another way of looking at things

We heard a song at the John McCutcheon concert that I'd heard before. It isn't a classic, but it does point out how inconsistent we are, and that it is important to keep our focus on the right things. The words are below. If you would like to hear the song, you can download an mp3 of it free here.

Puppies
Words & music by John McCutcheon
(September 2007, White Sulpher Springs, WV)

Leona Helmsley had a puppy
Trouble is its name
She left her pup 12 million bucks
Leona was insane
Trouble will be buried
When she barks her final time
In a mausoleum
Bigger than your house or mine.

At the other end of puppy love
We have Michael Vick
His treatment of his puppies
Proves that Mike is just plain sick
He trained his puppies from the start
To kill or to be killed
You gotta stop and wonder
Where such thinking was instilled

We have puppies everywhere
In our cars and laps
If you ever hurt a puppy
We’re gonna give you crap

I have a dog, I love my dog
More than I can tell
But still I wished we treated humans
Nearly half as well

When humans beings fight other humans
We gather, cheer and bet
When we cage our fellow humans
Everyone forgets
We read of murder and starvation
And simply turn the page
But if a single puppy's harmed
Everyone's outraged

So we need puppies in Guantanamo
Puppies in Darfur
So we can get upset enough
To care to find a cure
Puppies need a living wage
Puppies need health care
Puppies need a helping hand
From humans everywhere

Illegal alien puppies
Puppies lost or lame
We rush right in to rescue them
Make sure they each have names
If we treated folks in need
That well both near and far
We might become the persons
That our puppies think we are

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I Go to the Bluegrass Festival---one of many reasons

One of the reasons I have not been blogging much lately is because our internet connection was not working and we were relying on dial up. That problem was resolved on Thursday. Yea!!!

* * * * *

Every year we go to Winfield for the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival.

Most years I think about not going. It is a lot of work to get ready, prepare food ahead of time, pack, figure out chores and pet care, etc. It is a lot of clean up after we get back home.

While I am there, I am glad I did the work.

There is something that makes mindfulness easier at the Bluegrass Festival. It takes a day or two to happen.

The first day we are there I am still pretty much in the planning and preparing mode of thinking. I'm figuring out what will be for lunch, how fast we can pack it, whether we will like it, whether it is enough, whether it is too heavy to carry, whether we will find a good place to sit or if we will make good choices about which groups to listen to...

Once we are actually on the grounds and listening to the music I'm still wondering if I should have gone to a different stage. I can't seem to focus on enjoying the music. My mind wanders to everything and sometimes I even remind myself I am here to listen to music, so stop thinking and listen already!

By midafternoon the first day it is getting easier. Sitting in the sun and passing around terere' helps. Having no place else to go is good. Being away from my work is helpful, although I admit I did bring a few 'shoulds' with me---articles to read, etc.

Evening is even better.

By the next day the tyranny of the urgent has faded. I can enjoy relaxing over breakfast and not worry about what music I might be missing. I'm happy where I am now and I will be happy later as well, when I get to the music. I don't care if I catch up on my reading. I want to simply enjoy what I am doing without thinking about what I should be doing.

By the Saturday evening concerts it has all come together. Down in front, in the dark, listening to John McCutcheon, I am fully present. I'm not thinking about tomorrow or later tonight or what is happening with the kids, or why my mind wanders. I am just there, completely there.

Getting to experience that is what makes it worth it to do the packing and the clean up. I get to experience a few timeless hours.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fully In This Moment

I spend a lot of time with 6 month old Luke. He has learned to sit and is working quite hard on crawling. He can be mesmerized by a basketful of toys. He picks up one and moves it from one hand to the other in total concentration. We call it playing. It looks like work.

I am reading a book on mindfulness, which simply put, means being able to be fully in the moment you are in, rather than thinking about what happened before or what is coming next. Luke is my best example of that.

