Fishers of People

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Making the Right Mistakes

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The great jazz musician Thelonious Monk once told one of his sidemen, “You’re making all the wrong mistakes!”

Monk was known as musician who did things differently, who played with a kind of dissonance that sounded like he was making mistakes, but which actually worked. He generally made all the right mistakes. I read that quote and realized there are right and wrong mistakes. It’s OK to make the right mistakes; we just don’t want to make the wrong mistakes.

I have made my share of wrong mistakes. When I was a rookie pastor, I told a parishioner that I had done something, when I really hadn’t done it. I was going to do it. I had every intention of doing it, and doing it quickly. But in the rush of all things I had to do, this fell between the cracks. The fact that I hadn’t done it was not an issue. The fact that I lied when I said I had done it was. It became a big issue. That parishioner never really trusted me again. Call it a life lesson, but it was a very expensive life lesson.

What are the right mistakes?

I helped one of the street people who hangs out around our church into rehab. While he was there, I visited him every Sunday. When he had passes, I drove him around to run errands. I, and several other people in our church, worked on getting him housing, so he would not have to go back his old life on the streets. We invested a lot of time and energy into him.

He relapsed the very night he graduated from rehab.

He still comes by the church, and I always welcomed him, but I was hurt by the process. You might say it was a mistake to invest so much time and energy into someone who a) had a slim chance of making it, and b) could do nothing to return my investment. If it was, it was the right kind of mistake to make. In the mid-1990s I was offered the opportunity to leave my home state of North Carolina, where I grew up, went to seminary, and pastored two churches, the unknown wilds of Fairbanks, Alaska. Leaving my friends and relatives would be hard. There was the lingering question in the back of my head–what if this was a big mistake? What if I got to Alaska, and hated it?

In the end I decided to move from the Old North State to the North Star State. I figured I would rather do it, and have it fail miserably than spend the rest of my life wondering what my life might have been like if I had not taken the risk. (As it turned it, it was not a mistake, but hindsight is always 20/20.)

Caring too much is the right kind of mistake. Leaving 99 sheep to go after the one lost sheep is the right kind of mistake. Of course the difference between going after a lost sheep and going after a lost soul, is that the sheep is not likely to tell you to go to hell when you find it, while a lost soul might. That’s what might make it a mistake. Our church welcomed a homeless schizophrenic in our warming shop, and he repaid our kindness by breaking 11 windows. Maybe it was a mistake to welcome him, but it was the right kind of mistake.

Taking risks that enhance our faith are the right mistakes. Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the Sea of Galilee was the right mistake. Sure, he freaked out and started to sink, but what if he had just stayed in the boat?

Too often our churches make the wrong mistakes. We withhold caring, in case our caring might be wasted. We avoid risks, in case the risk does not work out. We hold our cards too close to the vest when we should be open and transparent, and get all transparent about things we should keep under wraps. We brag about the wrong things (size and economic status) and downplay or ignore the things that really count (the number of people are care for). I have made all these wrong mistakes in my time.

But at times I make the right mistakes. Maybe they are mistakes, but at least they are the right ones. Doing ministry without making mistakes is impossible. There are just far too many variables to be right all the time. So if we are to make mistakes, at least we can make the right ones.

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Pastors: Eugene Peterson

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To avoid being swept along by the winds of change and conducting a ministry which is mostly improvisation, one must stubbornly one’s heels into the ground.

                   —Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Care

More than once I have told people I perform my ministry standing on the shoulders of giants. There have been many giants in my life, but, when it came to the helping me understand and meet the demands of pastoral ministry, few have loomed larger than Eugene Peterson, died on Monday of this week. I originally went to seminary with the intention of going on for a Ph.D. and entering that hallowed halls of academia. It was not until my senior year of divinity school that I began to realize I would be following a different path, one that led into the parish. I was desperate for resources to help me in practical ministry, since I had spent most of my time studying “serious theology,” and Peterson was just the ticket.

The summer I graduated, I read Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Care. To say that changed my whole approach to ministry would be an understatement. It took me from being the leader of my college Inter-Varsity chapter, to becoming a pastor, two very different things.

I found Peterson appealing for a variety of reasons.

