Just the Basics…..

A reflection on the readings for Proper 20A: Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16

Every day, all around us, on street corners and the exit ramps of highways we see them. People who are struggling, people who have deep needs for the basics, people who share a portion of their story in a few words: homeless, need money.

What do you do when you see a man or a woman holding a sign at an intersection?  Do you pretend to fiddle with the radio or suddenly notice an interesting cloud in the other direction?

On a certain day in Oklahoma City, if you had turned your head, you would have missed Doug Eaton’s birthday celebration.

Eaton turned 65 that day and decided to celebrate by spending 65 minutes handing out $5 bills to people driving by.

He stood at an intersection holding a sign that said: “I have a home . . . and a car . . . and a job. Do you need a few bucks for some coffee?”

People didn’t know what to think. One driver said, ”I think this is the craziest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.” Others said,  “It’s fantastic. I’m enjoying the moment out here.”

Eaton also described the experience as fantastic. “Some people who don’t take the money just say, ‘Man, I love what you’re doing. I won’t take it, but would you give it to somebody who needs it?’”

What do you when you encounter a person on the corner? More over, what do you do when you encounter people on every street corner, each one looking more lost and desperate than the last?

Here at Christ Church we have started a food pantry. It began a few years ago when we were still collecting food for Crossroads. The food would sit in the kitchen until someone was available to take it downtown. But in the meantime hungry people were coming to the church looking for money, or food. Some needed food that required no preparation, prepackaged protein food that they could carry with them. Others needed food to feed a family. Jan and I started giving away the food intended for Crossroads, along with our usual $10 Kroger gift card.

Last fall we designated a closet in the kitchen for food. We have tuna and mac and cheese, canned vegetables and fruit, cereal and coffee. We try and stock some high protein food that requires no preparation like prepared tuna salad or protein bars.

Recently we acquired a second refrigerator that we use for staff and parish events. The other refrigerator has been designated for the food pantry and we’ve stocked it with milk and eggs. The first  day we added eggs  we gave away nine dozen eggs in five hours. We’re thinking of adding cheese and butter.

Some weeks the food pantry empties faster than we can fill it. We have noticed a distinct up turn in need following the flood last month. The food is provided in part by a collaboration we have with Divine Child school, a project developed by Serge, one of our parishioners who works at Divine Child. The rest of the food is provided by all of us. Some of us have used our “Grace It Forward” money to contribute food.

One person recently emailed the Stewardship Commission with this response to her Grace It Forward gift: “I am grateful for the opportunity the committee gave me to  give back to the community. I used the cash I was given in church to purchase tuna fish and canned chili for the food pantry. Now I plan to make a habit of contributing to the food pantry.”

As a Community-Centered Church our mission is to care for those who come into the church and those who are in the world around us – a circular flow, in and out, like breathing, like grace, like nurturing an attitude of gratitude. Ghandi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” We are a Community Centered Church revealing God’s grace in and through our building, our Mission, our ministries, and our lives. We have much to be grateful for.

There is a difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. Feeling grateful is a response to something that aroused the feeling. Being grateful is a way of life and influences every aspect of our being and our perception of life and the world around us.

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude takes practice. Perhaps adopting a daily Gratitude inventory is one way we might nurture our attitude of gratitude? At the end of each day recall the events of your day and see the day through the perspective of “Gift” – how is that the events of your day were a gift?

No doubt, if I wish to do so, I can find something to complain about, in every aspect of my life. I could complain about the constant need to sweep and dust dog and cat fur around the house. I could complain that summer is over, and it really wasn’t much of a summer anyway. I could complain about anything and everything, if that is how I want to view my life. I could be just like the Hebrews in the reading from Exodus or the laborers in Matthew. I could complain because life is not fair and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

But, if I want to nurture an attitude of gratitude I might say, that my pets are a gift that fill me with delight. I might say that the cool, rainy summer has enabled the grass to be green all summer and restored the water tables of the Great Lakes.   And so on and so forth.

Taking an inventory of my day and considering it through a lens that emphasizes gift and gratitude changes my perspective. Doing this regularly impacts how I live my life and feel about life. I live with less anxiety and less worry. I live with more hope and generosity.

Nurturing an attitude of gratitude takes practice. Some things we can to help nurture gratitude in our lives in addition to a daily inventory can include writing things down. Keep a journal and make note of the times and events you feel grateful for. Talk about gratitude, share with others. Especially thank people for whom you are grateful. We don’t do enough of that – thanking people and acknowledging  our gratitude for the people in our lives.  Seek opportunities – look for things that make you grateful – the blue sky on a sunny day, a delicious meal, the kindness of a stranger, the compassion of a friend or family member.

