belonging to another

Jon and I have been reading the Tales of the Kingdom series to our children lately, a trilogy of books written by David & Karen Mains. We have been drawn into the allegory as much as our children have been! In addition to enjoying the stories and what they communicate about following Jesus with our lives, I have been pondering a recurring theme: that of belonging.

Early on in the series, an orphan hunter who works for the evil Enchanter, comes to Great Park where the King’s people live. She is hunting for two orphan brothers, to bring them back to the city to work for the Enchanter as slave labor. Mercie, who cares for the children of Great Park, tells the orphan hunter that there are no orphans… all children who live in Great Park belong to someone. The message is clear: it’s the belonging that makes them safe. To not belong is dangerous, makes one vulnerable– they call it being a “one only.”

I understand and value community. I understand the danger in alone-ness. And frankly, I do not like feeling lonely (who does?). But as I have contemplated this idea of belonging to another, something in me resists it. I am independent by nature. I need my space. At times I need to make a decision for me… on my own. How far does belonging go? Does it cross the lines I draw around my soul for privacy, dignity and sacred space? I have known belonging to create safety, but I have also known it to cause harm. Sometimes there is danger in belonging too much to another. We can lose ourselves.

After more than 12 years of marriage, I have learned something of what it means to belong to another… to lay down my rights, to make difficult decisions as a pair, to speak what I know to be true and then listen without jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. We are two very different people who have somehow created a loving life together. I belong to him as fully as I am able, yet I am still distinctly me… and he celebrates that. He belongs to me as fully as he is able, and yet he still uniquely him… and I celebrate that. It is a journey, though. It takes arduous inner work for me to hold on and let go. Then again, often it is a happy adventure!

In almost eight years of parenting, I have also learned about belonging. Giving my time, my full attention, my whole presence to them; does not come easily to me. I crave space and silence and stillness, as I get older. Yet I belong to them, at least in part… a very large part. And they teach me such wonderful things when I pay attention. Why do I fight that?

I have moved in and out of faith communities during the course of my life, and I wonder if I prefer that mode of belonging. If I can imagine a possible end to the belonging, I can stomach the sacrifices a bit easier– I am not saying this is right. I am simply wondering if it is true. Would I rather pop in and out of belonging (which is not really, truly belonging at all), so that I can keep my ideas my own and protect my rights… so that I can avoid true love and genuine transformation? Why am I afraid that truly belonging means losing myself, disappearing? I find I do not like this part of me, the fickle and uncommitted part who is distant, protective. But there is learning and growing to be done if I am patient with me and continue to choose belonging… and turn from being a “one only.”

parable

Once upon a time, there was a man who felt drawn and called by God to seminary. After prayerful conversation with his family and faith community, he began to search for a school. He came upon a local school that shared his passion for the Mission of God in the world… it was, however, a seminary of predominantly female administrators, faculty and students. He understood the history of the school– where they had come from, and where they were going. He knew he would be in the minority in his degree track, and even perhaps face some hard questions about why he was there. But the chance to study at a school that was serious about being on Mission with God, and training leaders for that work– it was more than enough to propel him onward. He was ready for the challenge.

He purchased his textbooks and studied his first syllabus. He couldn’t help but notice that all the textbooks were written by women… certainly not a problem for him, but it was a curiosity. He knew of solid evangelical male scholars who had published books in this particular subject area. Would any of his classmates even know of these men and those books? Would his professor?

He sat in his first class, one of two men among 26 women. The female instructor stood at the podium and began the class. It was energizing, challenging, stimulating. They talked about Creation in Genesis, the image of God being manifest in male and female. “Yes,” he thought. “Without one or the other, we are missing part of the image of God.”

At class breaks, he noticed the easy way the women related to one another. They seemed to know the same Christian thinkers, have gone to the same conferences, had common work experiences. He listened intently and tried to gently enter into conversations. These were his sisters and he genuinely wanted honest, collegial relationships with them. Alas, it was as if they spoke different languages. His scholarly mentors and leadership gurus were predominantly male. His female classmates did not know of them… he, of course, had heard of most of theirs… sadly, had heard what some of those well-known Christian leaders had said about men pursuing leadership in the church.

He found that navigating awkward conversations was only the beginning of his unique seminary experience. He also needed to filter classroom lingo. “Woman” was often used to refer to all of humanity. Female students were often given specific instruction on how to navigate their marriages as they juggled family responsibilities and church ministry. He wondered if he should raise his hand and ask if there was specific advice for men going into ministry. He decided that since he was in such a small minority, most likely the instructors just didn’t see him sitting there. They weren’t ignoring him on purpose; it was just an oversight.

For quite a few weeks, the topic of gender in church leadership never came up. This man was thankful, thankful for the chance to simply be with his classmates before tackling what was sure to be a controversial issue. He hoped there was enough trust and care in the cohort’s emotional bank account, that they could be honest and forthright with one another… that they could disagree… and still be brothers and sisters who loved each other. He was relieved when the professor actually took his side in the debate. In his mind, the odds were 50/50 and could have easily gone the other way. He went into every new class blind on where he stood with the instructor. On this particular night (and many nights following), there was no resolution to the gender debate. He went home tired. It took a lot of energy to continue to stand where so few at the school did… and to keep standing there week after week, in faithfulness to his calling.

The topic of men in church leadership would continue to come up over his three-year degree program. Each time, lines were drawn. No resolution was found. He was often asked to speak for men as a whole. How do men respond to this? What do men think about this? He was puzzled by the question… do “men” think one way about anything? At one point, he was elected president of his cohort, certainly a gesture of trust by his classmates. He found it curious, however, when he heard comments such as, “You will do a great job keeping us organized. You’re so much better at administration than we women are.”

