Tag Archives: action

Christmas cards

I’m doing Christmas cards this year. I usually do a few – the silly ones from card stores go back and forth in my family. It’s a fun tradition and doesn’t cost much. But this year, I decided to go big. So far I’ve written about 50 and I have another 40 waiting to be written. At some point I started wondering – will someone be happy to get this? Will they be upset there’s no gift card or check in there? Will this seem like an empty gesture? On the other hand, will this make someone’s day? Will they understand that I took the time to buy a stack of cards, find their address (and that’s been a hoot, finding snail mail addresses) and affix a pretty stamp? What if I forget someone?

At some point, I have to mail these suckers. I have to let that little bit of light shine on its own merits and let people receive my love as they choose to receive it. I’d love to put $100 bill in each card, but that’s not budgeted in my 2017 fiscal year. I’d love to write long, very personal notes in each one but at some point I have to go home, I have to write next week’s talk and I have a whole bunch of people to meet with. At some point it has to be enough that I tried and sent a bit of love out into the world.

Isn’t it great that no matter who you are, Spirit is excited to hear from you? Even a small card with a scrawled signature makes God’s day. When I send up a thank you for the parking space, I can feel God get the warm fuzzies. When I stop to listen to a bird singing or watch the sunset, it’s acknowledging the work of the Great Artist. There are so many small ways to be with Spirit over the course of the day, and they all send a bit more love out into the world. I’m sending you some now.

Vacuuming

One of the first “prosperity tools” that I learned was to create a vacuum. Want new clothes? Empty out your closet. Pass on those things that you don’t use. Create physical space as a means of creating space in consciousness for your good to come in. I think almost every prosperity class I’ve ever taken has had that exercise in there somewhere, if not right at the front. At few months ago, I realized that I think of giving things away as something rich people do. I don’t need to hoard stuff I’m not using, because I can always get another if I need it. So I feel rich every time I take a load of good stuff to a thrift store.

Here’s another thing that I was reminded also works. Need car repairs? Make the appointment and then tell God you need the money by that date. Create the need and then let the Divine do the heavy lifting. When that feels easy, step out for something you want but don’t need. I was offered the chance to do some traveling with friends. Buying the trip would benefit a charity I believe in and check off a point on my bucket list. It was a great deal. Do you see how I’m making an argument for something I want, as if I need a rational explanation for taking a leap of faith? I have a tendency to need to feel responsible with my money, so doing these luxurious things requires a real leap of faith for me. My faith that there is lots of good in the Universe and I can have mine is what I’m working on here. Of course, within days of saying yes to the trip, it was paid for by unexpected income. An apartment that I own was rented out, so there’s more income that I wasn’t sure about.

There is not much of a rational explanation for creating a vacuum when you are already experiencing need. It might seem irresponsible or stupid. But the thing it, it works. It’s worked every time. When I did it worried that this one time it wouldn’t work, it’s worked. When I asked for wants rather than needs, it’s worked. When I call it tithing, it works. When other people do it, it works.  Give it a shot – and share how it worked for you.

 

Plague

I needed a few days to think and pray before responding to the events in Charlottesville. For me, the deeper message seems to come down to two things.

First, I have been a bigot. I’m not talking about participating in the subtle forms of racism that are part of American culture in the 21st Century. I don’t mean the white privilege that permeates my life – that I got well-educated, that I was raised in the upper middle class, that I can walk into a store and not be bothered, that cops are nice to me. I’m aware of the modern day slavery that is our prison industry, but it probably won’t affect me or my family because we are white. What I’m talking about is a period in my life where I was ignorant enough and blind enough to say things that now make me cringe. I know I was offending folks because they tried to rein me in. What they were unaware of is how much pain I was in. The irony of working in a crisis center while suicidal is not lost on me now, but at the time, I was so busy trying to survive, there wasn’t much brain power left to be aware of anything else. That is no excuse, but it was part of the situation at the time. Still, I said and did things that were mean and insensitive. I wonder how painful the lives of the neo-Nazis are to make them act so hatefully. I wonder how scared those white supremacists are that they no longer have cognitive function to see how self-destructive they are. Did you know that when you are really angry or scared, your higher mental function shuts down? We have evidence of that happening in Charlottesville.