He was incredibly well read, and as a reader, I respect that. I mean, how can you not love a man who pencils into his calendar a regular, two-hour appointment with FD three afternoons a week? (FD–Fyodor Dostoevsky, and he spent that time reading his novels.) Or who writes, “The first book on pastoral care that meant anything to me either personally or vocationally was Ulysses, James Joyce’s novel.” He was a sharp reader and taught me to be one. He taught me how take the books I was reading and apply to pastoral care. “Now, when I come across dull people,” Peterson wrote in Under the Unpredictable Plant, “I inserted into one of the novels to see what Dostoevsky would make of them. It wasn’t long before the deeper dimensions developed, the eternal hungers and thirsts—and God. I started finding Mozartian creativity in adolescents and Sophoclean tragedies in the middle-aged. The banality was a cover.”

He opened up these, and other authors, many of whom I had read before. But he brought them alive in a fresh new way. I remember the day I read his take on Wendell Berry—every time he used the word agriculture, Peterson wrote, substitute the word church. After that Berry become my second favorite writer on church work.

Peterson taught me a new way to approach the Scriptures. The two books I have mentioned were both developed out of exegesis. The five smooth stones of the title are five books of the Bible that can inform our pastoral care: Song of Songs for prayer. Ruth for story-making, Lamentations for pain sharing, Ecclesiastes for nay-saying, and Esther for community building. Under the Unpredictable Plant is in depth study of Jonah. Peterson wrote books on the Psalms, Jeremiah, more on the Psalms, and yet more on the Psalms. He taught me to pray the Psalms, not just read them. His exegesis was wide and rich. While he was always faithful to the text, he enlarged it for his readers. I learned to preach the way he wrote—taking a text very seriously, but also the context of the people hear the text. When I say he was faithful to the text, I do not mean he had a slavish devotion to the Bible. He surrounded himself in the text, he danced with it, he fought with it, and most of all, it was abundantly clear that he loved it.

Peterson taught be the value of long-term stability. In my thirty years of ordination I have seen many fads come and go. There was a time when we were all purpose driven, a time we were seeker friendly, a time when we were missional, a time when we were effective leaders, when we were servant leaders, when we were Emergent. We have four disciplines, then five, seven habits, and twelve keys. At one time everyone who came for pastor care was codependent. After that they were addicted to various things. Some were from Mars and some were from Venus. Most had been on the Road Less Traveled. In the flurry of such trends, Peterson reminded me that some things never change, and that there was more to gain by looking back than by just looking around. He taught to see the church, not as a project, but as a living organism, each with its own organic center. He taught me that each church was set in a certain soil, and some soils did grow some plants. He taught me to take the long view—the long view forward and the long view back. Being naturally attracted to “the latest thing,” this was probably Peterson’s best legacy to me in my ministry. Slow down. Listen to people. Study people. Know the Word. Know your church.

Peterson is best known today for his translation The Message. But for me his work about the Bible and his work on pastoral care were life changing. He was first and foremost a pastor. Yes, he was a writer. Yes, he was a sought-after speaker. Yes, he was a Bible translator. But above all that, he was a pastor. And I am a better pastor for having read him. And a better Christian.

 

 

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Leading From Below

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An old friend of mine, Joe Moran, took his son to a Catholic worship service when he was visiting his family in New York State. Joe was a former priest, and his family was very Catholic. After Joe left the priesthood, he attended a Unitarian church, where they do not celebrate communion. The time came when the people went forward for the Eucharist, Communion, and Joe’s son watched as his cousins went forward, and naturally he wanted to go to. Joe told him to stay seated, because, he said, you have to be a Catholic to take communion here. That just made matters worse and the next thing he knew, his son was marching defiantly up the aisle, and took communion from the priest.

On the ride home Joe’s son asked why he was not supposed to take communion. “Because,” Joe said, “communion is a sign of the suffering and death of Jesus, and when you take it, you are committing your life to conform to that of Jesus, including his suffering.”

His son looked at Joe in horror, and said, “Now you tell me!”

Jesus and Power

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, Mark shows us how some of the disciples were still confused about where Jesus was heading. The story starts with James and John coming to Jesus and asking, “When you come into power, when you become our new king, we want to sit beside you on the throne, one on your left hand and one on your right.” They were still under the impression this was a political movement, and any day now Jesus would be declared king, set on the throne by God.

Now the irony of this is delicious. What happened just before the two brothers came to Jesus? Here are the verses that immediately precede the Gospel lesson.

32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

Here Jesus says explicitly what will happen to him when he gets to Jerusalem. King? Sure. His crown will be made of thorns and his throne will be a cross. It is right after this that James and John will come to Jesus and ask to be on his right and left hands as he is lifted up.

