Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Being a Parent

One of my favorite spiritual authors is a priest by the name of Ronald Rolheiser, who writes a weekly on-line article at his site: http://www.ronrolheiser.com/. The following article is a really moving and wise reflection on parenthood, one that I found so helpful I thought I would share it with you...


"Children within Our Care"

Margaret Laurence's novel, A Jest of God, tells the story of two sisters: One of them, Rachel, single still and childless at mid-life, is a gifted, elementary school teacher. The other is a stay-at-home-mother, dedicating herself full-time to caring for her children.

As the years go by and Rachel finds herself still without children of her own, her frustration grows. She works with children all day, every day, but they are not her children. They come into her classroom, learn from her, pass through her life, but then move on to other classrooms and to a life away from her. She suffers deeply from this transience, this lack of possession. Most everything inside her screams for children of her own, children who will not simply pass through her life.

One day she shares this frustration with her sister, confessing how painful it is to have children pass through your life, a different group every year, and never have any that are really your own.

Her sister is less than fully sympathetic. She tells Rachel, in effect, that it is no different being a parent. Your children also pass through your life and move on to their own lives, away from you. They also are never really your children, someone you possess. Children are never really yours, irrespective of whether you are their natural parent, their foster parent, or their teacher. They have their own lives, lives that you do not own.

There are some important truths in that: Children are never really our own. They are given us, in trust, for a time, a short time in fact, during which we are asked to be their parents, their teachers, their mentors, their pastors, their uncles, their aunts, their guardians, but they are not, in the end, our children. Their lives belong to them, and to God. That's both challenging and consoling to realize.

The challenge is more obvious: If we accept this then we are less likely to be manipulative as parents, teachers, and guardians. We are less likely to see a child as a satellite in our own orbit or as someone whose life must be shaped according to our image and likeness.  Rather, if we accept that they are their own persons, we will be able to offer our love, support, and guidance with less strings attached.

The consolation is not as obvious, but is my main point here:  If we accept that our children are really not our own, then we will also realize that we are not alone in raising them. How so?

Our children are not ours, they are God's children. In the end, we are only their guardians, all of us. God is the real parent and God's love, care, and anxiety for them will always be in excess of our own. You are never a single parent, even if you are doing the parenting alone. God is alongside, loving, caring, cajoling, worrying, trying to instill values, trying to awaken love, worrying about what company they are keeping, concerned about what they are watching on the internet, and spending the same sleepless nights that you are. God's worry exceeds our own.

Moreover God has the power to touch the heart of a child and break through to a child in a way that you, as a parent, often cannot.  Your children can refuse to listen to you, turn their backs on you, reject your values, and walk away from everything you stand for; but there is always still another parent, God, from whom they cannot walk away. God can reach into places, including hell itself, into which we cannot reach.  God is always there, with a love more patient and solicitousness more fierce than is our own.  From that we can draw courage and consolation. Our children are surrounded always by a love, a concern, an anxiety, and an invitation to awaken to love, that far exceeds anything we can offer. God is the real parent and has powers we don't have.

This particularly important and consoling if we have ever lost a child tragically, to an accident that might have been prevented, to suicide, to drugs or alcohol, or to a set of friends and a lifestyle that ended up killing them and, as a parent or guardian, you are left feeling guilty and second-guessing: Why did I fail so badly in this? How much am I to blame for this failure?

Again, it is helpful to remind ourselves that we were, and are, not the only parents here and when this child died, however tragic the circumstances, he or she was received by hands far gentler then our own, was embraced by an understanding far deeper than our own, and was welcomed into the arms of a parent more loving than we. Our child left our foster care and our inadequacy to provide everything, to live with a mother and a father who can give him or her the protection, guidance, and joy that we could never quite fully provide.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Roots

"... may Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love." (Eph 3:17)

Traveling through Vilonia, you see a lot of roots. Hundred and hundreds of trees, some very old and massive, were blown over and pulled from the ground. Tragically, many of these were blown on to roofs of houses and barns and caused severe, and in many cases, total damage.

Yesterday (5-7) I went with a group of 11 people from PHUMC to help with the clean-up efforts. After checking in at the high school, we went to the Vilonia UMC to get our assignments. Some on our crew who were skilled with chainsaws went to work a project with that need, while the rest of us went to the home of a 95-year-old woman, Inez Coker, to help get her property back in order. Some on our crew spent many hours raking up debris and picking up trash. She wanted that done first so that she could mow her yard. Yes, at 95 she still mows her own yard. Not bad. A couple of us, myself included, spent the morning taking a sheet iron roof off a barn that had been blown over.

We all got together for lunch at the Vilonia UMC, that graciously fed several hundred people a free lunch of chicken, cole slaw, beans, fries, and desserts. It was wonderful, but quite frankly, it was really hard to work after that meal! But we pressed on, and after lunch we went back to the Coker residence where some continued working hard picking up debris, and some of us went with Gerald, Inez's son, to pick up limbs in their pasture so that it can be ready to be cut for hay. In this endeavor we were joined by people from several other groups. A group of college students from Harding got together and came to town to see what they could do, and several other people from all around just decided to go to Vilonia to lend a hand. After a good day's work, Gerald brought us all together, expressed their gratitude, and asked me to close the day with prayer together.

It's interesting to me that often when people have so much taken from them, that they actually feel like they have more than they did before. The Cokers just kept talking about how blessed they were and how good God is to them. Their faith was a huge blessing to me, I can tell you that. I hope that I could have that same attitude in that kind of situation were it to happen to me.

Inez, by the way, is one of our faithful TV viewers. She even sent back with me a donation to the church because she wants to be a part of a ministry that has been and continues to be a blessing to her.

Getting to be there for just one day to do what little we could taught me a lot about roots. Ultimately, all our roots are connected together in God. Storms like this one have a way of revealing the roots underneath the surface, in more ways than one.

Immersed in Love: Baptism (Sermon Outline)

Introduction: Matthew 28:16-20
·         John Wesley: “Whatever does not strike at the root of Christianity, we say think and let think.”
Pre-Christian Origins of Baptism
·         Ancient Cleansing Rituals
·         John the Baptist: Luke 3:1-20
·         The Baptism of Jesus: Luke 3:21-22
Baptism in the New Testament
·         Adoption: Romans 8:14-16
·         Washing: 1 Peter 3:20-22/Ezekiel 36:25-26
·         Dying and Rising with Christ: Romans 6:3-4
Baptism in the UMC
·         80% of Christian churches practice infant baptism
·         Prevenient Grace
·         In the Hebrew language of the OT, the word for “compassion” and the word for “womb” are the same word: rehem.
·         The baptismal font is the “divine womb” in which the waters signify God’s compassionate love for us from the beginning.
·         For more on the official UMC view of baptism, see "By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism" (adopted in 1996) at:http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5714529/k.7A7E/By_Water__The_Spirit.htm