Robert Emmons, a prominent expert who works for the University of California, has conducted many studies on gratitude. He promotes the idea that gratitude needs to be nurtured and that when we do so we benefit physically, psychologically and socially. Nurturing an attitude of gratitude enables us to be happier, healthier, people.

The message we hear in our readings today reminds us that we have a choice. We can nurture anxiety within and complain about life. Or we can nurture an attitude of gratitude and embrace life with hope, love, and compassion. Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude becomes infectious, influencing others in the world around us as we “Grace It Forward.”

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Ministering to Ministers….

Several months ago I volunteered to host a RevGal event called “ReGroup.” This is the second time I have organized a RevGal event, the first time I’ve hosted one. The first one was many years ago, when I lived and worked under very different circumstances. I was really sick that week – some crud that blew through the Arizona dust storm

Sun shining through a dust storm

and left me with a high fever and serious sinus issues that made me foggy-headed.

But it was still fun.

I met a lot of RevGals and learned much from Wil Gafney and her book, “Daughters of Miriam.” The exercise I remember most from that event was “She-verbs” – replacing some Bible text with “she.” (okay, maybe I don’t remember that well, after all?).

Part of our worship space at the BE 2.0

Some of us went into town to a knitting store

We told stories around a bonfire

This was view of the retreat center grounds outside my room

The most fun of that week for me, however, was our after-the-event road trip to the Grand Canyon.

Dinner at the Bright Angel

Sunrise

This time the event was held at the church I work at and the focus was very different. We gathered to learn a tool to help us in our ministry, which by and large involves a lot of administrative work. Tending to the administrative stuff can keep us overly busy, we can use busyness as an ego boost, as a means to feel more important. But that can come at the risk of our own well-being and even our overall effectiveness as ministers.

We spent time reflecting, singing, praying, worshiping, and creating. It was a good day and half.

Opening worship led by the Rev. Martha Spong

Learning how to use the “Administry” tool

Some time to reflect on the “Administry” tool…

We got a little creative

Closing worship

Sharing the feast of Christ

And, of course, the feet

And for fun, cookies decorated as feet made by one of my parishioners…

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Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude

A stewardship reflection for Sunday morning….

Several years ago a woman and her friend and their 5 children, all under the age of 6, attempted to go to the zoo. The friend had season passes, making for a fun, inexpensive day out! However, it was obvious from the minute she got in the car, that the friend was having a bad day.

They arrived at the zoo and it was packed! They had to park in the farthest parking lot, the one that wasn’t even paved. Then they trekked to the front gate pushing strollers overflowing with kid-stuff. After waiting in line for nearly an hour, the friend realized that she’d lost her wallet. She started to panic so they pulled the caravan over to the side and started looking through everything. The backpack, the diaper bag, the under the stroller storage area… nothing. She ran back to the car while the other mom watched the kids. Nothing. She searched her bags again, no luck.

So they told the kids that they weren’t going to the zoo. The kids started crying. Then the mom’s started crying. They were all disappointed and frazzled.

Then a lady came over and took the mom’s hand. She said,  “Here, take your kids to the zoo.” When she walked away the mom saw a $100 bill in her hand. $100! She tried to give it back. She explained that her friend just lost her wallet, they’d changed their minds about the zoo, and they didn’t need any money. But the lady refused to take back the $100.

Eventually the moms and kids hiked back to their cars. While packing up the car the friend found her wallet in the trunk. With a sigh of relief, they decided to just go to the park and have a picnic lunch.

As they were leaving the park one mom thought about breaking the $100 bill and handing out $20 to people. How fun would that have been?! But she actually felt embarrassed to do that. Who would think it would take courage to give away money?

The moms agreed that they would spend the money doing something fun for the kids, but they never spent it. For two or three years the money sat in a sock drawer in the home of one of the mom’s.

And then a friend’s husband got laid off and after six months of looking was still unemployed. The women knew that their friend had 4 kids to get ready for school, and a very tight budget. So they decided to give this other friend the $100, including it in a bag of hand-me-down clothes. They typed up a letter explaining the history of the money, put it and the money in an envelope and dropped it off along with the bag of clothes. Later that day the friend called to thank them for the clothes and the money.

I wonder if the woman at the zoo, who gave the $100 bill in the first place, carries around a $100 bill so she can help people in need? Think about it. $100 is enough money to actually change someone’s situation if they are stuck. It will fill a tank of gas. It will get a room for the night. It will replace a flat tire. It will feed a family. It will take a couple of women and their kids to the zoo. Story adapted from Enemy of Debt

Today the Stewardship Commission invites us into a season of Gratitude, into an opportunity to nurture an Attitude of Gratitude.

