Enough

In early 1994, I saw the movie Schindler’s List, which is based on a true story and had a profound effect upon my life. Oskar Schindler is a German businessman who travels to Krakow, Poland in 1939 to make his fortune from World War 2. Schindler joins the Nazi party to help his career and staffs his factory with Jewish workers for economic reasons. An opportunist, Schindler manages to protect his Jewish workers … and his profits. Eventually, however, Schindler realizes that he is actually saving their lives.

 

Oskar Schindler literally saves the lives of 1,100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. At the end of the movie, Schindler is given a ring in front of all his workers as a sign of their gratitude. The man presenting the ring to Schindler says about the ring’s inscription, “It’s Hebrew from the Talmud. It says, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

In the movie, when Schindler realizes the extent of the Nazi extermination of Jews and what he has done to protect his workers, he breaks down and weeps. “I could have got more. I could have got more. If I just … I could have got more.”

“1,100 more people are alive because of you,” the man responds.

“If I made more money… I threw away so much money.” Sobbing, Schindler continues, “You have no idea… If I just …”

“Generations will remember…”

“I didn’t do enough…”

“You did so much.”

“This car. Why did I keep the car? That’s ten people right there… Ten people. Ten more people. This pin is two people. This is gold. Two more people. It would have given more two more, one at least. For this I could have gotten one more person and I didn’t… And I didn’t.”

I thought of Schindler’s List as we neared the end of the Iowa Annual Conference and were trying to fit in everything that was on our agenda. Could we have done more? Was the offering to God of our commitment to be difference makers enough? Whose report was left out? What words were left unsaid? How could we have done better? Was annual conference enough?

I have struggled my entire life with enough because God’s claim on me has been so strong. How can I rest when people are hungry? How can I say “no” when people in my church are counting on me? How can I stop when the to-do list never ends? I could have done more. When is enough? What is enough, anyway?

 

At the conclusion of Annual Conference on June 12, I shared with the body these words, which could apply to many different settings. “We have done enough. Over the last several days, we have worshipped, prayed, ordained, served, taken offerings, hugged, debated, voted, laughed, cried… and now we are done. We pray that we have been difference makers at this annual conference. We pray that the fruit we bear when we leave here and the crosses we bear when we go back to our communities as servants will honor and glorify God. Yet there is often the nagging sense that it is not enough.

“Reinhold Niebuhr writes in his book, The Irony of American History,
Nothing that is worth doing is achieved in our lifetime;
therefore, we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense
In any immediate context of history.
Therefore, we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however, virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
Therefore, we are saved by love.

“We can’t always get everything right. No one is perfect. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, the right result doesn’t always happen. You know that because Iowa is a farming state. Farmers are extraordinarily vulnerable every year. No matter how carefully you sow, fertilize, or watch over your crops, all it takes is one terrible weather event, and you can lose it all. My first congregation in Michigan was a bunch of cherry farmers, and I’ve witnessed firsthand losing an entire year’s crop in one night of a hard freeze.

“Wayne Muller writes in his book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, ‘We cannot control what will happen to the seeds we sow, the words we speak, the actions we take. We can only be as honorable, truthful, and compassionate as we are able. The moment we try to control what does or does not happen, we are left in a lingering state of insufficiency, wondering what more we could, should, have done to make it all come out right…’

“We have done what we could at this annual conference. We voted on constitutional amendments. We have tightened up our rules of order. We have a new vision statement. We are God’s hope for the world made real through faithful leaders, fruitful communities, and fire-filled people. And we have a new mission: inspiring, equipping, and connecting communities of faith to cultivate world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ for our conference. We have been inspired. We have committed to bearing fruit and bearing the cross.   

“As we leave this sacred place, in Wayne Muller’s words, ‘Our work is on ourselves, to be clearly certain we have listened, seen, felt in ourselves what, in this moment, is required. Then, forces far greater than ourselves, will have their way with whatever we plant, build, grow, or create. This, then, is our work and our challenge: to do what we can and have mercy.’”

