Bethany believes… (January 2012 Newsletter Article)

Inside the January Bethany newsletter are photographs of an important night. On New Year’s Eve, many Bethany folks gathered at the home of one of our community. The hospitality ministry planned a party to burn (a copy of) the mortgage! In 2010, we paid off the mortgage after the sale of the acre to our south. To say this debt-free reality is a blessing is an understatement. Instead of focusing on paying off anything, we can devote ourselves to God’s call on our congregation. But, what is that call? What is our purpose?

Not long after coming to Bethany, I asked to change our website address. So many churches have a bunch of letters with their city behind it as their website. We need our website to be unique because we are unique. Our web address became Bethanybelieves.com.

Without the skip of a beat, the next word was “what” as in “what does Bethany believe.” It’s a fair question; one that I was unwilling to answer until we all had spent some time together. Each person that comes into contact with Bethany Christian Church has his or her own answer to that question. Some discern what we believe by simply walking around our building. Some discover what we believe by investigating our website. Some perceive what we believe by walking past our booth at Tulsa Pride. People are learning about Bethany and seeing for themselves what we believe. And, yet, it may feel like we haven’t answered that for ourselves.

At the end of worship and sharing on New Year’s Eve, we revealed hopes and dreams for our church. One particular dream was that we discern a mission and proclaim it. Others reminded us of a way, an approach that is a part of Bethany’s identity from the very beginning of the church nearly 50 years ago.

Starting with this Sunday, Epiphany, we will explore our 3 important gifts. These 3 Gifts are the foundation for everything this community of faith does and are desperately needed in the world. The Magi, who we celebrate on Epiphany, aren’t the only ones bearing gifts.

Bethany believes…

Springing It

Our Patio

Our Patio with the Meyer Lemon Tree

Every morning and in the evenings when I can, you can find me sitting out on our back patio swing to watch the dogs play and hear the birds sing. It’s stunning, really. The robins are nearly constant in song from sunrise to sunset. The finches are building nests and I watch them quickly grab a string or stick from the yard before our two dogs dart towards them. Then, there is the occasional cardinal in the splendor of bright red feathers. We’ve got 9 different herbs this year and even a Meyer lemon tree with fragrant flowers. It’s my own little resting place.

As I type and swing, I know that pretty soon the sneezing will begin and my eyes will itch. It’s worth it, though, to have such beauty to enjoy. It’s seems like that’s the way of life. So much beauty in the midst of annoyances (like my allergies) and heartaches difficult to even speak aloud. We’ve just walked through the season of Lent with Holy Week and Good Friday’s death of Jesus. We woke up Easter Sunday singing “He is Risen.” (Ok, so maybe only I did that.) Death does not get the last word in the life of Jesus or in our lives. God’s outstretched hand of love is offered to us over and over again inviting us into the beauty of this life and the next.

It’s hard to focus on that beauty and life when the annoyances and heartaches cloud our vision. Eventually, sitting out here on the patio, I may get a headache from pollen. My eyes will itch. I should sneeze any second now. Those things will not get the best of me or the last word about the time I spend out here. I choose to celebrate the beauty. What do you let have the last word in your life?

My spiritual practice this Eastertide (the time in the church year between Easter and Pentecost) is to watch what I am saying about my life. I will be listening to how I talk about my everyday life in terms of Good Friday or in terms of Easter. Will I let the annoyances and even heartache have the final word or the beauty and meaning of Easter morning speak?

New Things…Newsletter Article February 2012

Once upon a time, I thought I wanted a bicycle. Nick heard me talking about it and surprised me with a pretty sweet vintage cruiser. It even had the 1978 bicycle permit on it from Orange County, California. In my joy, I set out to ride down to my favorite coffee shop. From our place to the coffee shop was not even two miles. It was only 98° outside with the sun shining down in August. Halfway through the ride, nausea set in and I got off the bike. Between the heat and the fact that it felt like the cars were aiming for me, I walked back home. Grabbing an ice pack out of the freezer for the back of my neck, I flopped onto the couch and started cooling off.

That was the last time I rode a bicycle. In all honesty, I’m done with them. The cars freaked me out and my constant bruises can tell you my coordination leaves much to be desired. Not for me. We sold the bike to our neighbor who gracefully rode it all over our neighborhood. A part of me was just glad someone was getting use out of it. Another part of me was highly embarrassed that she rode with such ease when I couldn’t. There may have been some jealousy, too.

That experience solidified something I was trying to ignore about myself. I like to succeed quickly. I hate trying new things that I am pretty sure I won’t be good at immediately. It’s a personality trait that I struggle with constantly since I really do like trying new things and experiencing new adventures.

Recently, I talked myself out of joining a gym and taking the kick-boxing class I really wanted to take because I knew I would not be good at it right away. I hear you saying, “Good, at working out? Is that even a thing?” Well, in my head it is. My step in the right direction was streaming a netflix video into my living room. Yes, now I can jab, cross, hook and uppercut slowly in sequence. I’m not particularly excited about sharing this with you, but it’s part of holding myself accountable. It’s also something I’ve been thinking about in the context of church.

My experience has taught me that we can try new things in church as long as they work well quickly.  Too often, we expect results with little to no time passing and little to no room for the Holy Spirit.

New approaches (or just things we haven’t done in a while) can breath life into our faith and open the doors for people who need to know God’s love again or even for the first time. More often than not, it will not happen immediately. It will happen with a slow and steady commitment.

Now, back to my jab-cross-hook-uppercut routine.

my once upon a time sweet ride

On Awkwardness….October 2011 Newsletter Article

Three months after Nick and I got married, my long-time companion, Chaco (the lovable lab-mix) passed away from a stroke.  When we went to the vet’s office to retrieve his ashes, we were greeted by the wonderful staff. The woman at the counter explained to us that the white box she provided had another box in it and, in that box, was a plastic bag with the ashes. My incredibly awkward reply, without thinking, was “my dad’s ashes came in a box like that.”

The woman behind the counter hid her eyes at my odd response. Nick looked at me like “Really?” and motioned for me to go sit down as he finished up. Feel free to laugh. It’s one of the many awkward moments that Nick and my friends and family (and you, eventually) have become accustomed to experiencing with me.

I believe we live lives that are divided into pieces. We share our true selves with very few people. Many of our relationships are like a game of hide-and-seek where sharing anything deep or real means losing.

When we live such guarded lives, we deprive God the opportunity to do something beautiful in our friendships and family relationships. It is only when we are vulnerable and share with one another that the depth of God’s love is made apparent. We can feel that love, God’s love, by sharing life with one another.

Not everyone is going to go around telling strangers about their dad’s ashes (hopefully).  I do, however, hope that we learn to share our greatest desires, hopes, and even fears with others. Perhaps we’ll find, through the process of sharing, that someone else is afraid of living alone for the first time in 40 years. Perhaps we’ll find that someone else is also wondering about going back to school. Perhaps we’ll find that our experiences are at once uniquely our own and connected to others, even strangers, through God’s grace.

Chaco in his raincoat.