Monday, February 17, 2014

What's next?

The Enneagram work I did on the RevGals Big Event 7.0 (whew - - there were a lot of links there!) has been more and more amazing for me as time goes by.  I'm always kind of interested in these personality things, from Myers Briggs Personality Type to "Which Downton character are you?" (Mr. Bates, in case you care.)  I had heard about the Enneagram, but I didn't really get it the first time around.  More and more, though, in the time leading up to the trip, and I mean even in the 12-18 months before the trip, I have been trying to figure out what makes me tick.  Why do I act the way I do?  Why are some things easy for me that seem like they should be hard, but other things are practically deadening to my soul that seem like they should be easy?  And a LOT of the latter things are things that are pretty important for my vocation as a pastor - you know, like talking to people that I don't really know well or have a purposeful working relationship with or being able to follow through with an idea I dreamed up.  I was getting frustrated with myself (and sensing frustration from some in my congregation) about things that are related to my personality.  The enneagram came at just the right intersection of rising frustrations and my desire for things to be different.  And hey --  A new thing to learn about? "Sounds cool.  I'll try anything once," said your resident 7.

About the 7 - - So, some of the things I learned about myself as a 7 are that I have a hard time following through with things usually because my brain is looking forward to the next thing I can try that might bring enjoyment or excitement.  I am pretty easily distracted.  I love learning about new things and can be legitimately researching for something I need and get pulled into 542 other things that catch my attention and inquisitiveness on the way.  My "sin" is my desire to acquire - experiences, things, knowledge.  Some of those sound worse than others, but ultimately it can be problematic because I use this acquisition to try avoid feeling and dealing with pain.  It is all fascinating.

Somehow knowing that this tendency to be distracted and scattered is part of what makes me me makes it something easier to deal with.  It had been driving me crazy more and more lately, and somehow finding the source of it has given me new energy to try to curb it a little.  I don't want to get rid of it all together, because it's part of who I am, but I do need to put some reins on it in order to live more fully into my calling and family.

So, with that background last night I wrote out a plan for "productivity" that I'm going to try.  I know there are all sorts of systems to read up on or buy into.  They sound great.  But let's be honest, there's no way I'm going to be able to keep my attention on a book telling me how to pay attention.  It's laughable.  So, I'm writing my own and I'm trying it this week.  I have done VERY minimal reading about Pomodoro that I liked, so that certainly has bled into my thoughts and plan somewhat, but otherwise I'm sort of piecing this together on my own.

Here are my "Productivity Principles" I'm trying this week in no particular order:
1.  Only sign into email twice a day (likely 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.) and answer or compose emails for only an hour each time AT MOST.  This might mean making more phone calls to try to cut down on stupid email time.
2.  9:00-9:30 is for making my daily to-do list and making sure it includes the reminders that are already programmed on my phone.  Part of making the to-do list is prioritizing the order of the events.
3.  Set non-negotiable times for things that need to happen away from the church building (hospital visits, other errands).
4.  Use Pomodoro 25 minute work periods and 5 minutes "rest" periods to work through the list.  This even applies to the 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. email hours.
5.  Facebook and internet use are only OK during the 5 minute rests, except for when it comes to sermon prep days when I hit the preaching blogs and FB groups. This is going to be hard to navigate, but I'll try it out more tomorrow.
6.  This is sort of based on a Pomodoro thing - - When an interruption has to occur, I will need to decide immediately if it's time sensitive enough to deal with on the spot or if it can just be added to the list in an appropriate spot.  If it needs to be dealt with, I've got to not let myself get derailed by it entirely so I can come back to the plan.
7.  I've got to try to keep a clean office.
8.  One thing at a time.  If I think of another thing that also needs to be done, write it down, and prioritize it a the next break.  One thing at a time.

So that's the plan for a little while.  I'm going to try to work it and tweak it and see how it goes.  Some of it seems ridiculously normal for the rest of the world, but for me it's going to be new.

A question I have for which I am seeking input, particularly for minister-types, but maybe there's more overlap with other vocations than I'm imagining - - How do you decide "what's next"?  What helps set your priorities for the day or week?  A couple criteria I'm sort of bouncing around right now that relate to my 7-ness and some growing edges I need to work on:
1.  Is someone else waiting for me to finish my piece so they can do their piece?
2.  What tasks will help me make and nurture personal connections with other people?

Enneagram photo credit: Grace Commons (Wicker Park Grace) via photopin cc

Clocks photo credit: FJTUrban (sommelier d mojitos) via photopin cc

Friday, February 14, 2014

Me? Praying?

Lately, I've been doing something really out of character for me.  I've been praying.  Prayer in any sort of traditional, identifiable mode has never really been the center of my spirituality or faith.  At times I've felt the need to try to identify some of the things I do as prayer, journaling, talking to myself, just watching and paying attention and wondering in order to feel like I was doing faith right.  Maybe those things were prayer for me, maybe they weren't.  I don't know.  My intent has really been to pray through them, to talk and listen to God, if that has anything to do with it.  I just don't consider myself much of a pray-er.

So, what's even more strange strange about this desire lately to mull things over with God, is that it has come at a time when I've been feeling myself grow in some ways very much away from traditional or mainstream Christian thought about things like the nature and person of Jesus (let's just throw a big one out there), God's activity and intervention in daily life, and even prayer.  I'm believing less about the effectiveness of prayer while being drawn more into it, and MY GOD it feels good.