Secondly, this neo-Nazi, alt-right, white supremacy thing isn’t new in our country. I remember being warned about it in high school back in the early ‘80’s. It seems to me to be a virus we keep thinking we have beaten, only to find it popping up again because we stopped actively vaccinating against it. Did you know that fleas and ground hogs have been found carrying the actual plague here in Northern Arizona? Seems unreal, right? It’s as real as the plague seen openly in Charlottesville in the past weeks. And yes, it is killing people. It has been killing people all along, although we have ignored it. Vaccination against this plague means awareness, admission of bigotry and having conversations about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and fear that govern our lives today. For me, it means supporting affirmative action, asking my friends of in minorities how I can use my privilege on their behalf, and refusing to laugh at or make bigoted jokes.

How are you going to vaccinate yourself? Are you willing to look in the mirror and find your own inner bigot? I can tell you from experience, it’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s horrifying and painful. And I’d rather do that than explain to the next generation why I hid in my safe house in the midst of this plague.

Follow my lead

I’ve been reading a great book called “A Tree Full of Angels” by Macrina Wiederkehr. One line that held my attention this morning was about how everything is renewed under the eye of God. I took that into meditation and found myself asking some deep questions. What in me needs to be renewed? What do I feel I’ve lost? Doesn’t seem that I should have nothing stale in me, nothing that needs to be renewed after a six week sabbatical? Okay, that last question is silly and I know it. Of course there are things that need to be renewed in all of us. Still, it begs the question. What in you feels like it might have gotten misplaced or lost in your life?

For me, the big issue that came up is trust. In my childhood, I learned not to ask for help. Either help wouldn’t come and I would get in trouble for asking or someone would take the project away from me and do it for me. I also admit that I started out with an independent spirit. Family lore has it that my first sentence was “I do it myself”. So I sat there, flowing between meditation and prayer and contemplated how much I trust the Universe. It’s scary to trust someone or Someone else with my well-being. However, trust in the Universe is not optional. It is, after all, the title of this blog. I am responsible for what I create in my life, so if I’ve created a version of God that I don’t trust… well, I don’t like that. So I sat and asked my own deepest heart, how do I heal the trust issue? How do I learn to trust You?

As often happens, my meditation was then disturbed by a song running through my head. Ed Sheeran does a version of the song “Shape of you”[1] and I had just a line or two running on a loop. The lines were:

“Girl, you know I want your love

Your love was handmade for somebody like me

Come on now, follow my lead…”

It was as if Spirit was singing to me. All I need to do is follow Spirit’s lead. Spirit does want my love and feels it is valuable. When someone leads me in dancing, I find that there’s a balance between getting some small subtle signals and some obvious ones. The more I can relax and let my body just respond to those signals, the less I think about what I’m doing, the better off I am. If I think too much about Spirit and what God-in-me wants from me, I get off track. I get tense and scared and my trust issues get into the driver’s seat of my life. Very soon, I’m in a ditch, calling the spiritual AAA. If I let each small hint of guidance, each subtle lead pull me towards my good, then eventually it all works out.

Now, the Divine Dancer doesn’t mind stumbling about with me too much. It’s part of the learning and oh, by the way, part of the fun of dancing together. What someone else thinks about our dance is not my business. Well, it is, actually, literally, but I find that most folks have done their own stumbling and are willing to learn from mine.

So even when you think you have gotten off track, I encourage you to let Spirit lead in whatever dance to whatever song might come up. Don’t worry about it. Practice trust one dance step at a time. God doesn’t mind getting his toes stepped on; God just wants to dance with you.

[1] Written by John McDaid, Steve Mac, Edward Christopher Sheeran, Kandi L Burruss, Kevin Jerome Briggs, Tameka D. Cottle, Félix Ortiz Torres, Gabriel Pizarro, Chris Jeday • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Hold my hand

Recently, I challenged myself to play the guitar for a Sunday service. Understand, I haven’t done that since about fourth grade. Think about that. It’s been decades, although I won’t say how many. I remembered how to do the three simple chords, no problem. I was able to work hard enough over the course of the week to somewhat create calluses so that I can play the chords on the metal strings (for those of you who don’t know – ouch!!!). I could sing the song without a problem. I had the words in front of me in case I lost it and it’s not like it’s not a song I sing to myself all the time, by one of my favorite artists, Celia (check out www.celiaonline.com) Folks gave me pretty good feedback, so it couldn’t have been too terrible. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, but no one walked out and there were few actual groans.

