Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Eclectic Community

June 13, 2017

Every Sunday evening for over a year we have opened our home on Sunday evenings to whomever wants to join us.  There is no format or agenda.  We provide simple snacks (homemade popcorn, veggies & homemade ranch, crackers & cheese, etc.) as well as cocktails (all part of my master plan, assuredly).

Over the last year, the group has grown from one or two Westmont grads.  Friends invited friends.  Friends invited roommates, bandmates, volleyball buddies, former roommates.  International students living with us pop in and out.  Our kids look forward to the event, helping to prepare (Our oldest son has gained wide-ranging respect for his popcorn skills.  Our younger two handle the cheese and cracker setup and some of the finger veggies).  Our oldest who just turned 15 has gone from slipping away to play XBox games to sitting in rapt enjoyment of the wide-ranging conversational topics that fill the air.  Economics, politics, education, culture, love, life, music – no two weeks are the same.  We have anywhere from three to a dozen or more people who come and go over a two to six hour period.   We’ve started broadening the scope, inviting home-schooling friends and other folks who don’t fit the post-college, early-20’s landscape that predominates the evening.  But there’s a core of people who clearly indicate that this is a priority for them, week in and week out.

I wish I had a genius explanation for that.

It’s eclectic.  We don’t have much of a community after seven years of living here.  The community we have found at times keeps moving away in search of less expensive living.  Our beloved congregation is mostly post-retired folks well into another stage of life, and we find that the younger folks that gather on Sundays are definitely in yet another stage of life.  We balance in the middle as best we can.  We’ve helped support two wonderful young women through traumatic relationship crashes, and celebrated with one of them as repairs were made and the relationship renewed.  Despite the presence and enjoyment of cocktails, we support and include and encourage a young man celebrating his first full year of sobriety in close to a decade, as well as one young woman who always wants to try what others are drinking despite the fact that she hates the taste of alcohol.  Sometimes people contribute things to the mix like snacks or baked goods or mead.  Often-times music forms a portion of the end of the evening as the guitar or ukuleles scattered around the house or brought in by our guests emerge to coax voices to life.

I feel guilty sometimes that there is no plan or agenda to Sundays.  Our culture – and particularly our culture in the area where we live – defines success in terms of how busy we are.  How many things are we juggling?  How little time do we have for ourselves?  Wow, you must be really successful if you’re that completely overwhelmed!  None of which we buy into – or we purchase as little as we can.  We’re convinced, if for no good reason, that there is a value in simply being that is missing in our culture, and that it is not only possible but actually healthy to just be for a few hours.  That idea has been echoed by those committed core members that come faithfully every week, not because they have to but because at some level they want to.  It’s helpful and important to them in ways we might not be able to articulate, but we can certainly enjoy.

I think that this is our faith at a fundamental level.  Many – but not all – of the people who come Sunday are Christians.  It’s a reality that undergirds the evening without the need to be preachy.  Sometimes the music that is played and sung to is worship music or hymnody.  Sometimes it’s the Beatles.  People who may not call themselves Christian are never made to feel awkward, but they sometimes get to hear us talking about our lives of faith, and I trust the Holy Spirit will use those exposures to his glory.  It isn’t worship, but the idea of worship is never far from who we are in Christ.  It is the echo detectable at times in our words and actions.  The shimmering, mirage-like reality that leads us on from day to day on a journey to eternity, never disappointing but always reminding us what awaits ahead.

We are called less to do than to be.  But not randomly to be, but rather to be His.  Created.  Redeemed.  In the process of being made better and perfect but a long way from that final state.  Which means not to be alone, to be in the presence of others and not just those that are the most like us, so that we all might look and inquire and wonder and test, and that they might find the one who has made them to be and calls them to be his.  Eclectic.  If there’s one word that describes the communion of the saints, I trust and hope and pray that this is it!

Making Choices

June 10, 2017

Sunday mornings have really changed since I was a kid.  There were no school activities and no sports activities on Sunday mornings.  Maybe Saturday, but not Sunday.  But today it’s no big deal to have sports groups out on Sunday mornings practicing and competing.  Many parents make the decision that this is best for their kids.  Many Christian parents seem to make this decision for their families as well, lamenting that they can’t be in worship but claiming that this is really what is best for their kids.  They have such an ability, we can’t deny them the opportunity to do what they really love, some might argue.  It sounds compelling.

I’ve repeatedly stated that it’s going to become more difficult – already is more difficult – for Christians to live out their beliefs in our culture.  Options for professions and careers are going to become more limited.  It has become harder for Christians to live out their lives and their beliefs, and that isn’t going to change.  That’s not just true for bakers or farmers or government employees.  It can even be true for soccer players.

