Joy!

Last week I wrote about anger but today I want to follow that up with an emotion on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Sometimes we get inundated with all of the problems in the world and in our lives so today I was feeling the need to sit in a place of joy.  God indeed did give us this spectrum of emotions in which to experience life.  It is what makes life rich and vibrant.  One of the biggest complaints from friends who are on an anti-depressant is that they flatten out the emotions which means helpfully, you don’t feel the lows so deeply but unfortunately you don’t experience the highs that life can offer as well.  Joy is one of those emotions that can sustain us for a long time when our spirit rises and our heart feels lighter and happier.

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Joy from the movie Inside Out

I invite you to think about the past week and remember any moments of joy you experienced.  Where were you?  Who were you with?  What triggered the smile, the laugh, the happiness within?  Last week I had the privilege of watching our children’s choirs and bell ringers do a concert at Arbor Acres for the senior adults living there.  What a beautiful moment to listen to our kids sing and watch the expressions of pure delight by the onlookers.  I felt joy watching the two generations sharing with one another.

images-7And then there was that moment Sunday night when the Tarheels basketball team pulled out a close victory over Kentucky and the jubilation of my basketball team going to the Final Four.  I was still smiling the next morning.
And of course the moment when our staff went on a field trip to see Beauty and the Beast.  I smiled for 2 hours (except when I was wiping away a tear or two at the end!  Oh yea, and that moment of horror when I accidentally walked into the men’s bathroom – Lord have mercy!) as only Disney can pull off with their magical movie story telling.

But I also experienced joy when someone asked me for a copy of my sermon from last Sunday, knowing for them, there was some Word that spoke to their heart and I was thankful God used me as the vessel to communicate.  Or the conversation I had with someone struggling with a family situation realizing that I could be of some kind of help as they figured out their next steps.  I could go on because thankfully there have been numerous moments of joy now that I sit down and reflect.  How about you?  Did it surprise you how many you could think of?  So often, all we remember and dwell on are the bad things, the hurtful words spoken, the negative gestures directed at us or those people/things we care about.  Why do we do that to ourselves?

So in case you need a little pick me up to get you through this rainy day, reflect on this passage from Philippians.  With trust in God during the difficult times, and a concerted effort to find and remember the joy that surrounds you or might even go unnoticed, you will discover one of the secrets to contentment.

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.  – Philippians 4:4-7 (CEB)

And if you are struggling right now to see the joy in your life, then here is my prayer for you until you can pray it for yourself.

 

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  – Romans 15:13 (CEB)

Joy!

Lory Beth

Righteous or Toxic Anger

She pointed her finger at me and with a great deal of emotion behind her eyes she exclaimed “It’s your fault!”  She went on to blame me for the loss of a ministry in our church.  It was ok.  I absorbed her anger.  It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it wasn’t my “fault” or my lone decision.  I felt her anger and tried to understand where it was coming from, not so much what she was saying.  But her timing was interesting to me.

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Inside Out is a fabulous movie worth seeing!

This weekend I’m leading a workshop for a women’s conference on anger.  The topic was set months ago.  I’ve been thinking about the different forms of anger.  Sometimes we just lose it and our emotions get the best of us.  Toxic anger is not productive, it’s destructive.  It deteriorates relationships.  It destroys our spirit.  But it is at one time or another a part of  our experience.  A few verses from the Book of James serve as a reminder of how we need to try to experience and deal with our anger and what can happen when we lose control.  Make no mistake about it, we will and do get angry.

 Toxic Anger   “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.  This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.”   – James 1:19-20 (CEB)    

How would life be different if when someone does something to hack you off you are able to slow down your reaction and just listen.  To control the words we want to spew.  To realize that our feelings are real and we don’t stifle them but how we express them makes all the difference.  This day and time I am hearing far too much yelling, not enough listening.  Far too much knee jerk reactions, not enough deliberate debate and dialogue.  Toxic anger does nothing but encourage toxic reactions.

Not all anger is toxic, however.  There is another form of anger the Bible talks about that leads to prophetic and Kingdom checks and balances.  We call it righteous anger.  Righteous anger rails against sin in our world.  Righteous anger gets angry at the things that make God angry.  Righteous anger expresses itself in Godly ways.  So righteous anger identifies sin and focuses on offenses against God and God’s Kingdom and less so on personal offense.  Ephesians speaks to and acknowledges righteous anger.

Righteous Anger  “Be angry without sinning.”  – Ephesians 4:26 (CEB)

Paul verifies that it is ok to be angry.  In fact there are things that should make us angry.  Children who go to bed hungry at night, should make us angry.  People who are working two and three jobs and still can’t make ends meet should make us angry.  People who act out of mean-spirited judgment and racism/bigotry should make us angry.  Systems that do not allow everyone the opportunity to be successful should make us angry.  Self interest before public interest by public officials should make us angry.  You could add to the list, I’m sure.  At the conference I was attending today I heard Rev. Mike Slaughter say,

“If it’s not good news for the poor, it’s not Good News.”  – Mike Slaughter

Friends, this day and time there are so many things happening in our world, our country, our churches and our families that invoke anger within us.  How you deal with your anger makes all the difference in the world.  And getting angry at the right things is critical.  Manage the toxic anger. Nurture the righteous anger.  But please, don’t end up sounding like a self-righteous wisenheimer.  That is not a good witness.

