Thursday, May 05, 2016

Small Sips Wants You to Read the First One

If you read nothing else in this post, at least read this one. Emily Heath reflects on the current crop of "bathroom bills" being considered in many states, and shares their own experience of suspicion, discrimination, and fear:
Here’s what happens. I walk up to the bathroom, with it’s picture of a woman in a dress, and I push open the door. Sometimes it starts there. A woman is coming out and she looks at me, looks up at the door, and looks confused. I push on anyway. Sometimes she will helpfully say, “I’m sorry, sir, this is the women’s room.” I have learned to say, “yes…I know” and keep walking without waiting for a response. 
I use the bathroom as quickly as possible. I don’t know what the supporters of bathroom bills think trans and gender non-conforming people are doing in there, but I can assure you it’s not exciting. In fact, I can testify that most of the time we get out as soon as humanly possible. Then I wash my hands, carefully avoiding the mirror-reflected gazes of the woman next to me. I say nothing, unless something is said to me. And then I leave. 
I am lucky in that the worst that has ever happened to me in a women’s room is that I’ve been embarrassed. Friends of mine have not been so lucky. One was pulled out by force by a man who believed she was going to harm his wife. He had thought she was a man. Other friends have come out to find a someone standing with a police officer who then demands to see their ID. And I’ve certainly thought about how to best defend myself if someone gets violent. Everyone I know who is gender non-conforming has had those thoughts.
Oftentimes, when people want laws passed based on fear, they reduce those affected to caricatures and stereotypes, quickly forgetting that these affect real human beings whose experiences are vastly different than what one knows. Unfortunately, it seems that the push to ask about or explore these stories is fairly small, given how strongly some wish for laws like legislating bathrooms to be implemented. I am glad not that Emily has had this experience, but that they had the courage to share in order for people to understand a little better.

Hindsight is important. As Benjamin Corey celebrates the completion of his doctoral studies, he looks back to list five things he would have done differently in seminary along the way. This one especially resonated:
4. I would have focused more on the process, and less on the finish line.  
So much of life tends to be lost when we focus on the destination instead of the journey. Looking back I realize there were many times that I was so focused on the end result, that I cheated myself out of joy that only occurs in the process. 
Learning to be fully present– not living in the past or hyper focused on the future– has been a life long struggle for me. I’m slowly starting to get a grasp on it, but my years in seminary would have been enhanced had I learned to do this sooner.
I clearly recall a spring day near the end of my seminary studies where I felt grief over the realization of these years almost being completed. It was one of the most stretching and formative seasons of my life including many experiences beyond the classroom. I am fortunate to not have the same regret listed above. But this is a good list for anyone currently in or considering the seminary journey, as it provides encouragement for what students should do during their time that won't lead to this ruefulness later.

More than a disease. My New Sacred colleague Chase Peeples shares thoughts on his encounter with a teen wrestling with depression, and how we are not defined by our illnesses:
Sometimes theologians speak of the “true self,” “inner light,” or “divine spark” inside of us to describe that piece of us made in the image of God. That “real” self, as opposed to the false selves we show the world or mistakenly believe are legitimate, is our identity given by God. 
To be human is to have trouble discovering that “true self,” but some of us have an additional complication in our search for who we really are, because we struggle with mental illness of one degree or another. That warped view of reality which is filtered through depression or another type of mental illness sure seems real enough, but God works though medication, therapy and relationships to help us discern who we really are and how good the world can be.
Certain segments of Christianity don't deal well with mental illness. They don't understand it or even make the attempt, and have little to offer beyond platitudes like "just pray harder." It's important to take the suffering of those like the young man mentioned above seriously. Beyond that, churches and pastors must actively join a network of care that includes other providers and methods including what Chase mentions.

Reason #9: no regular coffee. Carey Nieuwhof lists eight reasons why churches don't break the 200 attendance mark. Today I'm thinking the most about this one:
6. Too many meetings. I led a church with a grand total of 50 people in attendance. We had 16 elders. Overall, the church was in evening meetings 2-3 times a week. Why on earth would a church that small need to meet that often? I eventually repurposed most of those meetings to become meetings about vision and reorganization. We also cut the number of elders down. Now, although we have a much bigger church, I’m only out one or two nights a week (and then mostly for small group). If you’re going to meet, meet on purpose for the future. Free up your time so you and your team can accomplish something significant.
My church is working through a similar repurposing to give teams much more flexibility in having to meet, encouraging them instead to communicate in other ways to accomplish goals. It's still in process, but I agree that the meeting/activity ratio of many church groups can get a bit lopsided.

Let's read one more post featuring a list. Karl Vaters lists five changes that may already be happening in many churches. Today I'm mostly thinking about this:
2. The Way People Give Is Changing  
When earning patterns change, giving patterns change.  
By every account, people in their 20s today don’t just give less than people in their 50s give. They’re giving less than people in their 20s used to give. And people in their 50s (and 40s and 60s and more) are giving less than they used to, as well.  
Because of this, churches must figure out two things: how to do more ministry with less money, and how to find opportunities people want to give to.  
As an example, in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations there was no faster way to get people to give than to launch a church building program.  
Not today. People in my kids’ generation are more likely to respond by asking “why should I give my hard-earned money to help you build yet another church building?”  
But they will give directly to people with needs they can relate to.  
The successful church of the next generation will erect fewer (and smaller) buildings, but meet more direct, hands-on needs.
My church has just begun a capital campaign, and the team in charge of the campaign has already heard rumblings from younger families along these lines. So we're trying to address it in creative ways accordingly. But even if we make it through this having convinced enough people to give, the long-term truth of this might still be something many churches will need to engage.

Good Lord, yes. Another New Sacred colleague, Brittany Caine-Conley, reflects on how we can't get church right. After so many articles insisting that there's only one preferable way to worship and purporting to speak for what all Millennials everywhere want from a church, this was refreshing:
There is no right way to worship, no formula to figure out social justice or small groups or spiritual renewal. 
We can fall prey to shiny idols with finish lines and all the answers, or we can sit at the intersection of pain and possibility, inviting the Spirit to shake us to our core and envelop us with a chaotic peace. 
Stop looking for answers. Let church be the question. Let church be the journey. Let the Spirit come and deconstruct the institutions and buildings we’ve constructed to contain the truth. 
Love your church, and hate it sometimes, too.
My first few years of ministry were jarring because I wanted so badly to be perfect in my role and I wanted the church to be perfect in everything it did. In some ways, I can't imagine that I was fun to be around at certain points because of it. But once I finally let go of the One Way We Should Do It, I had a much better experience of exploration, leadership, and attentiveness to the Spirit's direction.

Nowadays, I'm much more able to do what Brittany encourages: to love the church for what it is, and to occasionally get annoyed and fed up with it, too. An institution run by humans is bound to fail and falter, and accepting that a certain amount is built into the mechanism can be quite liberating.

Misc. Jan Edmiston on letting people be themselves in worship. PeaceBang on prayerfully engaging in ministry. Aaron Smith on there being no rules to adulthood.