 

I long for the day when all of God’s children will not only believe that they have done enough but will also know that they are enough.

I pray for the day when you and I know that we not only have enough for ourselves but we have more than enough to share with others.

I yearn for the day when no one will ever say to another person, “You are not good enough, smart enough, athletic enough, capable enough, or tough enough.”

I dream for the day when loving and being loved, showing grace and being shown grace, is all that we need to make a positive difference in the world. Yes, we could have done more, but God invites us to be content with enough.

  • Enough: to smile
  • Enough: to do what we can and have mercy
  • Enough: to risk loving extravagantly
  • Enough: to do the right thing today and not worry about tomorrow
  • Enough: to reach out across the divide and join hands with our neighbor
  • Enough: a hug, a phone call, a visit, a letter
  • Enough: “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
  • Enough: a candle burning in the night, guiding us through the darkness on our life’s journey

Oskar Schindler spent millions of dollars to save his Jewish workers and died penniless … with enough. Today thousands of descendants of Schindler’s Jews are living in Europe, the US, and Israel. We are not saved by doing, getting, or serving enough. We are saved by faith, hope, and love. Each step we take toward someone else, each word that shows grace, each act of kindness … is enough.

Stay in the City

“Are we forgetting anything?” At least ten times I walk through the house for a final inspection and ask two of our children and a niece and nephew to check as well. The workers are loading up the rest of our belongings to deliver them to the Des Moines area. Gary and I have begun the slow process of reuniting our two households after nine months of living apart.

What I’ve missed is amazing! First, it’s a painting in the downstairs bathroom. Then it’s a bathmat in the shower upstairs and a tiny drawer filled with kitchen items. On my final obsessive walk-through, there sits the bathroom scales, in plain sight. Somehow, no one has seen it.

I wonder, how many invisible people are there in this one precious world we that inhabit? They are often in plain sight, but we do not see them. Why? Because they are poor? Because they do not look or speak or dress like us? Because their religion or culture or education or gender identity is not like ours? In my rush from one meeting to another, who do I miss, neglect or ignore? After all, we are all in this together,

As we walk out through the garage for the last time, I thank God for the joy of being a part of the Birmingham community and congregation for three years and for the privilege of living in that house. I head to the car, and the movers climb into the cab of the truck and turn on the engine. All of a sudden, I shout, “Stop! Stop! Don’t leave!”

There, in the front yard, stands the peace pole, our family’s witness to God’s desire for all living creatures in this world to experience the wholeness of shalom. The words are displayed on all four sides in Latin, Spanish, Japanese, and English.

  • Regnet Pax Omnem Per Terram
  • Que La Paz Prevalezca En La Tierra
  • 平和が地球上に勝つこと
  • May Peace Prevail On The Earth

How could we have missed this intentional witness and sign of God’s hope for the world? “Don’t forget to take your peace with you,” God whispers in my ear. Do you take your peace with you wherever you go and offer it to everyone you meet?

During the four days that we wait for our “stuff” to make its way across the Midwest to Clive, Iowa, Christians around the world observe Ascension Day. In the gospel of Luke, the resurrected Jesus appears to two of his disciples on the Emmaus Road and makes himself known to them in the breaking of the bread at supper. Their hearts burning, the disciples return to Jerusalem, where Jesus appears to the eleven and their companions and opens their minds to understand the scriptures. Then Jesus says, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so, stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Stay in the city. Where would we be today if the disciples had bailed? How many times have you been tempted to leave, to give up on the church, or our country, or God? How often have you felt like admitting defeat, as if there were no more hope? Can you trust that God will clothe you, too, with the power from on high? Do you have faith that God will equip you with everything you need to witness to the grace of God as experienced on the day of Pentecost? Will you pay attention to needs of the world around you and acknowledge the burning in your heart and the movement of God in your life?

