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The Balancing Act May 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marinn @ 12:51 pm
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I feel like I’ve been living in a world of dichotomies recently, trying to find balance between two opposite ends of the spectrum: behaviorism and humanism, fear and love, dark and light. Learning to live within the wholeness of humanity. It’s an interesting place to be.

My mom and I have a very slowly growing list of the “nicest” people in the world. These are those people who have an amazing, gentle spirit, who seemingly without effort demonstrate unconditional love to all they meet. I think, although I haven’t run this by the list’s co-creator yet, they have found balance. The list includes my kindergarten teacher, a woman I babysat for, and my great-grandmother (There are a few others, but I can’t remember them.).

Greatmamaw was my dad’s grandmother. She was married to a railroad conductor/engineer. He was one of two great-grandparents I never met. She raised 3 children, my grandmother being the youngest. She had 2 grandsons and 3 great-grandchildren. I remember looking up to her inviting smile and warm hugs. Even as I type, I’m wrapped up in a quilt she made. At times, she was so convincing she colluded with Grandmother, my Mom’s maternal grandmother and the strictest of them all, to sneak me a hand full of chocolates when I had obstinately refused my expensive dinner at The Martha Washington Inn.

The entire time I knew her she lived in a long-term care facility for older adults. Part of that time she was living independently, and after a series of strokes that left her paralyzed, she was moved to nursing care. Despite her inability to smile with her mouth, her eyes continued to welcome us as we entered her room. She filled her days with sewing and crafts. No little piece of fabric went to waste (I have two quilts downstairs made from my great-grandfather’s old suits.). She spent time with friends and was always filled with joy! She had learned how to find the balance.

Here’s the interesting about dichotomies, though: One can’t exist without the other. Shadows can’t exist without the light to cast them. Jesus called himself the light of the world and called us to be the same. As we grow into that light, we will cast shadows. They might be our own that follow us for a while, or maybe they are recognitions of injustices toward creation rooted in fear. This is where finding the balance comes. We can walk into the shadow, get lost in the dark or recognize the light that has cast the shadow, remembering all the while that as long as a shadow exists, there is always light.

I don’t know if Greatmamaw had a similar struggle (but there have been plenty of times when I wish she kept journals). It’s a bit hard to imagine. This balancing seemed to come so naturally for her whereas for me, it’s not much more than a balancing act.

 

Local Congregations, It’s Time to Step Up! May 6, 2012

Last month, my family very generously helped me fly out to Tennessee to see them. It was time of year… the when United Methodist bishops start announcing appointments. Sometimes the announcements are surprises, and at other times, they are expected. They can even come after quite a bit of conflict between a pastor and congregation. Regardless, there’s usually some juicy gossip that comes about why a pastor is leaving or who is coming. Those of us who have grown up observing the itineracy process are quite used to it (and I’ll confess I gave participated in my fair share of it). However, as I observed this process play out in March and April for some I know. I began to wonder when did we forgot about grace and reconciliation.

Pastors are human. They are fallible, and they will make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes might impact the “important” families in the church (which in my experience somehow makes the mistake much more significant). Sometimes they are responsible for challenging the views and personal ideologies held by parishioners or the majority of the congregation… Even when it’s hard and uncomfortable to hear.

At the same time, each congregation, made up of individuals, is fallible in its own right. We will hold on to our “sacred cows”, reluctant to explore new possibilities because “this is the way we’ve always done things.” We often are afraid to change and grow because those are never easy processes. When confronted by a pastor with the reality our stagnation or closed mindedness, we often respond with defiance. We talk and politic behind closed doors and refuse to consider another’s perspective.

It seems to me that when these things occur we run to the simplest solution- get rid of the pastor (or just work diligently to make her or his life pretty miserable often the bishop decides it’s time for a change). We use the itineracy process to find someone who will support the status quo, not ruffle our feathers rather than work to reconcile our relationships with one another. You see, the true reality is that grace is hard to practice, and while we expect our pastors to extend God’s grace to us, how often are we willing to extend it to them? How often do we recognize “never challenge individuals within the local congregation or individuals within that congregation” is not in their job descriptions? How often do we extend grace to our pastors in the midst of their humanity or truly consider their words of challenge when it ‘s time for us to grow? How often do we seek reconciliation rather than retribution when we disagree?

I’ve been processing these thoughts for almost a month, and then, this week of General Conference occurred leaving me wondering when we forgot about grace and love – two foundational elements of our Wesleyan theology (More to come on love in a later post.).

My understanding of the itineracy process is that a pastor is charged to serve alongside a local congregation for a time limited period. Each pastor brings her or his strengths as well as opportunities for growth to the congregations served. Because this relationship between the pastor and congregation is never intended to be permanent, the congregation is ultimately responsible for the vitality of the local church – not the pastor. This week the General Conference of the United Methodist Church approved a petition removing guaranteed appointments for ordained elders.

