Month: November 2013

The Spiritual Practice of Gratitude


I have a friend who said recently something to the effect of “I’m pretty sure one of the only things we need to know to live a spiritual life is how to be thankful.” She’s right, I think. So much flows from gratitude: kindness, respect, love. If we start, first with gratitude, many other things will follow in our lives. About a year ago, Elias and I began a gratitude practice for Sunday nights. Every Sunday night we each make a list of five reasons we are grateful. Usually the reasons are tied to the week we just completed, but not always. The idea came from a New York Times article that came out a couple of years ago that talked about the scientific benefits of leading a life of gratitude.

This week I read another fantastic article in Relevant Magazine about living a life of gratitude called Putting Thankfulness into Practice. In it there are a variety of great suggestions for practicing gratitude. The one that resonated with me most was the one that said Anchor your thankfulness to something besides circumstance. When our ability to be thankful is not tied to whether or not we’re having a good day, or whether the sun is shining, or whether things are going our way and when we’re able to give thanks in all circumstances (as the apostle Paul says) then we have  discovered something special.

I think practicing gratitude is a discipline like any other. The more it’s practiced, the easier it becomes. It’s not easy all the time, but the rewards are great. Happy Thanksgiving day to all of you. May it be a day to commit to a practice of gratitude that lasts the whole year through.

For further Reading:

A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day 

Putting Thankfulness Into Practice 




Ring Around the Rosie in Real Time…

My older son, Clayton, loves to play “Ring Around the Rosie.” It’s the “all fall down” part he loves (of course!) In recent days, I’ve distracted him from many-a-meltdown by saying “Want to play ring around the Rosie?” The answer is always a resounding YES! Today, while I was folding laundry on the other side of my room, my back to the boys, Clayton had convinced his younger brother, Samuel, to play it with him. This is a minor miracle, as Clayton’s usual interactions with Sam often involve shoving, tears, and cries of “MY TURN!” They’re little, and they’re still learning how to play together. But there they were, so sweetly playing ring around the rosie together. “All fall DOWN!” My first instinct, for better or worse, was this: Get the cell phone! Record it! This is so precious! Everyone needs to see!” But the phone was far away, and I knew that if I walked across the room the game would be broken up and the moment would be over. Instead I just sat there and enjoyed it, vowing to take a mental note. It was a holy moment. Holy because it was a moment of peace between two brothers who are still a bit too rough most of the time, holy because of their sweet, sweet voices, but also holy because it was just me, watching it, unencumbered by the preoccupation of capturing it and sharing it. It’s so tempting to try and capture every little moment on the phone to share, to remember, to have forever, but I wonder sometimes if I’m not cheating myself of these holy moments by trying to save it all and share it all. There’s a beauty in letting life unfold before your eyes knowing that this moment will never be replayed again and trusting that you’ve seen all you need to see and you’ve captured all you need to capture. It’s enough, sometimes.


For Further Reading: Are Millennials Falling Out of Love with Technology? 

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral and Rev. Frank Schaefer

Last week, Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister was convicted in his church’s discipline system for officiating at a same-sex wedding. This has become routine in the mainline church. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has had several high profile cases like this. When Rev. Schaefer’s case was making headlines, I paid little notice, until I learned this: the wedding he went to trial for was the wedding of his own child, his son. I’m reminded of politicians like Dick Cheney who have changed their own positions on same-sex marriage, in large part because his own daughter is a lesbian. Methodists believe that tradition, experience, and reason are important when interpreting scripture. This is the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” I can’t help but notice how strongly experience comes in to play in this case. In my experience, many who have changed their minds on this issue have done so because someone important in their life: a friend, a coworker, or a close family member comes out as gay and challenges them to confront their own beliefs about it. Seldom does someone come to change his or her mind on this issue without a very personal story.  Storytelling is a powerful vehicle for change.

For further reading:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral 

What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality 

Homosexuality and the Bible 

Methodist Pastor Goes to Trial for Marrying Gay Son 






Virtual Communion


Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article about a United Methodist congregation that was getting in trouble for offering online communion. The church is an entirely online church, the services stream online, there is a web-based Bible Study, and there is a full time pastor in charge of putting it and keeping it all together. Communion online would mean that the participants would get their own juice and bread and then, after the pastor blessed and broke it, the congregants would each take the elements at the same time from their own location. Sounds crazy, right? Totally defeats the purpose of communion which is being together, right? Well… I’m not so sure. This post isn’t to advocate for online communion, but it’s not to advocate against it, either. Let’s talk about it a little more, shall we? And when we do, let’s think about some of these questions:

  • Is a virtual community a “real” community? If so, why? If not, why not? – For me, there are several “virtual” communities that are very real to me. I’m a part of an online clergy group that is a great support to me. The women in the group live all over the country and they share their stories in a closed group online. Would it be better to get together in person with them to chat about our common joys and struggles? Maybe, but it’s impossible. 
  • How do people use the internet for connection? What are they looking for? Look, let’s cut to the chase here, there are all kinds of virtual experiences people can get online. If someone is looking for a connection online, there are myriad possibilities. Is the church one of them? Are we as a church available when people are looking for a connection?
  • What kinds of people might be interested in ‘virtual’ communion – Homebound people? People with some sort of disorder that wouldn’t allow them to leave the house? (I’m wondering about extreme agoraphobia, for example) People who are considering returning to church but aren’t sure yet? I wonder if an online experience for those who don’t have the ability to make it to church for one reason or another would benefit from an online experience of the sacrament. If there is a significant number of people for whom this would benefit, why wouldn’t we explore it? on the other hand…
  • Does offering an online sacrament discourage folks from coming to church to receive the ‘real thing’? I wonder about this. If it’s easy to just flip on my computer screen and “go” to church, would some stay away from a physical church building out of convenience?
  • If we (whoever we are) say “no” to online communion, what are we prepared to do instead? It’s not enough to say “nope, sorry, no such thing as virtual communion.” That may be. The PC(USA) may never allow this. I think we’d better make absolutely sure that we’ve got a solid plan in place for how to connect to people who are hungry for this kind of connection.

I’ve got lots of questions about this and I think we need to keep asking the question. Let’s not slam the door on this discussion before we even talk about it. God is big.

For Further Reading:

Church’s Online Communion: Sacrament or Sacrilege 

PCUSA: Can Online Communion be a Substitute for the Real Thing? 

be still my soul…

I thought about writing a reflection about this, but everything I put to paper seemed to take away from the beauty of letting this song (and the lyrics) speak for themselves.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.