The moving truck finally arrives in Iowa, and as we unload boxes from the truck to the house, I see two birds flying around the front porch. I also notice debris on the cement floor as well as high up on the stone alcove. “These birds couldn’t be building a nest, could they?” I ask Gary. “There’s not enough room between the stones to create anything!” A week later, our barn swallow friends have constructed a small shelf out of mud and twigs, upon which sits a beautiful half cup-shaped nest. Each day the nest becomes more elaborate.

It’s an engineering marvel. What I am learning about barn swallows is that they are very familiar birds in rural areas and semi-open country. Barn swallows have also adopted humans as friends, typically nesting in barns, garages, under bridges and docks, or in the alcoves of porches like ours. In fact, most of their nesting sites are made by humans.

Often both the female and male take turns incubating the eggs (typically 4-5). It’s not uncommon for one or two offspring from the pair’s previous broods to attend the nest and feed the baby birds, who usually leave the nest around 18-23 days after they are born. Day by day, as we wait with our barn swallows for their babies to be hatched, I have no doubt that they will “stay in the city,” which for them is the safety of our alcove. We’re in it with them.

But what about you? How was God preparing you for the wind and fire of the Spirit to blow into your city or town yesterday on Pentecost Sunday? Did you pay attention to the signs? Were you inspired in the truest sense of the Latin word inspirare (God-breathed)? Were you even expecting the Spirit? How will your life be different? And with whom will you share the power?

I am especially touched by the first verse of Acts 2, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Would the power have been activated if everyone had gone their own way after the resurrection? As I ponder President Trump’s decision for the US to withdraw from participation in the historic Paris climate accord, when 195 other countries (all but three) are “all in,” I wonder. How much stronger our world is when we work together than separately. How much more can we cooperate in saving this one earth of ours by making commitments and keeping them together. How much greater our witness, how much deeper our bonds, and how much more effective we are in creating a world where everyone has enough, when we move beyond “What’s in it for my country?” to “We share one nest, one alcove, one future.”

Pentecost has already come to our home, as our barn swallow friends teach us to pay attention to things like earth care, nature, sharing, simplicity, nesting, and taking turns. In this time when annual conferences are meeting across The United Methodist Church in the US, dare we stay in the city together? Can we proclaim in all the languages of the world, “May peace prevail on the earth?” Can we pay attention to who’s missing and search until we are reunited? Will we covenant to strengthen our mutual commitments and seek the welfare of all people on the earth?

In the spirit of St. Francis, may we always look for beauty, care for the very least of God’s creatures, and find ways to serve and stay in the city until, together, we (including our barn swallows) are clothed with the power on high. Thanks be to God for peace poles, barn swallows, wind, and fire.

Because the Iowa Annual Conference will be in session this weekend through Monday, June 12, the next Leading from the Heart will be published on Monday, June 19.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Your Life a Blessing

Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, gave the commencement address at Harvard University. In case you didn’t know, Zuckerberg was accepted at Harvard and enrolled in 2002. By his sophomore year, he was known for his software developing skill and created Facebook out of his dorm room. After dropping out of Harvard in 2004, Zuckerberg moved to California and had a million Facebook users by the end of the year. Today his net worth is $56 billion.

In his commencement speech, Zuckerberg said, “Today I want to talk about three ways to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose: by taking on big meaningful projects together, by redefining equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue purpose, and by building community across the world.” As I read the transcript of Zuckerberg’s speech, it dawned on me that most of what Zuckerberg shared with the Harvard graduates could apply equally well to the women and men who will be ordained as elders in The United Methodist Church as annual conferences meet at this time of year.

Creating a sense of purpose by taking on big, meaningful projects together

Zuckerberg said, “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness. You’re graduating at a time when this is especially important… Membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void.

“As I’ve traveled around, I’ve sat with children in juvenile detention and opioid addicts, who told me their lives could have turned out differently if they just had something to do, an after-school program or somewhere to go. I’ve met factory workers who know their old jobs aren’t coming back and are trying to find their place. To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge – to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.”

