Peaceful Thoughts On A Sunday Morning

This morning I sat outside and listened to the birds sing and watched the squirrels scamper down the street. Afterwards I settled in for my morning readings. I wrote five things I was grateful for in my gratitude journal. I then turned to my Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much by Anne Wilson Schaef. Next up was the next chapter in Opening Windows written by many Christian authors. Today was Chapter Eleven by John Guest. The title…Open to Life Changing Prayer.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I am in the time of my life where I seek peace. Drama is high in my house on some days with the life changing memory loss of a family member. Each day is different but what I have come to realize is the day is easier depending on my reaction to events. That’s where God and prayer help me. Taking the time to pray feeds my spirit and calms my brain.

Sunday mornings used to be a “go to church no matter what morning.” Part of that was my Catholic upbringing and it was what I had hoped to instill in my children. You went to church on Sunday morning no matter what. Strange phrase but I heard it constantly growing up. Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing. Leaving church on many Sundays I didn’t always feel peaceful. Church politics and the expectations of some congregation members left me feeling unsettled. There were days I didn’t feel I measured up to the rules of dress, proper protocol and even praying right. It was never the Pastor which made me feel that way and we’ve had many Pastors. It might not even be a true representation of the members. It might possibly just have been me, feeling the way I felt about myself, and blaming it on to the church.

During the pandemic I attended more church services online then I have been to in person in years. I have shared my faith and had faith conversations online, in private bible studies, and in person during this time. I feel the peace of not having to lose that peace because of church politics.

It’s Sunday morning. Soon I will listen online to my church. Our Pastor is leaving. I want to hear her sermon and then I am going to church to the going away shindig. Yes, you heard that right, I am not going to church in person but going to the after party.

One of the reasons I love listening online is there are no distractions during the sermon. There are no distractions with my prayers. I can sing or sit back and listen to the beautiful music. I can open the Bible app on my phone to follow along or look things up without criticism of using my phone during the church service. It also allows me to read various interpretations of the verses during worship. I find peace at home during church.

The argument we hear the most is that we need our church family and we do. I have realized church family doesn’t always mean those people that are in your home church. It can mean those in your Bible Study, your next door neighbors, friends, and yes, even strangers you meet when you share your faith.

We need churches. They are pivotal to our lives. However, does the old form of church still work in 2021? Could the people be the church and the building take second place when it comes to worship priority, expanding church services to other places in the community? Think of the money we spend beautifying our church buildings. What would happen if we put that money into staff and outreach instead, and the building be well kept but not a shrine. A church home should be a comfortable place which feels like home to everyone.

I must admit I have questioned over the years why we can’t always get along and share the outreach with all the congregations in the community. It shouldn’t be a contest as to who has the best church but each church setting the others up to success, even if we believe different doctrine. Don’t we believe in one God? It’s the doctrine and divide over correctness in denominations that divide us. It’s our way or the highway. yet we all have one common denominator and that is our belief in God.

In my old age I have been influenced by my Catholic upbringing, my dad’s EUB and Methodist religion and the religion of my cousins and ancestors which have roots in the Assembly of God church and the Jehovah Witnesses. I also had good friends whose roots were Mormon and I learned from them too. Because of this I have a hard time escribing to what I was brought up with, and that is each church believing their church was the one true church, and the way they worshipped God was the only right way. That might account for my thoughts concluding a church isn’t the building, the way we dress, the way we line up the spoons in the silverware drawer or even the rules for prayer which dominate each denominations church services.

Maybe it’s time we let go of that belief that we have to have the perfect and beautiful building to be our church, to hold our services. Wouldn’t it be great if our buildings were well kept but not so perfect that they welcome strangers, let us be casual, accept us as we are and take that church out in the community, worship services taking many different forms?

I am past the age where I care if people will talk about me because I just showed up at the party but not for the service. I am past the age where I care if people talk about me because they think I’m not doing enough volunteering in church. I have fifty years of volunteering under my belt. It’s time to volunteer to be kind to others, pray with others and feed the birds and be in background volunteering for church things that no one knows about, and that might include just being a friend to someone who needs one.

This week in a backyard in my hometown, sitting with a young mother and watching her kids splash in their kiddie pool, I had a beautiful, spiritual experience. She turned to me and asked if she could pray with me and pray for me. The birds were singing, the kids were splashing, the breeze was blowing through the trees and we prayed, right there in her backyard. I was in church, God’s church of nature. What more could I ask for?

The pandemic may have changed how we view worshipping God. Some need that in church moment. For others they need the peace and quiet of home to hear the word or the. connection of prayer in the most unexpected places such as the streets we walk everyday. Recently I told my Grandchild that God doesn’t live in a building. He’s with us all the time. I hope he remembers that throughout his life.

I’m rambling with thoughts today. Over my lifetime the place where I’ve felt the most judgment from others for things that don’t matter, such as being on tune when you sing or you can’t belong to a choir, fighting over what group is appropriate to use our church for meetings, making sure the floors are spit polished were in the organized church. We weren’t arguing about spiritual subjects such as the Bible or the Ten Commandments but material matters. And at times we were fighting about exclusion of who has the right to worship God with us. Who was welcome.