“Well,” Jesus says, “as matter of fact, you will drink from the same cup I drink from and you will be baptized, or immersed in the same waters that will surround me.And when I am lifted up, there will be two people on either side of me, but I don’t get to choose who they are.”  Jesus will have two people beside him, one on his left and one on his right, but they thieves, and are to be crucified with him.

Later, when both were undergoing times of persecution, and when both were martyred for their faith, I wonder if either of them remembered that conversation with Jesus, and thought,  “Now you tell me!”

And then, to make matters worse, the rest of disciples see James and John talking privately with Jesus, and they suspect something is going on. They suspect that James and John are making a power play, and they are angry–mostly because James and John beat them to the punch.

At that point Jesus looks and them, and says, “OK guys, huddle up.”

And then he gives them a life lesson. “What is it about the Romans that really burns you guys? It is that they take power, and they use their power to control you. They take your money through taxes, they regulate how and where we can sell things, and worse of all, they want us to worship their gods. But what is you want to do if we get into power? You want to do the same thing you hate the Romans for doing. You think real power is when you are able to tell people what to do. You’re wrong. Real power is the ability to serve others, not to control them. It doesn’t sound like you guys have figured all this out yet. I came to serve, not be to served, and when I leave, I want you to serve as I served.”

The Church and Power

In the first letter from Peter, he says, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” The word he uses for “always be ready,” is the same word they use for two gladiators who are about to fight to the death. In other words, we should muster all the strength we have to tell people about why we are followers of Jesus. We should be as ready to do that as a gladiator is when he is ready to fight.

But Peter does not leave it there. He continues by saying, “yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” In other words, we should be prepared to take someone’s head off with what we know about our relationship with Jesus, but when it comes to actually sharing our faith, we should do so with gentleness and reverence. The word he used for reverence is actually the Greek word phobos, which means fear. The power we have should be respected the same way a wise person respects fire.

In the Hebrews passage the author describes the duties of the High Priest. A High Priest was one of the more powerful people in Israel, similar to say, a Catholic bishop in medieval days. It would be like an adviser to the president today. But this is the job description of the High Priest: Every high priest selected to represent men and women before God and offer sacrifices for their sins should be able to deal gently with their failings, since he knows what it’s like from his own experience. But that also means that he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as the peoples’.

Again we see that the use of power was meant to help people, not control them.

It seems Christians make two major mistakes when it comes to power. The first, and easiest to see, is how some have abused power over the ages. There are too many examples of this to list them all, and it happens in a variety of ways. The most egregious is when Church gets a hold of political power. Giving the Church the job of wielding political power is like giving an alcoholic the job of being a night watchman in a liquor store. You can be certain that abuses will occur. The Church has NEVER done well with political power. The Church was never meant to have political power, and when it does have it, the politics always outweighs spirituality. The demands of the politics take over the needs of the church. Political power is seductive, and it is all too easy to end with a faith that is led by political beliefs, instead of a political convictions that are informed by your faith.  Call me a pessimist, but when faith meets politics, the knee is eventually bent to the political altar, and not to God.

I’ve been reading a book about the fights between Catholics and Protestants during the English reformation, and the growth of Protestantism in France. Basically when one side comes to power, they would oppress the other side, usually in retribution for what happened to them when they were out of power. It was a see-saw of violence, that swung to and fro.

Pastors have abused power over the centuries; some to fleece their flocks of their money, getting rich off of the spiritual insecurities of their parishioners, telling them that giving to their ministry, and ultimately to them, assures them a place in the Kingdom of God. We have seen too many examples of pastors using their power to to sexually abuse parishioners, and it does not just happen in the Catholic church. There are too many examples of pastors turning their churches into a little fiefdom, where they control everything that happens.

But there is another problem with Christians and power. While some are busy chasing power, others don’t want to admit when they have it. I was in a small group Bible study in college. At the time I joined it, I was on the leadership council of our campus Christian fellowship, where I had a ton of responsibilities. When I joined the Bible study, I just wanted to sit back and listen. More often than, and you may have a hard time believing this, I just sat back and listened while other people talked. I had no desire to be a leader in that group. I was a leader in almost every other activity I was doing, and I just wanted to sit this one out, and listen. So I rarely engaged with the discussion. I just listened.