Nurturing an Attitude for Gratitude takes practice.

One way I nurture gratitude is through prayer and intentionality. Every yoga class begins with the teacher asking the students to sit comfortably, close our eyes, bring our hands to our hearts, and dedicate our practice. I always dedicate my practice to gratitude. I don’t always think more deeply about what that means, practicing gratitude. But I hope that the daily act of centering my yoga practice on gratitude infiltrates my being, like my breath, in and out.

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude requires effort to pay attention to the small voice of God, to things that seem coincidental. As Americans we are taught that what we have is the result of our good hard work, we earned it through our own effort. It’s a challenge to see, however, that in reality, everything we have and all that we are, come from God. Life is a gift.

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude opens us to notice all the ways God is interacting with human beings, ways that can be overlooked unless we are paying attention with a mind for seeing God in all things.  Like placing a tea bag in a cup of water, and watching the tea slowly seep into the water, flavoring and coloring it; when we practice having an attitude of gratitude, gratitude will seep into the core of our being, enabling us to see God in the world around us, and turning us into grateful human beings who share their gratitude with everyone around them.

When was the last time you received a free gift? Not a gift for your birthday or Christmas, but a gift just because?

God’s grace is like that – a gift, just because. God’s grace manifests in unexpected ways and can even go unnoticed if we aren’t paying attention.

Have you ever been surprised by grace, by some unexpected blessing that could only have come from God? Would you know grace if it came your way? How about a beautiful sunset? Or, the delight we feel at being back in our church following the summer of outdoor services and chapel services, which are grace-filled in their own way? Perhaps you’ll experience grace during the amazing pot-luck that will follow this service? Maybe you were touched by the unbelievable work of many many people to clean up this building, or your home, following the flood? Do we notice the kindness around us? Or is it lost in the haze of violence and despair that exists in the world and fills the daily news?

Do you happen to notice moments of kindness or beauty, as gifts, as grace, from God? Or do you think they are just random events? What happens if you begin to see life as a gift from God, to be lived with gratitude, giving thanks to God who loves us?

Gratitude is one of the fundamental aspects of our Christian faith. But it takes practice to form it inside of us. Gratitude needs to be nurtured and nourished by the way we live our lives.

For the next eight weeks the Stewardship Commission invites us to nurture our attitude of gratitude. You will be provided with incentive to do this, and opportunities to share with others how this practice is taking shape in you. You’ve heard of the “Pay It Forward” concept? Well, think of this as a season of “Grace it Forward.” May it be a season in which we come to see the many blessings we are given by the grace of God, and may we, as the hands and heart of Christ, share the blessings with others as we Grace it Forward.

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Walking

I needed to walk. I needed to walk a lot.

It was one of those days when a snarky email got me going, interior-wise. That kind of interior work, choosing to not be knee-jerky, is hard for me. When my initial reaction is loaded with spit and vinegar, I know I need to move my body, but not my fingers on the keypad. It’s part of my on going effort to become better at self-differentiation, better at not responding to some comments or emails, better at letting the other person just sit with their words, not having my reaction to justify their immature behavior.

So, I walked.

I walked to yoga, one of my favorite (almost) daily walks. The walk takes me along an urban forest that lines a small river. Looking into the trees I always see something beautiful: deer eating leaves, nestled safely behind the dense branches, but really only a few feet away; a red-tailed hawk standing on the edge of the grass, who looked me straight in the eye until I was a three feet away, and then it flew off; a family of beavers building their den; blue heron’s and of course birds and squirrels of the usual variety. I always see something that delights me and reminds me that there is much to be grateful for.

Yoga class itself, was good – a long meditation restored some sense of equanimity and peace. Yoga serves to provide me with the time and practice to distance myself from any emotion I am feeling. It is particularly good when I am angry, it settles me and helps me gain perspective.

After yoga I walked across the street and had breakfast at the Panera Care’s. Panera Care’s is an experimental restaurant that gathers day old food from all the other nearby Panera’s and resells it. People are invited to pay full price, or any amount they can afford by dropping your payment into a box, so no one knows exactly what you do pay. If you are unable to pay anything you can have one free meal a day. People are also given the opportunity to work in exchange for a meal. So I had breakfast and then headed out on my errands.

I walked to a nearby market to purchase a large jar of raw honey. I use raw unfiltered honey in my coffee and in my protein shakes – good for seasonal allergies and the immune system – assuming one is not allergic to the honey itself.