Perhaps one thing we’ve learned this past year is that things don’t have to be perfect when we worship. We aren’t perfect and we shouldn’t expect others to be.

I long for the day where it doesn’t matter how you dress, how much money you have or the color of your skin to be able to walk into a church and be accepted as who we are, all sinners and all in need of caring, having a place to take a breath without being judged by each other, leaving that to God. He sees us and he is the one who will change what needs to be changed if we have faith. I am guilty in the past for also being part of the problem with my judgment. I hope that is one thing God helps me change in me.

Yes we all need church family. What does that look like in your place of worship?

Meanderings Of A Restless Mind

My friend Lilly made the bookmark in the picture. it is tattered and a little torn from use just as I am today. I am dictating this as I am laid up, or I should say my hand is laid up with a bent finger.

The bookmark is placed in a chapter in the book, He Still Moves Me, by Max Lucado. I am on the chapter called Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks. The chapter addresses being frail, like a bruised reed bent but still standing by the rivers edge.

This chapter, as well as the entire book resonates with me this morning because the first thing I thought of when I woke up, for some strange reason, is are we overthinking our purpose in life? What if our only purpose in life were to be kind to one another? I posted that on my Facebook page this morning.

I think the thought came to my mind because of all the unsettling news in the world today. Yesterday all I wanted to post was the words “I am a Christian and an American.”

I am not defined by a political party or by a certain denomination. I am defined by what is in my heart and by what I believe to be right and wrong and how I live my life.

That doesn’t mean I am the perfect person. I let myself be defined by outside influences. And because of it I define others or perhaps I should say I create an atmosphere in my relationships, or in my interactions which causes me to put a definition, right wrong on my friends or family that may change the path of their life, blurring their expectations of who they really are. Yes our words do influence others, occasionally in the wrong way.

This paragraph in Max Lucado’s book hit me hard this morning. It asks us if we are that bruised reed. If we once stood tall with confidence but the words of others, the criticism, words of anger, words of failure by religions rigidity, wounded and bent us and left us blowing In the wind.

Many of us are that bent reed. I don’t know what happens for you, but I know for me it makes me strike out or retreat because I want to stay out of the way of the harshness. And it makes us feel less than ok with ourselves, operhaps turning us into someone we are not, someone of harshness or anger. A person who wounds and lashes out to keep ourselves safe from the wounds of others. We retreat or attack.

I’ve always been a talker, I talk fast and I ramble on and I have always been made fun of for talking so much. And it makes me feel bad. But I have never said anything to those who criticize my talking. I have never shared that I ramble on because I feel less than, or I ramble on because I’m nervous, or I ramble on because I am just so uncomfortable in social situations.

When I am teased or criticized for talking too much I hide my hurt, and sometimes I retreat and I’m more silent because I am uncomfortable in the presence of the person that made fun of me and my personality. It makes me feel that I’m less than and it is not acceptable to be who I am.

My reading this morning made me realize that I am that bruised reed and I imagine there are so many people out there just like me. I also know that I probably many times have been the cause of making someone else feel that way.

The past weeks myself and others have spent an enormous amount of time and energy defending our views and not listening, or trying to understand the views of one another, making each of us feel wrong or attacked because we believe what we believe. And when we feel cornered we attack too and nothing is accomplished except losing our own integrity.

I have noticed that many attacks on the political front come from people who are normally outgoing and outspoken, and yes sometimes I am the outspoken one. I think we get louder and talk more if we feel we are not being heard or we want to bully someone into taking our side. Doing that makes others cower in fear and retreat and be silent, because they feel speaking out causes attack and they want to be peaceful. It stops us from hearing the wisdom of those silent voices.

There seems to be a certain criteria to be an accepted Christian depending on what denomination we choose, and there seems to be a certain criteria that says we have to take sides and be one or the other, Republican or Democrat. Depending on which side we choose, which denomination we choose, determines whether we are good or bad.

We are told we have to have a purpose in life and that too is causing us stress because that is even become an arguable point. If we aren’t helping or volunteering enough or choosing to be very busy then we need to look for our calling. I once was told by someone that my calling was to take my mother-in-law into my home to care for her when she had Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t care for her the way I knew she needed. It was a detriment to her health if I took care of her but yet I felt the pressure of someone feeling that. There is never a day when we can live up to all the expectations put on us by society.

I don’t claim to be an expert on anything especially the Bible, but this chapter in this book spoke to me. Matthew 12:20 says a bruised reed will not break, and a smoldering wick will not be snuffed out.

So I will say it again; I am a Christian. I am an American. I am a talker and I am going to work on my purpose in life, being just to be kind and see where that takes me. I am that bruised reed, bent and blowing in the wind, and you know what? I accept that.

Be kind, especially if you comment on this post. Laugh out loud, because instead of writing, I dictated this so I guess I do talk maybe too much at times, but I am accepting that part of me. It is who I am.



