How’s your faith?

My local library has a limit of 200 items that you can check out at any one time. I have yet to reach that limit–but I usually have anywhere from 50-80 items checked out. Some of them are for Ladybug (my 2-1/2 year old granddaughter), but about a dozen or so are mine.

I choose a variety of titles, usually starting my browsing among the new books. Sometimes that decision is based on the author. Other times it’s the genre. Sometimes it’s the title that grabs me.

A couple of times ago, I saw a book whose title was How’s Your Faith?, described as “an unlikely spiritual journey.” The author was David Gregory, former moderator of Meet the Press. The title sounded intriguing, so I added it to my book stash.

But–as is often the case–once I got the book pile home, other titles caught my attention first, and I didn’t get started on reading this one. I think, though, that there is a cosmic sense of humor! I had sort of started reading the book…and then the announcement came about my denomination’s financial struggles. That announcement made me want to read something more “escapist” so I didn’t get back to this one until it was almost due. I tried to renew it, but there were holds on it, so I decided that if I wanted to finish what Gregory had to say, I’d better get busy.

Boy, did it ever resonate!

It’s David Gregory’s story of his spiritual journey. He (as a Jew) fell in love with–and eventually married–Beth (a Christian), so obviously they had some definite discussions about what their spiritual path together would be.

He began to realize that he needed to know more about who he was and what he believed–and it all really came together for him when, in a presidential interview, he was asked “How’s your faith?”

There’s a lot more to the story…a fascinating story into spiritual exploration and finding the values and commonalities in many faith traditions–and realizing how they can strengthen your own. It’s a book well worth reading.

But what stuck with me was the question: “How’s your faith?”

In this time of uncertainty in my faith tradition, I think that’s a fair and valid question. Sure, it can be quickly and easily answered…but that kind of answer is often just a surface one. When we go deeper into answering that question, I think that often we may find that we’re not really sure.

There’s a hole…an emptiness that we’re not sure how to fill.

In my faith tradition, we don’t talk a lot about “being converted”…and yet, if we’re not…if we just keep skating on the surface of what we’ve always known and experienced…when the hard times come, the answer to that question about our faith is likely to be “Not very good.”

What kind of conversion am I talking about? A willingness to let go of things the way we’ve always done them…a willingness to trust God to lead us into a future we can’t currently imagine…taking time to spend in whatever spiritual discipline(s) work for us to bring us into a closer relationship with God…ears and eyes open to hear and see where we are being called–and understanding that that may very well take us out of our comfort zones!

A friend of mine several years wrote a poem a number of years ago that I think can answer this question:

 There’s a God-shaped hole in my heart
filled with empty things–
songs, sermons, hymns, and prayers,
classes taught and taken,
books read and underlined
tiny gods forsaken.
Important things, needful things
that stretch the mind and soul
And yet these substitutes
for Spirits breath
cannot fill the hole.

There’s a God-shaped hole in my heart
filled with empty things–
good intentions never birthed,
letters left unwritten,
hopes and hunches still unsung,
ears that failed to listen.
Important things, needful things
that free and feed the soul
But these achieved,
less Spirit’s breath,
cannot fill the hole.

There’s a God-shaped hole in my heart
filled with empty things–
important things, needful things–
yet sweep them all away!
For God alone must fill this space;
it’s meant to be that way.
This silent, aching, sacred space
that serves to sing my name.
With Spirit’s breath it speaks to me
and calls me o’re again,
“Slow down, my child, take rest, my child,
and pause to breathe my name.
Let emptiness refresh, renew,
restore your soul again.”

     A God-shaped hole
     …a Love-shaped hole
     never fully filled–
     reminding me that piety
     and works cannot replace
     the emptiness that’s always void
     without God’s gift of grace.

          –Danny Belrose

And so…just maybe…what we’re going through right now gives us the opportunity to let God sweep away all those things that take up our time and money so that we can be filled with God’s gift of grace.

And then the question, “How’s your faith?” can be answered with a resounding “Wonderful!”

What can I do?

(I’m not sure what happened, but my original post apparently had some difficulties and was truncated. Here is what you should have seen.)