This week it was reported that one of the members of the US women’s national soccer team would be dropping out of the team during a Scandinavian tour this year.  No explanation was given beyond “personal reasons”.  Both the men’s and women’s US teams indicated that they would wear rainbow jerseys in celebration and support of gay pride this month.  Jaelene Hinkle withdrew from the team though she had been on it since 2015.  Speculation is that she has withdrawn because of Christian objection to being used as a public support for homosexuality.

There are lots of times – and they will only continue to grow in frequency – when parents and grandparents will be tempted to set aside their beliefs for what they consider to be the good of their family.  This young woman – if speculation is correct – is a beautiful example of refusing to do that.  By all means encourage your kids and grandkids and family to pursue things that they love and enjoy, but to do so at the expense of their Christian faith, of demonstrating to them what is truly most important about life and existence is foolish and dangerous.  Equipping our kids and grandkids to make difficult decisions like this one should be the primary goal of every Christian family.

More and more frequently, they’re going to be faced with these sorts of choices.  The least we can do is model for them how to make them.

 

 

 

Routines

August 11, 2016

Like most people I’m a creature of habit.  I don’t like that fact and I like to think that I flail against that tendency, but it’s there all the same.  In a vocation with a great deal of flexibility both by choice and necessity, there are still certain routines I prefer to follow.

Thursdays I like to go to my favorite coffee house around 6:30am and spend three hours or so perusing various commentaries.  Then I return to my office to distill their wisdom (and sometimes mine) into notes for my Thursday afternoon in-depth Bible Study.  It takes a long time to read theological material, and it takes time to distill it and spit it out first in written form and then verbally.  I keep my Thursday calendar clear in general because of this.

But it doesn’t always work out that way, despite my preference for routine.  Sometimes, things get in the way.  More accurately, sometimes people get in the way.  And when that happens, what I try to promise myself is that I will always let them.

I’m not here for my routine.  I’m here for people.  I’m here to interact and laugh and love and share with people in a variety of contexts.  Maybe it’s at the jail like Friday mornings.  Maybe it’s with men in recovery from addictions like Thursday afternoons (my one exception to my open schedule on Thursdays!), or women in recovery on Friday afternoons.  Maybe it’s with the sweet little old ladies at the retirement center next door on Friday afternoons.  Maybe it’s with the guys at the bar on Tuesday nights or the college students on Sunday evening.  And of course it’s my wife and children as well.

Routines can easily eclipse people.  The knowledge that stuff needs to get done sometimes makes me want to set people aside so I can just do what I need to do.  But I try to fight against that as much as possible.  Which means sometimes Bible study won’t be ready on Thursday afternoons because I was needed by various people.  I feel guilty for that but I don’t want to.  Bible study can wait.  At the end of the day I’m pretty sure that the Bible study won’t make the difference between heaven and hell for those assembled 22 or so faithful.  While they enjoy the study and I enjoy doing it, we can’t forget that we are privileged to share the love of Jesus Christ with people.  We know plenty as Christians, on average.  Letting that knowledge impel us towards people is where it’s harder.  It’s a lot safer to stuff my head in a book or a Bible study than to interact with people who may challenge my conceptions of myself and my God and those books.

But sometimes Bible Study is going to have to wait because somebody had a greater need.  When that happens (as it did last week), I count on the forgiveness of my members – which they are very good at giving.   And I need to practice forgiving myself, which I am not so good at doing.  And I need to give thanks to God for putting people in my life in ways that challenge my routines and preferences and keep me alive to his Spirit at work.

A Pastor’s Call

July 16, 2016

I serve a congregation of primarily retirement age and older folks.  Great folks.   Some of them are really post-retirement, safely into the epic range of age.  And some of them are alone.  Not just widows or widowers, not just with family out of the area, but really alone – few if any remaining living relatives; no children or grandchildren.   They are fully reliant on outsiders – non-family members – for their care to one degree or another, even if they’re still living independently.  Outsiders is meant in a purely descriptive sense, not pejorative.  Many of these caretakers are wonderful, committed people.

The blessing and challenge of some pastors like myself  is to care for people in this situation.  To bring them the Word and Sacraments of God when they can no longer make it to worship.  To check in on them from time to time.  To develop relationships with them similar to the relationships we have with other parishioners.  We learn about their lives to a certain extent, what they’ve been through, who they are.  Which is wonderful, but it brings certain challenges as well.

As someone grows older and less independent, what is the pastoral role in watching for this person’s well-being?  I don’t have any legal standing with these folks.  The fact that I’m seeing them on a regular basis for years at a time means nothing in a legal sense.  It’s not appropriate or desirable for me to have any sort of legal standing – it complicates everything and this isn’t a reasonable or safe duty for me to take on.  But when I begin to worry about their well-being, my role is rather limited by the legal documents they have drawn up identifying who makes decisions about their life.

