Church Home

Today, I went to a funeral for someone that I knew, but not very well, an older member of my church and friend of a friend. It was very moving and I cried quite a few times (I’d like to think this is not unusual at funerals?) This person had such  a rich life, was such a loving person to his friends and family and church, and everything in the service bore witness to that.

As I listened to the memories people shared, and as I chatted with other church members at the luncheon after the service, I realized how important that church family is in one’s life. As a way to worship, and through worship, to build community, to develop friendships… a spiritual community is invaluable.

Of course you can’t just show up at church and reap all the benefits. Yes, churches should reach out and be warm, welcoming spaces for strangers. But eventually, you have to move beyond the honeymoon. Being involved in a church is an investment of time and energy that yields great dividends – relationships, solidarity, the chance to worship together. (And, added bonus, today NPR mentioned that religious involvement correlates with contentment.)

With any such commitment comes a price. In the words of our pastor today, to love is to hurt. There will be dissension and feuds and truces and politics. There will be pain and loss.

But it is worth it.

Churches aren’t the only way to find Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need churches to get his message out. But churches need Jesus, and so do we.

God uses churches to create the network that we as humans need. Places to celebrate rituals like marriage and birth and mourn death. People to connect with and build the relationships that carry us through difficult times. Friends to support us. Fellow believers to speak truth to us.

Sometimes the church or people in the church mess up. (In fact that’s what the current book I’m working on is about). But that doesn’t mean we throw church out the window entirely. We still need solid Christian community.

We need it more than we know.

Uncomfortable Choices

We got up early to play handbells this morning. I liked the piece we played although I did have to “slip.” I didn’t know what this was  until a couple weeks ago, but “slipping” means that I have to move handbells from hand to hand. It wasn’t graceful but all the notes came out, more or less in time. (I admit, “slipping” doesn’t sound too good, especially in icy Minnesota in the winter. Perhaps “transferring?”)

The Call to Worship this morning was great. We meditated on Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, into hunger, doubt, and temptation, and responded accordingly. “As we begin our Lenten journey, let us also be led by the Spirit, even into the uncomfortable places… as we seek to follow Jesus, we would be led, even into the uncomfortable choices.”

I hope as this Lenten journey continues, that I will be open to going into those uncomfortable places and choices, to examining the truth of what I’m doing. Very often in music ensembles, and in life, I will follow the music. I will listen and find my entrances and exits through “feeling.” I find my way through the relationships between notes and melodies.

And very often, this does work. For example, after my sophomore year of college, I went to the CityLights urban ministry program in St. Louis because the director sent out an 11th hour recruitment email at a time that I had just been refused from a summer job. I felt like my question had been answered; I felt the call. Things fit together like puzzle pieces: their need, my availability. In music, I can usually figure out where I am supposed to come in just by listening and watching other people’s music without necessarily counting.

But many times, the easy way is not the right way. “Broad is the road that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). Actually I can’t think directly of a time I took the broad road and suffered for it, more of instances where the broad road was tempting and I was turned away. For example, a couple easier, more natural job opportunities during my “2 years of Lent” after college that I simply didn’t get.  Instead, I was a barista and CNA and grew a lot through those very different, challenging, interesting jobs.

In a similar vein… right now in our little church flute choir, we are doing a challenging piece where I cannot hear my entrance. I have to count, count, count (and math was never my strong suit). I can’t depend on “feeling” it yet to come in at the right time.

I suppose the difference lies in why the choice seems easy to me. Is it easy because that decision is in my comfort zone, before prayer and discernment? Is it easy because everyone else is doing it? Easy because it seems right with my earthly brain?

Or “easy” because God has been guiding me to that choice, by closing doors and windows, by having people whisper particular verses in my ear? Easy because he has surrounded me with teaching and guidance that make that the natural choice, the straight and narrow road that leads to Him?

God, help us face the uncomfortable choices and find the right road!

Confessions

No, this is not a post about Usher.

An important part of Lent is self-examination, confession and repentance. Necessarily most of this must take place between me and God because nobody really needs to know all that. But I will share 5 of the things I feel the most need to confess, some silly, some (more) serious.

1) This is a confession directly related to blogging. Once upon a time when I was a barista, I wore a cute little green shirt that said “No one cares about your blog!” in pink letters (unfortunately the shirt has gone away and I have been unable to find pictures). I feel guilty about wearing this and laughing knowingly with all the people who remarked on it. I wronged you, fellow bloggers, and now I understand. I do want people to care about my blog. Just a little bit.

2) I eat a lot of sugar. Even the whole not-buying-cookies does not work for me. If I don’t have cheap high-fat forms of sugar in the house, I will make “mug cakes”

3) I occasionally read… unsavory… free kindle ebooks

4) I spend an inordinate amount of time online reading things like CNN and Allnurses. News and Allnurses are great in moderation but I’ve been known to do this for a couple hours at a time. Addicted to the 24 hour media machine…

5) I don’t exercise as much as I should. In fact, I was getting a prompt from the Holy Spirit/ my subconscious this morning. It was something like This isn’t going to work if you don’t exercise more (“this” being my hope to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder without gorging on chocolate). My excuse right now is that my favorite exercise video is missing and it’s too cold to go outside and there’s not enough snow to ski… Well, at least we did some Pilates with our friends this morning. That counts?!

With that, my confession for now is done, and I hope you will all forgive me. Despite these and other more heinous sins, I know that God still loves me. His grace is all I need.

The Beginning…. of Lent

I have toyed with blogs in the past, but passion for the subject always eluded me after the first couple posts. Don’t look too hard, you might find those ghost blogs still drifting in space with my name on them.

This first entry coincides with two important things. First of all, it is Ash Wednesday, which means yesterday was Shrove Tuesday. Last night, I didn’t have a very wild Mardi Gras as I was working. The highlight of the evening was getting supper in spite of having what I call a “split float” – going to two different floors on the same night. Everyone has a horror story about those, I don’t. I expected to maybe get 15 minutes to eat. God bless the charge nurse who sent me to a full dinner.

Yes, but speaking of Ash Wednesday. Growing up in a Bible Church, we never really gave up things for Lent (or Quadragesima, as I prefer to call it. Haha.) . In fact, we didn’t even really mention it too much. My Catholic friend always gave up sweets, and I always looked at her in disbelief. No sweets for 40 days?! More recently, our vegetarian friends became vegan for Lent. No cheese for 40 days?!!! Now that we are Presbyterian, it is a bit more kosher (pardon the mixing of metaphors) to give something up.

The talk of giving things up makes many people, including myself, uncomfortable. I think I may just not be at the point where I can give up a luxury without making a big deal of it. Sweets are indispensable, especially in February, especially in Minnesota, especially right before Valentine’s Day. Maybe Facebook? Six weeks is a long time to be cut off from reading about other people’s trials, tribulations, and omphaloskepsis (and the occasional cute baby picture). Especially as Match Day, focus of another post, will be happening right in the middle of it. Therefore, I believe I will instead add something – this blog!

The other significance of this date is the preliminary round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (henceforth ABNA) was announced – and my pitch made it through! Small victories, everyone. Yes, last summer I wrote a 60K word novel called Driving Out Fear and now I am figuring out how to get it out there while working on sequels.

Back to the season of Lent. I see from Wikipedia that Lent is to be given over to prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial. Eeek! Well, in that line of thinking (penance, repentance… nuns?) we did go to see Nunsense in Mantorville last weekend, and it was very good. But the whole thing was a gift from our friends, so I can’t even count that towards almsgiving. Enjoying the performance was hardly an act of self-denial.

I shall really have to work on this observation of Lent business.  And with that… off to work.