So next time I feel my blood pressure start to rise and my mouth ready to sound off, I’m committed to pressing pause and self identify toxic verses righteous anger.  And I will ask myself have I listened enough to justify my feelings or am I simply reacting.  And then I will try to express myself in as Christ like manner as I can muster.  Admittedly, it’s a tall order for many of us.  But my study on anger has inspired me to aim high!

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

A Bag of Chips

I can’t get this image out of my mind.  This week our church property had a break in at 2:30AM which was caught on video surveillance.  The man broke in to our property and went to a kitchenette and took a small bag of Doritos, stood there and ate them and then left.  He was in our property for a total of 4 minutes.  Walked right past other items of value and ignored them completely.  A bag of chips.

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It breaks my heart.  Yes, it is highly annoying to have to clean up a mess and deal with the inconvenience of damage to property.  Yes, it is frustrating to be a place that offers help and good will to people and then feel violated by intrusion.  I didn’t recognize the picture of the person that broke in and I certainly don’t know his story.  But it breaks my heart that he went through that much effort for a bag of chips.

It is a stark reminder to me that we have much work to do in our community regarding poverty, homelessness, hunger, mental illness and addiction.  I realize just writing this blog runs the risk of putting some folks in my church in an uncomfortable position of tension with anyone who would choose to damage our property and the ministry we offer.  It makes some folks leery of taking the risk of doing the hard work of reaching out to some of the least of these.  But I can’t get the image of the bag of chips out of my mind.

And I stand by the conviction that as a church, we have to find a way to stand in solidarity and loving partnership with Jesus’s Gospel mandate.  We are to be about Matthew 25 kind of ministry that feeds the hungry, clothes the poor, visits the imprisoned and sick, and welcomes the stranger.  In spite of the fact that it comes with a risk.  In spite of the fact that it is hard work.  In spite of the fact that it sometimes is not necessarily well received by the recipient. In spite of the fact that it comes at a cost.  We do it for the Gospel of Jesus.  We do it because we love one another.

“Then the king [Jesus] will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”-Matthew 25:40 (CEB)

I long for the day when no one has to break a window for a bag of chips. When everyone has enough.  When we figure out how to solve what I believe are solvable (albeit not easy) problems like hunger and housing.  I guess what I’m saying is that I long for God’s Kingdom to come.  On earth as it is in heaven.  And until that day comes, I will do everything in my power to usher in that Kingdom.  Will you join me?

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Being a Woman

Have you ever been rejected by someone because of your gender – something you have no control over at birth?  It’s been an interesting week balancing reactions to International Women’s Day and hearing a difficult story of gender bias about me. It’s made me think about something that if I’m being honest, I really don’t spend much time dwelling on.  But this week, I’ve been very aware that I am a woman.

 

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Fractured Woman artwork

I had a meeting with a friend outside of the church who bumped into a former member of my church.  They had a conversation that led to Centenary.  When he mentioned he knew me the woman’s hackles raised at my name.  She went on to say how horrible it is for a woman to be a minister and that she left the church before I even arrived.  The more he shared about the woman’s beliefs, the more obvious it was that Centenary was not the church for her anyway, my gender aside, as we are not a fundamentalist congregation in theology like this woman clearly was.  But it hurts to be rejected based solely on something I have no control over.  She never even met me.  I know some of you can relate to this experience.

That conversation was on Wednesday, the same day I wore red for International Women’s Day.  I am proud of what women contribute to society and the unique skills and gifts they offer both their work place, volunteer places and to their family life in whatever combination that occurs.  And I do believe that goes undervalued with the measurable proof being that women earn less on the dollar than men for the same jobs.  This is certainly true in my profession.  But I overheard the most interesting conversation among some women who were reacting very negatively to Wednesday’s protests.  Women criticizing other women for protesting out of their privilege expressing how ridiculous it all sounded to them.  And everyone is certainly allowed their opinion. That’s the beauty of this country we live in.  But I couldn’t help but feel the tension from the previous conversation of rejection I had with my friend.

And then I had the opportunity on Wednesday to meet several owners of local restaurants in downtown Winston-Salem which was inspiring.  4 out of 5 were women which I didn’t realize.  Crafted (Kristina Fuller), 6th and Vine (Kathleen Barnes) , Mary’s Gourmet Diner (Mary Hagland) and Sweet Potatoes (Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tyson), are all owned and operated by women.  Mary Hagland, shared with our group touring the downtown arts district and local restaurants that she grew up in Indiana and that she had a dream about owning a restaurant.  Her father, a father from the 50’s when daughters didn’t own restaurants, kept telling her she could do anything she wanted to do and supported her whole heartedly. She said, “I believed in me because he believed in me.”  She didn’t have the money for the start-up of a restaurant and her father sold a piece of land in order to get her started.  It was inspiring to hear her talk about her father looking beyond her gender and the gender roles of his time to instill confidence and nurture dreams within this talented business woman.