A Summer of Ponderings

Since I quit my column, Something About Nothing, I have been more silent on my blog. This summer I needed a step back to see where I have been and where I am going. I am not sure I am there yet, but I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you. I have never been good at keeping things inside and yet I found there were so many feelings I was stifling because I wanted to keep friends, not cause a ruckus, and that is what I was trained to do most of my life. Don’t get angry, don’t yell, be strong.

I remember a be strong moment when I was pregnant with my first child and my dad died. I was an only child and everyone told me I had to be strong for my mom and I was until…   I remember walking down the aisle following the casket after the funeral. I heard someone sobbing loudly and realized it was me. Strong took its toll at the worst moment. This summer I found I had never properly taken the time to grieve for missing my dad, and it was 48 years ago that he died, but I held those feelings inside of me because I needed to be strong.

I like to think of myself as an authentic person but I realize I am not. I have said things are ok and fine when they really aren’t. When I felt my voice and feelings didn’t matter or they wouldn’t be heard so to avoid conflict, I would stay silent, but hurts don’t disappear that way, they may diminish, but until they are acknowledged they never go away or get resolved.

This summer seems to have awakened a journey in my heart. We have been dealing with the illness of a loved one, that is invisible to others and there is a level in which you don’t talk about it because when you don’t know how to cope, it is hard to explain it to others so you retreat or… you put on a smile and hide the heartbreak.

I also have been examining my faith journey and what I was taught to believe and what I have experienced throughout my life. I could say I have been putting together the pieces. I wouldn’t call it a faith crisis, although some would because I haven’t been to church much this summer, but it isn’t a crisis as much a faith growth. I started my life in the Catholic Church and after my marriage joined the Lutheran Church. At the time it was more about the leadership of the Priest in my church community when through conversation during our pre-nuptial counseling, he revealed himself to be racist. My husband recognized it, I didn’t, and my soon to be husband felt he could not belong to a church led by a man that felt that way about another race. Looking back I brushed it off and thought my decision with leaving the Catholic Church was more to do with going to church as a family because as my dad was of another religion, the Catholic Church at the time didn’t allow that. Examining my heart I now know that Priest’s comments were also a part of my decision, even though at the time I tried to make light of it to excuse the behavior. So right now, after 48 years I will say, “The Priests behavior was not ok.”

This summer in my faith journey that is still going on, I was fed by friends of different religions and different backgrounds. I was fed by book studies with strangers and discussions with different beliefs. I was fed because though there were basic differences we disagreed upon, we listened to one another, not always understanding and expressing that in a graceful way, but coming through it with love and kindness and a feeling of relief that we could come together with differences and leave with differences, but we were allowed to speak and be ourselves and not be judged. I learned church family doesn’t always mean those from a brick and mortar church. I learned a Pastor or a Priest make a difference depending on their leadership. I remember when I joined the Lutheran Church one of the reasons is what I saw in the leadership of Pastor John MIkkelson, a wise, kind, strong leader. He showed us who he was. He let us know where he stood. He could lead and delegate and make all feel welcome. The rest was up to us. I have heard the words “I don’t go to church because of a Pastor.” But I will say this, we need to respect the person who leads so that we can respect the message that is being taught to us. That respect does not mean they are perfect but they show us their flaws, can admit when they are wrong, and they know how to feed a flock that inspires us to go out into the world and treat each person we meet that are searching for their church family to feel accepted and welcomed. Have I done that? I don’t think so.

I used to be very involved in the church when I was younger. It wasn’t something I planned but at the time our Pastors, after Pastor Mikkelson visited each and every home in their congregation. The visits only lasted five minutes but they felt it was important so they could meet their congregants where they lived. Some complained the majority of the congregation actually liked the visits. It was because of those visits and Pastors I got more involved in the Sunday School and was in church more often. They knew who we were and it was easier to go to them with problems because they took the time to get to know us.

Last Sunday in my home church it hit me what I was looking for and what I think many are looking for in a church and that is to be accepted. To be able to show others the good, the bad and the ugly. For someone to say I don’t understand, but I care about you and I will tell you if I feel you are harming yourself or others and do it with love and acceptance of the person, not the actions. I am looking for a church that follows the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28. I think the Message Bible speaks to me the best. Matthew 11: 28-30. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” That is the feeling I want when I enter my church. As many of us are, I am tired. I am weary. I judge myself so much I don’t need to be judged by others. I can do it far worse than anyone else can and I need a place to go and people to be with that is a safe haven no matter how I dress, no matter what I look like. How about you?

So what have I decided about my faith crisis or faith growth? The journey will continue. The climate we are living in today pits us against each other in religion but history shows it always has. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who worships the correct way? Who believes the correct way? Whose sin is greater than the other? We point fingers. We judge. And we are weary. And I have felt myself doing the same thing because of the climate of our country today and I don’t like myself for it.  I need to stop.  I wonder how God’s love or a higher powers love can shine through any of it, but it does if we look for it.

Next week…. more of my summer musings about writing and painting and family.