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Everything I ever needed to learn about service I learned from the New Testament. From John 13, to be specific. It is the Last Supper, and Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, despite their protests. And in doing so, He demonstrates what it means to be a leader: A leader serves.

That’s right. In fact, the more power you have, the more of a servant you ought to be. I used to work for a busy catalog company. The CEO was required to view every catalog page before it went out the door to the color separator. Because our deadlines were so tight, this meant he often had to sift through 50-100 pages in one night. Sometimes while he was on vacation. Or traveling for business. Or laid up in bed with an injured knee. But he never complained. He knew what it meant to be a good leader. In this case, it meant kowtowing to the demands of a lowly editor. He did it gladly. It was good business, and it was good leadership.

People talk about mankind being the overlords of nature. We have ultimate power over the natural world. Is there a better or more loving way to think about this concept than in the light of Jesus’ teaching on leadership? We should serve the natural world. Care for the smallest and mightiest of God’s creatures. Kowtow to lowly worms. Because that’s service. And that’s leadership. Think about it.

“You call me Master, and Lord. And you say well; for so I am. If then I, being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” John 13: 13-14.

This Prayer of Service is one of the Daily Prayers from the Book of Common Worship.

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labor and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

 

Like Ruth, I’m big on service to others.  In highschool, I was a candy striper at a local hospital.  I’ve helped with Scouts, and worked a local pow wow.
Service is our opportunity to connect what we learn in scriptural study and meditation to those around us.  Study lays the theory.    Service gives us the hands-on experience that cements the knowledge.

One thing that Ruth asked us to consider was whether or not we should do service if we can’t do it with a smile.  My answer?  It depends.

I recently quit a service position in my church.  Initially, I loved serving on this high-energy committee.  I looked forward to the meetings because I knew that I would come out of them excited about our next project.  Eventually, my enthusiasm waned.  Going to the meetings was like going to my well-woman exam.  Actually, I’d rather go see my extremely perky doctor.  Since I was no longer smiling, I knew it was time to quit.  Yes, I prayed about it, and then I quit.

But other times service doesn’t bring a smile to your face yet it is still something you need to do.  Once when I prayed on what I could do to serve my church, the message came through loud and clear.  “Join the choir.”

Short, simple and to the point.

I tried to ignore it.  Then one Sunday the choir master made a bee-line towards me after the service just to ask if I’d join.  Subtle?  Hardly, but I was being dense because I hate getting up in front of the congregation.

Hate it.

This would not be service with a smile on my face.  After all it is really hard to smile in the midst of a panic attack.  Once I decided to join the choir, I had panic attacks every time the choir sang and I wasn’t even in the choir yet.  Rehearsals?  More panic attacks.  Actually getting up to sing?  Did you know that when you’re scared enough, your field of vision shrinks?

I wasn’t smiling.  I was sweating.  And shaking.  And getting really pale according to those around me.  Maybe I could get out of this.  I went to the choir master who sings in the local opera theater.

He offered me a trash can.  He checked on me every now and again.  He mooched mints off me.  But not once did he offer to let me off the hook.

Service isn’t always easy.  Sometimes it rocks you back on your heels and you really can’t smile because if you do you might get sick.  But if you choose your service opportunities prayerfully, you’ll get as much out of it as you give.  Me?  When I read about Moses trying to get out of leading the people, I have a pretty good idea what he was going through.  My own experiences have brought this bit of learning to life like nothing else could.  It isn’t the lesson I expected to get, but apparently it was the one that I needed to learn.

What’s next?

I’m not 100% certain I want to know.

–SueBE

 

Service to humanity is service to God. Let the love and light of the Kingdom radiate through you until all who look upon you shall be illumined by its reflection. Be as stars, brilliant and sparkling in the loftiness of their heavenly station.

Bahai Prayer

When I worked at a pharma company years ago, there was a policy of providing employees with two “volunteer” days per month.  We would literally show up for work, put on an Orange “Company Volunteer” shirt, get in the van and go out and do work in the community.  It was really a good feeling to be able to give back so concretely, and have the company support us in that way.

Once, we tore out wall-to-wall carpeting and painted the living room of a home for unwed mothers.  Another time, we sorted clothing to be given out to the homeless.  I’ve also volunteered on my own through the years for many different charities and organizations – so many that, for a while, I kept a separate resume with just the names and dates of my volunteer service.  After some time, I stopped keeping track.  I wasn’t quite sure who I was saving the information for… maybe for my son, so he’d realize the importance of giving back.  But to be honest, just as he doesn’t share my faith, he doesn’t share my philanthropic impulses either.

So why do we engage in acts of service to humanity?  Does God expect it of those of us who profess to walk in faith?  There is a biblical passage that negates this notion.  “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV.

Followers of Islam are exhorted to do good deeds during Ramadan, and in Judaism, there is an obligation to help others, “Tzedekah.”  Most religions make good works central to their practice.  But what does God have to say about the subject?  This morning, when I asked God, He said, “Use your best judgment.”  Not really.  But it is what I’m going to end up doing, as I do with every subject too big for my tiny human brain to fully comprehend.  I’m betting that what God would say is that I already know the answer innately.

Every time I’ve volunteered to help somebody else, I ended up helping myself.  Even if I’m just encouraging someone to follow a dream, I get something out of it – a sense of being able to give someone a pat on the back on the road of life.  They’re not asking me to sponsor them as they learn how to sculpt or do interpretive dance.  Maybe just an “attaboy” or an “attagirl” as they pursue a dream they’ve always harbored and held dear.  It only took me a moment, but I know that service to humanity is service to God, and when I help my fellow man, I help myself, and get closer to my Maker in the process.

So I say, reach out when you can.  It may not be mandatory in God’s eyes, but it’s a blessing that you get to give and keep at the same time.

Catholics catch a lot of heat for believing that the Pope is infallible. The problem is, we don’t. The Pope can be wrong. He can, and does, sin. Infallibility refers to the Pope, acting as head of the body of bishops, in unity with the bishops, teaching a specific doctrine of faith or morals as true. That’s a lot to swallow! Let’s break it down.

The Pope speaks infallibly only on certain occasions. This is referred to as speaking “ex cathedra.” It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, the topic is not going to be controversial. You’re not going to hear the Pope expound infallibly on the best flavor of ice cream. Speaking ex cathedra is a big deal. When it happens, the subject is a basic, universal matter of faith, such as: Jesus is the Son of God. Mary was without sin. Stuff like that. The big stuff.

Second, he only does it with the full force of all the bishops behind him. The Pope is sort of “president of the bishops.” He’s not going to speak ex cathedra about a divisive topic. Everyone must be in agreement. Third, he only discusses matters of faith or morals. And all he really says is, “This is true. You must believe this.” Again, nothing far-out is being thrown out there. Just the basics, the no-brainers. Pretty much the stuff all Christians feel comfortable signing off on.

So, yeah, we know some of the Popes were rotters. No one’s giving them a pass. Even the best Popes aren’t perfect. They’re human. Infallibility is just one tiny piece of what the Pope does. And a large portion of them never speak infallibly! So don’t worry. You’re allowed to say the Pope is wrong. I do it all the time.

Most Merciful Lord,
Help me to hear You
in the voices around me
in this world I walk.

Help me to find Your voice
in the clamor
of dissenting opinions.

And help me realize
when to silence my own voice
so that another may hear
You.

Amen.

This week Ruth asked Lori and I how we dealt with it when a leader in our faith held a belief we simply couldn’t condone.  I knew this would be a difficult topic for me to address publicly.  After all, I like to think of myself as open-minded.  I certainly don’t want anyone to think of me as judgmental.

That said, some things are just deal breakers.  It isn’t so much that I expect to agree with everything the Pastor or even the Presbytery says.  After all, I disagree with my husband and my friends on any number of things, some of them deeply entrenched values.  Yet I still share a close, loving relationship with all of these people.

Yet there was one point in my faith journey that I didn’t believe a loving relationship was possible.  I simply had to take a different path.

When I was in high school, I went to church but I didn’t always go with my parents.  I visited other churches.  I attended temple.  I talked to various religious teachers and leaders.

