Created in God’s Image

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We often read passages that note humans are created in God’s image, and we might even find ourselves repeating these words, but how often do we really stop and ponder what an amazing reality and gift that is?

Art is one way my ordinary routine of daily living is disrupted. Art in its final form is amazing and an take my breath away. As an observer, not as an artist myself, I’m drawn to art that helps me see the world in new ways or exemplifies the beauty already present. Here I am taken in by the imagine of the artists vision.

But art in it’s becoming form has a different impact on me. Art “becoming” transforms materials of this world, materials I often see as ordinary, and makes them into something more than…more than what they were and more than what I could see. Observing the process of art becoming captures my spirit differently than art in it’s final form. This video is an example of art becoming. Watch it and see what you think.

The election, the aftermath, and the work that lies ahead

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This morning I got up and headed to the kitchen to do some baking. Baking, like running, is for me a calming pastime; a form of therapy if you will. It’s been a long week, after a really long campaign season, and I needed to do something mindless and productive. I’m happy to say before noon I had three recipes of muffins in our freezer ready for the holiday season.

For me, this has been a hard week. I have ridden the roller coaster of emotions; I have listened to friends, family, and colleagues process the election; and I have tried to get a handle on my own thoughts and feelings. I have tried to speak less and listen more. I have tried to be kinder and offer support where I could. As I see it, at least today, many people are hurting and our United States is divided on many fronts. This reality brings me deep sadness and is one of the reasons for my grief. I wonder where we, as a people, go from here.

But I grieve for other reasons as well. For more than a year, and particularly these past few months, the political climate has set the tone of our conversations and behaviors, as it filled the air with accusations, suspicion, anxiety, and name calling. The language and behavior present in this campaign did not bring out the best of us, as a nation and as a people. Instead of focusing on the issues important for our common life together, the tone that echoed across our land won the day, igniting anger and fear. No one person or party is responsible. Rather somehow the ball got rolling and we, the people, didn’t stop it, change it, or redirect it. I have been baffled by this experience and it has caused me to pause and reflect. As a society, I believe we can do better. And I want to work toward rebuilding trust in the communities I am apart of – among family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors – knowing we are shaped by different experiences and not of one mind.

I’m depressed about our political systems, not because Trump won but because of how we got to our final two candidates in the first place. I’m curious about what this moment will mean for our political parties in the days ahead. Will leaders use this experience for good? Will I use this moment for good? All of my life I have lived among friends and family who have different political views and claim different parties. Somehow we have managed to stay together even with our differences. But as I look at our two main political parties, both are in trouble. Both are without a center, have gone to extremes, and in many ways have lost touch with “the people” whom they seek to serve. While I don’t believe government will save us, or that it is the only way to cultivate our common good, I do want more from both our Democratic and Republican leaders. And as that gets worked out, I commit to doing my part to work for the common good in the arenas I find myself.

Finally, I’m stunned and broken by the behavior and language of the president and vice president elect around women, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBTQ persons. For months I have been without words. And I have been silent in the face of hurtful words and accusations, except for conversations within my family. My deepest pain has been this dimension of the election. I didn’t need Hillary Clinton to win to prove I matter or women can lead, but I do need to stand up when people are mistreated and treated as objects. Why did I not stand up? How will I find my voice? As a Christian, I believe loving my neighbor involves both serving and advocating for my neighbor. Electing leaders to our highest offices who treat women as objects and demean ethnic minorities rips my heart, making me scared for our shared future. Many of my friends and colleagues know this pain deeper than I do, having been mistreated because of their skin color, minority religious beliefs, and/or sexual orientation. Yet God created us all; we are all subjects of God’s love. Nothing changes that, but this election told me this core belief of mine is not shared in society. We have a long way to go in creating communities where this belief is embodied and we act from this baseline. In the months ahead I hope to turn my brokenness into action, into tangible ways I can love and serve those who feel vulnerable as we move into this new political leadership.

Please, please don’t reduce the message of this post to simply whining about Trump’s victory. My attempt here is reflect on the pain and shock I experienced integrating it with what I heard from listening to others (who were both celebrating and grieving) in order to understand our country today. My conclusion is I have work to do. And I hope the church, with its many expressions and congregations, will be there alongside me working on the healing, uniting, and moving forward our society so all people are valued, cared for, and loved. Maybe you will be too.

But first, it’s time for a run.

Identity and Way of Life

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Yesterday I finished teaching one of my favorite courses – Discipleship and Vocation in Children, Youth and Family Ministry. Not a sexy title, and there are no gimmicks in the class. In fact, the class is pretty simple, it is about exploring Christian discipleship and vocation. In everyday language that translates into what does it means to be and live Christian? It’s about identity and way of life.

Now just because a course can be summarized in a sentence does not mean its subject matter is easy or simple. In fact, each week we gathered we discovered some things can be reduced to a simple statement, but putting such statements into conversation with our everyday experience is often complicated.  Life is messy. There is brokenness and pain. People are selfish, and self-centered. The world is noisy and vying for our attention. But there is hope, and promise. We all do have a purpose, gifts and agency. And while there are BIG things in life to figure out, there are also little ways we can make a difference everyday. Knowing the basics can be really helpful. And having conversation partners along the journey really matters.

But there is another thing we discovered.  Some of the ways we have been “doing” church (or at least practices those of us in the class grew up with) are not actually helping people get at what it means to BE Christian and LIVE Christian.

Perhaps that’s troubling news. It once was for me. But now my attention has shifted from being disappointed to being curious.

Why am I curious? Because I know, at least the way any gut knows things, many of our current ministry practices are not going away. In fact, many have a very long track record. Take worship, for example. It would be very surprising if worship suddenly became meaningless for Christians. Why? Because as I look back across time, I can’t think of one Christian community that didn’t exercise some worship practice. Does it look like the worship I am familiar with? No. But they drew on many of the same elements we do today.  The same can be said of prayer and serving others and telling the Christian story.  In addition, I think Christians are more open to asking questions these days. And I find that encouraging. Like the two-year old who wants to know why or the teenager trying to discover the deeper meaning of family practices, many Christians are hungry to know why congregations do what they do, and they are not content being passive participants. They want more, they not only what to know the meaning, they want participation to be meaningful.

So what does this mean for ministry? As I play with, and imagine, ministry in the years ahead, it seems more critical now to ground ministry in the basics of what it means to BE Christian and then help people discover how such an identity IMPACTS and SHAPES life. For preschoolers that might include reading stories about God’s people in the past, telling stories about Christians today and helping them wonder about what it will mean in their life. For adolescents it might be reminding them, day in and day out, that they are a child of God…loved as they are…gifted and capable, with the ability to make a difference in the world and impact the lives of those around them. For young adults it might include helping them form really good questions about life, and love, and relationships, and work, and the world. And it’s questions shaped out of an honesty about our limitations and selfish desires, yet full of possibility and with an eye to the future. It could include learning about prayer, as one prays, or engaging Scripture with an eye to the world and an eye to God, or serving others, not to fulfill our needs, but because someone else needs us to. And the list could go on.

Ministry today, for people raised in the church or new to the Christian faith, is both more basic…starting and ending at who we are as Christians…and more organic….in that it takes seriously the lived experiences and questions of each person and their communities.

This summer I turn 50. And, like many, am going to need to be reminded of who I am and what it means to live out of that identity in this time and place (and at this age). I hope the communities I am apart of will remind me of the basics, as they also join me on the journey. And I hope to do the same for them, curious and open to whatever the future brings.

Terri