I’ve been discovering all of this recently with one of my parishioners.  They voiced some concerns or uncertainties about certain aspects of their care in terms of fiscal fiduciary duties.  But I have no authority to do anything.  But I can make sure that they’ve been in contact with their attorney.  I can make sure they follow up with their accountant.  I can offer to be with them – a highly uncomfortable conversation, I can assure you! – so that they have someone else in the conversation.

But these people have their duties and responsibilities as well – which include keeping outsiders like me out of the loop.  Protecting their client from any possible detrimental disclosure.  Which means while I can help push for a meeting to occur, I can’t ask what happened.  They won’t tell me – and this is the way it’s supposed to be.  But it means that my parishioner may still be at risk of someone taking advantage of them.  It means that while I can assure them of the forgiveness they have in Christ and the glory to which they are called through faith in him, I may not be able to protect them from the wolves of this world.

My only recourse is reporting suspected elder abuse, and bringing in additional outsiders, people further removed from the situation.  From subjecting my parishioner to a system of cause and effect which could even ultimately involve law enforcement.  Which could result in them being forced into courses of action that they don’t want.  Which could shatter the trust they have developed with me, and perhaps even with Christ’s Church.

That’s a heavy thing to consider.  That’s a heavy risk to take into account in my prayers and wonderings.  But it’s a good reminder for me – and for others – to make sure that you continue to ensure that there are people you trust who have a voice in your life as you get older, particularly if the natural choices for those voices are not so evident (kids, etc.) or if there are complicating factors (dysfunctional or adversarial sibling relationships, etc.).  Make sure that people who know you and who you trust have some ability to be involved with you as you get older.  It’s a very uncomfortable thing, but it can be a very helpful thing.  Perhaps a less intrusive thing than the only other systems and options available in situations like this.

 

What’s Up, Doc?

July 12, 2016

I thought this was a well-written and fascinating essay.  I like that someone takes seriously the difference between mental or emotional illness and demon-possession.  I think it’s a healthy recognition that both things are possible in this world, and someone who takes that reality seriously ought to be available to help those people via a proper diagnosis.

Choosing a Future

June 28, 2016

As a parent, I spend a fair amount of time wondering what my kids are going to be like as they grow older.  Who will they marry?  What sort of vocations will they be drawn towards?  How will their personalities and abilities manifest themselves over the course of their lifetimes?  How can we as parents best encourage and equip them best for that future?

And how can we guide them to take into account the changing cultural landscape of our country?  How can we guide them so that they can live their lives consistent to their religious beliefs even in their vocations?  Increasingly, this is a question that every parent ought to be asking themselves and talking about with their kids.

Take for example, the job of pharmacist.  Seems like a straightforward enough job.  Fill prescriptions.  But what if you believe that abortion is wrong?  Should you be made to fill an abortifacient prescription?  Doctors traditionally have not been required to carry out certain procedures that contradicted their moral code – such as assisting a patient to commit suicide.  Likewise, pharmacists have long been protected from fulfilling prescriptions that violate their conscience.  The entire industry, in fact, revolves around the reality that not every pharmacy can stock or dispense every conceivable drug, and therefore they refer customers back and forth to each other for a variety of reasons.

But now, in the state of Washington, a pharmacist is no longer allowed to refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious or moral reasons.  If a customer walks into a pharmacy and asks to fill a prescription for the morning after pill, that pharmacist must fill the prescription.  At least, they must fill it unless there are other, non-religious, non-moral reasons for referring the customer to any number of other nearby pharmacies.  They can refer customers elsewhere for other reasons, just not for religious or moral ones.

Seems like a rather calculated directive aimed at quashing religious/moral objections.  Seems like something the US Supreme Court would be interested in hearing, since it directly affects First Amendment rights.  Except the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the appeal on this issue.  Much to the disappointment of some of the members of the court, such as Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts.   Their dissent is very informative and worth 15 minutes of your time to read.

Increasingly, the question next generations of Christians will need to ask themselves is what sort of vocation can I fulfill that allows me to follow my religious convictions, that won’t require me to violate my conscience just to earn a living?  Traditional exemptions and exceptions are under attack and are likely to continue to be eliminated, and that needs to be taken into account in considering education decisions as well as job-hunting and career decisions.  Congregations might want to consider special workshops for parents and teens to discuss these sorts of things.  I would think it would be an appropriate topic for youth groups as well.

Is your congregation or ministry staff addressing these issues with your youth and parents?