Then I walked home carrying my yoga mat strapped across my back, water bottle in one hand, and this heavy jar, (think two quarts), of honey in the other.

 This walk took along a different route, through a park and across the river. The park offers multiple covered pavilions used by groups and families for picnics and parties. On this particular day an Arabic group was using one of the pavilions. The air was filled with smell of hot dogs and burgers. Live sitar and drum music played loudly through a portable sound system.  The music echoed off the concrete sidewalks, asphalt parking lot, and the grass and trees, I could hear it blocks before I came upon it. The sound followed me home, reverberating off the trees in my backyard.

What a town I live in, I thought. Few places on earth enable a walk through such wildly diverse  terrain as this composite of land and culture.

I needed to walk.

I’m grateful I did.

Oh, and that snarky email. I never replied. Really, there was nothing to say after all.

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Our Spiritual Foremothers of Justice

a reflection on the readings for Proper 16A: Exodus 1-2:10

A radical Islamic militant group moves through Iraq and Syria killing civilians including American journalists, touting an extremist ideology and terrorizing a minority religious group in the region, forcing them to seek safe harbor on a mountain top.

A police officer shoots an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and a week of riots erupt. News reports cite years of conflict between a black community and it’s mostly white police force are coming to the surface.

Hamas and Israel enter into open conflict once again in a fierce and seemingly endless battle over land rights.

Russia invades the Ukraine in a play for power.

A woman runs into a hotel in Libya, begging for help. Government agents are captured on hotel video hauling her away. Mayhem erupts in Libya.

Genocide – people killing other people because of race, ethnicity, or religion, from Rwanda to South Africa, to Guatemala and countries in South America. From the Holocaust to the war between Serbia and Croatia, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that it is not only okay, but a right, to kill people who differ from one another.

Even here, in our country, we have open conflict over race, gun rights, and human sexuality.

An Egyptian Pharaoh  grew worried about the increasing Hebrew population in his country. He started a campaign of fear and anxiety that soon infected other Egyptians. Before long the misleading information fueled enough fear in the people that Pharaoh garnered support for genocide. The Pharaoh ordered the local midwives to carry out the killings, intending that no baby boy survived the birth process.

It’s not a far-fetched story. All around us are stories of similar atrocities.

What is amazing, however, is how the five women in this story all conspire against the Pharaoh, each in their own way and without any preconceived intention of working together. First of all we have the two midwives who recognize that if they follow the Pharaoh’s plan they will lose all credibility in the community of Hebrew and Egyptian women. They will lose their integrity as professionals whose job it is to bring forth new life not end it. So the midwives develop a brilliant plan that saves their reputation and save the lives of the babies being born – they women give birth before the midwives can arrive.

So then Pharaoh insists that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile. One Hebrew mother takes a risk at saving her son, placing him in a basket near the water where Pharaoh’s daughter bathes. The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and before she knows it the baby’s sister is there offering to find a wet nurse, who ends up being the baby’s real mother. As if that were not enough, Pharaoh’s daughter pays the mother to be the wet nurse. The baby grows up in Pharaoh’s own home, and thus defeats Pharaoh’s plan to rid the nation of Hebrew boys. It’s brilliant! What makes it even more amazing is that because of these five women, the rest of God’s salvation history is possible. The story that began with Abraham and Sarah, continued with Isaac and Rebeca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, is able to continue with Moses – a descendent of Abraham – from a family of Hebrew people living in exile as slaves in Egypt. Moses will grow up to leave Pharaoh’s house and lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and back to the land of their ancestors.

A number of years ago a group of us in the parish watched the PBS series, “Women, War, and Peace.” The series told the story of women who worked together to bring about justice and peace in war-torn areas of the world: Serbia-Croatia, Liberia, Colombia, and Afghanistan. It was a powerful, eye-opening series that revealed the behind the scenes work and the up front and center civil disobedience that was being done by women in war torn regions of the world to bring forth justice and peace. Much of the work included an interfaith movement of women; Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who joined together as one voice to end the genocide and division.

Likewise, the five women in the story from Exodus all come from very different backgrounds. None of them plotted to work together. But each of them was wiling to do the right thing, they took a risk for justice. In the process they entered into God’s hope and desire for human kind and all creation.

As Episcopalians we describe God’s desire for us through the words of the Baptismal Covenant, where in with God’s help we will: seek justice, respect the dignity of others, serve Christ in one another, share bread, resist evil, repent and return to God, proclaim the Good News of God’s love in Christ and each other, and strive for peace.