In my last post, I mentioned the financial difficulties my denomination is facing–but also my hope for the future.

Since that news came out, I’ve watched with interest the various comments.

For many, it’s still a sense of shock. I understand that. It had seemed that we were maybe through the worst of the financial situations we’ve been dealing with the last few years. Donations seemed to be going up–so why this seemingly sudden “disaster”?

Others are struggling with their reactions toward leadership. I understand that as well. If the situation is as dire as it seems to be, how could our leaders not have seen it coming?

Still others are dealing with personal fears. Their jobs are on the line, and there’s no guarantee that they will have employment after the end of March. Boy, do I understand that! And it’s even more than just not having a job. It’s wondering if you somehow misunderstood your sense of “calling” to be working in your faith tradition…and asking God, “If this is where you were calling me to be, then what’s going on?!?”

The comments from others wonder if the church will survive. Is religion passé? Or…perhaps…is it just my faith tradition that is dying?

And yet…and this is what gives me hope…others–who still are concerned/upset/even somewhat angry–still see new possibilities. They see this is a chance to really think about who we are…what we are called to be doing…and to reconsider, on both personal and corporate levels, our priorities.

There are still going to be dark times ahead, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world…or the end of my denomination. It may be the end of doing and being church as we have for the past 150 years…but as we get through the shock and anger, I think God is not finished with us yet–and if we are willing to listen, I think there are new opportunities for us.

So what can I do?

I can listen to those who are hurting. I can support them in prayer.

I can look at my own financial priorities and determine how I can change them to be more responsive to what I say I believe in.

I can be willing to look for new opportunities…to not think that the future has to look just like the past.

“If you want to fly on the sky, you need to leave the earth. If you want to move forward, you need to let go the past that drags you down.”
― Amit Ray, World Peace: The Voice of a Mountain Bird

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
― Corrie ten Boom

“The future depends on what you do today.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Dark nights…

When I was growing up (as a preacher’s kid), I remember my dad sometimes talking about a dark time my denomination went through during the Great Depression. Everyone was hurting then–including the church. Finances were tight, and difficult decisions had to be made.

One of those decisions included delaying the construction of our denominational headquarters building, which had been started in 1926. It was ultimately finished, but not totally completed until 1962.

Another involved the sad release of many individuals who had been serving as full-time ministers. Some of them were able to eventually come back, but some never really recovered. Some left the church; others stayed, but carried with them for the rest of their lives some bitterness toward the church that they felt had deserted them.

And yet another decision was whether the church should file for bankruptcy or not. We didn’t–but it was a difficult time.

That was all before I was born, but it did have some impact on me…perhaps more than on other kids my age whose parents weren’t as intimately involved in church leadership.

The problems I remember didn’t have to do with finances. They had to do with how my denomination was going to deal with civil rights issues…with how to articulate who we were and who we believed in as we moved into non-Western cultures…with how to deal with increased awareness of biblical scholarship…with how we were going to relate with other faith traditions…

Then I went to work for my denomination. I was an older worker–my husband retired, and I went to work. All went well for several years–but then we found ourselves dealing with another depression…and with some perhaps unwise financial decisions made as we were moving out in ministry. I survived a time of layoffs…but not without scars. I went through a dark night, but was able to come out on the other side.

Then I retired. And shortly after my retirement, my denomination went through another round of layoffs as we struggled to find ways to balance our call to mission and outreach with the realities of finances.

I had thought (hoped) that we had accomplished that.

But today our church leadership announced that we are still struggling with finances–and the church budget will have to be cut by almost a third. This means more layoffs…deep layoffs, because there simply isn’t anywhere else to cut.

My heart aches…for my friends who will be losing their jobs…for the areas that will be losing gifted and talented ministers…for those whose lives won’t be touched because of these cuts. There will be dark nights…

And yet…

Out of these dark nights can come growth. It will be painful, there is no doubt about that. But there is the possibility of gaining new understandings…finding new ways of doing things…resetting our priorities, both as individuals and as a denomination…figuring out what our true potential for giving is.

We can get stuck in the dark night–and that is always a temptation. Or we can keep placing one foot in front of the other…keep struggling to find ways to share who we are–and whose we are…even when the way ahead can’t be seen, having faith that we will not be walking it alone…having faith that the darkness will not last forever.