After a few weeks of this, I noticed that there was a tension in the group. I could not put my finger on what it was, until our adviser, a very wise man named Tom Newton, took me aside one day. “Why are you abdicating your leadership in that group?” he asked. I didn’t understand the question. He explained it to me. “You know more about the Bible than anyone else in that group, and yet you never join in the discussions. The other group members think you don’t like being in the group. They feel you don’t respect them.”

I had a position of power, and I did not use it responsibly. I wasn’t abusing my power. I was abdicating. I was being passive-aggressive. And that actually is an abuse of power.

In the years I have studied and practiced counseling, I learned something very interesting–a lot of people who claim they have no power, actually have more power than other people in their relationships. I was working with one family, and the mother kept claiming she had no power in the family. No one ever listened to her, and she never got what she wanted. But as I watched the family over time, it became clear to me that she more power in the family than any other family member. Her complaint that she never got her way led to other family members always giving in to her. In fact, using that complaint, she almost always got her way. By claiming she had no power in the family, she become the most powerful person in that family.

The rest of the family was growing increasingly angry at her, because of the mixed message of the family dynamic–Mom never gets her way, and because of that, Mom always gets her way. They were angry, but they didn’t know why.

You see each of us has some kind of power. When we don’t admit to it, things start to get dysfunctional.

Three Observations

I want to close with three observations.

The first, and most important is that as friends and followers of Jesus Christ, we should make sure that the power we have is always used to help others, not to control them. We lead from below. We lead by serving. We use what power we do have for others.

Second, we do have power. We are gifted by God, and that is where our power lies. It is not always power the way the world sees power. I would occasionally a church in college that was pretty free form. They had a band, and the first part of the service was all singing. That part of the service lasted about a half hour, and people, mostly college students like myself, would stream in at various times in the service. The sanctuary was pretty full, and as people came in, they had to look for a place to sit. There was one guy, an older guy, who stood at the back, and kept an eye on the seating. When anyone came in late, as I usually did (I was in college and it was an early service!) this guy would point you to an empty seat. In some ways he was one of the more important people on that ministry team. Without him there would be a constant jumbling of people trying to find seats. But with him there, exercising his spiritual gift, things always ran very smoothly.

He might not think he was one of the more powerful people in the room, but in spiritual terms, he was.

Finally, we have a source of power we can tap into–the power of God. Jesus, the Gospels, is frequently described as a person of power, and Paul fleshes that out in his letters. The power of Jesus is seen as he serves others, and seen ultimately in the cross. The power of God is not found in the great halls of the kingdoms of this world. It is not found in the White House, or in Congress, or in City Hall. There is a place for political power. I am not saying it is always bad. But there is no place for political power in the church. The power of God is seen in helping others. It is not a power you build up over time; it is a power we give away over time. It is the power to serve. And the more we do that, the more we experience the true power of the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

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What Does God Care About?

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Diner Theology

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I love eating in diners. You how to tell if you are in a good diner? Your coffee cup is never empty. There is always a waitress coming by to fill it. You get to half a cup and this friendly voice says, “Hon, you want more coffee?” And your cup is full again.

I recently preached a funeral for one of the street people who was a part of our church. I knew a lot of his friends from the streets would attend, as well as members of our church, who are run of the mill Presbyterians. I had chosen to preach on the Luke passage where Jesus reads from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I knew how to aim this at the street people who were at the service. I wanted them to know that Jesus was on their side. But how would the church members take it? “Didn’t Jesus come for all us” I could imagine hearing. “Are you saying these people are somehow special? Didn’t Jesus come to help me too?” How was I going to thread this needle? Yes, Jesus did come for all people. But there are these pesky parts of the Bible where he indicated he came especially for the needy.

Then I stumbled onto diner theology.

In a diner, the waitress comes to fill empty cups. If your cup is full, she does not need to serve you. But if it is early in the morning, and you are not used to being out that early, and you are pretty sleepy, not yet awake, and your coffee cup is empty, a good waitress will come fill your cup.

So, in the diner of life, it’s not a coffee cup, it’s your heart. And instead of coffee, it’s love. We go through life and our hearts get wounded or broken–it can happen in a thousand different ways–and up comes Jesus, saying, “Let me fill that heart for you. Looks like your heart is running low. Looks like you are about out of love. Let me fill that heart for you.” My friend Jesus goes to the broken hearts, and he tries to fill them with love. And because I’m one of Jesus’ friends, he says to me, “You know, there are a lot of broken hearts out there. Why don’t you help me try to fill them. I need your help on this.” And because Jesus is such a great friend, I try to help him. The church tries to help him.