Aren’t we as people of faith also in the business of helping others find purpose and community? A few weeks ago, I met with the clergy who will be ordained as elders in the Iowa Annual Conference in mid-June. One of the questions I asked was, “What gives you joy and purpose in ministry?” Their answers included:

  • People beginning to trust you and let you into their lives
  • Helping people find their purpose and spiritual gifts through Bible study, compassionate caring, and mentoring
  • Watching churches grow, develop, and reach out into their communities with hope
  • Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ; saying, “Here I am, send me!” and then encouraging others to consider God’s call as well
  • The privilege of leading and walking alongside all kinds of people in community and witnessing transformed lives
  • The joy of participating in the most important times in people’s lives through baptism, confirmation, graduations, weddings, and funerals

What I heard from those about to be ordained is that their call to ministry has been intertwined with others who saw potential in them, encouraged them to name their call, and provided prayer and moral support. Their ministries continue to gain purpose as they shepherd others to find purpose by claiming faith in Jesus Christ, discovering their gifts, and making a positive difference in the world.

Redefining equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue purpose

Last week Zuckerberg said to the Harvard graduates, “Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down. In our society, we often don’t do big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes that we ignore all the things wrong today if we do nothing. The reality is, anything we do will have issues in the future. But that can’t keep us from starting.”

“Every generation expands its definition of equality. Previous generations fought for the vote and civil rights. They had the New Deal and Great Society. Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation.”

When I met with the ordinands, we talked about the importance of taking risks in ministry, the necessity of failure, and the lessons we learn about leadership in the process. What are the risks that clergy must have the courage to take in order for their congregations to pursue their purpose to build community, make connections, and change the world?

  1. The risk of being transparent and vulnerable
  2. The risk of witnessing to the unconditional grace of Jesus Christ and challenging others to a deeper walk with God
  3. The risk of sharing power with laity
  4. The risk of failing
  5. The risk of talking openly about stewardship and advocating for the importance of our United Methodist connectional ministries
  6. The risk of valuing diversity and welcoming differences
  7. The risk of practicing sabbath and opening ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit
  8. The risk of dialoguing about the needs of our world from a biblical and spiritual perspective
  9. The risk of moving ministry outside the church building through adaptive change and necessary endings
  10. The risk of saying “I’m sorry.”

Creating purpose by building community across the world

Toward the end of his address, Zuckerberg said, “In a survey asking millennials around the world what defines our identity, the most popular answer wasn’t nationality, religion, or ethnicity, it was ‘citizen of the world’. That’s a big deal. Every generation expands the circle of people we consider ‘one of us’. For us, it now encompasses the entire world…

“We get that our greatest opportunities are now global – we can be the generation that ends poverty, that ends disease… This isn’t going to be decided at the UN either. It’s going to happen at the local level, when enough of us feel a sense of purpose and stability in our own lives that we can open up and start caring about everyone. The best way to do that is to start building local communities right now…  Whether our communities are houses or sports teams, churches, or music groups, they give us that sense we are part of something bigger, that we are not alone; they give us the strength to expand our horizons.”

 

One of our young clergy ordinands, Nick Grove, is the pastor of a church that is intentionally building that kind of community. The St. Charles Parish, which is a yoked United Methodist and Disciples of Christ congregation, is participating in the Healthy Church Initiative process and did something new this year. They decided to give all of their Easter offering away!

On Easter Sunday, they took in the largest offering anyone can ever remember for a single Sunday. It was over $5,000, which was twice as much as the last two Easters! Half of the offering went to help a family in the area whose house burned down and the other half went to the I-35 School District to be used at their discretion. Creating purpose. Taking on big, meaningful projects together. Making connections. Building community. What a blessing!

Zuckerberg closed with these words, “Before you walk out those gates one last time, as we sit in front of Memorial Church, I am reminded of a prayer, Mi Shebeirach, that I say whenever I face a challenge, that I sing to my daughter thinking about her future when I tuck her into bed. It goes: “May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”

On this Memorial Day, when we remember the courage of those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the armed forces; and at this time of year, when young people graduate and candidates for ministry are ordained, may you, too, find the courage to make your life a blessing!