Monthly Archives: March 2017

Reaching out

 

I’ve heard that the biggest issue in America today is loneliness. I don’t know – maybe it’s actually homelessness or the fact that we are still at war or that bookstores and libraries are closing. Still the loneliness thing seems to be attached to all the other issues, so we may as well see what we can do about this one.

I’ve started several groups that meet on a regular basis to offer mutual support. Sometimes the groups really take off. Sometimes they take off after the third or fourth attempt. Sometimes I’ve found that the reason they didn’t take off is because there’s already a group and so I join that one.

I meet with a group of eight female ministers once a month for lunch. It took a few tries to get this group going, but we did it and have been meeting for several years now. I don’t know what I’d do without these women. They have heard me celebrate big and little victories. They have heard me lose it over big (and little) tragedies. They have remained in principle and unmoved by my story, although they are always wonderfully compassionate and loving to me (they just don’t buy my story – it’s a good thing). I’ve heard them in the same types of circumstances. We laugh together about the crazy gig called ministry that we all love. It is more than worth driving an hour and a half each way to eat salad with these beautiful souls.

The thing is, this started as a semi-professional meeting. We met because we were all ministers in a particular philosophy in a male dominated profession. We do share best practices, new books and trainings and what to never try again, but mostly we share our lives. This is the big secret. There is a lot more professional development and worth in creating the connection than in finding out which fundraiser works the best.

Because of this group, I answered the call to be a Regional Support Representative for our region. Our region is five states, with about thirty Centers. I did it because 1. They asked me and I didn’t think “they” even knew my name and 2. I wanted to pay the good I got my from minister friends. Now, I don’t get to meet with all the ministers or Boards in my region on a regular basis. We certainly don’t get to do lunch together more than once a year, if ever. But I can call, and send silly emails, and that’s a connection. They all have my number. I know before I took over, I sometimes thought my RSC was watching me and would call just as I was losing perspective. And she usually said exactly the right thing or pointed me in the direction to find the right thing myself.

Here’s another secret. I’m massively shy. I don’t reach out easily. I’ve gotten myself into hot water more times than I care to say because I let myself get isolated. I get why loneliness might feel like the biggest issue in our country right now. And I’ve learned that the best way to heal my own loneliness is to reach out to someone who might be in the same boat. In that way, neither one of us is lonely anymore. So it’s really a self-serving spiritual practice. I’m not nice as much as smart. And I offer my trick to you as a cure of any loneliness or isolation you  might be feeling.

Worthy of consideration

Today I found out that the report I worked so hard to get out…hadn’t been sent. For whatever reason, I attached a report from several years ago to the email. I got the right report out this morning, and heard back from our manager that I have another month before my report is actually due. Son of a motherless goat! This is a great opportunity to stop for a moment and chill. I don’t need to get everything done right now. I am trying to make sure all my bases are covered so when I leave (in over a month) I have everything done for the time I’ll be gone. What I need to remember is that, due to my compulsively responsible nature, I’m actually ahead of the game.

I spoke last Sunday about realizing that sometimes the things we most hold against ourselves are actually strengths in disguise. Okay, they can be strengths when seen correctly, as part of God/Good. That’s more accurate. I used to take it very personally when I made a mistake because I thought/believed that mistakes or dropping the ball was a direct reflection of my worth as a person. I didn’t know that worthiness is something we all inherently carry. When I know I’m worthy of love or my space on the planet or whatever good I feel I need, life is just easier. I have nothing to prove. When I don’t know I’m worthy, I have everything to prove and no hope of ever proving it.

If I still believed in the lie about being unworthy or inherently broken and bad (anyone else ever feel that way?) I would be deeply embarrassed by sending so many emails to folks who are already busy. This morning, I laughed it off and let it slow me down enough to notice what is going right. I have plenty of time to get things done. I have time to go slow and be creative. I have time to do whichever project I want because I’ll get to the others in due time.

What aspects of yourself can you reframe in a positive way? What would allow you to feel worthy, or notice that you were never unworthy? What will it take for you to live from worthiness?