The women in Exodus exemplify these characteristics of people of faith. They are our spiritual foremothers. May their wisdom, tenacity, courage, and  strength live on in us, fortifying and inspiring us into acts of justice. May we be the living hands and heart of Christ in this broken world of ours.

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Friday Five: End of Summer…NOOOOO!

I’m moving back to blogger. You can find today’s Friday Five  here http://seekingauthenticvoice.blogspot.com/2014/08/friday-five-end-of-summer-nooooooooooo.html

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A Tale of Three Churches

One story: The months preceding the formal “New Rector Installation” service were relatively calm and easy. Afterward, a member of the Vestry claiming to have “issues with authority,”  began blatantly opposing every point raised by the Rector in Vestry discussions. The wardens and Rector teamed up to listen to and work with this Vestry member, enabling better communication and more effective Vestry meetings.

Later, another parish conflict arose over human sexuality and whether openly gay and partnered persons should be bishops. The Vestry and Rector along with other community faith leaders organized a series of ecumenical and congregation-wide conversations on human sexuality. Although a few people left the parish because of the Episcopal Church’s stance on partnered gay bishops, most people stayed. The leadership encouraged open conversations which revealed more diversity within the congregation than was previously assumed. Eventually the anxiety eased and the congregation was able to focus on mission and ministries.

A second story: Six weeks into a new call the new Rector hired a consultant to help navigate complicated interpersonal dynamics, which revealed themselves in the first week of the Rector’s arrival. That week, in separate incidences, three different people closed the Rector’s office door and then proceeded to insist that the Rector fire the Parish Administrator, who had been hired by the interim. Members of the congregation continued to tell the Rector what the Rector could or could not do, in no uncertain terms. Six months later there was open conflict in Vestry meetings. Ten months into the call the Rector arranged for the consultant to meet with the Vestry in an effort to learn more about the conflict. Despite great effort to identify issues and concerns, the “Problem” could not be clearly articulated. A pattern emerged, as soon as one issue was addressed another one reared its head.

Not long after, following the New Rector installation service, the Bishop had a closed door meeting with the Vestry, without the Rector present, in order that the Vestry could speak “freely.” A few days later the Bishop called and told the Rector how to respond to concerns that were raised by the Vestry. When the conflict continued to rise the Bishop made a second visit with the Vestry, this time with the Rector present, and told the Vestry what to do. Seventeen months into this call the Rector began receiving daily emails, carbon copied to undisclosed recipients,  that were personally and professionally demeaning. The Bishop had a second closed door meeting with the Vestry, again without the Rector present. After that meeting the Bishop told the Rector to resign and laid out a plan for the Rector’s departure. The Bishop stated that the Rector’s leadership style was not a good fit for this parish.

A third story: The priest was called to a parish that felt like a “perfect fit.” The first two years were filled with enthusiasm and joy.  However, in the third year conflict arose. For the better part of an entire year the leadership team and Rector wrestled with concerns about process, who had authority and how were decisions made. This culminated in two public conversations with representatives from many of the parish committees. The conversation was facilitated by a parishioner and a member of the diocesan staff, both trained mediators. These conversations eased the anxiety in the system by providing an opportunity for everyone to speak and be listened too and a plan was put in place for moving forward.

Conflict is a normal and natural part of human relationships and congregational life. The absence of conflict does not mean that a congregation or a relationship is necessarily healthy. Absence of conflict may indicate a system or relationship that is stuck in patterns of behavior that ensure a false sense of comfort at the expense of interpersonal growth and well-being. This comfort is false because people are suppressing their true feelings in an effort to get along. Christians congregations have a tendency to “be nice,” believing it’s the Christian thing to do. Paradoxically being nice usually means people are quietly tolerating other people who are not being nice to one another. It also manifests as unspoken pressure to accept values, beliefs, and behaviors that are not one’s own.

A normal aspect of congregational life, conflict can play out in healthy and unhealthy ways. Typically conflict manifests as anxiety over seemingly random issues or an insistence that a particular person is the problem. Successful resolution can happen when individuals in the leadership team (Bishop, priest, Vestry, Commission Chairpersons, etc) are able to navigate the situation by monitoring their own feelings, choosing to respond thoughtfully instead of impulsively by separating feelings from action and recognizing their particular role in the conflict. A group of mature leaders, not just the clergy person, need to be willing to seek reconciliation rather than blame, confront, by meeting face to face, the unhealthy behaviors, and strive to create and maintain boundaries for healthy behaviors.