Let me start out by saying, I’m all for accountability, and I believe we should hold pastors accountable for the work they do (and be grace-filled in the process… a very careful balance). While I recognize the concerns related to the potential for discrimination with this new rule or concerns about what happens if the wrong parishioners are disgruntled, I’m really left questioning what the purpose is of the local church. Isn’t the vitality of the church the responsibility of the local congregation? Why aren’t we holding them accountable for their “effectiveness” (The operationlization of this term is an entirely different matter.)? When did the success of the church become primarily the pastor’s responsibility?

It is time for local congregations to take responsibility for the vitality of the church! Last year, the Council of Bishops issued The Call to Action, a call to create vital congregations within the United Methodist Church. With that in mind, I hope that those if us who are members of local congregations will accept this challenge, accept our significant responsibility in light of this challenge. I hope we will respond to this challenge, with the support of our itinerant pastors, with action rooted in grace and love. I hope that we will be grateful to our pastors who strive to hold us accountable even when it’s hard to hear. I hope we will work to mend and reconcile relationships with pastors with whom we might disagree. If we can’t show God’s love and grace to one another, being responsible for ourselves, how then can we expect to do so with others?

 

I’m Back!!! February 10, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marinn @ 4:26 pm

Well, sort of. Now that I’ve settled in here in Fresno, I’ve been blogging on a different, temporary (at least for now) site. A dear friend of mine and I, along with a few others, have been participating in an exciting year long project! I hope you’ll check it out and maybe even join us, and I’ll work on checking in here better.

Here’s the link for The Righteousness Project: righteousnessproject.wordpress.com

Hope to see you there!

 

Sizobonana! August 9, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marinn @ 10:41 am

And then there was me… Harriet took off this afternoon, and Ben decided to spend a night in the lap of luxury (a.k.a. the Hilton). That leaves me here at the Hippo for the evening, and I’ll be heading out tomorrow evening. The good news is it’s Indian Night here at the Hippo, so I’ll be having Bunny Chow for the second time this trip! Basically, it’s bread stuffed with curried lamb.

Today was Women’s Day here in South Africa, a day to celebrate all women. The amazing stadium here gave flowers to all the women who came today; school was closed, and many stores were closed for the day. Harriet, Ben, and I spent the morning waiting for the bus only to learn that the fabric stores we were headed to were closed, but we got a chance to see Victoria Market. Even better we walked through the Muthi Market where native healers prepare and sell herbal remedies… everything from plants to animal heads were available for purchase.

I also went to the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Even though we saw no big game (I did get to see a couple of crocodiles!), the views were spectacular! I already know my pictures won’t even come close to doing it justice.

I expect this will be my final post from South Africa. I am sad to leave. The South African people are lovely! They have been warm and welcoming, even those we have met on the street. At the same time, this country and her people continue to struggle with extreme poverty, death from preventable diseases, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Through it all, they remain joyful. It’s a beautiful thing to behold and to have been a part of for a brief period of time. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to come here and anticipate coming back (Cash will be disappointed I didn’t see an elephant!). I’ll continue posting about the sessions, plenaries, etc for a while. Keep checking back! But for now, I’ll say sizobonana, South Africa!

 

Conference Wrap-Up August 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marinn @ 3:52 pm

It’s getting a little quiet here at the Happy Hippo… Our friends from Zimbabwe caught their bus to Johannesburg this afternoon, and from there, they will catch another bus on to Zimbabwe. They have a long trip ahead of them. Godson, our friend from Ghana, left this evening as well. Only Harriet, Ben, and I are left. Harriet will be leaving tomorrow, and Ben has splurged on a room at the Hilton for tomorrow night! Harriet is going to take us shopping tomorrow before she leaves, and then I will be headed the Valley of a Thousand Hills for the afternoon. I’m looking forward to getting out of the city for a big and possibly, if I’m really, really lucky, catching a glimpse of some game!

We had a beautiful closing worship service with the installation of officers and communion. We had a lovely evening as we walked along the beach to another hotel for dinner… the cheapest one so far… R27!!! And it wasn’t too bad, but we splurged on dessert with a few friends. All in all, it was a lovely evening, and a nice relaxing day. As I’ve said before, I’ll report all the details of the presentations, sermons, and reports at another time… when I’ve had a chance to process them (and I’m not paying for internet by the hour). I’ll have one more update tomorrow before I head out on Wednesday evening, but keep checking because I’m sure I’ll be posting updates for several weeks! Lalani kahle!

 

You Can Speak Zulu! August 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marinn @ 12:03 pm

This morning we divided and travelled around the Durban area for worship. I travelled to KwaMashu, about 20 north of the city Durban. KwaMashu was a township created under the apartheid government for the resettlement of black Africans from Durban. During apartheid rule, whites were not allowed to live in resettled areas while blacks were not allowed to live in Durban city-proper. The ride out to the township was fascinating as the quality of the living conditions decreased significantly, and yet for the most part we were surround by the “working middle class”.