A balanced budget

It seems like balance is a big issue for me. When I was in ministerial school, one of our instructors often reminded us to aim for the B. As you may guess, many of us were over-achiever types who put pressure on ourselves to get all A’s. Now in this case, the B stood for balance. We were to pay as much attention to creating work and life balance as we were to creating an awesome business plan or powerful Sunday talks. Balance is what really matters, we are told.

What if there’s no such thing, really? What if, when I say balance, what I mean is to be really present in whatever I’m doing? So if I’m at work, I’m not thinking about the weeds that are out of control in my yard at home? If I’m at home, I’m not obsessing over my next talk or even contemplating how to fit in an extra pastoral care visit in this week. I find that being fully present is enough of a challenge for me. If I add in trying to be completely balanced between work and play then it becomes too much. The truth is that, for me, there will be times I need or want to be at home for longer periods. There are times of the year when I simply expect to be busy at work. Basically don’t really expect my full attention between Thanksgiving and Christmas unless we are in my office talking about the work of ministry.

I’m working on the Center budget right now. The big goal is to find a way to fit in everything we think we need and have a plan to pay for it all. When I start this process, I find that the first version of the budget, where we just plug in numbers that seem to make sense based on what we spent in previous years, is almost always way out of whack. Never in our favor, either. It takes more time and more thought to bring us into balance. I’m starting to think that life balance requires the same time and attention to expenditures and income. Where do I get my energy? Am I willing to invest enough time in the things that feed me so that I don’t end up in the red at the end of the day or week or year? I’m so careful to balance the financial budgets in my life – time to look at other kinds of energy as well.

So… is your energetic budget balanced? How do you make sure?

Immortality

Tonight I’m teaching a class whose theme is Immortality. We’re going to be talking about life after death, what it might be like to live without a human body and what we teach about all that. Mostly it ends up being a discussion of the students’ experience with near death experiences, ghosts and other interesting occurrences. The thing is, our teaching is pretty simple. We don’t claim to know. We each individually have our pet theories, but the official teaching is that we can’t really know.

Here’s my official teaching. It’s more interesting to me to know if there can be a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life BEFORE death. My focus is on right now. Am I doing everything I can to live large before I leave or am I just waiting for whatever comes next?

When I was in Practitioner training, we had to do an exercise in which we wrote our own eulogies and planned our memorial services. Mine was a big party with balloons and music and fun. I said I had died at the age of 83. I believe it was a happy death, and not a particularly difficult one. I had time to say goodbye to folks, make sure my affairs were in order and then just leave gracefully. This exercise is supposed to be about living more fully in this life because we are reminded we won’t be here forever.

I’ve been pretty up front about managing my depressive disorder. The effect this exercise had on me was to make me calculate how much longer I had to be here and when I could leave. It was more like counting down a prison sentence (a life sentence, if I want to be facetious). I’m not afraid of death; like many of us, I tend to have more anxiety around life. Realizing that I believe life to be eternal was, at one point, a very painful truth.

So now I’m taking the next step. At this juncture in my life, I still firmly believe that life is eternal and we get to keep the memory of whoever we were on earth. That’s no longer bad news. I also believe that we get to learn more about whom we have been in other lives and who we are between lives, which sounds pretty cool to me. The homework (as it were) is to make sure I don’t waste the time I have here. Am I coming out from behind my Netflix queue in order to engage with real people? Am I being of service to the folks I meet in the grocery store and at work, or do I just post something on my Facebook letting people know how I feel about the latest scandal? Or kittens, for that matter? (I’m pro-kittens, for the record).

This culture makes it so easy to live from a step back. We make it easy to live by proxy through our electronics. It takes effort to remain present in the here and now, and I believe it’s entirely worth it. As fascinating as I find near death experiences (nope, never had one) I don’t want to have a near life experience while I’m here. If for no other reason, I want actual people to show up for my memorial service and have something to say other than what my favorite TV show was.