Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Everyone has a Story

One of the traditional practices at Thanksgiving is to go around the table and let each answer the question, "What are you thankful for?" The responses are varied in depth and content, depending on each person and what or how much they wish to share.

But one thing is evident in this practice: Each of us has a story.

Here's a video that illustrates my point. Please take time to watch it before reading the rest of my post.

Everyone has a story, of what they are thankful for as well as what they are struggling with; what they celebrate and what they grieve or regret; their triumphs as well as their trials. Each person represents a story of life unfolding.

Perhaps this is one of the keys in responding to Jesus' charge to us to "welcome the the stranger" (Matthew 25:35). There is a lot of conversation now around welcoming of refugees. There is an ongoing conversation in our churches around what it means to be truly welcoming of all. Perhaps we need to realize that each person has a story. We need to look beyond the labels we've assigned to people. We need to look beyond our seeming differences. We need to realize that just like us, other people have their own stories, too! And perhaps their coming to us: to our doors, our tables and our borders, are God's way of calling us to listen to their stories and to see them the way God sees them.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and as we go around the table, may we listen deeply, realizing that each one of us has a story. May that knowledge push us to a fresh appreciation of each one. May it push us to treat each other with grace, compassion and genuine love. May it also spur us to open our doors and our tables to the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the other who is different from us, for they, too, have their own stories to tell and to share.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Vows, Pledges and Running Marathons

November is typically Stewardship month in many United Methodist Churches. During this time we receive pledge cards and are asked to either begin or renew our commitment of planned giving to support the mission and ministry of our local churches. This challenge is framed within the context of our membership vows to support the church with "our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our serve and our witness."

We are asked to make a commitment for the coming year. And while we don't know what the future holds, financially and otherwise, we are asked to make the commitment in faith that God would help us honor the promise that we make. It holds us accountable. Let me explain...

When I sign-up to run a marathon or an ultra, first, I tell my family and my close friends. Then, I post it on social media and sometimes even blog about, especially if I am doing it as a prayer run or am running for a cause.

But why do I do this, you may ask. When I sign-up for a marathon and tell everyone about it, I am not trying to brag. What I am attempting to do is build an accountability system for myself. I am making a commitment to run a race and to do the necessary training it entails and I am holding myself accountable to people around me.

My wife is very good about "pushing me out the door" to run on days when I don't feel like it, when she knows I am training for a race. That, plus the fact that I am just grumpy on days that I don't get a run in.

Good friends are good about asking how I am preparing for a race and if I were to answer them truthfully, then I need to really be preparing. Friends in the running community are good about asking details in my training like daily mileage, hydration and rest days. They are also good about doing training runs together. There is nothing better to get you out of bed and lacing up your shoes on a dark, sub-zero winter morning than the thought that your running buddy is counting on you to show up and run the usual 10-mile loop.

When I run a race as a prayer run and dedicate miles to people, groups or churches I am praying for, I let them know about it. I make the commitment and ask for their commitment to be in prayer with me. Sometimes, I even ask them to run or walk or bike or ski or swim a mile "with" me. I build accountability. One of the races I love doing is the Willow Winter Solstice Marathon. It is done during the longest night of the year and in 2014, I dedicated it to those who are in dark times in their lives. On the eve of the race, I texted a friend who was going through "a long night" in his life and told him that I was running for him the next day. He said "thank you" and said he would be "joining me in prayer and looking forward to the coming of the light." I could not have possible backed-out of that race at that point.

In many ways, I am able to stick to my goal of running marathon after marathon because of the commitment and accountability system I allow myself to be built around me. I believe the same is true with our membership and pledging. When we stood in front of the congregation and vowed to be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church, supporting it with our "prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness," we made ourselves accountable to others in our community of faith. When we fill-out and sign our pledge cards for the coming year and join others in offering them to God on Commitment Sunday, we also make a commitment to our sisters and brothers in the congregation.

That is why we make a pledge. Think of it this way: If I sign-up for a marathon and let no one but myself know, it would be easier for me to drop out at some point in the prep, especially when the training gets really tough. Allowing our faith communities to hold us accountable to our vows and pledges gives us the necessary support to fulfill them.

My prayers are with you as you consider your covenant of planned giving for 2016. I pray that God who has led you to make the commitment would also give you the grace and the means to fulfill it. May a web of loving accountability be formed by your local congregation to support you in fulfilling your pledge.

Your fellow disciple,


P.S. To the point I made above, I am signed up to run the Little-Su 50K on February 13. I also plan to again run the Willow Winter Solstice Marathon on December 19.