Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Little More UnChristian

From a comment exchange on facebook
"I SO wish church gatherings were dialogs rather than monologues."
we've had this same discussion with our church leadership. the new testament church didn't have these sermons and set schedules for things. i'm a worship and youth leader and love the worship times but even there... the new testament church gathered to pray, worship, TEACH, discuss, share and to pray more. everything was done with an attitude of worship that i'd bet didn't include a set list of songs or even always music. church has become more like a college lecture than a dialogue between believers. if we can't get back some of the dialogue, we'll keep losing, especially, the young people who need it the most.
for a brief shining period of time, my husband and i were able to lead youth meetings with the attitude of having a dialogue with the kids about the scripture we were reading and how it applied to their lives. it was lively and the kids were growing and catching fire. then someone decided we needed videos and a curriculum created by someone with credentials and a recording studio. the kids were then asked to sit in the dark to watch a video, answer pre-written questions from the leaders handbook and fill out a worksheet none of them took seriously...
okay, i'm ranting now and will chill.
we need to become like the early church.

Okay, so that was the initial rant. There is more.

Sunday, when we got to church we were greeted by the heartbroken mother of one of our youth kids. He's been struggling, self-injuring and Tuesday night things came to a head. He's being held right now in a room at a local ER because there's no room for him in a facility that can meet his current needs. He's not receiving treatment... just meals, a tv and paper pajamas to curb the urge to leave. To his credit, he's willing to stay because he knows he needs help he can't get at home and he knows his problems are causing turmoil in his family. He WANTS to get better.

What got me was that we suspended youth meetings in December. Primarily because kids stopped showing up. We were doing a video series Charlie and I had been given to present to the kids. They HATED it. After the meetings were suspended, the Pastor and his wife had a sit down with the youth to ask them how things were going... were they enjoying the series? They unanimously agreed the previous, less formal format had been both more challenging and more informative. They felt the less structured arrangement allowed for honest questions. They appreciated that Charlie and I were both knowledgeable about how scripture applied to their lives and willing to listen to their stories and honest about our own lives. We never pretended or tried to suggest we had all the answers or had lived perfect lives. Kids need that. They need people who can be real without fear of occasionally looking dumb. They need role models concerned with honesty and not with 'saving face'.

I know I have no genuine control over what's going on in this one young man's life... but I'm also aware I have an influence. It's hard right now not to feel guilty for not having been there in our once a week meetings. It's hard not to feel angry with myself for not speaking up more firmly about the total lack of positive effect of the videos. It's hard not to feel guilty for not pushing to resume our meetings in January. This young man was one of several to ask repeatedly when we'd at least start up with Drama again... But I've been directed not to hold Drama meetings unless we have a specific script to work on and right now, we don't.

Side rant... you CAN'T teach kids basic technique ONLY through the skits themselves. There is so much more to an effective drama team than what gets seen in a 'performance'. I've tried repeatedly to explain this to the leadership and they seem unwilling to grasp or accept it. WHAT DO THEY THINK WE'RE DOING? SIMPLY SCREWING AROUND? *sighs*

I'm frustrated and angry and not even sure I can put words or reason to the why. Well, beyond what I've already said...

Maybe I'm being childish... maybe I'm being willful and deciding I know better than people with more experience. (oh wait... not one of the 5 Pastors and elders has ever worked specifically with youth outside of raising their own kids.) It's not like I'm without the tendency to be stubborn and full of myself...

Maybe I am getting full of myself... and maybe I'm just tired of hearing how vital Charlie, Rachel and I are to the functioning of a Sunday service in our small church while at the same time being allowed NO input or genuine say in how we participate.

I want you to lead worship but we're going to work from CD's. I'll tell you when we're ready to go back to a band, and with whom you'll be working at that time.

I expect you to prayerfully consider and prepare for Sunday worship but make sure that you cover the range of cultures represented in the church (ei: don't get too white or too modern) and adjust your set list to fit whatever songs I decide to give you 45 minutes before the service begins and make sure we have lyrics for the congregation if it's a new song and try no to look too much like you've never heard the song before... oh, and be sensitive and obedient to the Spirit.

I want you (Charlie) to be on the mark and perfectly prepared to handle the technical aspects of service, even when we refuse to give you the tools you need and throw stuff at you last minute. Oh, and no matter how many times you ask me to properly label new music, I'm going to keep handing you CD's with 'track 1. track 2 etc.' because I refuse to admit I either don't know how or am simply too lazy to make your job a little easier.

