Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm back! (Well, at least in this moment)

As of this week, some of the craziness is gone from my life. I successfully completed a library science class and embraced a new "integrated library system." Finishing the class puts at least five hours a week back into my available hours, not counting the hours the homework required. Completing the migration to the new library system moves me from prep work for that transition to exploring the possibilities in the new system. I am reminded once again of my personal geekiness as learning the system becomes my new candy.

Ah... the horizon broadens. So many opportunities, so many choices.

And then I realize that Christmas is looming on that horizon. Not even on the horizon, actually. It is bearing down on me with alarming speed. Last time I counted, the town Christmas tree lot had nine trees left. That was a few days ago. How far will I have to go to get a live tree for my children to enjoy when they come home?

Have I mentioned that Christmas is not "the most wonderful time of the year" for me? Maybe someday I'll figure out how to enjoy it instead of being ambushed by it. I wonder if thirteen days is enough time to learn that skill.

So maybe I'll be back soon or maybe it will be later. Maybe I'm just out of topics for public ponderings.

To anyone who happens across this post in a timely fashion: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas!"

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 3

Yesterday was my third day of meetings this week. It was a different venue with different motivation for gathering, but there was overlap among the participants from earlier in the week. I waited to see if one person on whom I had inflicted my company in those earlier meetings would acknowledge our acquaintance. He did not. Sigh.

Lost in the crowd again. It was another "Day 1." Only this time, there was no "Day 2." Once again, I inflicted too many words on people who don't know me and don't care to know me or be known by me. Why can't I be content to shut my mouth and go into an observation mode, slipping in and out as someone unknown in such settings? What prompts me to talk at length to people who have no interest in hearing my words? Why can't I bottle those words up and pour them out later on my long-suffering blog readers? Oh, wait, maybe that's what this is. Maybe I didn't use up as many words as it seemed. The quantity may have been magnified by their failure to find receptive places to land.

I decided I didn't like the look of my chosen accommodations for the night and realized that I was more awake at the end of the day than the beginning and might be able to drive the three hours it would take to get home if I skipped out just a little early. So I cancelled my reservation, relieved to not have to spend another night on the road.

With an hour before I planned to leave, someone suddenly appeared at my side and announced that she was sharing my table at dinner because we needed to talk about a project of which we are both a part. What a pleasant surprise! We did eat together and had a very profitable exchange. Then I left. I hadn't registered for the optional second day of this event because the topics being discussed weren't pertinent to my situation. So I left my new-found friend behind until our paths cross again another day in another place.

I'm ready to stay home in my small town for a while before heading back out for further days of obscurity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day 2

OK, so I headed out this morning prepared to resist the urge to inflict myself on my companions in training. But as I walked into the building, I received a friendly greeting from one of the hosts for the event. I returned her greeting and headed to the training room. I chose a seat in the back corner and pulled out some documentation to read. A couple of people filled in the seats next to me. One of them greeted me and introduced herself -- also from the host location. A couple of other people I remembered from a previous meeting but hadn't seen yesterday also acknowledged our previous encounter with a friendly greeting.

All this friendliness messed up my resolve to sit in my little corner with my mouth shut. After all, I hadn't resolved to be standoffish, only to avoid annoying people who were otherwise occupied.

I have been here before. Two days of meetings. The first day I sink further and further into loneliness as I fail to find companionship among the crowd. The second day, the sea of faces resolves into individuals, some of whom are actually quite friendly.

I wonder if there's a way to go only for the second day of these type of sessions.


In a few moments I will head out for a day of anonymity. I'm taking some training on new software with my library peers. Only 17 libraries are represented but mine must be unique in having only one representative. The rest of the group seems to have arrived in clusters.

It's odd to me to spend hour after hour in a group where no one knows me or cares to know me, where speaking serves only to annoy people by detracting from the business at hand and interfering with the dynamics of their group.

This is an interesting contrast to my regular life. Last Friday I walked into a local business. I'm in there several times a year to pick up hardware items but not enough to know the younger employees who cycle through the clerking positions of this large family-owned business. For this visit, I needed a billing statement to replace one that somehow disappeared into the clutter at home. When I stated my business, the young man behind the counter verified my husband's name. I was thoroughly impressed. It has been years since I have bought anything there on credit. (I was actually seeking the balance on the church account.) My infrequent visits generally involve anonymous cash transactions. I can't imagine how he put me together with my husband's name. As someone who has to come up with names to match faces at the library in the absence of library cards, I know how difficult that is. I'm curious as to what past encounter fixed my identity in the mind of this young man. Should I know him? How is he related to the patriarch of the business who wandered out a few minutes later and chatted with me.