I didn’t have a father in my life to encourage me like Mary did.  But I had a mother who didn’t say it so much as modeled it for me.  It never occurred to me that there was something I couldn’t do. In my eyes, my mom mothered and raised four children.  She worked in Medical Records at the hospital.  She volunteered in the community through (then) Extension Homemakers and both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts not to mention at our church.  She fixed things around the house or called someone to.  She handled the finances.  She made the decisions.  She just did it.

So yes, I wore red on Wednesday not so much as a protest but as a way of saying I am proud of being a woman and offering what I uniquely have to offer into the lives of those around me.  I’m grateful for the work of other women, whether it’s in the classroom, serving in restaurants, as CEO’s and CFO’s, accountants, lawyers, amazing moms, massage therapists, nurses and doctors, bank tellers or the woman who pushes the trash can down 4th Street picking up trash.

And for the record, I’m pretty grateful for the contribution men make into society as well.  My point is we all add value.  Sometimes women do go under appreciated.  And clearly there have been times when women have been disrespected in the work place and publicly.  In my case, I have been judged and rejected as a pastor based on some contextual scripture passages in the Bible written about some rowdy and loud women in a church back in Corinth.  I’m ok with that because I understand how God works today and I don’t doubt for a second God’s calling into vocational ministry in my life.  But that doesn’t mean  gender discrimination isn’t real or that it doesn’t sting.  It’s still out there.  But then I think of Mary, Katherine, Kristina, Vivian and Stephanie and I smile.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

 

Ashes to ashes…

What’s the deal with the ashes on the forehead?  Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent in which we spend 40 days preparing for Easter.  It is an ancient season of the church in which the original practice involved fasting for 40 days (not including Sundays which are always Resurrection days) prior to Easter.  That puts the start date on a Wednesday 6 weeks earlier.  40 days symbolizes the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert after he began his public ministry and came to be baptized in the Jordan River.  40 days always reminds us of the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering around in the desert after their escape from Egypt.  (Does your life feel a little like that at times?)

Lent is a time in which we do some internal work in order to be ready for the amazing gift of Easter morning.  It often involves rituals of personal sacrifice (people give up chocolate, sodas, or some other luxury or habit) and extra time for introspection and prayer.  It is a season in which we are particularly aware of our sinfulness.  That begins tonight in a spirit of confession.

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite worship services of the year.  There is something gritty and so visual with the physical connection to the ashes.  It is a “putting in our place” which we all need to be reminded of, well yearly.  It is a harsh reminder of our mortality and how precious this gift of life is.  And it is an opportunity to ask God to forgive us.  Forgive us of whatever it is that we have done to break relations with God – today.

Ash has always been a sign of repentance.  Sitting on a heap of ashes, smearing it on one’s body was an ancient biblical practice of either grieving or lamenting one’s sinfulness and brokenness.  Thankfully we don’t have to plop down on a pile of ashes! But we do have the opportunity to have a few ashes smeared on our forehead. (Of interest to note, the ashes come from burning the palm leaves from the Palm Sunday the year before.) Seeing a room of people with the sign of the cross on their forehead uniting in a spirit of confession is a powerful place to sit for a while.  Maybe no other images-3moment reminds me of the proper order of things.  God is God and we are not.  But it also is an invitation to turn over to God the confessions of your heart.  Get it off your conscience.  Seek healing and forgiveness.

And most importantly, know that in the ashes and the confessions, God always arrives. With a word of grace and love.  The cross is significant.  Although it is a sign of our guilt, it is the sign of hope through which God responds.  It is a harbinger of what is to come in a few weeks.  And it is a reminder that God creates everything from, well dust.  We are redeemed particles of dust.  We are perfectly molded bodies of dust.  We are vessels of ash- living and breathing.  But dust none the less.  And yet, when these vessels of dust cry out for help, cry out for forgiveness, cry out for love – our God never fails to respond.  Tonight will be no different.  Ponder these words from poet Jan Richardson:

Will you meet us

In the ashes,

Will you meet us

in the ache

and show your face

within our sorrow

and offer us

your word of grace:

 

that you are life

within the dying,

that you abide

within the dust

that you are what

survives the burning,

that you arise

to make us new.

 

And in our aching,

you are breathing;

and in our weeping,

you are here

within the hands

that bear your blessing,

enfolding us

within your love.

-Jan Richardson

You shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say. Here I am.            -Isaiah 58:9

Our Ash Wednesday service is at 7:00 Wednesday night in our auditorium.Join us for a powerful time of prayer and reflection.  Come meet God in your dust.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth