Friday, December 16, 2011

Strip me bare . . .

"Lord, strip me of my desire to be a people-pleaser!"

That was the prayer I prayed earlier last week and one I asked a friend of mine to pray on my behalf. I never thought of myself as a people-pleaser. I like to think that I've always been a person bent on doing her own thing, not caring what people thought or think of my decisions or what they think of me. I like to think that I have danced to my own tune, whether it was popular or not. But since becoming a pastor, I've noticed a struggle has begun to ensue. I've noticed a wrestling within myself to be approved. There, I said it! Called it out for what it is -- a sticky web you can't break free from once you get entangled in it. I'm glad to say that for the most part, I have won the battle. I've stood my ground and moved forward despite people protests. Despite the uncomfortable feelings inside my body that remind me I'm going against the grain . . . responding counter culturally . . . and that it's OK. Standing fully in one's own self and thoughts and opinions . . . and oftentimes alone, isn't going to feel good at the onset. We live in a society that espouses uniqueness, but operates on sameness and so when change enters the picture we struggle to embrace it. Because it will separate us. Put us on the outs with some. Leave us standing in a place of critical judgement. And no one wants to be judged or be the target of its darts.

It's helped that I've had many around me to keep me grounded and undergirded in prayer, because I recognize there have been moments when I may have been about to break. And that has been scary. Admittedly, it doesn't help that I am a part of a denominational system whose very structure is founded upon man's approval of whether you pass the muster or not. They alone decide whether you are able to articulate your theology and whether it is aligned properly with the Methodist theology of your training. They make the decision regarding whether you are ready and fit for ministry with full credentials that give you a seat at the table. They, for the most part, decide whether God has called you into ordained ministry. The authenticity of your call by God is pitted against their own human knowledge that says you are ready. That your call was true and they stand in support of it.

This thing about people-pleasing is funny, because who does not struggle with wanting to be liked or having the praise of men. Who does not wrestle with their own uniqueness. Their being set apart and having to take the road less traveled. Or taking a risk that may pan out or not.

For the past few weeks, we have been studying Saul in Bible Study, a classic example of what happens when a people-pleasing mentality is not arrested. You become a puppet of the people. At the mercy of someone else pulling your strings. Like a drug, you begin to crave what is merely false affection and you find yourself a slave to it, as it become insatiable and difficult to break free of its tentacles. When you begin the journey down that road, it's hard to turn back.

In 1 Samuel 13, Saul's impatience regarding further instruction on how to lead his people into battle with the Philistines, leads him to engage in an unlawful sacrifice to God on behalf of the people.
When asked by Samuel why he made the sacrifice, Saul responds, "When I saw the people slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, I said, Now the Philistines will come down on me . . . "
Now the Bible doesn't say, but I know people and I'm sure they were no different then than they are today. Impatient, particularly when the vision isn't clear. Hormonal. Critical. Just plain crazy. I'm sure many of them were second-guessing Saul's military prowess, just as some of them did when he was first ordained. And because he feared losing his status with them, he responded, seeking their approval than God's directive.

Every since God called me into my pastor pumps, I've found myself having to arrest my people-pleasing mentality. I've found myself having to push aside this dark desire to be given the thumbs up and stamped with the "approved" checkmark label. I've found myself heeding the words of my wisdom tellers and sharers, who say it is imperative that I uncover and recover my wisdom voice. That it is imperative I speak truth to power. That it is imperative that I preach in and out of season, for "how will they have faith in someone they haven't heard of? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" I have found that it is imperative I put away my people-pleasing ways and fear not the ordination boards, the mother boards, and the peanut galleries and critical comments of pew warmers and sideline saddlers and believe in God's belief in me. That God has indeed called and gifted me to be a truth-teller. And that I must simply preach!

Just Preach!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Journeying to a disciplined life . . .

Following service yesterday a church member said, "When God gets you to where God is taking you, you're going to be something else! Her comment alluded to the fact that on I'm my way somewhere. . . and God doing something with me . . . molding me, perhaps . . . whipping me into shape. . . Hmmm. Somehow in the wee hours of this morning, I didn't think of myself as going somewhere, but saw myself as stalled . . . blind even. I even started praying aloud, "God where am I going?" having forgotten about the earlier comment shared with me. These are probably normal thoughts as it is coming to the close of another year and reflections on the life ahead and behind often dominate my thoughts. What will next year this time look like? Where will I be? Who will I be? Who will I be with on the journey, if anyone? Where will the journey take me? All the normal questions that I have asked year after year, realizing that every year before has left its own indelible mark behind, and still many questions unanswered.

But I recognize for the past three years, it was slightly different. I was in seminary and I knew for the most part what was coming next . . . another semester. There was solace in the certainty of it all, despite the challenges that I knew each semester would bring. Despite the fact that each semester I found myself crying and praying that I would make it through and gather the strength to write one more 20-plus page paper. There was still some solace there. The end goal was always in sight . . . graduation. Even though I wasn't sure I would make it, I could see an image of the finish line. I hoped. Now that I'm seven months beyond the finish line, the image of what lies ahead is not so clear anymore. The walks seem a bit longer and the road more windier. Some things are clear. Many are not. I'm in a new city . . . a strange place . . . in a new job . . . doing something I've never done before . . . wondering "Where is God taking me?" Only this time, I must think about more than just myself. I pray and ask these questions for more than just one now. I have people to look after . . . souls to care for and tend to . . . a responsibility to pay more attention to what God is saying and doing. I can't just wander off and explore on my own anytime I please . . . others can be hurt.