I attend worship at the G2 KwaMashu Methodist Church where I sat in the front row just like my mom and dad taught me, and I’m so glad I did! As I sat down an African American woman behind me commented, “This reminds of church back in the old days. We about to be humbled.” Worship began before worship officially began with some amazing singing and dancing throughout the church. Several South Africans from around the country also chose to come to this worship service today, so they were familiar with the hymns (which were all in Zulu or another African language). There were no hymnals in the pews, so individuals either knew the hymns or owned personal copies of the hymnal. As the South African folks were dancing and I was shuffling my feet in place, a woman grabbed my arm, pulled me into the circle, and said, “Join us.” The sound reminded me, and understandably so, of the early recordings I’ve heard of spirituals (Don’t worry folks! I was able to get some video!). It was amazing! Since there were no actual notes on the page, everyone just sang… with everything they had, they sang! To be surrounded by it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Later, after I moved, I sat next to another delegate from Johannesburg who shared her hymnal. I was still in the front row, so when the choir came down from the choir loft and started dancing during one of the hymns, I joined in…. but maybe not correctly because a sweet older woman looked at me and said, “Get low.” So I did! At the end of the service, a woman from the choir commented, “You can speak Zulu!” The energy and willingness of the people to be fully present in the service was just something I really can’t begin to put into words!

The people of Durban are so very proud to be hosting this conference! They have been praying for us for months and have continued to pray during the conference. They have taken over the catch-phrase from last year’s World Cup, “It is here. Can you feel it?” This afternoon they joined us in a parade/march through the streets of Durban followed by a rally at City Hall. On the way, children were hanging from their windows and the rooftops waving at us! There I ran into friends from KwaMashu, and we continued to sing and dance together. It was at the rally at a trio of homeless men asked to take their picture. One of them told me, “I know you’re a good person because you’re a Methodist because I’ve been in prison 6 times and each time the Methodists were the only ones who came to visit us in prison.”

It has been a glorious day of reflection and rejoicing, sharing it with a people who are still learning how to live with one another in a nation that is still healing deep wounds. Things aren’t perfect here yet. They’ve got a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic they’re dealing with along with the poverty, violence, and racial healing, but these people haven’t given up. They’re still working on it. Please don’t forget to keep them in your prayers.

 

Buffalo Soldier and Justin Bieber August 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marinn @ 1:29 pm

I ran out of minutes last night, so I’ve just posted yesterday’s report. Here is today’s. Again, there is SO much I could comment on, and I’m finding difficulty narrowing it down. First, for the Holston Conference folks out there. I saw Joe D tonight, and he is doing well. For the Yellowstone folks, Peg arrived late Thursday evening, and I finally saw her yesterday.

At some point, I will fill everyone in on the Bible studies and speakers, but I would prefer to share a couple of today’s experiences (Plus, I’m purchasing the DVDs of the speakers because I need to watch Dr. Joy Moore’s presentations a few more times. They’ve been amazing!!!). I spent a couple of hours today packing for an amazing organization called Stop Hunger Now (Please check them out at www.stophungernow.org). I worked with a team of three others filling bags with soy, soup mix, and rice (Again, photos to come later.). Each bag had enough food to feed 6 people! Two of my team members were girls from a high school here in Durban. Our team along with about 200 others filled 23,000 bags in 1.5 hours! While we were packing, we sang and danced…. to ABBA and Justin Bieber. Common ground.

Tonight, the city of Durban hosted a beach party for the WMC, and all of us, from all corners of the world, were able to find common ground on what is literally, as we were reminded on Thursday, our common ground of Africa. This time it was Bob Marley. Yes, for those of you who believe that Methodists don’t dance… I beg to differ! Tonight, I witnessed bishops from around the world, some of the greatest Wesleyan theologians, and local pastors dancing, jammin’, and singing (and they all knew all the words) to Buffalo Soldier. Because I had to haul all of the gifts I bought (including Cash’s) to the party, I did more observing and less dancing than I actually wanted to, and I commented to my friend, Harriet (one of the Happy Hippo Crew), a pastor in the inner-city of Chicago that I there’s a pretty strong theological statement in there somewhere… that a bunch of Methodist’s from all over the world who have been spending hours determining how to respond to issues related to social action and healing would find a commonality in Jamaican, Rastafarian singer-songwriter whose works transcended classes, races, genders, and creeds.

I attended the Healing of Memories workshop, and like some of the other talks, I will have to share that with you at another time.

Oh! And I got to blow my first vuvuzela today!!! I am now extremely impressed with the lung capacity of the South African people who blew those things for entires soccer matches last summer!

 

 
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