[Note: I originally wrote this as my year-end letter to my congregation. But I thought it might be worth sharing a little wider.]
I intended to help us ring in the new year with a couple suggestions of ways we can challenge ourselves to learn and grow in our faith — which is to say, in our lives.
But then I ran into two quotes via social media that stopped me short, made me think, and are way more inspirational that what I had in mind. So let’s start there…
In the last few days, I’ve heard a lot of advice about making resolutions: “Only try to change one thing.” “Don’t repeat a previous resolution that you didn’t meet; it’s too easy to tell yourself it’s ok not make it again.” “Progress and perfection are not synonyms. You’ll improve if you consistently do things better — even if only slightly better.”
Those all strike me as good and valuable advice, especially regarding New Year’s resolutions. However, only if done in this context:
There is no resolution that, if kept, will make me more worthy to be loved. — Nadia Bolz-Weber.
Remember friends, God loves you exactly as you are.
The second, from my friend, Hugh Hollowell, reflecting on just what it is that they provide at Love Wins Ministries:
We can’t “do anything” for you. We can provide a warm place to be, a place to stay dry in the storm, a place to get a cup of coffee and a smile. We provide a place to belong, a place to invest in, a place to contribute and to find meaning and purpose….
We have community. We have a no judgement zone. We have safe space and hot coffee and fresh fruit and hugs if you want them. If you come here, we won’t be able to pay your rent or keep your lights on, but you will have a place to come after they kick you out, and a place to sit that isn’t dark.
This is a place you can still exercise choice and agency, a place where no one will laugh at you because you have dreams or can’t quiet the voices in your head. It’s a place where we will listen to your stories, and you can hear ours, and maybe, if we listen to each other, the world will be a little less scary for both of us.
Yes, we can tell you where the various programs are and how they work – Not because we want to fix you, but because we believe that all of us deserve to have as many options as possible, so we can make informed decisions about what is best for us.
Yes, we have warm clothes – Not because we want to pat ourselves on the back about our good deeds, but because we get offered things like that, and if you have something people you know need, it’s sinful to not offer to share it with them.
Yes, we provide food- Not because we have a “feeding program”, but because we believe that eating together is sacramental, that it creates a place we can each come and recognize the sacredness of each other.
But no, we can’t do anything “for” you. But if you give us a chance, we really look forward to doing all of that with you.
Isn’t that beautiful? If we were to write a similar statement about Woodridge United Methodist Church, how would it read? Or, for other contexts, how would you describe what it is you do, who it is you are or strive to be?
Maybe my original idea can help us write such a statement — or, even better, “write” such a statement with our lives.
Reflecting this past Sunday on the gospel story of Mary and Joseph losing Jesus in the Temple for three days (Luke 2:41-52), I suggested that this story is at once the most earthy and relatable gospel tale — most every child care provider as, at least once, felt the panic and terror of discovering their charge is no where to be found — while simultaneously reminding us Jesus remains undomesticated, wild, beyond our full grasp.
Thus, it seems to me that a good way to attempt to live this gospel story is by challenging ourselves to find, see, hear Jesus in a new way in 2016.
Our congregation is blessed to include a fair amount of racial, age, and cultural diversity. Perhaps one challenge is to seek out someone in the congregation who is different from you in one of those ways and ask them if they will share some of their faith story with you. How might we be changed if younger and older, Black and White (or Filipino and White or Hispanic and Black, etc.), or long-time member and new-attendee intentionally sought out one another in order to listen to and learn from one another?
Perhaps another challenge is too seek out those of another religion in order to listen to and learn about their faith from them. Nearly every Thursday night, the Irshad Learning Group meets in the Fellowship Hall. That’s a great opportunity to both provide a welcoming presence and be a student.
Or, as I said Sunday, challenge yourself to hear Jesus in a new way in the cries of justice at the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or other current cultural expressions addressing injustice in the U.S.
Those are just a few ideas I have. What else comes to mind? How will you challenge yourself and your faith in 2016?
Happy New Year!