I want you (Charlie) to jump up and down with excitement when we purchase new technical equipment even though we 1: paid too much and 2: didn't consult you about the best equipment for the job. When it's not the right equipment and things don't go well, I'll make excuses for you from the pulpit instead of admitting I screwed up.

I want you to have a drama team with a spirit of excellence but you can only meet when you have an actual script to work on. Oh, and be ready if I decide I want the team to come up with something on short notice.

Come up with a creative way to raise funds to pay for this piece of crap video series we haven't paid for yet and will insist on using even though the youth hate it... because it will give the elders a way to 'connect' with the youth and let them know the church is behind them.

I want you (Rachel) to begin to function within your gifts and talents... as soon as we decide you're ready. In the meantime, don't hold back. WHAT??? Oh and don't expect to ever get to teach/preach because some people aren't comfortable with a woman in leadership.

I will say I give them credit for knowing never to ask Charlie a question they aren’t sure they want answered with candor and honesty. This is why we’re only invited to meet with the leadership a couple of times a year.

They also get credit for taking what we do tell them in these meetings and making an effort to bring it to reality.

Maybe I’m too impatient for change. Maybe I think I know more than I do. Maybe I just wish they’d put aside their traditions and safe thinking and be a little more similar to the very radical New Testament Church. I mean, these people were so far out of the norm and what was comfortable or acceptable in those days, a lot of them ended up imprisoned and killed.

Do these people (most of who are in their 60’s) not realize that the very old time hymns they want regularly added to the services (“we don’t want our youth to forget them”) were considered almost blasphemous in their own time? Some of the old hymn book favorites were tunes ripped off from bar songs with the lyrics changed. What makes those songs more worthy of singing than Kutless?

When do we stop talking about change and get out of the building and make it happen? When do we stop preaching to the congregation and get out and show them how it’s done?

And, seriously… what makes you think trucking in 10-15 “on fire and ready to go” 20-somethings from other states are going to make the difference? Don’t you realize they are going to run into the same problems affecting change the ones of us who are already here are fighting? Do you really think they’ll stick with the status quo for more than 6 months before moving on? If they’re as on fire as you say, then you’d better be prepared to get out of the way. Given the need for perfect order and control we have going on, I do not see that happening. You can’t say you’re expecting the church to “bust out” when you’re fighting so hard to keep it in.

Maybe I’m fed up enough I’ll stop complaining and do something. Maybe I’m pushing too hard and asking too much. Maybe the Church example I see in the bible simply isn’t practical or possible for today. Maybe I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. Maybe I’m just hormonal.

And maybe… just maybe I’m ready to gather the guts to speak up… without waiting to be asked.

God help me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welcome to the Funny Farm

I love the book of Ruth. For such a relatively short story, it's a powerful telling of redemption and restoration.

It was from the book of Ruth that I first learned about the concept and origin of the word "glean". As an avid reader, there was a contextual awareness of the meaning... but Ruth gave it a different spin for me.

In biblical times, and even in the not so distant past, farmers would allow the poor and homeless to gather from their fields anything left behind by the harvesters. Little went to waste and those in need received. By gleaning the fields themselves they were, in a way, earning what they received. It wasn't simply handed to them so was not taken for granted. That's not the point of the book of Ruth, but an important detail for me personally. It is a reminder of basic kindness and personal responsibility.

It was once Jewish custom for a male family member to marry his relative's widow if an heir had not been conceived. This heir would receive the holdings of the widow's dead husband. Keeping land within the family was a vital part of providing for future generations. This was known as a Levarite marriage... an act of redemption. This redemption was for both the land and the widow. While it was the expected responsibility of a male relative, not everyone was keen to follow through. If the son produced was the only son produced to the "redeemer", then all their holdings would go to that heir as well. From a financial standpoint, it wasn't always an easy responsibility to fulfill.

Redemption is the prevalent theme in Ruth. In any monotheist faith, the understanding of God is very closely tied to redemption. Throughout old and new testament bible scripture, we are told He is close to the needy and oppressed. In fact, one of the names of God in Hebrew is GAOL. God our redeemer.

It is this aspect of God that Charlie and I are most drawn to try to represent.

Now here is where I get a little hesitant in the writing. I'm hoping to share the analogy that occurred to me this morning... not pat myself on the back for anything or seek compliments or... whatever. This is also not about defending a way of life that leads some people to question our intelligence, sanity or both. It is what it is... me putting heart to words. Questions, as usual, are always welcome.

Reconnecting with the time of morning peace we have again, the events of the last six weeks were put into perspective through the image of a farm. I once related my inner world to being like a house. In a way, you could say that house is simply one building on the farmland of my family.