To know and be known. That is inherent to small town living. But today I will be unknown and uninteresting to a group of 60 people. It messes with my self-esteem to be so easily dismissed as not worth knowing. And not simply not worth knowing, but also not worth being known by. Any interest I show in my peers today is unlikely to generate their favor. I spent the entire day with them yesterday and never moved beyond polite responses.

I often pray that I may be a blessing to those around me. It's a little disturbing to think that the best way to accomplish that today may be to stay out of the way and keep my mouth shut.

Oh well, I'll be back in my small town tomorrow where there is no lack of opportunity to be a blessing by actually getting involved in people's lives rather than simply by staying out of their way. Life is good on Main Street, USA.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Response to a book challenge

By day, I am a librarian. I don't get into that too much here. However, I read a letter this morning and want to be able to find it again. This is basically a way of bookmarking it. It is a rather lengthy response to someone who protested the presence in the library of a picture book involving gay marriage.

It's interesting to me that the social grouping with which I most identify myself - the church - would tend to be on the side of the protest in this case rather than the measured response. Sometimes I wonder why I associate myself with organized religion. (For some ideas in that area, you can look here.) But I also wonder what percentage of people who radically follow the teachings of Jesus Christ are truly committed to the position of homophobia so often encountered in the church and "Christian" media. Some of the "ain't it awful" statistics such people share with us about the decay of moral absolutes in the church seem to indicate that it might not be so ubiquitous as it may sometimes appear.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not an activist in favor of gay rights. I'm more in favor of people, of dealing with people as wondrous creations rather than putting labels on them and discarding them as not fit for society because they don't fit the standard definition of "normal." I ache for those who have been told through various means that God hates something so integral to who and what they are as their sexuality. And, having substantial exposure to the Bible itself rather than simply those who would tell me what it says, I suspect that many from the gay community are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the religious people who are heading up the fight for "family values." (If you want some background for this suspicion, check out the gospel according to Matthew: chapter 21, verse 31 and context.)

Lord, save us from the hopeless quest of making the world inoffensive to the self-righteous.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Political Career

I am an also-ran. On the ballot but not elected. My political career is going nowhere fast.

But what a wonder! I was on the ballot!

For what? you might ask. To be among the approximately 500 lay delegates to the general assembly of the International Church of the Nazarene in June 2009 in Orlando, Florida. It's not a large denomination, only 1.7 million members worldwide. Still, that gives many other choices of people to nominate as delegate other than me. There were 18 names on the ballot for lay delegate from southwest Indiana. My name was among them. Out of 280 ballots cast, 70 people voted for me to be one of three elected. That's one less than did so four years ago. Like I said, my political career isn't exactly rocketing me to prominence.

It's interesting to consider the steps to actual election. First, I need to develop a ministry that gives me name recognition beyond my local church and community. People need to know who I am. Then I need to polish a persona of wisdom and loyalty to the church. A bunch of conservative people with little interest in change have to be convinced that I will represent their interests to the general assembly. Yet, I must not give any hint that I might be campaigning for the position. Undisguised ambition doesn't set well for this sort of thing.

One might think that formal training in doctrine and church polity would be halpful, or maybe familiarity with the history and values of the denomination, but that would be the case only if people actually studied the qualifications of the nominees and valued that sort of thing. Networking is actually a much greater factor. I suspect that my piano skills are a greater asset for this sort of thing than any insights I might have into the direction and future of the Church of the Nazarene. If only I could get some piano gigs around the district, my chances of being elected would go up considerably. Especially if I kept my mouth shut and didn't let it slip that I am perhaps not fully committed to maintaining the status quo.

Still, I was nominated! What a great honor it has been to be chosen twice as a nominee for delegate to the general assembly. I am blessed.

By one measure, I had a better showing this year than four years ago when there were 24 nominees for four positions. Although I received fewer votes, there were also fewer people who received more votes than I did. Who knows what could happen in four years if it weren't that the puddle in which I do my piggy thing is perhaps on the path to expansion, sinking me even further into obscurity.