So what was the point of this somewhat amateurish performance? Besides trying to impress my congregation with my miraculous ability? Well, that’s a longer story. Ever since I was a kid, I refused to do things in public if I wasn’t good at them. I never played sports. I never did much of anything. Well, theater stuff, but I was good at that. When I sang, I’d go hide and sing where no one could see me. Yes, I see the problem with that – it didn’t occur to me until years later that folks could definitely hear me, and seeing me was not the issue.

Yesterday I got up and played the guitar even though I didn’t feel ready. I had adrenaline zipping through me at a prodigious rate. It’s been a long time since I had stage fright, but there you go. Now, it wasn’t enough to just do one song on a Sunday. I chose Easter Sunday. I was doing one of the big talks of the year and I asked to do the music. Yes, I asked. Theoretically, our music director could have said no. If I was really bad, I’d trust him to say no and save me the embarrassment. The whole point was to challenge my belief in perfection and do something I didn’t expect to just carry off effortlessly.

The good part is I could fake strumming when I could tell my fingers were playing the wrong chord.   I think we managed to turn the microphone on my guitar waaaay down. And I had the sense to do this in front of a crowd that is loving and forgiving and knows me anyway. What surprised me was that my ego was so involved in remaining calm and spiritual during this growth experience. It bothered me that there was so much adrenaline running through me. It bothered me that they were taking so long to figure out the microphones. It bothered me that I felt I’d let the sermon preparation slide a bit in order to get the music ready. I was not able to float through the whole thing on a cloud of serenity.

In meditation that morning, I saw a child who was doing something for the first time. She was scared, but clinging to a trusted adult’s hand. The whole experience was one of fun and fear at the same time. This is how I think maybe it’s supposed to be. As children we are supposed to have a trusted adult teach us how to feel fear and do it anyway to find out if the fear changes to fun. I’ve decided that is part of my Higher Power’s job description now. If I’m going to be spiritual and live on my growing edge, then God/Goddess/The Divine has to hold my hand.

That way, if I fall flat on my butt, at least I know someone will help me up. And laugh with me afterwards too.

Meditations on a pencil sharpener

I have an electric pencil sharpener behind my desk. I love this thing. I love having a really sharp pencil for balancing my checkbook and writing out ideas. In both cases, the eraser comes in handy, but I like having the sharp point to make my numbers and ideas clear and easy to read.

I noticed as I was sharpening some pencils today that if I push too hard, the whole thing stops. There’s a level of pressure that is right between too hard and not hard enough that is perfect. It lets the machine do its work, shaving off the next level of wood and lead. Push too hard and the machine will dig too deep and break the pencil. Don’t push hard enough and nothing really gets sharpened. Isn’t it the same with creativity? Push too hard to make “art” or deep change and you end up jamming up the works. You try to go too fast and everyone feels pushed and stressed out. Don’t work at all, and you end up with no results. Eventually, the project gets boring because there’s no forward motion.

I also noticed that my pencil sharpener is a Boston product. To me, the town of Boston is my past. My family is mostly from New England and the Boston mindset (and accent) feels like home sometimes. There’s so much good back there. Of course, if it was really for me, I’d be living there. It’s not a bad place, just not my place to live all the time. When I’m in my creative mindset, when I’m living the life I’m creating, it’s important to know where I belong and what is now a part of my past. The outer layer of wood on my pencil has also served me well at some previous point. It’s not useful now because it’s covering up the lead I need to write my next chapter with.

Today I dumped out the reservoir of pencil shavings. It’s important to consciously let go of what no longer serves us on a regular basis. That might be the clothes in your closet, the relationships you’ve outgrown or the mindset that has been leading you into confusion and unhappiness. All of this benefits from regular evaluation and release.

Finally, I notice that this is an electric pencil sharpener. What a great metaphor! No matter what tools I am using, the energy behind the tool is something outside of me. As I create my world, as I sharpen my own consciousness and bring forth balance or new ideas, I’m powered by a greater energy. I don’t need to provide that power. It’s there for me to use whenever I use this machine. It will wait for me to be ready. I never feel guilty for not sharpening something in my office. The pencil sharpener is there for my use when I’m ready, as are the pencils and every other physical and metaphorical tool I have.

