Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’

Risk, Loss, and Gain -or- What I Gained from Losing

I lost my deaconess pin. Again. And I started on a downward spiral of berating myself for losing something so special. Blessedly, before I got too far down, I interrupted myself and was able to reframe the loss in a way that gave me peace.

Don’t get me wrong, the deaconess pin—made of real silver—is very special. I received it as part of the consecration rite in which I officially became a deaconess. Each of us, as deaconess students, look forward to the day when we will get to wear the pin.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples' feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The deaconess pin is an important reminder of our servant-hearted ministry. And wearing the pin is a great conversation starter with folks who don’t know about our ministry, or about the love of Jesus—the source and model of our serving.

But sometimes even important things get lost.

What really turned around my thinking about losing my deaconess pin this time (it is the third pin I’ve lost), was when I paused and remembered the stories of other deaconesses I admire who have lost pins more than once. “I’m in good company,” I told myself.

What’s more, part of why I lost my pin was because I was wearing it a lot. I wore it everyday (and every night) that I went to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the hospital before she died. I wore it everyday that I planned meals for the Tinker family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death and funeral.

I wore it to remind myself that what I was doing was, in fact, ministry. It wasn’t some ground-breaking innovation in church-work, nonetheless it was ministry. It was ordinary, everyday ministry.

So, the clincher for me was the realization that I lost my pin because I was…using it.

It reminded me of my attitude about the “good dishes.” I know some people have the idea that you don’t want to use the good dishes because something might happen to them!

But my thinking is, if I’m never gonna use my good dishes, then why do I have them? What good are they?

Not much, not really.

I mean, sure they can sit there and look pretty. But tucked away in a china cabinet, they’ll be quickly forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. And even their beauty will fade into the background.

They will be safe though.

Of course, my deaconess pin, like the good dishes, was vulnerable by being used so much.

But what good is it if I don’t wear it? It would be safe in one sense, but not wearing it is its own kind of loss.

And you know all those nights I spent with Elaine? I made myself vulnerable by being of service in that way—my sleep was often interrupted, I was away from my husband and son, and I lived out of a couple of bags for 3 1/2 weeks.

Most of all though, by being there with Elaine—by spending so very much time with her—I came to care more and more deeply for her. And while that bond being strengthened was its own reward, it also made me more vulnerable to the pain of losing her.

But I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the finest china. No amount of silver could replace the ways my life was enriched by being there with Elaine in that time.

I took risks with that pin. And I lost it. But what I gained made it all worthwhile.

Such a Time as This

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My mother-in-law has been having serious health issues that have landed her in the hospital. I’ve come to Houston (where my in-laws live) to be part of my mother-in-law’s care team.

There’s nothing like caring for a sick mother-in-law to bring out the responsible adult in me.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting with my in-laws and I love them dearly.

But, at times, I have behaved, well, like a child, around them. I’m not proud of it, but I know I can be stubborn and rebellious when my elders try to offer guidance or correction.

Now though, with my mother-in-law’s condition being so serious, I am all in.

I can’t explain how exactly I am able to be so fully present as I am now, but I have this incredible peace about being here to help.

It is as if everything in my life up to this point has worked together to prepare me to be right here, right now. I’m sure that sounds strange. But looking back on so much I have lived through and learned I can see how those threads are woven together to clothe me for this time.

The timing alone is perfect. I’m between preaching gigs and between writing deadlines. I’ve relaxed a lot about my rigid online publishing schedule. I’ve done some important delegating. All of these factors allow me the freedom to be right where I am.

But on a deeper level, my spirit is prepared to be here.

I have felt a certain restlessness lately. I came to Texas somewhat reluctantly, then I grew to appreciate it–in large part because of the support my in-laws offered me. But as the time here wore on, I began to feel bound by being here. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And that longing in my spirit, that longing for purpose, is fulfilled in this time.

Somehow, even my resistance to being bound is oddly sated by the fact that I am but itinerant here in Houston. I go back and forth from my in-laws’ house to the hospital with a couple of bags with just enough of my worldly possessions to get by with.

My sister-in-law joked the other day about me being a gypsy. I kind-of liked that.

I can leave any time I choose.

And yet, I choose to be here.

I wish I didn’t need the freedom to “opt out” as badly as I do. But it is that freedom to go that gives weight and meaning to my decision to stay.