In the parish in which the conflict ended with a forced pastoral exit, the underlying anxiety over congregational and cultural changes in leadership were similar to what other churches face in the world today. However this congregational system exhibited symptoms of unhealthy behavior well documented by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and numerous books written on church conflict. The symptoms included an unwillingness to adapt. This manifested as inflexible and insistent behaviors intended to protect a few and hurt others. The instigators used scare tactics and anger to spread and increase anxiety. There was an expectation that the female Rector would “behave like the obedient daughter and do what she was told,” a typical experience of women in leadership. The Rector’s efforts to hold open conversations among the leadership team in order for the members to grow in understanding of one another failed because certain members would not publicly speak about their feelings and intentions. Instead they circulated emails undermining the leadership with distorted information intended to raise anxiety. Meetings of the Vestry and other groups, without the Rector present, perpetuated a pattern of covert behavior and silencing of the Rector. The ensuing “flight-pattern” of people leaving or threatening to leave the parish added to the anxiety. This was exacerbated by a tendency to look after self-interests and not the good of the whole. There was the presence of demeaning verbal and non-verbal communication. The destructive behavior was marked by domination and subordination patterns. The parish had a history of alcoholism and a long history of conflict with previous Rector’s in which people left the church rather than reconcile. The conflict escalated so quickly that the Rector was unable to establish and maintain trusting relationships with key leaders.

Underlying the behaviors were significant cultural shifts. During the months in which the conflict was elevating the country fell into an economic depression which impacted this congregation of predominantly retired people. Incidents of undocumented people crossing the border increased the tension in local neighborhoods. The first black President of the United States was elected, a challenge for even the most liberal members of this community. And, the parish was experiencing leadership from its first female Rector. These cultural and systemic-wide changes aroused anxiety in people who, as is typical, played out their anxiety through congregational life. Within eighteen months the conflict in this parish had reached an “intractable” level of intensity, the stated objective of at least one person was to humiliate the Rector and punish her by getting her fired. Arbitration was necessary and the end result was a forced pastoral exit. Intervention from professional church mediators may not have salvaged the relationship but it would have enlightened all parties to the unhealthy dynamics at play.

Forced clergy exits have a tendency to focus on “cause and effect” – who did what or what caused the conflict. In church settings the Rector or lead pastor, the most vulnerable person in the system, is usually determined to be at “fault.” (See Lombard Mennonite Peace Center Mediation training.) Focusing on cause and effect fails to recognize that the set of circumstances that force an exit in one congregation will not have the same end result in another. Unhealthy responses to conflict seek places outside the self to lay blame, thus moving the anxiety from self to other. Navigating conflict toward a resolution that retains the clergy-congregation relationship requires each person involved to recognize their role in the conflict.

As human beings grow from infancy to adulthood we learn patterns of behavior that influence how we respond to challenges and differences of opinion, personalities, cultures and societal norms. Because individuals have emotional connections to other people we are all affected by the behavior of others’. Our ability to recognize how we feel as we experience other people informs our options for responding. When we are able to understand that a behavior causes us to respond in a certain way we can intentionally choose to respond in a different way.

When responding to congregational conflict and anxiety, leadership needs to remember that an emotional system has been activated, one that resides beneath the issues being raised. The issues are symptoms of the underlying emotional system. Recognizing the underlying emotional dynamic requires making constructive decisions to separate feelings from actions. Feelings are natural, but nurturing hurt feelings and acting destructively from hurt feelings perpetuates unhealthy conflict. This can be accomplished by: stepping outside of one’s own subjective responses to what one “feels” is happening; actively listening to others, with the intent of learning, rather than reacting to emotions or positions; staying clear about one’s own goals, values, and beliefs while simultaneously being a non-anxious presence; and remaining in relationship with all the people involved. Being willing to change, adjust, and compromise can lead to healthier conflict transformation. Healthy communication practices rely on direct conversation with the individuals involved instead of gossiping about others. No one person holds the whole truth of a situation, it takes enormous effort to honor everyone’s perspective. Compassion, empathy, and a desire to stay in relationship are key factors in reconciling conflict.

Conflict is a normal aspect of human relationships, reminding us that we are vibrant and alive. When our motivation to resolve conflict is toward relationship building instead of self-preservation, bullying, or power and control, conflict can be transformational, building trust and deepening our awareness of ourselves and others. Scripture provides us with examples of how to do this as we grow up in every way into the body of Christ.

(See in particular 1 Corinthians 13Ephesians 4, and Matthew18).

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski serves as the Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, MI and as the Convener of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. She holds a dual degree M.Div/MSW with an emphasis in Family Systems for Congregations and is trained in Mediation for Congregations and Healthy Congregations by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and Appreciative Inquiry with Rob Voyle. In addition to serving on the board for the EWC she previously served on the boards of OMNI Youth Services in Chicago and the RevGalBlogPals, as a regional Dean in the Diocese of Chicago, and as a regional liaison for Episcopal Migration Ministries.

