Losing my Religion

Seems like I see one of these articles or interviews about every day. Someone who professes their lack of spiritual belief shares with the world why life is so much better on their side of the fence. Frankly, I’m getting irritated.

Not because of what they believe or don’t believe. That’s their choice. But because they do such a bad job of representing what I believe. Today it was a blogger who described the free and happier life without his religion. It opened up a world of learning to him. It freed him up not to have an answer for every question. It enabled him to embrace people whose lifestyles were different; for example, people who loved and wished to marry people of the same gender. Friends who are more fun. On and on.

Guess what? All of those things (and many others) are already a part of my faith. Yep, I’m a Christian. And even a Baptist one that that. And I’m not narrow minded.

I don’t fear learning. I am curious about the world and believe that science opens us up to wonder. While I believe that there is a life beyond this one and hold that belief with great hope, the reason that I try to live a moral life is that God asks me to do justice and love mercy, not to earn brownie points for heaven. My faith pushes me towards embracing diversity because it reminds me that those people who are different from me are made in the image of God as well.

I have gay friends. I love them. I do not think they are going to hell. Sometimes I envy them because some of them are such great couples. I have friends both straight and gay who are pretty fun folks. We don’t just sit around quoting the Bible to each other. We laugh. We go places (even to the theaters!) We have been known to dance. Even in church. Sometimes with them I laugh so hard that my face hurts and I am physically exhausted.

Yep, I’m a Christian. Even a Baptist one at that. And one who is getting a little tired of people who are so proud of their open-mindedness being so quick to confine people of faith into one narrow little box. The varieties of religious experience are wider than one small experience or shallow stereotype.

6 ways to find 3 things that 4 successful people do

6 ways to find 3 things that 4 successful people do

Yep, I’ve been guilty of it myself. The old numerical blog title. I’ve written them. Goodness knows, I’ve tweeted them.

The reason folks keep writing such headlines is that they work. When I analyze my tweets, those numerical headers always get some of the best responses.

I suspect that it’s because our minds like order. From our earliest days our mind works to create patterns, making order out of this world of shapes and colors. Eventually we learn that round shapes are balls. (My dog is quite puzzled by apples which seem to be balls but are not.)

In general our need for order and classification serves us well. Imagine how difficult our days would be if we had to start from square one every day. Hmmm… this is a round thing… I wonder what it is. I have to learn its name.

Yet our need for orderly characterization also does us a disservice. There’s a reason we refer to the life of the spirit as a journey and not a system. We never have it nailed down. We never have all of the right boxes and organizational cubes into which we can fit everything neatly.

The Spirit is wild, as unpredictable as wind. It brings order out of chaos but sometimes brings chaos out of order. In the life of the spirit sometimes when we are most unsure we are most right. Sometimes when the path seems least clear we’re not lost but rather exactly where we need to be.

The life of the spirit is more perpetual discovery than learning a body of knowledge. (And sometimes we have to unlearn as much as we learn.) Just when we think we have everything nailed down the wind blows again and all of our neat lessons are jumbled and tossed.

Gospel says that this is good news.

In this summer week, may we have the courage to believe that it’s so.

Lessons from landscaping

Lessons from landscaping

by Peggy Haymes

First things first: this post has nothing to do with pot, marijuana, mary jane or funny cigarettes. Nope, I’m talking about the regular fescue.

I’ve been in my house for nearly nine years now. Every single year has been a battle to grow grass. The backyard was the first casualty. Between lots of shade cover and a new dog, the grass the previous owner/flipper had hurriedly cultivated didn’t stand a chance.

My natural area in the front started spreading slowly. I have two sections to my front yard – the top years directly in front of my house and the sloping bank. Originally the edge of my bank was grass covered. Since the bank was steep and I could only mow it by running down the hill with the lawn mower (note: I DO NOT recommend this) I extended the natural area on the bank. Up top I have more trees than sun and I’ve gradually been giving up the fight.

This year I took the plunge. It doesn’t look like much now but I’m converting it all to natural landscaping and garden. I’ve taken advantage of the one sunny spot to plant flowers and an herb garden.

You see, in order for me to have grass I’d have to lime the soil, seed, fertilize, water… and then mow. It didn’t seem to be the most environmentally responsible thing to do. Plus, in the last three autumns I’ve had shoulder issues from wrestling my mower over what remained of my bank. I’m glad to give it up.

I finally decided that grass just wasn’t meant to grow in this yard. Instead of fighting my landscaping, why not work with it? Instead of trying to make it into something that it’s not, why not nurture its strengths into beauty?

As I thought about the process I realized that perhaps I’d stumbled on a truth that was true for more than just my landscaping. We tie ourselves into knots trying to fit into someone else’s expectation of who and what we should be. We kill ourselves pursuing a dream that’s not even our dream. We try to be the green expanse of fescue when our soil is really shade trees and ground cover, flowers and herb gardens.

