Sunday, August 30, 2009

What can baptism actually do TO us?**

I've been thinking about what happens when we get baptized. Those outside the Church might be really doubtful that dunking somebody in water would do anything but get them wet. In the Episcopal Church (as well as others), we see baptism as a rite of initiation into the Christian community. OK, but what happens after you've been "initiated" into the Christian community? So what?

I think our emphasis on intiation into the Christian community is important, but I think we've neglected to talk openly about the personal change that begins in baptism. It's that "C" word ... Conversion - and that's a scary thing for us. But what does conversion mean? I've been thinking about this and I believe that there are three personal changes that happen to us at our baptism:

  1. We become Ministers of the Church
  2. We become Stewards of God's good gifts
  3. We become Evangelists who tell others about the good news of God in Christ

These three things happen, whether we are aware of them or not. They are part of an ontological change in us. Ontology is one of those "hundred dollar theological terms" we use in seminary that describes the "being-ness" of each person. In other words, your core being is changed in baptism and you become a Minister, Steward and Evangelist. These three things are who you are, not what you do (althought they all will involve doing at various times).

We can think of these three ontological changes as the acquisition of a Christian DNA. Our baptism gives us the Christian DNA to become, through the power of the Spirit, an effective Minister, wise Steward, and enthusiastic Evangelist.

When we think of ourselves as Ministers, Stewards and Evangelists, we begin to see our lives in different terms and ask different questions. We no longer ask whether or not we will volunteer at church, but rather we ask "How can I minister to others?" "Where are my gifts best used for ministry?" and "What will be the quality of my ministry?" We no longer think about how we can buy that thing we want, instead we evaluate whether or not we need it and whether our resources are better spent helping others. We don't see creation as something which serves our wants, we think about how we can use our resources rightly and for the good of all. We let go of our fear about what others think of our faith and become comfortable speaking the gospel of our lives without the need to "win over" the other person (after all, God doesn't really need me as the "holy defense team" - God can handle that without me).

As I think about these three changes, I'll be posting more ... but this is enough to chew on for now.

P.S. I'm really stoked that an article I wrote and submitted to Alban Institute's Congregations Magazine is being published in the Fall. I don't normally tell people this kind of stuff 'cause it sounds like bragging and we Scandinavians consider that a mortal sin ... but I'll take my chances this time!

** I changed the title of this post based on comments through FaceBook from a fellow priest in our Mutual Ministry Program, Karen Crosby+. Thanks Karen+!

Friday, August 14, 2009

And in the end ...

I must admit I'm getting very frustrated with all the misinformation about health care reform going on right now. At the risk of being called a "socialist," I have always believed that there are certain things that should be treated as rights and not privileges. We seem to understand that when it comes to offering free public education to all young people from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Basic foundational education is not a privilege, it's a right and a literate populace is one of the preconditions to having a stable democracy.

Another thing I think is a right is basic health care for all people. There's a certain self-preservation logic to this. There are two major risks to not offering universal health care. The first is that those who do not have coverage will become an economic burden because they delay treatment of their illnesses and, when they finally do, they will use the most expensive means of procuring treatment (like showing up in the ER of the local hospital). The other major risk is a public health threat because those without access to health care can be infected with a communicable disease that can spread to the general population (think tuberculosis for one!).

The misinformation about end of life planning really galls me! These same senators who stuck their noses into the Terri Schiavo case back in 2005, now think the government should not be involved in end of life decisions. Give me a break! If Terri Schiavo had filled out an advanced directive, that whole legal battle would have never played out. You'd think our representatives would understand that reimbursing people for having a consult with their doctor on the options for end of life care would be a priority after that debacle. How sad that we have such sort memories!

As a Visitation Minister, I visit a lot of people at the end of their lives. I have had to have heart to heart talks with people about enrolling in hospice care and why they need to make the call rather than just sit in denial and wait for their adult children to do it for them. I have stacks of Five Wishes forms available for people to fill out and make their own personal beliefs and wishes known to their families. But in the end, I am not a doctor and cannot have the conversation about outcomes with respect to aggressive treatments at the end of life.

We are a death denying culture and any mention of death is used as the ultimate political weapon to strike fear into the hearts of people about any kind of health care reform. I pray that our people will see this fearmongering for what it is. I also pray for people to get real and know that, in the words of Jim Morrison, "No one here gets out alive."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

As good as it gets

There's a washing basin in front of every Buddhist temple and everyone washes their hands before entering. The one in front of Kinkaju temple in Kyoto is inscribed with the words of Buddha: "I strive for contentment."

Contentment is being at peace with yourself right where you are at this very moment. It's accepting that right where you are right now is as good as it gets. I struggle with this.

As the three of you who follow this blog know (ok, maybe there's only two of you, but you get the idea), I've been in an eight month long search process in Massachusetts. I entered other searches during the past eight months but the doors closed quickly on all the others while this one up north seemed to stay open. Well, it closed down last week when I received the news that they chose another candidate.

Yes, I can accept (at least academically) that God has a plan and it will all work out, but it doesn't feel like that right now. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful to the folks at Calvary UMC and St. Mark's in Lappans for the opportunity to be in ministry with them! But I know my limits and trying to keep two part-time positions straight in my head and to function well with a "split life" ... well, I'm not feeling very effective at it. I spend at least a day a week playing "catch up" to try and figure out what I missed during the days I was away working at the other church. I can't keep it all straight and I've just given up trying. Maybe I could have pulled it off better back when I was 25, but I'm 45 juggling two part-time positions and trying to be a wife and mother too. It's like trying to outrun an avalanche!

My spiritual director asked me, "What if this is as good as it gets?" He knows I'm trying to find a full-time position that would have decent pay and benefits. I aspire to earn more than what I can legitimately write off as housing allowance, have full funding on my pension, health insurance, and vacation ... but it isn't happening for me (or for several other priests in our diocese who are under or unemployed).

What if this is as good as it gets? Frankly, I don't know. I know I can't hang on with multiple part-time positions indefinitely ... it's exhausting! Maybe God's trying to close doors to send me in a different direction and I'm really not called to parish ministry. Who knows? I don't, but in the meantime I'll keep praying and plugging along where I am ... and listening for options.