When you are trying to fill hearts with love, you run into two problems. The first is that people put their hands over their cups and say, “No thanks. Don’t need it.” If the waitress was determined to fill the cup, and poured coffee on their hand, she would actually burn the person with hot coffee. That’s not a good idea. It is hard to pour love on someone who does not want it, or worse yet, has no cup to hold it. We don’t ignore that person. We still try to help them. But it is harder.

When someone says they don’t to be loved, there is nothing you can do about. There is nothing my friend Jesus can do, except wait until they are ready to be loved.

But there is a second problem, a much bigger problem. Imagine a diner where the waitress comes to the table, and one cup is almost empty and the other is full. And imagine the person with the full cup is well dressed, looks like they have some money, and the person with the empty cup looks kind of shabby, like maybe they have been sleeping on the streets. And the waitress goes to the guy whose cup is already full, and pours in more coffee, and ignores the guy whose cup is empty.

When Jesus says he came to preach Good News to the poor, release to the captives, help the blind see, and free the oppressed, he is saying that he came to fill the empty cup. Its not that he doesn’t care about the person with the full cup. But the empty cup needs to be filled. As Jesus said, in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus goes to the empty cup. And that is what he calls us, his friends, to do. But too often the friends of Jesus spend more time filling cups that are already full, and not enough time filling empty cups. Coffee runs all over the table, spilling around empty cups, which remain empty and ignored.

Some people get spiritually fat, soaking up words and words, claiming blessing after blessing, while others sit ignored by churches, and spiritual leaders. This is not the way of Jesus. Nor should it be the way of the friends of Jesus.

Perhaps it is understandable. We see the empty cups and we think, “I don’t have enough love to share. I barely have enough for myself.” The thing is, love is one of the few things that, the more you give it away, the more you have. Because our friend Jesus is always coming around to us, saying, “Your cup looks empty. Let me fill it for you, so you can fill the cups of others.”

In a good diner, the cup is never empty. The major difference between a diner and a church, is that Jesus tells us that we are both waitress and customer. Jesus serves us, but then calls us to serve others. After he washes his disciples’ feet, he says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher (i.e. waitress), have washed your feet (poured you a cup of hot coffee), you also ought to wash one another’s feet (fill each others’ cups).  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” 

Too often we think of the Church as a posh social club for Christians. Better to think of the Church as a diner, where we all serve one another.
 

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A Holy Yielding

 

 

yieldThis is a piece I wrote in 2008, after doing a workshop for the Quaker national gathering. At the time I was worshiping at a Quaker meeting, and considered myself to me more Quaker than anything else. I spent three good years as part of a Quaker community before I felt the calling of the Presbyterian Church, the church of my youth, the church I had serve in as pastor. 

Last April, I was asked to lead a workshop for the Gathering this past summer. I had not planned on attending, and certainly had not planned on taking on a leadership role. But the person who asked me said the organizers wanted several options for workshops on the Bible, and they only had one. Since I teach a Bible survey class at University of Alaska, I was asked if I would design and lead a workshop that was somehow related to the Bible.

It was an opportunity—a divine opportunity. I didn’t really give it a lot of thought, but decided I would yield to the opportunity and started making plans. Living in Alaska, attending the Gathering was a pretty expensive proposition for me, but for some reason it seemed I should make the effort.

I was given a lot of leeway as to what kind of workshop to offer. “Something on the Bible” was my only guideline, and so I decided to do it on something I had never taught before, but that interested me greatly—how to use the Bible as a tool for spiritual growth. I called it “A User’s Guide to the Bible,” and I was really interested to see where this topic would take me. Since I had never led a workshop at Gathering before and really didn’t know what to do, I tried my best to be prepared for whatever situation arose. I planned each day’s activities, and I made handouts for a variety of exercises we could do during the week.

At our first meeting on Sunday, I found that about half the group was composed of lifelong Quakers and the other half were spouses of Quakers, who identified themselves as being primarily Presbyterian, Methodist, or Anglican. Some were clearly theists, and some were clearly not. Some knew a lot about the Bible (a few knew more than I did), while others were beginners at reading it.