The above essay was written out of a partnership between The Episcopal Women’s Caucus (EWC) and The Network of Episcopal Clergy (NECA.) This project developed following  a watershed moment when in January 2014 the Diocese of Newark passed a resolution seeking that their Bishop appoint a task force to explore Dignity of Work issues related to clergy and workplace bullying.  This essay was written as part of a collection of essays written to begin to address the challenge of challenging calls and the issue of workplace bullying. While the views in this essays are the authors own and we acknowledge that no one essay will be able to identify all the issues involved, our hope is that in and  through the collection of pieces we might support what has begun locally in the Diocese of Newark and more importantly, further the conversation in the wider Episcopal church. As these essays are both sponsored and being released jointly by both NECA and The EWC please read all the essays at The Episcopal Women’s Caucus blog and  The Care for Clergy in Difficult Calls Writing Project.

If you are a clergy person in the midst of a challenging call or you have gone through it and would like to see the beginnings of a set of resources that might support you, please see the  NECA Resource Page

 

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One Bread Broken Open

Ordained fourteen years, I have gathered around the table with a community of the faithful three or four times a week. “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”

Into countless open hands I’ve placed a piece of bread, broken off of a larger loaf. “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life.”

 

communion rail hands

A holy and sacred moment shared. “One bread, one body.”

We become this body through baptism, partaking of meals together, sacred and ordinary, opportunities to connect with our friends and colleagues, and as we care for friend and stranger. We share our lives and find ministries in common that help make life more meaningful. We serve on committees and commissions, boards and teams, striving for vibrant and transformational relationships with God and our neighbor.

Scripture, such as Matthew 18, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 13, remind us that we are called to be in relationship with one another. This means we are to lead a life worthy of that to which we have been called; to build up the body, be mature, speak the truth in love, and don’t let the sun go down on our anger.

In truth, following the wisdom of scripture can be challenging. Broken human beings, we gossip and speak behind the back of the one who hurt us. We point fingers and lay blame. We tend to blame someone else for how we feel, project our hurt onto another person, but fail to see our role in the breakdown of the relationship. Instead of gossiping, blaming, and projecting we might focus on the self and wonder, “Why am I so anxious? Why am I so hurt? Why am I so angry?”

Then, you might also ponder “How might I have responded differently? What could I do to stay in relationship? Am I brave enough to really embrace the notion that the only person I can change is myself?”

Jesus reminds us to first explore the log in our own eye. Then, go to the person with whom we feel hurt and have a conversation, with the intention of learning more, instead of blaming. This is how we love God, and love others as ourselves as mature people building up the body instead of breaking it.

May the Body of Christ be broken open, not apart, and shared with love, that we might be made whole.

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski serves as the Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, MI and as the Convenor of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. She holds a dual degree M.Div/MSW with an emphasis in Family Systems for Congregations and is trained in Mediation for Congregations and Healthy Congregations by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and Appreciative Inquiry with Rob Voyle. In addition to serving on the board for the EWC she previously served on the boards of OMNI Youth Services in Chicago and the RevGalBlogPals, as a regional Dean in the Diocese of Chicago, and as the regional liaison for Episcopal Migration Ministries.

 

This reflection was written for <a href=”https://readymag.com/mwm/36339/”>Fresh Day</a>. Check it and consider subscribing!

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Friday Five: Randomly Ramblin’

RevKarla, over at the RevGals, reminds us to live our weekends instead of pushing through so inspired by this, here is a Ramblin’ Friday Five.

1. First, take a moment to pray. No words? Here is Julia’s timely prayer.
Can I get an Amen? I walked to yoga class this morning where I had some lovely time to pray, meditate, sit quietly, be grateful.

2. What is one thing you have been thinking about doing this summer? Well, can you still take an hour/afternoon/day/overnight to still make it happen? My need for this summer is to find as much time to just “be” as I can possibly manage. I have had some time, but need more. I have sat and read novels. I have sat and knitted. I have sat and had fun conversations. I have sat quietly and done nothing. I have sat and written. It’s been good. But I still need a little more time to just “be” before the fall hits and life takes off at a rapid pace.

3. Give a shout-out to someone who has been a blessing/kick in your pants/good friend/joy/a great silliness in your life lately. My dogs are an endless source of delight. My husband is amazing, too, as well as my kids. And, I am blessed to have a group of wonderful clergy girlfriends, especially a couple here, who regularly help me recharge with their great company.

