Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stewardship and faith: Rearranging like Lydia

Note: this is a copy of my April newsletter article, with minor changes.

When our youth fast for the World Vision 30 hour famine, we always have a worship service. In it, we do something to remember children who die of hunger related diseases: 1 child every 3 seconds. This year we made handprints on 300 pieces of paper, arranged like a cross. They represented the number of children who’d died in 15 minutes.

We found it so beautiful and meaningful that we kept it for worship. Then we replaced it with a cross of purple cloth which we're keeping through Lent.

When I went to the fabric store to buy a bolt of purple cloth, I was reminded of the character of Lydia found in Acts 16. She sold purple cloth. It was a precious commodity used by royalty and the upper class. Our use of purple for the cross serves as a reminder that Jesus was a different kind of king.

The women’s Bible study studied Lydia yesterday.

Lydia was converted by Paul’s preaching; “the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14). She was baptized along with her household and it caused her to rearrange her life. She opened up her home and coffers to support the new ministry in Philippi. Her house became ground central for the church.

Lydia’s is a stewardship story. It’s also a story about someone growing in faith. Those two things - stewardship and faith – are always related. As we are drawn into faith by God, we want to respond like Lydia: rearranging our lives to participate in God’s ministry.

Rearranging. To give an extra $25 a month to our congregation, as many of our households are doing, takes some rearranging. To spend 30 hrs fasting for world hunger takes rearranging. To make space for the cross in our worship service took some major, literal, rearranging. (Thanks to Mark for spending so much time moving chairs!).

It raises this question: what in your life - especially your faith life - has caused you to rearrange?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Grace during Lent

I have recently returned from my first trip to Arizona. I went for a conference on adult faith formation and took a few extra days to visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

Because I left the day after Ash Wednesday, I joked with that I was giving up work for Lent. I didn't realize until I got on the plane how much I needed a break. I have been working hard, though no harder than everyone else I know. My pastoral work keeps me busy somewhere between 45 - 55 hrs a week plus time spent reading, praying, thinking, and worrying. In Washington DC, this is a light work load. I am not complaining.

Like everyone else, I also have the regular load of personal work to keep myself afloat: attending to a variety of relationships, cleaning the house, tending the dog, maintaining hobbies, exercising regularly, managing finances, cooking healthy meals etc etc etc. My personal work is also a relatively light load. I'm not caring for children or ailing parents. I'm not struggling to make ends meet. The fact that my list includes "maintaining hobbies" reveals that my life has more playtime in it than most adults I know. I am aware that I am in a privileged class with choices over how I spend my time. I have the opportunity for things like vacations and conferences. That's not lost on me.

Still, I have been working too hard. It took the spiritual nurture of loving people at the conference and the vastness of the Arizona landscape to drive that point home. For example: I wrestled with myself as I hiked down the Grand Canyon because I felt like I wasn't hiking fast enough. I kept making goals (I'll get to that water source by 1) and had to remind myself that I wasn't on a schedule and didn't need to invent stress.

In a reflection for Sojourners magazine, Cathleen Falsani put into words exactly what I had been feeling about a Lenten practice. She talked about a lecture by Eugene Peterson that convinced her to give up working so hard. She writes:

Providence has a great sense of timing — one that’s oriented by kairos not chronos. My time with Peterson fell during the first full week of Lent.

Before Ash Wednesday I already had determined not to do the usual thing _ give something tangible up: chocolate, caffeine, wine, fried food, etc. I decided instead to forgo saying negative things about my appearance out loud. I thought that would be healthy, helpful, a meaningful practice to honor God’s creation (me) and the Creator.

It lasted about 36 hours. I determined to start again. And again and again and again, if necessary.

...I stopped trying. I stopped, full stop. For Lent, I am doing nothing. I am just going to be. Feel the rhythms of grace and let God do the doing

Read her beautiful, wise reflections here.

Last night, friends came over for dinner. Embracing the "stop working" attitude, I spent some time with my dog and chatting with parishioners instead of cleaning the house. The meal was late. I had to ask my friend to cook the fish because I didn't get my act together in time to find a good recipe. I went to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes. No surprise, we had a wonderful time. And this morning, God is still turning the world around.

Of course, I don't plan to actually stop working. I did get up and do the dishes in the morning, and I will keep working at the profession that I truly love, invest in my relationships, walk my dog.

But, I have tried to implement a different attitude toward my work - all my work - as part of a Lent. I am trying to spend more time listening and noticing and less time planning and worrying.

My time in the Grand Canyon got good when I let go of my need for a schedule and just absorbed the beauty all around me. I'm pretty sure that though I'm back home, there's no less beauty and no less grace.