Monday, February 18, 2019

Are You Good Enough? -- A Newspaper Submission

If you are like me there are days when the answer to that question is a half-hearted “maybe” followed by a large question mark. Then there are the really bad days when the answer is a definite NO. Those are the days I need to remind myself to follow these instructions: “(Breathe in) I am a child of God (breathe out) and that is enough”.

Why do we sometimes doubt that we are “good enough”? I can think of a few reasons. I have come to believe that sometimes are good at telling each other, and ourselves, that we fall short. We can be really good at tearing each other down when we should build each other up. In the beginning of the Scripture that is shared by Judaism and Christianity we are told that God looks at what has been created and says it is very good. Someone, I think it was Matthew Fox, has suggested that despite everything that comes after that first chapter of Genesis this original blessing has never been withdrawn. So we are good enough. Why is that sometimes hard to believe?

One reason we may doubt we are good enough is something called ‘Imposter Syndrome’. This shows up in that little voice which tells you that you are not qualified for or capable of the task in front of you. Maybe you think you are a ‘post turtle’ as a joke I often see online says about politicians. In full blown effect it makes you convinced that people will find out and you will be ruined upon exposure as an imposter. Imposter Syndrome denies that word of God telling you that you are enough. Imposter Syndrome speaks against the truth that maybe God has led you to that place and is speaking through those who gave you the job. A cure for Imposter Syndrome is to remember the practice: “(Breathe in) I am a child of God (breathe out) and that is enough”. More training and practice help too, but we need to tend to the spiritual injury it causes as well.

And then there is the big one. We often feel we are not good enough because lots of voices tell us we aren’t. Sadly we often find it easier to point out those times we each have failed, or done something wrong than congratulate each other on our successes. This leads to guilt. And in excessive amounts guilt leads to shame, and shame is about how we see ourselves. Guilt can help us see a person who does some things wrong, who sometimes fails. Shame, especially in excess, can lead us to see a person who will never be good enough, who can not do anything right. It can cause a paralyzing injury. The way to cure this spiritual injury is grace. Grace is what reminds us that we are beloved children of a loving God. Grace reminds us that what we are, while not perfect, while still growing and maturing, is enough.

To be honest, this second spiritual injury is one of the places I take issue with the historical church. Historically I think the church, or more specifically some people in the church, has often been more interested in reminding people that they are imperfect,’sinful’, beings who can not measure up to some idealized saintly concept of good enough. There is a story I once read of a broken woman who was asked if she had tried the church. Her response: “why would I go there, I already feel terrible about myself?”. The church she described was forgetting the cure. As people of faith we sometimes need to remind each other where we fall short. As people of faith we ALWAYS have to remind each other of grace. We always need to remind each other that simply because we are part of God’s creation we are good, we are enough.

To some this may be a question of theological priorities. To me it is life and death. Those times when suicidal or self-destructive thoughts seep into my soul they ride the carriage driven by the voice saying “you are not good enough”, the voice which tells George Bailey the world would be better off if he had never been born. To remind each other that we are ‘good enough’ may well save lives. Good enough does not mean perfect. It means enough. That is what Christ says. Jesus never asks people what they did wrong. Jesus says “you are forgiven, stand up and walk”. Jesus says we are good enough. So when the days get too hard, when you wonder if you are good enough, remember to: “(Breathe in) I am a child of God (breathe out) and that is enough”.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Annual Report for 2018

As I sat down to write this year’s Annual Report my mind drifted to one of the United Church’s faith statements, A Song of Faith, and in re-reading it I found these lines:
We sing of a church
seeking to continue the story of Jesus
by embodying Christ’s presence in the world.
We are called together by Christ
as a community of broken but hopeful believers,
loving what he loved,
living what he taught,
striving to be faithful servants of God
in our time and place.
They struck me as a good, if not complete, summary of what it means to be the church. And as I look back at 2018 I think we have given a good shot at living up to that summary.

As a congregation we have, I believe, made an impact on the life of Grande Prairie. In part we have done that through the use of our building, through making it available to the community. There are times when it would be nice if we could make more money off of that availability, but to be honest I would rather offer space for free to meet a community need than see our space as a money source (and in reality it can sometimes be both). But we have also made a difference by our presence. In December St. Paul’s received a grant through the Community Foundation. On a picture posted by the Community Foundation from that presentation someone commented “St Paul's church is full of wonderful people who have a wonderful spirit. They are champions of our community and I am very glad to see that they will be able to continue to extend that love through this grant.” I think it is safe to say our presence is noticed.

See here for the comment
For a more detailed list of what we have done in 2018 I encourage you to read the other submissions in this Report.

Yet, even as I want to celebrate the good things that have happened this year I also need to raise up a concern. As I look back at the year I see signs of a growing issue around stewardship, both in terms of people power and money. I have not yet seen the final financial reports but at the January Council meeting the draft statement showed a deficit of about $9900, and that is after we had a one-time gift of having our 2018 Presbytery Assessment (about $7300) refunded. At the same time we did raise about $10 000 for the roof fund so we think that may be where some of the operating funds got redirected. Still this is a worry as we can not continue to operate at that significant a loss. How do we redo our finances? To be honest there is no possibility of finding $16 000 in expense cuts, and when the youngest part of the building is starting to show its 32 years some expenses will go up ($1300 dollars of our deficit can be accounted for in one plumbing bill for a plugged drain in November). So where might we find new money?

At the same more and more often when an idea (often a fundraising idea) comes up the first question is “who will do it?”. And that is certainly a valid and important question. But I am hearing more and more signals of how tired people are, how they are unsure if we can take up new things. This goes along with the multiple vacancies we have on our nominations slate. Just as we can not operate with a financial deficit, we can not operate without people power.

But still there is hope. As you may remember, we did some visioning work in the Spring. And as we move forward with discussing and implementing the results of that work we will have a chance to discuss what is important, and how we will make the important stuff happen. That may possibly mean we will let some other things go to make room for something new, or just to focus our energy on something of a higher priority. It may mean we rededicate ourselves to a prized project or task. And it will certainly mean we each get a chance to take ownership of the ministry that we all share together.

One of the questions I have continually tried to hold in my mind, and periodically raise up for the rest of you to hear, is “what is God calling us to do in this place and time?”. I live in hope, faith, and trust that when we seek the answer to that question we may also find new way to deal with the accompanying stewardship question “and how will we do that?”.

I opened this with a quote from A Song of Faith. I think I will close the same way.
We sing of God’s good news lived out,
a church with purpose:
faith nurtured and hearts comforted,
gifts shared for the good of all,
resistance to the forces that exploit and marginalize,
fierce love in the face of violence,
human dignity defended,
members of a community held and inspired by God,
corrected and comforted,
instrument of the loving Spirit of Christ,
creation’s mending.
We sing of God’s mission.

St. Paul’s United does not have a mission, God has a mission and invites us to take part. How will we sing the song in 2019 and beyond? What part will be ours in the dance of faith?