One Sunday, I went to church with some kids from my highschool.

First we attended a Sunday school class unlike any I’d ever seen.  Adults of various ages and teens broke into mixed age groups and discussed the assigned readings.   What an awesome learning experience!

Next, we went to a class that was only highschool girls. I wasn’t surprised when the teacher started telling us about our upcoming roles as grown ups. After all, it’s the sort of thing that adults feel the need to tell teens ad nauseam.  Then the message went, in my opinion, to the Dark Side.  “It will be your job as wives and mothers to keep your family together.  Your husband might be an alcoholic.  He might beat you.  It does not matter.  Your job is to preserve the family unit no matter what he does.”

“It does not matter.”

I can still hear those words and they mattered very deeply to me.  Yet I might have been able to shrug them off if it had ended here.

In the service, we took Communion.  The Elements were passed around by a group of boys who were about 7 years-old.  My friend grasped my wrist.  “You can’t touch the trays.  You’re a girl.”

It did matter.

This wasn’t one person’s opinion.  It ran much deeper than that.

I kept my hands in my lap, and, when I left that place, I left for good. To find the close loving relationship I was after I had to look elsewhere.  I had to look up to God.  And I couldn’t do that if I was staring at my hands clasped in my lap.

I can handle not agreeing with someone as long as that person sees me as someone who is no better or worse than they are simply by an accident of birth.  They must see me as a fellow traveler on the journey.  Then we can travel side-by-side, debating over the course of many miles and lifting our faces and our prayerful voices to He Who Made Us.

–SueBE

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I’m one of those annoying people who say that I’m “spiritual but not religious,” and that means that I get to mix and match what I believe, like shopping at some metaphysical flea market.  My own beliefs encompass Judeo-Christian traditions – summed up neatly by the Golden Rule – along with various other ideologies, such as the Zen Buddhist notion that we are really connected to everything.

Since I don’t have a house of worship in which to attend services, I’ve had to adopt religious leaders of various stripes, and for the most part, my need for a fellowship is met virtually.  And at other times, it’s virtually met.  As in, it’s not quite what I want out of my faith experience.

I love the vibe and energy of various Christian pastors.  Joyce Meyer is full of fun and common-sense advice.  I love the fact that her television program isn’t called, “Follow this Dogma” but “Enjoying Everyday Life.”  I’d never heard a religious leader break it down like that, and I was impressed.  Sometimes it isn’t the tenets of faith or rules of a religion we need to hear from our pastor, it’s how to actually create a life worth living while still holding true to our beliefs.

When you want a shot of faith into your soul, TD Jakes is the man for the job.  An incredible orator, and an impassioned “inspirer,” to coin a term, when he tells a story from the Bible, he grabs your attention, and you know down in your bones he’s preaching true.  When it comes to charisma and creativity, Pastor Jakes really delivers.

I enjoy many different religious leaders, but my own “personal” Pastor – if you could call it that, since I’ve never met him or set foot in his church in Texas – has been Joel Osteen.  Everything about this religious leader jibes with what I believe.  His infectious smile, his spirit of encouragement, the fact that he opens every sermon with a joke… all of it conveys positivity.

But Osteen let me down a few weeks ago when he denounced gays as sinners. Now, I know most Christians will say he was just citing Scripture, but one of the things I liked most about this pastor is that he didn’t do sermons as much as pep-talks.  It always seemed that his church was welcoming to all, and that there was no condemnation.  If you came to be encouraged, this was the place to be.

For a week or two, I distanced myself from Joel Osteen (not that he noticed,) but as time went on, I decided to accept the fact that, in my estimation, he had erred in speaking about excluding any of God’s children from His love.  Many espouse the “love the sinner, hate the sin” theology, so I thought it over.  The sinner?  My pastor, perfect hair and shiny teeth in tow.  The sin?  Passing judgment and deciding on God’s behalf who is worthy of His Grace.   As earthly shepherd to a flock of believers, what I would tell my virtual pastor, were I ever to meet him, is this:  God has an open door policy.  Everyone is welcome to walk through.

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