And what is what I pray…for my friends, for my denomination, and for all of us.

Faith takes us to deep places, to the ruptures in our self-confidence and our lives. Do not settle for spiritual comfort all the time…Darkness is divine also. Faith is not about positive thinking so much as about what kicks in when we are weak, sick, and short of self-confidence. The via positiva never stands alone. The via negativa is always with us on our faith journey as well.

— Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations

Can we be friends?

I remember last election cycle when someone I am friends with said, “Well, I guess we’ll be friends again after the election, right?” That statement surprised me, because while we disagreed politically on a number of issues, I didn’t see that (and still don’t) as a reason for not being friends.

I was reminded of that again these last couple of days with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. While I disagreed with many of his decisions and feel that his political legacy has been harmful in many ways, I have felt sorrow for his family. The loss of someone is never easy–and even less so when it happens so unexpectedly…and away from loved ones.

But what really struck me was an article I saw about the relationship between Justices Scalia and Ginsburg. They were political opposites and had significant disagreements in their Supreme Court decisions–but despite that, they were good friends, and they appreciated what each other brought to the relationship:

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his ‘energetic fervor,’ ‘astringent intellect,’ ‘peppery prose,’ ‘acumen,’ and ‘affability,’ all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

At this time, when there is so much name-calling, so much vitriol, so much apparent hatred between individuals on differing sides of the political spectrum, Justice Ginsburg’s loving memorial to her friend and political opposite challenges us in many ways to be better than we currently seem to be. It is possible–and Justices Scalia and Ginsburg showed us it is.

Finding balance

“There is no work-life balance. We have one life. What’s most important is that you be awake for it.”
Janice Marturano

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them –work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Brian Dyson, former vice chairman and COO of Coca-Cola

The last few days I’ve been thinking how much of a challenge it is to find balance.

When I was working, there was a lot of talk about “work-life balance.” We were encouraged to try to find that balance…even though we were constantly asked to do the same amount of work (or sometimes even more) with fewer employees. We would be told “We can’t keep doing the same things we’ve always done”…but everything seemed too important to be dropped–and there were always new projects, new initiatives that needed to be part of our work. And while we were told we could say “No,” the culture didn’t make it easy to do so.

Then I retired, and I thought that since now managed my schedule and my commitments, it would be easier to find balance.

Right…

In some ways it’s become harder, because I can’t beg off of things because of work-related commitments. Because I’m not working at a paid job, it’s easy for others to think that I have plenty of time to do “this” or “that”…not to mention the things that I’ve been putting off doing until I had more time!

I find myself with several roles and responsibilities:

  • Wife
  • Mother
  • Grandmother (which includes mentoring a grandchild who is still trying to figure out what life holds)
  • Great-grandmother
  • Minister, in a faith tradition in which most of our ministers are bi-vocational
  • Poet
  • Musician (for myself, my congregation, and as a volunteer at my denominational headquarters)
  • Website manager for several websites
  • Administrator of several Facebook groups involved with outreach to those on the margins
  • Individual who is dealing with multiple sclerosis (which I’ve been doing since 1969)
  • Teacher
  • Reader

The list could go on…and I’m sure many of you understand as well.

So how do I balance all of this? It’s all important.

How many balls can I keep in the air at one time?

Sometimes one of them comes crashing down–and that’s usually when I’ve been doing too much and pushing myself too hard. Then my body rebels and tells me that if won’t find a way to balance, my body will do it for me. Then I find myself forcibly having to say “no”…having to take time to rejuvenate and renew…and wondering why I don’t take the time to do this on my own terms.

“Balance” for me isn’t going to be the same things as “balance” for anyone else. When I am willing to understand this…when I quit comparing myself to another person, then it is easier to find my own way.

If I don’t take time for myself, then I won’t be able to deal with the other roles and responsibilities I have–and those balls will come crashing down.

So when I step back, it’s not because I’m shirking what I “should” be doing. It’s doing what I know I have to do in order to be balanced and able to help others.

If only we would be willing to recognize that for each other…and ourselves.