4. Leaf-blowers or vacuum cleaners? Which is the most annoying sound to you? I hate leaf blowers. The worst invention, ever! At least in terms of the NOISE they make. Also, I have a neighbor who uses a power washer to clean her pool and the concrete deck around the pool. She does this every Saturday in the summer and it takes her several hours. I have to close the windows or leave the house. It is agitating and aggregating. I hates it, precious, I hates it!

5. Is there a song of the summer this year? Last year it was Happy, right? Do you have a song of your summer? Or mix? Or just a great recommendation? Wait, Happy came out last summer? I only recall hearing it for the first time this spring….lol. That means, whatever song is from this summer that I’ll like, I won’t hear until next spring? Is that my cycle? sigh. I have no idea – mostly I just get ear worms from stuff we are singing in church. sigh, again.

 

 

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Emergence of Self, Journey of Faith

A reflection on Proper 13A Genesis 32:22-31 

Murray Stein, a prominent Jungian writer and analyst, wrote a book called, “Transformation: Emergence of the Self.”  He writes about a very profound transition that most human beings go through, usually in our mid to late forties, which takes about a decade to complete, sometimes known as a mid-life crisis. He uses the life stories of Carl Jung, Rembrandt, Rilke, and Picasso to describe the struggle and the creative result. The process begins with a sense of being unsettled in life, something is amiss. We then experience years of doubt, confusion, unsettledness, where everything we thought we knew and understood about ourselves, or our hopes and dreams, our expectations, our life goals, even our faith, comes into question.

This is the place where we find Jacob in our readings this morning. We have moved through the Genesis story from Abraham and Sarah, who are Jacob’s grandparents. We’ve heard their story of struggle and transformation. We have moved through the story of Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob’s parents. And we have heard most of the story of Jacob himself – how he tricked his brother into giving him the birthright of inheritance, how he had to flee his homeland to escape the wrath of his brother, how he worked for 14 years to win the hand of Rachel from her father Laban. And now our reading today points us to a place late in Jacob’s life, a time when he has become successful and wealthy. He has a large family, 12 sons, and many possessions, he ought to feel settled. But despite all of his success he still struggles with what he did to his brother all those years before. And so he sets out with his family to see his brother and ask his forgiveness.

As he nears the end of his journey to meet his brother, Jacob pauses for some time of sleep, prayer, contemplation. He sends his family on ahead, to a place of safety, while he prepares. It is in this night of preparation that Jacob has an amazing dream. He is wrestling with an angel! All night long he wrestles, getting no sleep, and ending up wounded.

This story of Jacob wrestling with the angel invites us to look at the ways we may wrestle with faith. Each one of us at some point in time argues, debates, struggles with God. It is part of the process of faith. It is part of the process of becoming fully who we are called to be.

Jewish Midrash views this story from two dimensions – one is the break-down in human relationships, symbolized by the rivalry between Jacob and his brother Esau. Jacob’s life long struggle over inheritance and birth right has broken him. Now he seeks reconciliation and healing with his brother, an effort that is never simple, but always comes with grace. The work of healing a relationship leaves us vulnerable and raw, it’s scary, but it is also a blessing.

The second view is that the confrontation between Jacob and the angel describes the dynamic of a tormented soul struggling for insight and understanding in the face of life’s challenges. It is the struggle to remain a person of faith in a world of violence, disease, despair, and bad things happening to good people. It’s literally an emotional and spiritual tug-of- war. It is easier for Jacob to make peace with his brother Esau than for him to reconcile his inner struggles of identity and faith. Wrestling with the angel reveals the nature of Jacob’s inner struggle – he wants to know who he is, what his purpose is. Jacob insists that the angel give him a blessing. The angel does more than that, the angel gives Jacob a new name and his true identity is revealed, he is Israel, a people of God.

The paradox of this story is that even though Jacob comes out of the dream wounded from this struggle, he is also more mature and whole. He’s become a wiser human being who finds peace in his life, content with it as it is. Genesis 32 uses the word “Shaleim” to describe Jacob when he awakens. Shaleim has two meanings “wholeness” and “peace.” Jacob emerges from the struggle,  whole and at peace, despite being physically wounded.

Our spiritual journey toward a mature faith often includes doubt and struggle followed eventually by reconciliation within one’s self, and a sense of wholeness and peace. Along the way God calls us by name, “Beloved,” and blesses our journey with God’s abiding presence, love, and grace. May we trust in God’s presence though the wrestling feels endless for the dawn will come, the sun will rise, and love will prevail.

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