Luke is happy holding the toy he has in his hand until it falls out of his hand. If he sees it fall or hears it land he looks to where it is and tries to pick it up. If not, it is on to the next toy. He doesn’t spend much time on regrets. Even in the deepest concentration on the toys, if he hears his mother’s voice, he becomes disengaged from the toys and completely present to her.

I am not like Luke. When I am writing, I am also aware that the whites are in the washer and the darks still need to be hung out to dry. I’m thinking about how many loaves of bread are left and if I will need to find time to bake yet today. Would it hurt the writing too much if I alternated writing with the steps to making bread? And then I remember a painful verbal encounter which frustrates my concentration as I mentally devise comebacks that would have summarily silenced the attack.

Not present in the moment. Present everywhere but the moment.

The most frustrating time to be ‘absent’ from the moment is during prayer. When I reach the final lines of the Lord’s Prayer and can’t remember praying the rest of it I know I was not really there for the prayer. Does God answer prayers when my mouth is praying without my mind? My prayer time would be much shorter if I did not have to repeat the prayers so many times in order to actually pray them.

I am working on it. When I go out to the garden, can I think in terms of the fun it is to find good things growing there? Can I not worry about whether I have time to process the food immediately?

I’m told that the best way to reach that goal is to practice doing nothing for a little while each day. Not doing nothing and feeling guilty about it, but sitting and accepting the thoughts that are there, the things I am seeing, the sounds I am hearing, the feelings I have. It would be good to take a little bit of time each day noticing and accepting what is.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Retreat

I'm going on a 'birthday' spiritual retreat the next couple of days. I haven't been able to catch up with the work and the schedule, and felt swamped a lot of the time. When I thought about what I wanted to do with my birthday, I realized what I wanted was to find a way to slow this down.

I don't really have much hope of being able to do that. But it occured to me that maybe the tyranny of the urgent would look different if I simply stopped. Do none of it for a couple of days. Focus on what IS important and see if there is any insight. If not, it still will be two days well spent.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

If it's September, there must be sunflowers

This picture is about a week old, but I've been busy. Chuck always picks sunflowers for me in September, and thanks to my mom for the blue salvia, I have a nice arrangement on my table.


Here is the required picture of Luke, just for fun.

Things have been pretty busy around here, with tomatoes, peaches, soccer, baby fun, church work, and more. I keep thinking that if I just finish _______ things will get easier, but that is a dream. I will actually have to stop doing something that I currently do for things to get easier. So I have to decide if I really want things easier bad enough to give up something, or if I'd rather just gripe while I keep on doing the same things. Or maybe I could be grateful that I like doing these things enough that it's worth it to me to be too busy.

The peaches are certainly worth it. Tasting a bit of heaven every day can make up for a lot of stuff I don't really like that much. We have had so many sliced peaches on ice cream. We've made peach butter, peach cobbler, peach smoothies. These are locally grown peaches that are incredibly sweet and do not darken. I sliced some Friday for supper and today they still are not dark. We will finish the leftovers tonight, either on ice cream or in smoothies. Mmmmm.

Other foods I've been enjoying in the last month are...
Chinese long beans stir fried with peanuts and served in a sauce made of soy sauce and red wine vinegar and garlic thickened with cornstarch

Rainbow chard made the same way

Chard in an Italian flavored soup made with chicken, potatoes, onion, parsley, simmered in turkey broth from the freezer and served with Parmesan cheese

Potatoes almost any way at all, fresh and wonderful from my parents' garden

Other things I've been enjoying are...
Playing with Luke on the days he comes over

visiting with other soccer parents at the games

hearing from other nurses what a great job my daughter is doing in her new job

hanging out with my kids last night at Ben and Andrea's house

looking through old pictures in preparation for Chuck's 35th high school reunion

attending church in the basement during the renovation---it gives a new perspective to be in a different place

OK, Chuck wants the computer to put together his bio for the reunion, and I've run out of stuff to say anyway, so that's it for today.