Even though I'm not a delegate, I am planning to be part of the Orlando event next summer as a "friend" of the assembly. I have missed only two of the last ten assemblies. And without delegate responsibilities, I can focus on the fun and fellowship. Life is good.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Plenty of room in heaven?

This op-ed piece was in our newspaper this week. It alerts readers to the fact that Barack Obama doesn't subscribe to the basic tenets of Christianity. The authors write:

A basic tenet of Christianity is that profession of faith in Jesus Christ is necessary to gain the reward of eternal life in heaven. Christians do not believe the door of heaven is open to every “kind” and “generous person.” Christians do not believe that adherence to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or other religions opens the door to eternal life in heaven with God. That is why Christians send missionaries seeking the conversion of these religions’ practitioners to Christian beliefs.

There's a comment that
Obama has repeatedly said belief in Jesus is only one of many paths to salvation."

One of the underlying proofs of this heresy is that
Obama said that his mother was in heaven despite her atheism and outright rejection of Christ. While speaking at a town hall forum in North Carolina on March 26, 2008 he said his late mother was 'not a believer.' He continued, 'But she was the kindest, most decent, generous person that I have ever known,' Obama said. 'I'm sure she is in heaven, even though she may not have subscribed to everything that I subscribe to.'

From this we know the truth that no one will make it into heaven unless they accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We also know that those who would allow any exceptions to that truth are not real Christians and won't make it into heaven. That leaves the pearly gates open only to those who accept Jesus as Christ and believe that everyone who doesn't do so will burn in hell.

I'm a little distressed by this position. How many Christians have I heard at funeral homes speak the comforting words: "Well, at least you know that your loved one is in a better place" without regard to any Christian witness on the part of the deceased? I presume that all of those people, like Obama, are guilty of heresy and deny the basic tenets of Christianity. I'm thinking that banning all who say such things might substantially thin out the population in that blessed place. How many genuine Christians do I know by those standards?

I hope John McCain's mother was a Christian. Otherwise, he might have to submit to the same test of being required to prove his belief in the "basic tenets of Christianity" by confirming that his mother is now being subjected to the fires of hell. Because that's what true Christians say when their loved ones die without a clear Christian witness.

I'm a little comforted by two verses:

Matthew 21:31 reads: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (He was speaking to the Pharisees at the time.) Tax collectors and prostitutes in the kingdom?! Doesn't Jesus know the basic tenets of Christianity? How are people who flaunt the ten commandments entering the kingdom at all, let alone ahead of the religious leaders?

A little later, in Matthew 23:13, Jesus told the Pharisees: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

As one who is fully committed to a local manifestation of Christianity and, thus, in no small danger of slipping into the mindset of the Pharisees, I'm thinking that I probably need to be more intentional about casting my lot in with the "tax collectors and prostitutes" as far as finding the path to heaven and make sure that I'm opening doors for people rather than closing them.

Sometimes I'm more than a little sympathetic when people look at Christians and opine that if that is who will populate heaven, they might not want to go there.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Loaves and fish and multiplication

I am a student of Andrew Murray (1828-1917). In his book With Christ in the School of Prayer, Murray sets intercessory prayer into the parable of The Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8). In the parable, you have an unexpected guest show up at midnight and you go to another friend and ask for bread to serve your guest. Murray equates the guest to someone in need. God is the friend with bread. In intercessory prayer, we realize our lack of resources and seek out the One who has bread on behalf of our needy friend. I like that thought. It's not necessary for me to have resources to meet my friend's needs. I simply need to turn to the One who has resources and ask for bounty on behalf of my friend.

This morning, however, I realized that sometimes I'm less in the parable of the Friend at Midnight than in another story which Jesus showed rather than told. It's not that I have no bread in my cupboard at all. It's more that I'm holding on to five loaves of bread and two fish and see what seems to be five thousand hungry people looking expectantly at me (Luke 9:12-17).

I can't truthfully say to my needy friends, "I have absolutely nothing to offer you." The truth is, I am blessed and do indeed have a little extra to share. However, my meager resources aren't enough to satisfy the appetite of even one hungry person, let alone five thousand. I could give up my own supper and join the hungry crowd, but the little I have to offer is just a drop in the bucket in comparison to the need.

I wonder if God is still in the multiplication business. How many times do I refuse to share my resources in light of the enormity of the need and miss the blessing of seeing that multiplication factor at work?

