Marigolds and butterfly

Marigolds and butterfly

Friday, September 2, 2016

Nova Scotia

          Keith and I took a "cultural walking tour" of Nova Scotia July 16-22; we met my sister, Beth, and her husband, Bill, for the trip. We had a great time! There was lots of walking and lots of eating, two of my favorite activities.

           Most of the walks were in view of the ocean. There was often fog. I love the photo of the fog receding into the ocean; it really captures the meeting of land and sea.

             I always seem to take pictures of birds.

           I like to take photos of churches, too, although we saw nary a United Methodist church. Most of the churches we saw were Lutheran or Presbyterian. We walked through the sanctuary of a very old church in Lunenburg, viewed a trinity of churches from across the bay, and also toured a re-creation of a (Catholic) chapel in an Acadian village. Growing up in Louisiana, I had learned of the history of the Acadians, but I had never heard the history told from the context of Nova Scotia, which made it seem much sadder. The French Acadians were expelled from their homes in Nova Scotia by the British.

          I've been accused of not including people in my photos. There were important people on this trip!

            We stayed in grand old houses converted into inns. Most of them looked like sets from haunted-house movies. But they were very nice inside, and no one saw any ghosts.

            One day, we went whale-watching, and saw humpback whales. Do you know how difficult it is to take a photo of a whale while standing on a rocking boat?

          The only parts of the trip that were less-than-wonderful were our flights to and from Nova Scotia. Let's just say that Keith and I did not enjoy spending most of our first night in JFK airport in New York. We did get to see Times Square at 2:30 a.m. and marvel at all the people, including children, out walking around.

          I'm posting photos of beautiful Nova Scotia, including a driftwood scupture, a scenic path to the sea, a rock sculpture, Lunenburg as seen from a boat, a walkway over a bog through the forest, tree roots growing over an enormous rock, and -- of course -- flowers, including daisies (innocence), gigantic begonias (caution), and moss roses, which symbolize love.

           "Love" seems a fitting word to end this iteration of my blog.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Oleander, Rhododendron say Beware

Apparently, there is no flower that symbolizes “accountable.”  There are, however, two that represent “beware” – the oleander and the rhododendron. They will have to do for my purposes. Let me state it clearly: When the pastor seeks to hold people accountable, beware!  I suppose the same could be said for churches or church leaders who seek to hold the pastor accountable.
         The oleander and rhododendron both produce beautiful – but poisonous – blooms. They are good plants to deliver their particular message.

          This weekend, I pulled out (from my home office) a fat folder titled “personality issues.” This is a nice way of saying: “church issues and personal attacks that I have documented.” Keith and I marveled at some of the personal attacks I have endured as pastor; most of them came from seeking to hold people accountable – to their job description if they are paid; to the United Methodist Discipline if they are church leaders; and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the whole church (this last one is the most difficult, as I have trouble holding myself accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The issue has to be pretty obvious, as in, “You may not lock the church doors during the worship service.”).  

            A “personal attack” would include an offensive verbal or written description of my lack of pastoral gifts, my personality, Christian character, physical appearance, intelligence, gender, and so on.  The perusing of the fat file comes as a result of the latest personal attack, which was not unexpected (beware!), as I was seeking to hold someone accountable.

           I don’t feel I’m overly demanding.  In terms of paid staff – a church secretary should be pleasant to visitors and members and helpful to the pastor. A musician should be able to play United Methodist hymns and actually show up on Sunday. A custodian should clean the church building.  You see?
            Church leaders should do the job outlined in the Discipline. A particularly nasty personal attack came when I informed the treasurer of a previous church that she could not personally decide which bills to pay and which not to pay. She quit in a rage and then absconded with all the church’s money. We eventually got it back, but not without a number of sleepless nights and a steep learning curve for pastor and church. Beware!

           The Finance Committee seems particularly vulnerable to church members who want control without a whole lot of accountability.

          I have found that “personality issues” tend to happen when people have not been held accountable in the past by the church nor by previous pastors, and suddenly there is a pastor who insists on accountability. I’ve also discovered, over the years, that attackers tend to be unhappy people. The churches themselves have been, on the whole, sympathetic and supportive.

           Like the beautiful and poisonous blossoms of our featured flowers, personal attacks are toxic within the lovely environment of church.  Perhaps the oleander and rhododendron should be standard plants growing outside the pastor’s office.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Marigolds symbolize Grief

            My pending good-bye with Union Grove UMC in Bahama is causing me a surprising amount of grief, which I did not expect.  For awhile, I’ve had the feeling it was time to go, but for some reason, this has not made it any easier. 

           As I wrote my final sermon – to be delivered at today’s 5 p.m. worship service – I actually wept. Well, perhaps wept is too strong a word, but my eyes leaked tears, and I had to stop writing and blow my nose repeatedly.

          I dearly love Union Grove, and I don’t really feel ready to leave. The church itself is still in shock – everyone (including me) assumed I would be there until I retired. We are all grieving.