Do you need to let go of some grass?

 

 

Elementary

I’ve been going down memory lane a lot lately.

Someone had the brilliant idea of having an elementary school reunion the day of our high school reunion.  Most of the kids came together in the third grade and I joined them in fourth. We went all the way through school together. For many of the years , there were only two classes so we got to know each other well.

Like kids straggling in after recess, we’ve been joining our Facebook group and sharing Peggy Haymes, Brunson Schoolmemories. Playing Greek dodgeball and the day a kid broke his arm. Lunch-boxes and Tang and space food sticks. All of the plays and musicals we put on, from Antigone to the Mrs. Frankenstein pageant, from the Wizard of Oz to a Rodgers and Hammerstein review. The Scholastic Book Club, one of the finest inventions known to humankind.

We laugh now about the year we studied tobacco, going to a farm and a tobacco warehouse and finally to the plant where cigarettes were being made. (Did I mention we were in Winston-Salem?)

Some of us can still spout off Mrs. Womble’s list of helping verbs. Some of us have never forgotten the lesson the day we learned about prejudice. (Blue eyed kids had to eat last.) For my part, I can still recite “Grandpa Dropped His Glasses,” along with the somewhat theatrical inflection we were taught to use.

Mostly we talk about how lucky we were, to have had the teachers we had and to have had each other. We were lucky to be in a place and a program in which creativity wasn’t just shoehorned into a few minutes a week after all the “important” subjects had been covered. And creativity wasn’t just for the students; it was allowed for teachers as well.

Sometimes people will ask me how long I’ve been a writer. If I’m truthful, I guess I have to go back to those days at Brunson School. (Incidentally, just before writing this I read the glowing  New York Times review of the latest book by one of my classmates. That writing thing really took for some of the kids.)

Here’s what I really learned in those days at Brunson:

I learned that being creative was fun and something that I could do, even if  I wasn’t as creative as Billy. (No one was. Or is.)

I learned that books were very wonderful things (a lifelong lesson reinforced in my book-filled home.)

I learned to use my mind to think and not just regurgitate facts.

I learned that it was okay to challenge myself and okay for some things to be hard and if I didn’t succeed, it was okay to keep trying. (Yes, Iris, I realize that’s a run-on sentence.)

I learned that the gift of being good friends with good people in childhood is a very great gift indeed.

I know that it’s a different world in schools these days. After all we came along after the nuclear war and before the mass shootings disaster drills so we only had to worry about fire or tornados. I know computers were not yet invented for us to learn and the Vietnam War was a current event.

But how I wish every child could learn those same lessons that I learned at Brunson.

All I can say is that they’ve certainly served me well.

Know thyself.. if you have time

Recently I was picking out a birthday present for my just-turned four year-old great-niece. It was a pretty easy task, and not just because she already has a deep attachment to bling, pretty dresses and Dora. (Thank God for Dora, the one non-princess in her life.)

No, it was easy because we just spent a week at the beach together. I saw her when she first got up and I saw her going off to bed and I saw her for most of the hours in-between. We played together and ate together and went to the movies together. Having watched her play, I knew she loved to color. So when I found the coloring books filled with pictures of Dora and various Disney princesses, I knew I had a winner.

I knew her because I spend time with her. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It seems that I keep seeing people (including, at times, the one in the mirror) who feel like strangers to themselves (myself). It’s not hard to figure out why. They(we) haven’t spent much time with themselves (ourselves).

I can hear you sputtering in protest from here. You already have so much to do and now I’m going to make you feel guilty for not adding one more thing onto your plate. Well gosh, I hope not.

It’s not about adding one more thing onto our schedules, except those times when it is. Sometimes we have to say no to somethings in order to carve out a little time just to be with ourselves. More and more I find myself turning off the TV at night (or never turning it on) so that I can have some time. Just time to read a book that makes me think or to play with my dogs, which both reminds me of how much I’m loved and how much I need not to take myself too seriously.

But we can also clear out the time as we go about our day. Brother Lawrence found in the humble, repetitive act of washing dishes a time for prayer and devotion and growing in faith.  As I walk my dog I can spend the time rehashing (and beating myself up for) a mistake I made or I think I made. Or I can reflect on my life, where the itch of neglected dreams or unacknowledged pain is making me uncomfortable. I can look at what I didn’t handle so well and think about ways to do it better next time (which is completely different for beating myself over the head for being stupid, not that YOU’VE ever done that).

Even if our lives are challenging, when we are living in concert with our own best selves there is a flow that feels right and good. But first we have to take some time to be with those best selves. How are you intentional with your day? How do you find time to get to know yourself?

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Do you have your copy yet? Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us is  in print. you can get your copy here and here. Local folks stay tuned for book signing announcements.