It looked like a daunting group to lead, and I was feeling pretty spooked about how the rest of the week would go. But I ran into three different people from my meeting who all gave me the same basic affirmation: do what you do best, and use your gifts. I took this to mean that the challenges I saw were just another divine opportunity to use my gifts and talents for spiritual growth—my own growth, and the growth of others.

The class did not go as I expected—it went better. Not surprisingly, I suppose, I found that half the lesson plans I made were useless given the situation “on the ground” (that is, in the classroom), as were half of the handouts I made. Each night I took some time revising my plans, and revisions occurred even as I was facilitating the workshop. For example, I had a series of opening exercises, which I figured would take about 30 minutes, but almost all of them ended up taking an hour and a half. It was a very good hour and a half, but an unexpected amount of time that entailed more yielding on my part.

Instead of forcing my agenda on the group, I realized that using my gifts meant being flexible and accepting of the needs of the people who were there. My choice was to do what I had planned to do, in the amount of time I had planned for it, or to yield to the Spirit and see where that took us.

As I yielded, the result was a thing of beauty. On the second to last day, after doing one of the opening exercises, one group member shared that she had gotten exactly what she had come for. She didn’t elaborate, but it was clear that something was working.

Earlier on in the week, on the second day of the Gathering, while I was in the cafeteria—a situation that could best be described as “combat eating,” where around 800 people swarmed into a building designed for 500—a woman I had never seen before walked up to me and said, “You are a healer, right?” I was taken aback, but nodded, and said, “Yes, I am a hospital chaplain.” She then invited me to the organizing meeting of the Gathering Healing Center that afternoon.

Here was another spiritual opportunity, and again I yielded to it. I went to the organizing meeting, and discovered that the person who originally asked me to come—the one who had pointed to me as a healer—had actually mistaken me for someone else. Of all the people she could have called a healer, she happened upon me! It was an accidental encounter that led to a divine appointment and a spiritual opportunity.

So again I yielded, and again the fruits were delicious. For the few people I saw, I happened to have just what they needed. One encounter particularly stands out because the fact that I am an Alaskan and work in the healthcare field was crucial background for the interaction I had with that person. And as often happens, the more I gave the more I received in the process. While healing others, I found real healing for my own soul.

The last days of my trip east were also defined by yielding, but of a different sort. After the Gathering, I took my nine‐year‐old son to Washington, D.C., for a few days. I had things I wanted to do, which mostly involved visiting various art museums. My son had an entirely different agenda. I did manage to drag him to one art museum, which held his interest for all of three minutes, and the rest of the time I yielded to his desires. He wanted to see the monuments, especially the Washington Monument, the Museum of Natural History, and the Air and Space Museum. He wanted to go the Mall and watch people play baseball. He wanted to eat at a hot dog stand, ride the Metro, and play in fountains. All this we did. At the end of our time in the city, I asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, and he replied, “Spending time with you.” The fruit hardly gets more delicious than that.

While I was at the Gathering, I picked up Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion, which I read while in D.C. The second chapter is called “Holy Obedience,” which I tried to plow through as quickly as possible both because I didn’t feel I needed to read about obedience and because I don’t like the idea of holy obedience one whit. After all, one of the reasons I am a Quaker is because I don’t like people telling me what to do. But I kept getting stuck in that chapter. Apparently the Spirit had something to say to me through Kelly. Instead of plowing onto the next chapters, I read and reread the pages on Holy Obedience, wondering what lesson it had for me.

The lesson became clear as I was sitting in meeting the week after I returned. I was thinking about my experiences at Gathering and with my son, and realized that all this yielding was indeed a form of divine obedience. I always thought of obedience as something that is by nature dreary, dull, and painful. But this was a happy yielding, and the fruits were delicious. Every time I yielded to the divine opportunities, I found blessings upon blessings, and it was surprisingly easy! Kelly writes that when we yield to God we hear ourselves being called Home to feed upon green pastures and walk beside still waters. “It is life beyond the fevered strain” (his emphasis).

I wonder how many spiritual opportunities I have missed over the years because I was too busy or self‐absorbed to notice they were being offered up to me. This year the Gathering was, for me, a time to respond to those opportunities, which led to a many‐coursed spiritual banquet.

As I awoke to return to work on my first morning back, I could not help but think, “What spiritual opportunities will come my way this day? And will I yield to them?” There are days we learn to see the world through new lenses, and my new spectacles are the lenses of holy yielding to divine opportunities.

 

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