And as much as I love my dear husband, I have always felt like I am lucky to have him and never quite was all that certain what exactly I had to offer him. I know my worth isn’t defined by a single act and there are probably more reasons than I can understand about why he loves me back.

Still, this experience of being here now, helping as I am…I think perhaps, at least in part, that I became a Tinker for such a time as this.

 

Leaders: Are You Too Sexy for Your Church? So Sexy it Hurts?

Too Sexy for Church

One of my pet peeves among ministry colleagues is when they say, “I know it’s not the most sexy aspect of ministry,” about some unsung part of church-work. It has become a popular turn of phrase–almost a cliche–to talk about something in terms of how “sexy” it is.

Colleagues I know and deeply respect have said it. I won’t name names and I’ve lost track of who and how many. Just if you happen to be one, I’d like to suggest that you stop using the term “sexy” to refer to anything related to church or ministry. What follows are my reasons.

 

Four Reasons Faith Leaders Shouldn’t Use the Term “Sexy”

 

1. Stop the Obsession

Our culture is bombarded enough already with sex in advertising, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Too much. We as church-workers can do ministry just fine without making it look “sexy.”

It’s true that some aspects of ministry may seem a little ho-hum, but even the great moments don’t have to be “sexy” to be worthwhile.

There are so many other ways to describe ministry highlights: mountaintop experience, a holy moment, a God thing, serendipitous, great teamwork, etc. Please try saying what you want to say a different way.

 

2. Keep it Safe

Associating ministry with sex at all is just disturbing. People need church to be a safe environment not a sexualized one.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse by faith leaders happens.

Oftentimes predatory faith leaders will “groom” others beginning with small, seemingly innocent words or touch to desensitize them to the wrongness of their advances. Other times faith leaders will promise that sexualized talk or touch will have a spiritual benefit for the parishioner.

These behaviors are way out of bounds and just plain wrong. Faith leaders should never attempt to sexualize their relationship with parishioners in any way.

 

3. Words Mean Something

So you’re not a predator, you’re not “grooming” anyone. To you it’s just an analogy. But what you think of as a harmless analogy may trigger unwanted sexual thoughts for others.

I get that people use this term without intending to sexualize the church environment, but words matter and you can’t just throw around the term “sexy” without somebody thinking about sex.

And by “somebody,” I admit I am one; I’m very visual and yes, I’m going to go there in my mind…and I won’t hear another word you say.

 

4. Stop the Objectification

I don’t even like the term “sexy” when it would be more fitting because it represents a highly objectified view of sex.

I teach my son not to refer to others as “hotties” or as “sexy” because those terms treat people like objects.

Saying someone is “sexy” is saying, “I want to have sex with that person.” Such an announcement is often made with no appreciation for the personhood of the one desired or a relational context for the fantasized consummation.

Sure, most people want to be seen as attractive, even desirable, but we’re whole beings, not just play things.

 

I’m not opposed to sex. And I’m not saying that the subject should be off limits in church; in fact I think there are good and helpful ways to talk about healthy sexuality in our parishes. I just don’t think the term “sexy” accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish when used to refer to church or ministry happenings. The term itself is just a little too sexy for church–so sexy it hurts.

Receiving Others as Gifts: Mutuality in Giving & Receiving

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This is the first post in my new series about “Receiving Others as Gifts.” For background to this series, please read the introduction from last week: Introducing a New Series on Receiving Others as Gifts. To see all of my blog posts related to this subject, check out the tag: Others as Gifts.

I love the Kenneth Bailey video on footwashing that I posted back in November. I love everything about that video really. But most especially meaningful to me was how he made the case for how radical footwashing is and then how he lifted out the verse about how we ought to wash one anothers’ feet!

Bailey talked about the power dynamics at play when service is rendered. The idea was that service as we are called to is often from a position of power–the one has something the other needs–the giver is the one with the power.

Bailey rightly points out the danger of using service as a power play.

The way to guard against the power dynamics getting out of hand , then, is to wash one anothers’ feet–for each one to take turns both giving service to and receiving service from one another.

When it comes to receiving others as gifts, I think this idea of mutual giving & receiving is really important. The temptation to always be the one giving is great in our busy world.

We don’t want someone else to be put out. And we certainly don’t want to feel like we owe someone for some service they’ve rendered!