This is the cover.
This is the cover.

from amazon review…

“As an admitted straggler, my Bible has more than a layer of dust on it. Peggy’s book is more than enough of a reason to dust yours off (come on, I know I am not the only one, here, right?). In this work, she takes Bible passages and brings them to the present day complete with our modern struggles, humor, and hope. I only received this book 5 days ago and already I feel more connected to my faith. I am reminded that living with mindful intention is at the heart of moving from being a faithful person in word to becoming a faithful person in action.”

It’s Always Something

A friend commented today that she wasn’t getting my blog anymore. I had to come clean and admit that she wasn’t getting one because I hadn’t written anything in a few days. Well, almost a month if you’re going to be picky about it.

This is the cover.
This is the cover.

A large portion of my time was spent getting my latest book finished and ready to be launched last week. I’m glad to announce that the book is finished, printed and sent out into the world.

People have asked me how long it took to write. Here’s the thing: when you write a year’s worth of daily devotions you’re pretty much setting yourself up for writing about 366 devotions. (My former 6th grade teacher checked to make sure I’d remembered leap year provisions. I did.)

I started writing a lifetime ago; really, several lifetimes. Life kept interrupting me and throwing me off course. Accident and injury. Healing and physical therapy. Illness and death of people close to me. Sorting through a lifetime of memories in the form of a house and its contents. Caring for people who had cared for me.

My first year as an Associate Minister I kept waiting for the “slow time of the year.” About the time I celebrated my first anniversary there  I realized there was no such thing. With this book, I kept waiting for the “slow time,” the time when things would settle down. Still waiting.

Because, as Rosanne Rosannadanna reminded us, it’s always something. (Here’s a link in case you missed the comedy treasure that was Gilda Radner.) If you wait for the perfect time to write a book, to write a letter, to right a wrong you’ll never do it. Because there is no perfect time. There are only times that are marginally more manageable than others.

What are you waiting for? what are you waiting to do? Who are you waiting to be?

Now’s as good a time as any other to start.

Miss Me?

Miss Me?

While I’m normally fairly consistent in posting to this blog, it’s been a while since I’ve written. A bout with a bum shoulder limited my writing for a while.

One of the things that’s been happening in my life is becoming part of a new church community. For the last seven years I’d commuted from my home to my church in the city where I used to live. While I felt much grief in the move, it was finally time to settle in and put down roots in my own town.

The new church is not altogether unfamiliar. The more I visited the more connections I discovered: from childhood, college, seminary, my clinical training. I am now in choir with my sixth grade teacher. It took great effort on my part to begin calling her by her first name.

Renewed connections have made the move unexpectedly joyful. And yet, it has also been unsettling.

This is the first time in my adult life that I’m a member of a church that I did not serve in some staff capacity. I came from a church where I’d served as Associate Minister for six years and with whom I’d been a member for twenty-four of the last twenty-six years. (I tend not to do a lot of church hopping.)

I’m having to learn names – a lot of them. I look forward to a new directory so that I can study on my own. My first Sunday processing in with the choir I was full of questions. Which way did I go? I had to figure out where the chapel was. Heck, I had to figure out where the bathrooms were.

I often see people who are struggling with a lack of community in their lives. This experience of transition has reminded me of how intentional we have to be about creating community for ourselves. As we grow older, it’s easier just not to try. Formerly, while I still had to learn the names and faces of newcomers, I’d been in one place so long that church was easy for me. Now I have to start again. One of the dangers of growing older is not being willing to risk starting new.

I sometimes see people waiting for community to knock on their front doors. It doesn’t happen that way. We have to seek it out. We have to be intentional. Creating community is work. More than that, it is risky work in the way that getting to know others and allowing them to get to know us carries with it risk.

I’d been in one community so long I kind of knew where my place was in it, the niches that called for my particular gifts. I’m having to ask those questions all over again. Where am I called to serve?

Not asking isn’t an option. Being in community carries with it a share of responsibility for the health and life of the community as a whole. What am I called to do that will help make this community stronger? How do I balance my need to serve with my need to keep balance and rest in my life?

There are times for stepping back. I know that as well as any, having just come through a four year journey of caregiving that took precedence over every other commitment in my life. But for most of our journey, just going along for the ride isn’t possible. A community cannot thrive without the investment of its members. Showing up. Sharing gifts. Risking  knowing and being known. And we cannot thrive without some sort of community.

Places and gatherings and circles of connection that promise community are not always healthy . Part of finding community in our lives is paying attention when something does not feel right or safe, seeking discernment for unhealthy patterns.

Community is a framework of connections in which we can laugh and weep, which nudges us along in the path of our dreams and sits with us in our suffering.  A community may also confront us when we are reluctant to be honest with ourselves. We need community for, as God observed in the garden long ago, it is not good that we be alone.

I’ve written here of a church community but community can take many different shapes and forms. What does it look like in your life?

Where do you find community in your life? Are you intentional in seeking community and investing in it.?