I see enormous needs; I have limited resources for investing time, money, prayer, and emotional energy into those needs. I wonder what the process is for starting to pass out those loaves and fish. How much do I give to the first person among the five thousand who crosses my path today? How much do I save back for the second? How much will I give out before I see the multiplication start to happen?

"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" (John 6:9)

Is God still in the multiplication business? It's an interesting question to ponder.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Experience - coming out the other side

Some recent discussions have brought to mind some of the darkest moments of my 50 years. One such discussion prompted me to pull out a prayer journal from over fourteen years ago, something I rarely do. Oh my! Such pain is on those pages as I went reeling emotionally from having the rug abruptly pulled out from under me in terms of ministry. Page after page after long, tedious page of journaling through the pain, trying to sort out what had happened and get my feet back under me so that I could face those involved without splattering them with emotional fallout. What I had condensed to a week or so in my memory actually dragged out much longer than that on paper. (I had to return to the attic for the next notebook before finding some resolution.)

I enjoy books written in first-person narrative where the narrator is focused on her own feelings and thoughts but gives the reader glimpses of what's happening in her world that she herself doesn't necessarily catch. (Recent examples are the Miss Julia series by Ann Ross for adults and the Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot for teens.) I was rather amused to find that in my own writing. In between the self-focused anguish and tears, there were glimpses of a friend who was caught completely by surprise by my meltdown in response to what seemed like a minor decision on his part. At one point he explained to me that I had a mental block and was immature. Even at the time I believed him, but it didn't particularly help anything. I was already working hard at overcoming both the mental block and the immaturity, but neither seemed to be dissolving away easily.

In those dark, dark days, I was walking carefully, aware that the phrase "this too shall pass" was still in effect. I expected to come out the other side and was committed to not sabotaging any relationships along the way -- either my own or the relationships between the people who cared about me and saw my pain and those who had knocked me off my feet. I expected to retain my friendship with everyone involved and didn't want to be responsible for rifts between those around me.

Fourteen years. That time, along with many other times of crisis and emotional duress, is now a part of my history. Sure enough, I came out the other side. My emotions stabilized, my spirits lifted, I mended my fences, and added each time of difficulty to my reservoir of experience upon which I can draw when I hit another difficult place or when I want to encourage others who are going through dark days.

Does anyone ever reach the point where they can weather the dark days with full assurance that what is happening to them will prove to be an invaluable experience in the days ahead? I can't say that my reaction to setbacks and perceived attacks is any less emotional than in days past. Maybe the most I can say is that I am more aware than ever that there is experience to be gained from the pain itself if I can simply survive long enough to get to the other side.

It has been more than twenty-one years since my third and last experience with natural childbirth. Going into that last time, I was aware that my previous labor experiences had been blessedly short. I prepared myself with the assurance that I could endure anything for eight hours, which experience told me was a reasonable expectation for the maximum duration of labor. However, when the labor pains were upon me, my confidence slipped away. Instead of saying, "I can endure anything for eight hours," I was reduced to saying, "I can handle this one contraction. I don't know about the next one, but I think I can make it through this one as long as it doesn't last more than two minutes."

One painful crisis at a time. And when added together they equal that great treasury called experience. Yet, each new crisis looms large and makes me wonder if this will be the pain that does me in. I'm still looking for a quicker path to the positive benefits of perspective.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Book review - Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers

The full title of this book is Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect. It is Myer's second book. The first is The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. I wrote about it here. Both books have given me much to consider.

In this second entry, Myers contrasts a "Master Plan" approach to leadership with a more natural, "organic" order. He focuses on nine areas of contrast. I won't pretend to have a full grasp of those nine areas, but I found much in his words to appreciate. I hope to do a re-read in the near future.

The first "aha" encounter for me was the contrast between representative and individual participation. He calls this "responsible anarchy." As one who tends to lead by consensus, I appreciated the value he placed on individual members of the organism. They shape the organism. They give form to it. Rather than leadership forming a master plan and looking for people to plug into the roles needed to accomplish that plan, individuals within the organization offer their unique abilities and passions and everyone works together to reach the goal. This fits well with my rejection of the statement oft heard in the church that "It's not about you." It IS about people, about individuals. All the individuals. Communities are comprised of individuals and individuals matter.