            For the Victorians, the marigold symbolized grief.  I wonder if this comes from its use by early Christians, who called it “Mary’s Gold” and used the blossoms to decorate the feet of statues of Mary.  I suspect these early Christians associated the flowers with Mary’s grief at the crucifixion of her son.

          Today, I will preach at Union Grove using the 2 Kings 2 lectionary text of the farewell between the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Before they part, Elisha asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. I will ask the church: What share of one another’s spirits would we ask for, do you think? I would crave a double portion of Union Grove’s sweet, sweet spirit. I have never served a church (and perhaps never will again) with such a sweet spirit.

          My own spirit is distinctly less sweet, but the church never loved nor supported me less for it. That’s grace.

        Of course, the spirit that matters for all of us is the Spirit of the Living Christ – we are given more than a double share of that Spirit, and that is the Spirit who will sustain us through our good-byes and beyond.

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
- Psalm 30:5b 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Passion Flower symbolizes Faith

         What happens when life suddenly becomes too busy to blog?

         I’m not done yet blogging about the symbolic meaning of flowers, and yet with each week that passes, more plants finish their springtime blooming, including azalea – fragile and ephemeral passion; blackberry – envy; crabapple – ill temper (an ideal flower for this blogger); Carolina jasmine – separation; petunia – “Your presence soothes me”; quince – temptation; rhododendron – beware; wisteria – welcome.

         At this point, I am close to being stuck with the summer bloomers, a far less numerous lot.

         In these precious minutes, I will seize the spring-to-summer flower that symbolizes what I have devoted a chunk of my life to – the passion flower. The Victorians believed it symbolized faith. It grows both wild and cultivated.

         The name itself comes from the passion of Christ.  Called “Espina de Cristo” (Christ’s thorns) by Spanish Christian missionaries who discovered it in South America, each part of the flower is said to hold symbolic meaning from the crucifixion. For example, three stigma represent the nails the held Christ to the cross, while the tendrils of the flower are said to resemble the Roman whips used to beat Jesus. The filaments depict the crown of thorns.

        Faith, for me, has been to trust God enough to act on how I feel God leading me, knowing that it probably leads somewhere uncomfortable. The opposite of faith, for me, is fear.  Faith would have me trust God enough to act (or not act) depending on how I feel led; fear would have me stick with the easy and safe road.  I usually want very much to stick with the easy and safe road; however, God seems to call me repeatedly out of my comfort zone.  

        Faith also seems, for me, to involve allowing God to comfort, strengthen, and heal me – especially when I want to turn away. Sometimes, all God seems to want to do is bless me, and occasionally I turn away even from that.  Whatever the reason I pull away from God, faith always calls me back.

        The passion flower is both beautiful and complicated, like faith has been for me.  I sometimes push aside my faith like a nuisance weed, and yet I crave its presence and try to cultivate it.  God grant me a soul garden full of passion flowers. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Peonies mean Anger

           As I read about the goings-on at General Conference the past couple of weeks, my reactions bounced back and forth between grief and anger. General Conference is the big, world-wide meeting of United Methodists that happens every four years, where decisions are made for the denomination.  2012 was a bad year; 2016 was worse.

            At one point, I thought: Maybe the blogs and news stories I’m reading are just really negative. But no, across the board, I saw General Conference happenings that did not look very Christian.  Everyone seemed to be angry and grief-stricken, not just the bloggers.

          The Victorians believed that peonies symbolized anger.  This seems strange because peonies are such beautiful flowers. They stay pretty for only a brief time, however, depending on the weather. As soon as a rain storm comes, the big, heavy flower heads fall to the ground and disintegrate, leaving mounds of dirty petals.

           Perhaps the peony is for people like me: beautiful children of God who become bent over and disintegrated when something like a thunderstorm happens. Peonies are easy to grow under the right conditions, just like anger.

           I am not an angry person by nature, and I don’t remember having a problem with anger until I entered the ordination system, which I found to be hostile, sexist, and ageist.  Reading about how conservative, older white men continue to control The United Methodist Church makes my blood boil, as these are the same sort of people who made the process of ordination so unpleasant for me. They want to keep the power they always have enjoyed, and they use the Bible to beat up on others.    

         But what I read about General Conference went way beyond that. I read (from a variety of sources) about how some delegates – some clergy! – used racial slurs, homophobic slurs, were rude to wait staff, were rude to those who disagreed with them, refused to discuss issues, cheated on the voting, and even bribed delegates! There ought to be some way of holding these people accountable by sending them home and banning them from General Conference for life.

         There was a lot of talk of schism and separation by both the conservative and progressive camps. There was outright dirty politicking and disruptions. Neither side seems to realize that a lot (most?) United Methodists don’t want division, and we don’t support either extreme.  We need help thinking theologically and lovingly about hot-button issues.  We want prayerfulness, gentleness, and humility from all the delegates. We want our delegates to be asking: What would Jesus want us to do?

         I have a bouquet of peonies for General Conference, and we’ve been having a thunderstorm.