We've long believed in the value of inviting those in need to glean from our fields. Figuratively, of course, though if I've got two of a plant and you have none, I'm happy to share. If someone has a need and we can help, we try to do so. On several occasions over the years, we've invited people to stay with us for a time as they get back on their feet. Most of the time, it's young people in that awkward place between physical and intellectual adulthood, who need a supportive place to grow before they step out on their own.

In every case, our motto has been a little like Olive Garden's (an American/Italian restaurant chain)... "When you're here, you're family". Whether it's for a meal, a transportation need, a place to stay or any other assistance we can provide, we strive to treat everyone as if they are family.

When you're family, you get the same benefits of family. You're prayed for, welcomed, respected, accepted, loved without condition, protected, fed, etc. You also get the teasing, the laughter, the tears, the limits, the boundaries and the accountability that come with being part of a family.

Along with the benefits of family come the practical responsibilities. You share a room and bathroom and must keep them reasonably clean. Pick up after yourself. Treat others with respect, both in word and deed. Help out around the house and yard. Share. Make an effort to think of others. Assist with the animals. Play nice. Be courteous. Accept the result of breaking the rules and respect the authority of this home.

It's been in the area of practical responsibility that Charlie and I have struggled most. First with our biological kids and even now, with our figurative kids. There's always been that desire to be the 'good guy' and to not step on toes. We finally learned that parents aren't supposed to be friends, or worse, doormats... but it took us a little longer to extend that to those we invited into the family.

A few years ago we opened our home and family to someone and allowed ourselves to be used and manipulated for the sake of a name. Was there more to it than that? Sure. Was that the lasting impact? You betcha. Was it that person's fault? Nope. We made the choices that allowed it to go on as long as it did. We chose to "keep the peace" (ie: hide from confrontation) and ended up allowing someone who couldn't manage their own life to attempt to assume the role of head of household. in essence, rather than face a fight, we handed over the farm to an unrighteous heir.

In the end, it wasn't pretty.

I changed in ways it will take time to undo. There's a hardness of heart that was not in my nature to posses. There is a cynicism that goes beyond being a realist to being outright snarky. In short, I'm far more likely to say "bite me" than pray for grace to act in love.

I am encouraged that those changes aren't forever. A couple of years ago, my response to situations similar to the last few weeks would have involved some nasty psychological warfare and more than a few creatively used f-bombs. This time around, I relied on reminding the party of the expectations of a family member and turning up my MP3 player when the arguments, attempted mind games and other such nonsense began. I vented when needed but never went on the attack. Someone said today "Thank God for small miracles." Buddy, given my natural bent when angry... that's nothing less than a huge miracle.

Don't get me wrong... I wasn't prepared to keep that up any longer. Mama bear was waking up and she was UNHAPPY. Had Charlie not explained to our visitor yesterday that he'd violated the family and the family rules for the last time, I may well have found myself trying to convince a judge I really didn't remember breaking the baseball bat over someone's knees.

We've made mistakes, had some bad experiences and learned some painful lessons... but we've also lived our marriage trying to sow the same seeds we were raised on... kindness, generosity, acceptance, respect, compassion... every once in awhile, someone invited to glean the fields mistakes it for an offer to do their gathering as well. Sometimes a person is so hungry for the grain or fruit they try to take it all for themselves. In this most recent case, someone seemed to think they owned the farm and we were the bond servants... *cough*cough* But most of the time, those who share in what we can offer, however small, find the taste pleasant enough they then seek to cultivate a harvest of their own for others.

Don't know about teaching a man to fish, but we can sure teach a man to farm.

Some crops flourish... others fail. Sometimes the storms or famines come and we barely have enough to sustain us... but any longtime homesteader or farmer will tell you. It's in the blood. As long as we have breath, we'll farm this land.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

benefit of experience

one of the big boys woke me to ask for icy hot. i gave him the bottle and a latex glove.
"what's the glove for?"
"use it to apply the icy hot."
"because no matter how well you think you've washed your hands, i'd rather avoid waking up to piercing screams from the downstairs bathroom in a few hours."


Thursday, January 21, 2010

because i have to share it somewhere...

rachel, daniel and i are reading a book about faith written by stephen baldwin (yeah, the weird one)...
one of the chapters is about how christians tend to get way too wrapped up in words... especially those they consider... um... crass or obscene. in the midst of discussing when and how certain words became taboo, rachel said "i think maybe back in the old days some guy was watching a lady ride by on a donkey and said hey, nice ass."
this is why she NEEDS to enter the world of stand-up and improv. i so love this kid.