Another chapter is titled "Coordination" and expands further on the idea of involving individuals in creating the narrative for the organization. The contrast here is between cooperation and collaboration. In the former model, leadership creates the plan and looks to "team members" for cooperation in implementing it. In collaboration, the team works together. There is less structure. Things may look rather messy and out of control along the way. Individuals are valued for their potential contribution and empowered to find their own role.

Other chapters deal with such issues as creating an ongoing story rather than focusing on a bottom line, incorporating new resources by adjusting the form of the organism, making helpful suggestions concerning the contribution of others rather than watching for failure ("edit-ability" rather than accountability), having an attitude of "abundancy" rather than one of scarcity, rotating leadership roles to capitalize on the strengths of various individuals, and focusing on the verb nature of relationships. This final topic depicts language as a requirement and basis for thought in a manner that takes me back to another book I have enjoyed -- Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age by Brad J. Kallenberg.

Myers looks to nature for examples of the idea of organic community. Flocks of birds have no designated leader, yet they move together. Geese rotate the responsibility of being at the head of the "V." Organisms in nature move together without formal, permanent assignment of leadership roles.

This book comes at a good time in my life as I am finding new opportunities for leadership that don't necessarily include formal structure. It opens doors to a sort of "sloppy" leadership that keeps a general destination before the organization without dictating the route to be taken to get there.

Like a said earlier, this is a book I need to revisit.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Difference Between a Christian and a Nice Person

Someone ran across an exchange I once started on a message board and asked me for further words on the subject.

The topic is: What is the difference between a Christian and a "normal" nice person? First, we need to define the terms. For this discussion, I will define a Christian as someone who studies and chooses to live by the teachings of Jesus Christ. That is a different definition than one which simply involves self-identification with the Christian religion. And it is different from one that defines a Christian as one who has been "born again".

There are many people who call themselves Christians who aren't very pleasant to be around. However, Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love others. And it's a personal conviction of mine that loving people should lead to being generally kind and gentle in our interactions with them, an opinion which I could support with multiple Bible references.

Those who self-identify with the Christian religion but exhibit no evidence of love for others in terms of being nice to the people around them aren't part of my comparison here. The difference between that type of person and a "normal" nice person is obvious -- they aren't nice. However, there's a chance that they might still be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ who have yet to develop a consistent level of kindness in their lives. Although, my definition of being a Christian requires a desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, it doesn't necessarily include great success at doing so. That's where grace comes in - from God and from those who have to deal with "rude Christians" (which oughtta be an oxymoron).

Jesus said that people would recognize his followers by their love. The question is, How is love that traces back to Jesus' teachings distinguishable from ordinary social skills that include being kind to those around us. My answer is that there's often no obvious difference in a civil setting. After all, Jesus said that anyone can love people who love them back. (Matthew 5:46) I think that includes being nice to people who are nice to us. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I don't have to rely on my commitment to his teachings to be pleasant to pleasant people. Things simply go smoother for all of us when we practice social graces.

In my observation, the difference a commitment to Christ makes involves how we treat 1) those who are not nice to us; 2) those whose opinion doesn't matter to us.

So how do Christians treat such people when they are "at the top of their game"? The second group actually goes away. In loving others, Christians care about what they think, not because they are concerned about being liked but because they want what's best for others. Everyone becomes important to them, from the street beggar to the company owner. They care about people's opinions because they care about the people themselves. This is the first place that we begin to see the difference between a person demonstrating the love of Jesus and a "normal" nice person. In putting the teachings of Jesus into practice, the Christian is more genuinely concerned about more people.

That leaves the people who don't deserve our kindness. Will a commitment to following the teachings of Jesus Christ enable us to be consistently kind to people who, to put it mildly, aren't very nice? Again, it goes back to loving people, seeing them, caring about them, striving to understand them. The "normal" nice person starts to lose ground here. They may continue to be nice in hopes that it will bring good their way but it's often because they lack a better coping mechanism. Their "niceness" begins to look weak, as though they're unable to stand up to people who need someone to put limits on their behavior. In contrast, there is strength in the kindness exhibited by one who is kind because he or she is a Christian rather than out of weakness.

What started this thought process for me was the people who have told me that no one will ever know that I'm a Christian if I don't spell it out for them, e.g. "I am being nice to you because I am a follower of Jesus and not because you deserve it." That may be true for those who could reasonably expect kindness from me. It's when I treat people kindly for no reason at all other than that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ that there may be a noticeable difference.

What do you think?