More about less

Doing with less sounds seems almost like a punishment, doesn’t it?  We often feel we never have enough, why on earth would we want less?  But the deeper question is:  do we appreciate what we already have?

Sure, we can simplify by eating less, buying less, driving less and recycling more.  We can only buy sustainable meat and produce.  We can choose to only buy fair trade and products made of “green” materials.  We can plant a garden or have a yard sale and donate all the proceeds to charity.  We could also just donate some of our excess material goods to a worthy charity.

While all of those are commendable, there is more to it all than simply modifying our conspicuous consumerism.

Appreciating one another is one simple, sustainable thing we can practice.  Turn off the television, the computer, the cell phone and the iPod so you can play a game with friends and family.  Take a break from our hectic schedules to have a simple meal at home.  Entertain yourselves with good company.

Volunteer with a favorite charity.  Write a poem.  Paint a picture.  Find ways to engage the creativity God gave us.  Don’t worry if anyone else will think it’s good, just concern yourself with appreciating being self-sufficient.

At the very least, take some time to think about the things you could live without.  More importantly think about the people and relationships you can’t live without.  Spend time with those people … and remember to tell them just how much they mean to you.

One thing that assuredly does matter

In the battle of “does theology matter or not,” I’m loathe to pick sides.  Both Dr. Browning and Matt’s arguments were compelling.  Last week I argued theology did matter.  At this juncture, and after Sunday’s sermon, it would seem logical to contradict myself.

However, like Matt, I’m a bit of a contrarian.  I won’t be doing the expected, instead I’m simply going to shift gears and tell you what I am certain matters.

Faith matters.

I’m not just talking about faith in God or faith in Christ’s path.  I’m talking about faith in one another; faith in humanity.  It’s safe to say that kind of faith is bound to let you down from time to time.  But for once in my overly cynical life, I’m going to play optimist here.

There’s a country song about thanking God for unanswered prayers.  I submit that life provides, not always what we want, but what we need to grow as people.

I don’t want to sound fatalistic and say that our lives are planned out for us before we are born.  I truly believe that God’s “plan” for us is one we forge through a relationship both with God and those around us.  God provides a path, we either choose to follow or not follow.

That said, each person and each experience we encounter in life is a lesson and an opportunity.  This is where faith comes in. Rather than seeing the things that happen to us as merely happening, we need to see those things for what we learn from them.  We need to have faith that while the lesson or opportunity may not immediately be clear, eventually our experiences will make us stronger, better people.

When you stop and reflect on all the good and bad things that have happened to you over the last year, I’m sure you’ll realize there are takeaways from each of those events.  Those takeaways provide a guide for the steps to take as you continue forward.  Often life’s bumps and starts are precisely the knowledge you’ve been seeking.

Have faith in the people and events that come to your life.  While they may not seem significant or beneficial at first, a few years later you may realize just how much that event helped you along the path you’ve chosen to make for yourself.  Even just stopping to reflect on those things help all of us to be more alive and engaged with one another.

As Pastor Laura says, “May it be so.”

Not following blindly

Does theology matter?  Dr. Browning’s sermon this past Sunday was thought provoking.  I certainly agree with his assessment that there are pieces of theology that are too dense and arcane to wrap my mind around.

For many of us, church is just something we do.  Like mowing the lawn, taking a shower or going to work, our religious life isn’t always something we think about.  We have an inherent sense that it is right and good to go.  But often the thought process stops there.  How often do we really question what we believe?

In some communities of faith, questioning is tantamount to heresy. You’re merely expected to show up and take what’s given you without thought or question.  The person in the pulpit has far more authority than you, so sit there and listen like a good congregation.

But how wise is it to blindly follow someone just because the appear to be an “authority?”  One look at Nazi Germany and we get a taste of just how bitter that policy can turn out.

The extreme example of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist church comes to mind.  The members of that church are there for any number of reasons I won’t attempt to guess.  Yet it’s safe to say they blindly follow Phelp’s hate-filled crusade against the LGBT community in the name of God.

I find it incredible that these folks have so twisted Jesus’s words to blame the Gay Community for all of America’s ills.  How does a message of love and peace become one of hate and animosity towards a fraction of the populace?

For some of us, it defies logic that Phelps’s game of suing community after community for violating his First Amendment rights is seen as God’s work rather than a lucrative scheme for a disbarred lawyer.  Talk about blind faith.

You may be scratching your head thinking this example is one that would indicate theology is bad and shouldn’t matter. But I submit I’m arguing the opposite. Letting a so-called authority dictate theological doctrine to you is what is bad. Understanding theological doctrine so that you can make informed decisions about your faith practices is good.

Blessed be those who question.  They shine a light for those of us too shy to find the switch for ourselves.

Regrets, I have a few

Regrets, regrettably, are a part of life.  If you don’t have regrets, you’re likely not paying close enough attention.  That said, at the very least, regrets are learning opportunities.  They are a chance to recognize a past wrong and make it right.

For eight years, I existed in Washington, DC.  I say “existed” because what I was doing was assuredly not living.  I had few friends or connections.  I buried myself in work and a half-hearted attempt at a marriage.

Each day was the same churn of long commute, long work day and too little sleep.  The whole thing was mind numbing … which is precisely what I wanted.  I was hiding.

I realized there was something different about me from the time I was 18.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why boys didn’t interest me the way they did my other female friends.  I chose to believe I was this way merely because I was too focused on school and rowing.

Even then, I was turning a blind eye to reality.  It would be 14 long years before I could admit to myself I was gay.  It would be another three before I could admit it to my then husband and family.

I regret being so naive as to dismiss what was so plainly before me.  I regret denying who I was because I was afraid of what others would think.  I regret choosing to be miserable for so long.

Mostly, I regret the pain I caused my ex-husband and his daughter.

When I moved back to Missouri in 2006, things snapped into place in my brain.  I realized I had to do the right thing and start being who I was rather than who the world expected me to be.  It was painful and hard, like most life lessons.

I finally told myself, my husband and family the truth.  While it was terrifying, it was also freeing.  For the first time in my adult life I felt unburdened.  I started sleeping full nights for the first time in three years.

As I made peace with myself, I also made peace with my ex-husband.  After our divorce, he gave me a bracelet for Christmas that reads, “To thine own self be true.”  I cried when I found it on the nightstand.  I was relieved and grateful he realized my struggle.

I regret not getting to know who I really was until I was 35 years old.  However, I decidedly don’t regret finally taking the step in that direction.  The person beneath that numbing professional drive and extreme capacity for self-denial is far more interesting, compassionate and fun.  She has friends and is connected to her community.

Most importantly, she’s learned from her regrets and beginning to learn to avoid most of them in the first place.