I'm not really satisfied yet with any particular prayer practice.  I haven't been able to fall asleep in the evenings without spending time holding things and people and situations and feelings from my day in the light of God.  I just do this with my thoughts while I curl up on my side and begin to drift off.  I'm way over my 15 year old-me anxiety about falling asleep while praying.  (I used to make myself do an old school kneel beside my bed to try to stay awake in those days, but I finally quit when I woke up one night 3 hours later flopped at the side my bed with really sore knees.)  I'm OK with just holding up those things that need to be held until I am relaxed enough to rest.

On the RevGals Big Event I brought a journal I started (read: used twice) 4 years ago for Praying in Color, along with my box of fancy colored pencils. I am NOT an artist.  I'm not even one of those artists who says she's not an artist who really is.  I really do have no ability to takes ideas in my mind and visual represent them on paper.  I'm OK with that.   I'm not an artist, but I love my fancy colored pencils.  Anyway, I played in that journal one day in a way that was new to me - - not writing down things in my mind and doodling around them as I prayed them, but sort of drawing and praying my way through a Scripture passage, a psalm - answering the questions the text asked explicity, listening for questions I heard it asking that weren't right there.  It was a really cool experience I didn't try to create, but just sort of happened.  I wonder if I can do it again.

I'm not sure where all this goes.  I'm afraid I might end up to forcing it somewhere to try to fit it in some sort of official prayer "box." That would suck because I know it would kill it for me, but I also would love to nurture it and grow it because it has been so good.  I'm afraid if I carve out time, like make appointments for myself, something of the blessing of the spontaneity will be lost and it wiil just die.

 (Oh my GOODNESS, my enneagram 7 is SHOWING!!!)

I guess I'll just have to see.  It's time to go to bed now, so maybe this is something I can pray on.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Signs of healing

Struggling AGAIN with how to deal with Sunday's text choices.  The Narrative Lectionary offers up any possible combination of two stories from John's gospel - the sign that takes places at the healing of the royal official's son (John 4:46-54) and the healing of a man in the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem (John 5:1-18).  I already spent time over at the RevGals sermon discussion incoherently rambling (i.e. whining) about healing stories (which is similar to my rambling/whining about the whole gospel of John).  I'll try not to do that again.

Here's the thing - - Everything that drives me crazy about the over-personalization of every single Bible story comes to light when we come across a healing story.  I don't like it when these stories get read, and we move into a discussion that says if you just ask or pray for it, healing will come, because it doesn't.  Or it doesn't always. So then, in an effort to cover up for this God who didn't come through this time, we offer a perfectly wrapped up, individualized lesson in any number of ways:
1.  Well, we don't mean physical healing or cure EVERY time.
2.  Sometimes just asking is what makes things better.
3.  Asking for healing may have been what you wanted, but God knew better and gave you something you needed.
I don't like that.  It seems disingenuous.  Rope people in with stories about God who heals, Jesus who promises healing, then tell them we didn't really mean it.

I made my earlier rant about healing stories in the Bible, but now that I'm thinking it through, I don't think it's the stories in the Bible that are my problem.  My problem is the way we make 1-to-1 translations of things that are reported in Scripture to things we want to happen in daily life today.  Even we more liberal readers will do this literal application of Scripture thing with the stories about Jesus that we wouldn't do with stories about, say, Noah, or Moses, or Naaman.  We would laugh at the idea that we should build an ark for all the world's animal's if it looked like it's were going to rain.  We would put on a life jacket or better yet get a boat before trying to cross the Red Sea.  We'd think someone was CRAZY if they told us to put our hand in the water seven times and expect healing.  So, why is it that we would never take these pieces literally, but we read a story about Jesus healing and immediately start to figure out how to get physical healing for ourselves and our loved ones.

We do it because we want healing for them.  We do it because we love them.  We do it because we love life and we want to live it to its fullest.

And in all of this I'm not saying that healings with no other explanation than the intervention of God don't happen.  I actually think they do and they can.  I'm also not saying it is wrong to ask for healing.  I do and I encourage others to also.

I guess I'm just saying that every healing story in Scripture doesn't have to be about "how to get healing."*     Especially not in John.  Especially not when the healing is called a sign.

A colleague of mine just posted this in response to some of my thoughts that I'm also spilling over on Facebook:
"...[A] sign serves no purpose if you take it's meaning too literally.  If you refuse to move from a stop sign because it says stop, then you have taken the sign to (sic) literally.  If you expect the curves ahead to look exactly like the sign depicts then you are taking the sign too literally.  If you see Jesus' sign and think it's just about healing you've ignored the true meaning of the sign or taken it too literally."

 In John signs are supposed to point to something.  Signs aren't "the thing;" they point to "the thing."  So if we stop at the healing when we're reading a story that is called a "sign" in John, we're stopping too soon.  "The thing" is not the act of healing; "the thing" is the one doing the healing.  The sign points to the nature and mission of God (h/t David Lose for much of this), so what does this particular healing story tell us about the nature and mission of God?  And then the application, how can we join that nature and mission as followers of Christ?

I think I'm going to use those questions to write my sermon.

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

*In fact, I'm not really sure these stories exist at all - the "how to" kind.  I think the witness exists that we can and should pray for healing, and that we may or may not get it the way we hoped.  There isn't really a witness to a sure fire way to get healing every time.