No, we’d rather be the ones doing the giving, doing the serving, doing that thing that puts someone else in our debt. Oh, of course, we don’t expect them to repay us–but that only heightens the sense of indebtedness that the one served may feel.

The most profound act of service we can render is to receive service from another, to lay down our need to be large and in charge and to humble ourselves enough to allow another to be or do for us something that we cannot do or be on our own.

Admitting that we can’t be all things to all people is often scary. To own our limitations and our neediness is not comfortable or automatic. It is a deliberate choice to drop our sense of superiority, to drop our self-centeredness, and to allow someone else to be greater or more central to us than we’d like.

Another feature of that Bailey video mentioned above is he calls attention to the bond that is formed when service is given and received. The two parties are brought into closer relationship by the service given and received.

We can choose to decline the service offered to us–I mean, we may not always need what is offered at exactly the time and place it is being offered. But to decline the service of others is to distance ourselves from those offering it.

We may have our reasons to decline, but it is wise to be aware of the cost. If we continually deny others the opportunity to serve us we may find ourselves in total isolation.

We may end up so far removed from others as to have no meaningful, sustaining community on which to rely when we eventually realize that we need it.

Plus, if we allow ourselves to become isolated by refusing to be served, then we’ll have no one left who needs or relies on us! Our own best service will be useless if we have no one close enough to us to receive what we have to offer.

I’m convinced that we need each other in this life. We need the gifts and service of others and they need ours too. This mutual giving and receiving is part of God’s original intent for us and Jesus affirms it.

May we be blessed by and be a blessing to others through our serving one another.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

My Review of Mediating Faith by Clint Schnekloth

Jen&Clint

I got to see Clint Schnekloth, author of Mediating Faith, in person for the first time in Houston last Thursday when he came to talk about his book. He even let me interview him for the Life & Liberty podcast! Click the photo to go to Life & Liberty for our audio interview which is about 30 minutes.

Let it be stated for the record that I am friends with Clint Schnekloth, the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era, but I did buy my own copy of the book. I originally met Schnekloth on Facebook when I joined the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Clergy Facebook group upon the recommendation of my local bishop, Michael Rinehart. Schnekloth has been a big help to me in my writing in several ways and it is my honor to help get the word out about his new book.

MediatingFaith

Click the book cover for ordering information.

The first thing I need to let you know about Mediating Faith is that if you think this is just a book about how particular types of media can be tools for ministry, you’re thinking too small. This book is way more than that. In fact, Schnekloth suggests that “all of life is mediated, and much more is media than we are often aware.”

To be frank, that suggestion both frightens and intrigues me all at once. I mean, I want so much to be “real” with people, to be honest in my writing, to have an authentic voice. To consider that everything I do is “mediated” made me squirm a little. But Schnekloth points out in a footnote that even the Bible itself is media–we are just so used to it that we forget to think of it as such.

It is just this kind of revelation about how media is integrated into our lives such that we forget it is even there to which Schnekloth invites us. Furthermore, if media is so integral to who we are, how best can we as people of faith be stewards of the wide range of media available to us to help pass on the faith?

And speaking of the wide range of media available to us, Schnekloth truly covers the spectrum from faith-formation practices based on historic texts to the mysterious world of massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs).

Once again, I admit I felt frightened at the mention of MMORPGs because this is a world that I don’t understand and have been reluctant to enter. So, imagine my surprise then when the part of the book that most delighted me came in insights derived from gaming!

After reading Mediating Faith, I am able to recognize my discomfort with MMORPGs is rather similar to the way I once was and many people I know still are reticent about joining Facebook. Whereas now, my Facebook, my own Facebook, my own most precious Facebook has become very much an extension of who I am. I mean, after all I met Schnekloth on Facebook!

The final thing I want to let you know about Mediating Faith is that you will want to have your dictionary.com handy while you’re reading, and maybe even Wikipedia. Schnekloth is not ascared of big words, but I promise you that every one he uses is worth looking up to get his full meaning.

I do recommend this book to those interested in stewarding the range of media available for the purposes of faith-formation. It is dense, but rich and worth your time. And I look forward to future works from Schnekloth and however else he finds to frighten me because just when his writing gets scary is when it gets really good.

P.S. Don’t forget to click the photo above to listen to our interview at Life & Liberty!