Monday, September 10, 2007

Thank You Means So Much

Just over a year ago, I was struggling to find a resource that I could share with church families on the fifth anniversary of 9-11. Especially on that day, when many families just want to be together and not necessarily try to attend another worship service, I was looking for a devotional that families could use in their homes and adapt for their own needs. Finding nothing of what I was looking for, I decided to write something and at least be able to use it with my congregation and share it with friends and family. After a few emails and phone calls, the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church was gracious enough to publish it last year on their website.
This year, GBOD updated it and again made it readily available on their website. I shared it with some church families this year, and will use it with my family as well.
This afternoon I received a call on my cell phone. A gentleman from accross the country had tracked me down and wanted to just say, 'Thank you' for the 9-11 resource that I had written. I was stunned that a perfect stranger would take the time to track me down and reach me to share a personal thank you. After the phone call, I looked toward the sky, tears in my eyes and thanked God that something I did had meant something to someone else. That thank you was an immeasurable blessing; so unexpected and so appreciated. I thank God for the gifts that allow me to be in ministry, but most of all I am reminded how much a 'Thank you' can mean.
If you would like to use the devotional for your family, please click on the link below. May God be with you, and may you be blessed in the giving and receiving of thanks.
9-11 Family Devotional

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sacred Connections with or without Technology

Is anybody out there? How often have you seen that question posted on a myspace page or thought that to yourself while posting your latest blog entry? Just a few years ago things like myspace, facebook, blogging, twitter, podcasts, webcasts, and RSS feeds did not exist. Now everyone has a blog or myspace page, but who is reading all the stuff we post?
The idea behind all the online communities and technologies is to easily connect people and make friends who share common interests. Yet, sometimes when we try to connect with others we find that no one responds to our posts, text messages, or voicemail. While the jury is still out on whether our constantly wired world helps us or harms us socially, at least one research project by Washington University “showed a rapid decline in participation for social activities beyond the net and increases in depression and loneliness.”
Thomas Lewis, author and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco examines the psychobiology of human interactions. At the recent Conference on World Affairs, Lewis warned that “if we're not careful, we can trick a part of our brain into thinking that we're having a real social interaction--something crucial and ancient for human survival--when we actually aren't. This leads to a stressful (but subconscious) cognitive dissonance, where we're getting some of what the brain thinks it needs, but not enough to fill that whatever-ineffable-thing-is-scientists-still-haven't-completely-nailed-but-might-be-smell.”
No wonder we sometimes feel ‘empty,’ or like we haven’t really said anything after online conversations. Our brain is processing the interaction differently than a face to face human interaction and it knows that something important and real is missing. That “empty” feeling can leave us feeling depressed or lonely very quickly, especially if it happens over and over again. Think about the last really good face to face conversation you had with someone and how you felt afterward. Have you ever felt that way after an online exchange?
Youth are especially vulnerable to this kind of technologically induced loneliness because in their stage of development they are naturally experiencing more loneliness as part of their separation from parents and formation of their own identity and independence. During adolescence friendships are of primary importance and can change quickly, often contributing to the roller coaster of emotions that teens may feel. When those friends and social networks do not respond to the variety of messages sent, the sense of loneliness may increase despite the number of myspace friends or online communities one is a part of.
The obvious solution seems to be to encourage more face to face communication and interaction. Yet, how often are some friends available at the same times? Work schedules, school, sports, family responsibilities, and lack of transportation can make those human interactions impossible on a regular basis. So, while technology can make it easier to stay in touch, the interactions are often much less fulfilling.
As Christians we are called to be in community, and we are called to share the Gospel message with others. While technology can certainly help us reach people and get information out, it is our human and holy conversations that bring us into the full connection with one another and with God. Sending a prayer to a friend via IM or text is a wonderful way to use technology. Being with that friend to pray is God-filled moment. Sharing your faith or personal testimony through a blog is a great way to evangelize and bring people to Christ. Personally helping someone connect their story to God’s story and walking with that person on the Christian journey is what being a disciple is all about. Our human interactions may be more difficult, more painful, more messy and more confusing, but they are also that much more rich, joyous and fulfilling. And a human hug is so much more fulfilling than touching a flat screen!

An Important Question...Let's Go One Step Further

In her article yesterday in the Washington Post, Dale Hansen Bourke wrote, "When I interviewed people of faith for a book I was writing on poverty, most agreed that poverty was a faith issue, but few could name specific ways their own faith community engaged with the poor, except in foreign missions." (Full article)

Poverty emerges as an important issue for me as well on the faith and political fronts. As I have traveled the country and the world leading mission experiences for young adults, and more recently as I have taken a very personal role in helping a homeless woman in my area, I have come to understand that mission is not about helping people "somewhere else." While it is crucial to be in mission in places far distant from one's own zip code, it is just as crucial to be in mission in our own neighborhoods. It is no surprise to me that many people of faith have no personal experience with helping those poor in assets and in spirit right in their midst.

Book after book about church rejuvenation reflects the notion that many houses of faith are very good at 17th and 18th century forms of worship and are stuck into the 1950's and 1960's notions of mission and poverty.

As church leaders (speaking as one of them) we have been fearful to change "traditional ways" thinking that we would lose membership and money. But we've behaved like the Pharisees of Jesus' day in some respects. Rather than reaching the "least, the last and the lost" we either gotten stuck or hidden behind committees and failed to trust God to provide all we needed in order to do what God is calling us to do.

So my questions for you to consider today are these. What is your community of faith doing to engage with the poor in your area? What are you doing to learn about and help the needful people in your neighborhood? What are you doing to see the sacred in all people? What are you doing to help others see the sacred in all people?

May you find joy in the challenge, and may God comfort you as you provide comfort for others!