Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being there…

Y’all likely knew that my dad’s an attorney. Not a Law and Order lawyer, who daily dazzles and charms juries in the courtroom. Rather, Dad spent most of his working hours huddled behind his desk writing patents and copyrights for inventors and entrepreneurs. I grew up telling him, “There’s no way I’m going to write as much as you when I’m older!” So much for that theory.

Anyway, like most attorneys, my father worked lots of hours. Evenings, weekends, not always, but often enough. Still, one thing he was very good at was being there for family events- dinner, soccer games, school conferences. Professionals and working parents of all varieties find striking that balance between work and being present for the family elusive, and so did Dad. But he remained committed to maintaining it, not letting work consume everything, even stayed in private practice most of his career to ensure as much family flexibility as possible. That required sacrifices both financial and professional, but being there for us was priority #1. The older I get, the more I appreciate that effort.

Last week Friday, I went to a half-day conference at Bethel Seminary on “Ministry to the Military.” Many thanks to Laurie and Tim Leonhart for telling me and encouraging me to attend! Working parents in the armed forces, of course, don’t have the flexibility my dad cultivated to ‘be present’ for significant family events. When the commander says, “Do this,” you do it! Or when the government says, “Go fight this war,” you’re gone for awhile. I learned last week that while the age of our service members remains young- the largest segment is still young men between 18 and 25- the proportion of married and parenting sailors and soldiers has risen. Currently, over 50% of America’s fighting forces are married and/or have children. In other words, one of every two deployed soldiers can’t be present for a family who is, or should be, priority #1.

That gets complicated, obviously, since many married and parenting service members are proud to serve, and many families, while sad for the person’s absence, willingly share this sacrifice for something they consider greater than themselves. But it is truly a sacrifice, regardless how proud you are of your loved one. My sister, whose husband just returned from a year in Iraq, learned this well. Not being there at a child’s birth or after a spouse is laid off or during any number of significant events drains a person’s heart. Parents beyond the military surely understand this. But I suspect there’s something unique about being absent for months, while also being potentially in harm’s way.

At the Conference, then, we talked not only about the distinctiveness military life for service members and their families, but also how churches can respond. Since the military includes less than 1% of our population, and given everything else happening around us- poverty, hunger, injustice, despair, environmental degradation- ministry to the military isn’t something every church will undertake. But I do think it’s a need all Christians are called to reflect on and perhaps be ready to respond to however they deem faithful. After all, in our faith community and neighborhoods are people affected by the stress military service and deployment puts on families. Or perhaps a woman will visit next Sunday in uniform, asking a Christian community to help her. What do you do? Well, there’re many answers to that, but my favorite they gave last Friday was, “Be there.” If given the chance, be there for a wife whose husband can’t be, for a youth whose Mommy’s in Afghanistan, for a former soldier having trouble reintegrating to civilian life. Listen more than talk. Don’t judge or react negatively. Ask to learn their stories, rather than presume you already know. Be there, be present, but in a very Christian, love-your-neighbor way. It’s not new advice, perhaps the oldest we got. But worth remembering if ever we’re called as a church to respond to such a pressing need.

In the meantime, please continue praying with me for these families, military chaplains and others who help. And- always- for peace.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Natural lighting…

One great thing about our sanctuary, I hope you agree, is the height and width and quantity of its windows. Not many churches have as open a view to the world around them as Plymouth Creek. Sure, in some cases all you see are bypassing buses and potholes in the parking lot! Sometimes that world isn’t as pretty as we’d prefer. Nevertheless, these windows let in so much natural lighting the internal lights can seem redundant. We tried showing afternoon movies in the sanctuary during this year’s Cinema Sermon Series, but had to retire to the Welcome Center/Narthex. Modern projectors, apparently, can’t handle that much light.

Beyond the brightened atmosphere this lends our church, especially in contrast to other dark and heavy sanctuaries, I appreciate the design’s symbolism. At our core, this church and its denominational family celebrate the openness of Jesus to all. We believe none are barred from sharing the bread and cup of Christ’s Table. All are invited and united by God’s love, and there’s nothing we can do about it! Thus, the divisions, the fighting and animosity that seem so endemic to human life are rendered null and void in our church (when we’re being who we’re called to be, that is…). We are one, always and already, because the Alpha and Omega, God our Divine Parent loves each of us as beloved children from everlasting to everlasting. That’s true if you come to church, if you sleep in, if you drive by giving us the one-finger salute. God loves the world God created and wants desperately for us to know that and live up to its high calling. Therefore, our church didn’t build walls where windows could be. We want to shine God’s love brightly; to open our lives and hearts as widely to our neighbors as God’s already done for them, and for us. Our new church vision is “to become a beacon of Christian openness and service in the NW suburbs,” and apparently our sanctuary windows, which let natural light in while shining supernatural Light in return, are in on the project.

As is now our land, or it likely will be soon. Per the Board’s decision at March’s meeting, the church is now in discussions with the city of Plymouth to open part of our lawn as an organic community garden for our neighbors.

I think that’s super cool, as you might expect. We’ve talked about this before as a way to use our resources to care for God’s earth and serve our neighbors, all at once. But we never took the plunge due to concerns about recruiting gardeners and having sufficient volunteers to tend the gardens. Well, the city forester contacted me awhile back, offering to manage those issues if we were willing to invite Plymouth gardeners onto our property. So I consulted church leadership and our ministry partners (the Child Care Center even expressed interest in cultivating a plot of their own), responded to many questions and concerns and with as much info as possible, the Board decided it was a worthy project to try.

The goal, then, is that on or around May 15 we’ll open 30 15’ x 15’ garden plots on the west lawn for our neighbors to grow their own organic food this summer. If at season’s end, it turned out to be a horrible inconvenience, then we’ll shake hands with the city and say, “Well, we tried.” But I’m praying, even expecting, that won’t happen. I’ve seen community gardens be a wonderful ministry for enough churches around the country that I’m convinced it can be so for ours too. And besides, why should the windows get all the fun?! Why can’t we shine Christ’s light of love by our opening our land in service to our neighbors?! Some might call that a mixed metaphor, but when the soil attracts others to come and see how loving God includes caring for Creation and sharing resources to build community, that’s as bright a beacon as any halogen lamp I know. Natural lighting, indeed.

Grace and Peace,

P.S.- Happy Easter! Best day of the year, always! Come shine with us 10 AM, April 24.
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