Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pastoral Prayer for Thankful Remembrance

Faithful God, we hear the encouragement to give thanks always and in all things, but we don’t often feel very thankful. We see and read news of people struggling to have basic needs met in places devastated by disaster. We feel stress and strain in our own lives due to illness, busyness, and uncertainty about what tomorrow might bring. We wonder about the future of the church, and we struggle with what it means to be faithful and effective, as well as what effectiveness looks like.

So we bring all of this to you, hoping you will help us find reasons for thankfulness in the midst of trying and difficult circumstances. We lift prayers for our world, for the many areas racked by problems in our own country, for our communities, for our church, our families, and for ourselves, seeking cause for thanksgiving and opportunities to share it with others in need of its reassuring light.

O God, help us rejoice. Help us give one another reasons for relief and gratitude. To you we share all our prayers and supplications with thanksgiving, seeking the guidance of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Image via Flickr.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Vintage CC: The Process of Change

I've written many blog posts over the years about change in the church. This one comes from September 2014, and doesn't focus so much on the need to change so much as two basic approaches that one may take depending on the circumstances and one's best read of the specifics.

I'm a big fan of change, especially in the church. My upbringing as a pastor's kid kind of ingrained change into me; it helped me accept change as a natural, inevitable fact of life. This has been a helpful asset for me in ministry.

The church needs to change. We've been hearing this for years via countless books, articles, speakers, workshops, conferences, and blog posts. It's a new era and a new culture, we're told. The church can't just make the same assumptions about its place in the world any more. Both in terms of the way it functions internally and the way it interacts with the surrounding community, the church needs to face the reality of each and make changes accordingly.

There are at least two ways to go about making changes.

The first follows the adage "it's better to ask forgiveness than permission." I've used this method plenty of times as I've tweaked worship, altered the way I structure confirmation and other programs, established my approach to visitation, and even when I've changed the way I've greeted people before worship (seriously, this was an issue at one point).

Usually, this first method may be used with smaller things, or perhaps when a pastor is still new and establishing that he or she probably will end up doing things a bit differently than the last person. Depending on the issue, it could be used with larger items as well. There do come points when something is so obviously broken that ministry staff and/or the governing board could get away with an executive decision and then put out a few fires afterward.

The second way to make changes is a little more complicated, and a bit slower. It recognizes the complexity of a church system and carefully weighs the impact of a decision on that system. This second method recognizes all the moving parts involved and understands that it needs to take its time, to evaluate, to consult.

Let's be clear about something with this second way: change really is going to happen. Sure, some churches use the process as an excuse to put off a decision until everyone gets so worn down that they stop caring and nothing happens. But that's not what I'm talking about. Instead, I'm talking about a process where the ones in charge of making a change do their homework first. They are propelled forward by a certain urgency, but they temper it with enough patience to make sure the people and programs it will affect have given their input and will have appropriate consideration in order to adjust.

Taking the time to go through such a process doesn't mean change isn't coming. It just signals a desire to gather enough information and lay enough groundwork that the impending change comes in light of proper account of what it will affect. How will this change affect staff? How will it alter program schedules? Do people in charge of those programs know about the change we're considering? How will this change affect visitors? What impact might this change have on various demographics of our congregation, e.g., young families, the elderly, etc.? What might this change do for our relationship to the community?

These are questions worth pondering for a while. If you're asking them just to put off a decision, you're doing it wrong. But if you're asking them because you love your fellow members and want the best for your church as a whole going forward, then you're taking the time to do it right.

It is indeed better to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes. But other times call for a little more time, consideration, and care. Discerning which calls for which is the first step.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Find Your People

I sometimes have trouble fitting in to groups. It's not that I'm incapable, but certain situations have caused me to wonder whether I'll be able to gel with certain sets of people.

You know this feeling. I'm not alone or unique in this.

Sometimes it's because we can't really talk about common interests: we don't like the same music, we're on opposite sides of a sports rivalry, we haven't seen the same movies or read the same books, we're too far apart spiritually or politically to understand each other.

Sometimes it's the social dynamics at play. I make my living regularly interacting with a group of people, but there are certain professional expectations to uphold and friendship beyond friendliness can be tricky. When I move on to another church or when a member decides to seek out a different faith community, things can get even more awkward.

It can be difficult to find your people.

What does that mean? Who are your people? They're the ones that get your personality quirks because they may share a few. They may understand your professional life because they do something similar enough that you can commiserate around common joys and frustrations. They might love the movies or teams that you do. They may not feel like they fit in in similar ways, but they somehow fit with you.

Sometimes we're told internally or externally that whatever group we're a part of, we should just power through, endure, make it work even if it clearly isn't going to. What are the alternatives? Where could you possibly find the folks that really, actually, truly get you, understand you, appreciate you? Where are the people with whom you can be your most genuine self, without judgment, reservation, or professional consequence?

There's no one answer to that. Sometimes it takes some hunting, sometimes it happens by accident. Sometimes it starts online, sometimes in real life.

But your people are out there. They're looking for you just as much as you're looking for them. And once you find each other, it can make all the difference for both of you.

Life is too short to keep trying to wedge your square peg self into the circular-shaped crowd around you.

Find affirmation. Find love. Find support. Find real living.

Find your people.

(Image via Pexels)

Thursday, November 09, 2017

What is Body Prayer?

Previously: What is the Examen?, What is Lectio Divina?, What is Fasting?, What is the Labyrinth?, What is the Liturgical Calendar?, What are Prayer Beads?

You can find an endless supply of resources that will tell you all kinds of proper techniques for prayer. Many of them will encourage you to find a quiet and secluded spot, breathe slowly, and sit as still as possible.

For various reasons, a lot of people can't do parts of that at any given time. Maybe there's too much crammed into the day to find that quiet and secluded spot. Maybe you aren't capable of sitting still and would rather move around more or you've had a particularly rough day and have energy to burn.

Fortunately, there are forms of prayer that involve active movement, some of which I've written about already such as walking a labyrinth and using prayer beads. (See the links above for more information.)

But both of these fall under a much larger umbrella of spiritual practice called body prayer.

Body prayer can vary in terms of specific methods. Many of them involve movement that is slow, repetitive, or both. Yoga is perhaps the best known form of body prayer, using a series of deliberate stretches and positions that call you to focus attention on what your body is doing and how it feels. Any body prayer will include becoming more in touch with what you are doing physically and what you are experiencing as you do it.

Many forms of exercise can be considered body prayer. Jogging for a few miles, hitting a heavy bag, or doing a series of calisthenics all could be adapted to include a prayerful component. Not only are you already paying attention to what your body is feeling as you do them, but these repetitive movements can also focus your mind and channel your energy toward what motivates you as you do them. Such regular motion can help you work out what you are carrying in your spirit, whether anger, sadness, or anxiety, in constructive ways.

Essentially, body prayer involves the entire self rather than only the mind, which helps improve physical strength as well as provide mental focus.

Here's a simple practice to try.
  1. Choose a series of 6 or 7 stretches to do that engage various parts of the body. Here's one as an example.
  2. As you do each one, notice what parts of your body are involved. What muscles and joints are you using, and how do they feel as you do each one?
  3. What are you feeling as you engage this activity, or what joys or concerns have you brought to this time of stretching? How does doing each stretch change or enhance those emotions?
  4. When you come to the end, again reflect on what is different inside you. How might this activity have released tension? How might it have caused you to notice your body's needs in a deeper way?
  5. Conclude with a prayer of thanks.
(Image via Pixabay)