I recognize what worked well for me before, isn't necessarily working in the same way it has for me in the past. I'm being required to do more . . . step up my game so-to-speak. I don't hear God in the ways I used to here God before. Some things are not unfolding so easily as they have in the past. I'm having to dig deeper, stretch my eyes a little wider and lean in to hear more clearly.
This month started our church-wide fast and on the first day I clearly heard God say I needed to be more disciplined. I knew exactly to what God was speaking. I haven't been the most disciplined in creating intentional space to pray and meditate. . . .nor prepare adequately for my sermons. I have not made much room to really hear the voice of God. It has not always been easy as I often feel I am being pulled in so many directions. This fast has probably been the most disciplined that I have been . . . and I have another 19 more days to go. They say it takes 21 days to create a habit, so maybe this is the start I needed to have clearer vision. Maybe this the answer to my prayer . . . the key that unlocks the doors to God giving me a peek into what's ahead.
So, yes my member is right. God is taking me somewhere . . . on a journey to become greater than my present self. And it's starting with an admonition to Be Disciplined. The hope is then I will be able to hear and gain clearer vision to see.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Journeying into self-discovery

It was like a scene from Grey's Anatomy . . . medical terminology and acronyms flying everywhere and directives on how to deal with patients, families, doctors and deceased bodies. Soon I would be staring in my own episodes each week. This was my first day of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) . . . my orientation to serving as a chaplain for the next 14 weeks at Grady Hospital, where I will find myself in various situations . . . being at the side of those in distress and despair . . . helping to make decisions over life and death . . . and praying all the while that the right words will come when I need them.

As I walked the halls to gain familiarity with what is located on each floor . . . across the street . . . . and around various corners, I was struck once again with what this experience would entail. It would require me to be transparent, particularly with my colleagues as we discuss weekly our experiences and reactions to encounters. It would require me to use the same tools I employed to produce a good story with myself. My time in CPE would require I do investigative work on me.

This was the first day to fully coming to know more about myself . . . and frankly it was all overwhelming. There is nothing fun about doing deep introspection on one's self . . . but it is necessary. Many who have traveled this path of CPE says that it will make be a better minister . . . . more competent . . . more sensitive to the needs of others . . . and more understanding of the other. . . and more knowledgeable about myself. As I shared with my supervisor, I'm not quite sure what to quite expect from this experience outside of the tears that have already began to flow from the heaviness of the day and the weight of my responsibilities.

I heard someone say of the experience that it is about learning to tell my story and learning to navigate what it true for me. That makes sense. Once I learn my own story then it will be easier to guide others to theirs and help them too, speak their truth.

116 days to graduation and counting . . .

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On the last leg of the journey . . .

117 days. That's all that's left on my life here at Candler . . . before I graduate on May 9. . . before I turn the tassel . . . walk the stage . . . and into a different life . . . as somebody's preacher/teacher and hopefully pastor. As a theological scholar. Today marks my last semester here at Candler. When I started on this journey three years ago, the end seemed a lifetime away. Now that I'm in the home stretch, it seems as though the end has come quickly. But it hasn't been without the heart- and headaches and uncomfortableness that accompanies any body in transition and metamorphosis. The growing pains have been great. The temper tantrums have been many. And God has been relentless in God's quest for me. Yes, this is what this journey has been about . . . a metamorphosis. I can clearly see I'm not the same young woman who entered Candler unsure, doubtful of my intellect in this setting . . . at this age. I'm not the same woman who came in without clarity of her identity . . . her skill . . . .her purpose. I'm not the same woman who fought against God's plan and put my hands over my ears trying to drown out the sound of the voice that continues to call me toward some new adventure I didn't seem equipped to take. . . or even wanted to take.

I admit there is some anxiety about what is in the unknown, but there is also peace these days that it will come together. I used to fret over how I would remember all the stuff that has been dumped into my head over these last three years. I used to fret over whether I would be able to adequately explain the Trinity or engage in conversations with my parishioners about why evil exists and where did it originate from. I used to beat up myself for not paying more attention in Old and New Testament and doing all the required readings and often cried over whether I would be able to adequately lead and care tenderly for the souls that will be in my care.

But now, what I'm beginning to learn is that what I need will come back to my remembrance at the right time and all that I don't know, I can simply look it up. Candler has taught me how to research. All that I didn't read, I can finish reading. The answers to certain questions are no longer elusive to me nor are the questions themselves a frustration. While I would love for things to happen in my time and the way I want, I know that will not be case. Change has been in the air for many years now and it will continue to be whether I like it or not. But what I do know is it will come together. . . that even as God led me here, God will lead me from here . . . even through the darkness of the unknown.

In an interview with Holly Robinson Pete on The Talk, Oprah Winfrey shared how she had read in a Vaniety Fair article Michael Jackson's continual quest to recreate "Thriller", a feat that he was never able to do. Oprah shared that in the moment she read that, she realized she too was afraid to move forward following her decision to end the show after 25 years. She too struggled with how she would create another Oprah Winfrey Show . . . how she could recreate these moments of her past. "Then I thought, I don't want to go the rest of my life saying Oh, I wish it was the Oprah Winfrey Show," she said, "cause it won't be. I have to let that time be. Now let's move on to this moment. Let's not try to hold onto that moment."

When I came to seminary, I began to shed my identity of journalist. Like Oprah, I toiled over how I would be able to recreate the success I had as a writer and editor and expert in my field. And like Oprah, over these last few years, I've begun to learn that those moments will never be again. I must create new moments. I must be willing as Jay-Z said, to "climb to the next mountain." Afterall that is what re-inventing one's self is all about. It's about answering the call of God to move when God says move. It's about having the courage to become who I really am.

For some time now, the Divine has been saying that I'm one of the chosen as God's mouthpieces. For some time now, God has been preparing me to become a greater self than the self that previously existed. And today, I choose to no longer fight it.