Friday, January 30, 2015

Netflix Therapy

Ok, this post is going to sound silly. But I write it because it's true for me and because I know so many of us do it. Do what, you ask? Use Netflix to help us process the emotional stress of life.

These last few weeks I have devoured Gilmore Girls. A sitcom of a mother/daughter duo who basically engage in witty banter for 40 minutes about family, education, social class, pop culture and politics (2000-2007). At first I indulged because it reminded me of when my college roommate Elin and I would would watch the episodes (you know, marathon style) when we finished all our end of term exams. It was our way to destress, laugh and have fun.

I kept watching because the show made me laugh and I started connecting with the characters in the story line. Then, it dawned on me (...I know, that this show served a purpose for me. Watching these two women engage in their relationships was allowing me to consider the relationships that were causing me stress. I could laugh at their issues because they were just enough like mine that they were real and just enough different that it didn't hurt...too much.

When I realized I was crying in an episode, I really got it. Oh man, I'm carrying some stress and pain of social structures, abusive relationships and unrealized dreams. I'm feeling this disappointment deeply. I want reconciliation, but I'm not quite there yet. I could ride the emotional roller coaster with these characters I grew to like and it helped me remember that the seasons don't last forever. The storyline always continues...well, until it ends.

[Netflix] shows can let us into the storyline where we realize (at a slant of course) our own emotional issues and stress. They play on our emotions by taking us along the real life ebb and flow of pain.

I'm not saying Netflix is the way to process your emotions. I still prefer professional therapy, good colleagues, exercise and rest....BUT, sometimes it's just what I need to gently engage and process.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sleep Wrestling

My newest spiritual practice is to read a daily entry of Celtic Treasure: Daily Scripture and Prayer by J. Philip Newell each morning.

This morning's entry focused on the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God. In the context of the story (Genesis 28-33), I remember the complexity of human relationships. The parental favoritism shown by Abraham toward their son Esau and Sarah toward their son Jacob. The brotherly feud between Esau and Jacob. The trickery, manipulation, and power struggles. And in the midst of the human messiness, Jacob wrestles with God. In his sleep, Jacob is worried about confronting his brother Esau and he wrestles with his fears and with God. By the end he's desperately asking for God's blessing and protection in the day ahead.

Reading this story this morning is the first time I've really connected with Jacob's wrestling in his sleep. My own worries and fears can dominate my subconscious and take over my dream world. In these dreams, I find my subconscious working out daily interactions and processing deep emotional issues. It feels like wrestling with my fears and with God. A wrestling match between my own free will and with God's will.  I wrestle by wanting to cling so strongly to the control I have (or perceive to have) and my own desires for how things should work out.

At the end of the scripture passage, Jacob does encounter his brother. And the big event he feared turns into a joyous event of reconciliation. Jacob, wounded by his fitful slumber, limps toward Esau and Esau runs to him, kisses him and together they weep. Jacob says to his brother, "Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God, for you have welcomed me back with love."

Waking from a fitful night's rest is never fun. It sometimes makes the day ahead incredibly hard to face. Reflection on this scripture has made me ready to look for the ways the events I fear become events full of joy. For God's will is always better than my own.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Transience - Rooted in God

2015 is here! Regardless of the fact that I keep writing 2014 on everything...

The turn of a new year always creates a pause in my life for reflection. A moment to mark the transition and look forward to the future.

As I reflect on this past year, I'm aware of the ways I have changed and grown both as a pastor and as a person. I'm also acutely aware of what has stayed the same.

One of the major themes of my ministry in San Francisco is the transient nature of the community. Each year, new people come into my life and into our ministry. And each year good friends and congregants move away. I find myself sitting with both grief and joy at these transitions. Grief that our church community must say goodbye to incredible leaders and faithful disciples and great joy that I've had the chance to meet them and share ministry with them.

San Francisco at Night.

In conversation with a colleague Monica Kilpatrick some time ago, she shared with me the metaphor of a port for my (and MBCC's) ministry in San Francisco. We are here, providing a space, a community, and a format for people to enter into. Some may only visit, stop and rest a while. Others may settle in, grow, share, and lead us. And as we bring people in, we also send some on their way to the next place God is calling them. This metaphor of a port is helpful to me as it reminds me that God has called me to a specific kind of ministry. A place that is active and energetic, fun and engaging. A community that is transient and will continue to change.

I now know that the emotional process of loss will remain the same struggle. The depth of my grief and my joy will stay the same. My heart saddened in the same way now as is was the first time. And honestly, that's a good thing. As hard as it is to say goodbye and grieve, it shows that my heart (and our hearts) are still open to loving. Open to the newness God is bringing our way.

During worship last Sunday, we laid hands on one of our members who is moving away. This ritual of laying on hands and praying over the one who is being called elsewhere is such a beautiful gift for our community. It acknowledges the pain of the loss, lifts it to God and reminds us all that beyond this place, beyond our geography, beyond even our community in each other....we belong to God. We are rooted in God and thus we are forever connected to one another through God.

As I look to the new year, I am excited about the new energy, ideas and growth. I also hold within my heart the people who have come and gone during my ministry at MBCC and I hope you know you will forever keep a place in my heart.

Happy 2015! Here's to remembering, celebrating and jumping into the new year!