Isn’t it great that Spirit shows up in such beautiful, mundane ways? God is in my pencil sharpener as much as the majestic mountains and all the miracles we all recognize in our daily lives.

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.

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?

Back in the saddle again

I took last week off kind of by necessity as our building including my office was all packed up. We got new flooring – and it’s absolutely beautiful.  On Saturday a bunch of folks put everything back and I am happily sitting in my office, back in the saddle and ready to go.

My sister was/is an equestrian. She did dressage and competed in cross country stuff. What I learned from her boils down to which direction to face while mounted on a horse, but life has taught me that getting back in the saddle, especially after a fall is important. I hear people talk about “less than active time” as down time. I often hear folks talk about just sitting around and doing nothing as if it were a waste of time. I hear myself talk about not having time to take breaks, having too much to do. What a load of horse….. you know.

What happened as a result of not being in the office this week? I got some down time and let my brain rest. I got some visits with shut-ins done on Valentine’s Day that would otherwise have felt rushed. I read some books and contemplated the vision for this Center. I did some dream-weaving around what I’d love to see happen here over the next few years. I took the time to get to an appointment that will help with my allergies.

While I “did nothing”, the building was beautified and dusty old carpet was removed (so my allergies might even be better). My office is now set up again – and much better organized. I don’t have a lot of the clutter because who puts that back? I finally looked at all the books I inherited seven years ago and decided which ones I’d actually keep here. I got the sanctuary chairs set up in the way I like, with a definite aisle down the center that is straight.

How often have I told myself that it was important not to stop and take downtime? And how often have I taught that “downtime” is another word for spiritual practice? After all, I’ve defined meditation as sitting and waiting for nothing to happen.

I’m back in the saddle, but I’m going to remember this time that it’s important to climb down and wander around every so often. And I’m going to remember that it’s been the horse that carried me when I was in the saddle. I don’t need to make things happen. I don’t have to carry the saddle OR the horse. Stopping long enough to contemplate, slowing down long enough to actually look at my life and my calling and being willing to be in the stillness… that is the essence of the spiritual life and my work. I’m so glad that Spirit found a way to make me do it.

Politics Unusual

Dictionary.com defines politics as “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.” That’s actually the sixth definition, but it’s the first that does not use the word politics in the definition. If this is an accurate definition, is it any wonder that I hear folks talk about being sick of politics? I don’t like playing manipulation games, either. And yet, we all do it. We all have methods of getting what we need and/or want that are less than direct. We all hint at things we want to ask for rather than just asking. Why? For most of us (okay, me) it’s because I no longer realize I’m using a coping mechanism that worked when I was a child. Or I am making the assumption that it’s obvious what I’m asking for directly when the words I use actually mean something entirely different to the person I’m asking.

I have a friend who asked “Do you mind if I manipulate you into your greatness?” at the beginning of a class of adults. The uproar was immediate. No one wants to be manipulated. It feels like a power play. Even if the stated reason is to show you your greatness, the word manipulate makes it icky.

I have had lots of reasons to look at what manipulation means and especially what it means to “talk politics” lately. As a minister, it is mine to say the hard stuff sometimes. Like, are we really living from Principle in our interactions with each other and with strangers? Or are we just defending the status quo by remaining silent, not speaking out when we feel in our hearts something is going sideways? I don’t want to talk politics from the pulpit. I feel comfortable saying that the strategy I am willing to employ to use the inherent power that I have is really just spiritual techniques that help me govern my own thoughts. Yes, of course, there are times when I wish folks would just stop arguing and do as I say, but that’s not my usual modus operandi. I don’t want to lead a cult; I want to share a spiritual journey.

Having said that – there are some social justice issues that for me are purely about Principle. I can’t teach Oneness and sit quietly by while my LGBTQ friends are excluded from enjoying basic civil rights (like the right to work or rent an apartment while gay). I would hope I’d have the courage to intercede somehow if a woman was being attacked for wearing hijab (I grew up with nuns; one doesn’t touch the veil any more than one tugs on Superman’s cape). To be comfortable in my skin and in my role as minister, I need to put into action the things I teach on Sundays. So if that’s not okay…that’s okay.