By their senior year, this man’s cohort had settled into their classes and relationships. There was periodic joking about him being the lone ranger in the group… about “proper roles” or gender stereotypes. For the most part, these things didn’t bother him. But there were times when he bit his tongue and chose not to wade into the difficult waters of equality and justice. What would be the point? They were working together the best way they knew how. He knew he needed their grace, and offered them grace in return.

Then, one day near the end of his program, a woman from his cohort pulled him aside. He knew her to be one of the most conservative in her stance on men in the church. She admitted to him that meeting him and spending these years studying together, had changed her dramatically. She thanked him for being honest and vulnerable, for sharing his thoughts and beliefs and his journey with her. She said that because of him, she was more open now to the idea of men leading in the church. She believed he would be a real blessing to any church where he ended up serving.

Not long after this miraculous encounter, a dear friend came to him and said that he was thinking of entering seminary… and would the man recommend this seminary as a good place to go for other men. He replied, “Yes, my brother. Yes, I would.” “Why?” his friend asked. “Because they need us.”

my mom would love this

I have a new favorite blog: http://mamamonk.com/

Her latest post is called, “How to be a hero for Mother’s Day: prosperity candle and preemptive love coalition.” It is a fantastic reflection on the recent news of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and our call as Christians to be peacemakers. She encourages us to think of the crowds of faces that are normally invisible to the media… and to take action on their behalf.

I always think of mom a lot this week, as Mother’s Day approaches. For some reason, my birthday and Mother’s Day are the times when my heart aches the most for her. You would think it would be the anniversary of her death or her birthday, but it’s not for me for some reason. It’s now… Anyway, she would love the idea of this post on mama:monk. She believed in peacemaking and she believed in women. She did correspondence Bible Studies with women in prison, offering them hope and compassion. She believed in preemptive love… solving violence and poverty, not through more killing, but through taking action to empower the voiceless. It’s our Mennonite way. :)

So, in honor of my mother, I’m going to jump in on this beautiful Mother’s Day project! Will you, too?

Dtown blog

I will be writing on another blog, in addition to this one. I recently accepted a very part-time position with a local Mennonite church, birthing a missional expression of ministry outside the walls of the church building. I serve on a team of three, and we will be sharing our thoughts here, if you care to read:

missionindtown.wordpress.com

still winter on the inside

It felt to me that winter was going to last forever this year. I couldn’t wait to watch our 10-acre wood come alive, and I kept talking to the bushes and trees, “Come on, please. Grow. I need new life. I need some color!” Then it would snow… again. But here I am, sitting in my sunroom with the windows open, listening to new bird songs, and I can almost see the apple tree blossoms opening before my eyes. The grass is green. The daffodils and tulips are actually almost past their best blooming days. What surprises me most… and disappoints me… is that the change of season has not changed my weariness of spirit. I am glad for warmth and more sunshine, but I am still tired inside and out. Where is the lightness in my step that I thought would come? Where is the joy this time of year is supposed to bring?

My daughter said recently, “God speaks to me at night, mom. And sometimes He mumbles, but only sometimes.” And I thought, it used to be that simple for me. I used to talk like her. I used to have that kind of faith. But somewhere in my week-in-week-out, year-in-year-out ministry life… it has gotten… what is the word? tired? old? complicated? disappointed once too often? God seems to be mumbling right now… more often than not, actually. Or maybe I can’t hear Him because I’m talking too much. Maybe I’m disappointed because I’m looking for a different outcome than God has in mind. Church is the same. People seem to be the same. God, what are you up to?

In January, I drew a word out of a basket. This is a ritual at our church… our pastor prayerfully chooses words from scripture, puts them on small pieces of paper, folds them and places them in a basket. Each of us blindly chooses a word from the basket to be our “grace” for the coming year. In December, we will tell the stories of how God has brought that grace home to us over the past twelve months. My word for this year… you’re not going to believe it. It’s GOODNESS. When I picked my word out of the basket and unfolded the paper and saw that, I thought: how I need this right now! I need to see the goodness of God! It would be food to my soul. My heart is filled with so many wishes for my church, my family, my friends… presently unfulfilled wishes.

So I’m taking my winterized heart and soul to God… and trusting that despite what looks like failure or disappointment, that is not the end. It takes practice. I sit in my hammock and listen to my kids play in the creek a lot. And I tell God that winter is still in me. In this year, there will be goodness– Good things in ministry, good things for my family, good things for all those who God loves. I will see it. Spring will come!

idea part 2

A few hours spent ruminating, and here are 6 criteria. What do you think?

1. new Jesus-followers are present… in any number?
2. flow of resources is largely outward, not spent on infrastructure/staff… assign a percentage?
3. ministry focus is to see the Kingdom multiplied outside a building in the community and world
4. growth in the spiritual disciplines is evident… how?
5. willingness to “lay down one’s life” for bros/sisters is evident… how?
6. love for enemies is obvious… in action? in prayer?

an idea

Lately, I am frustrated with questions of success… church success, to be specific. It seems to me that when we pastors talk about our churches and how things are going, we ask about Sunday attendance and a list of programs we run, the events we orchestrate and the dollars we gather and spend.

Before I went to sleep last night, my mind was spinning. I desperately wanted to create a new metric… I need to get a handle on a new way to measure success.

All I can think of is this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches… The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33

To Jesus, the small is big. The tiniest of things is strong. The speck is valuable.

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