Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reflections on Arlington

The word liturgy means "work of the people". The United Methodist Book of Worship provides liturgy to be used for baptism, communion, weddings, funerals, ordinations, and many other occasions in church life. Some people think liturgy is meaningless since it is not spontaneous but I love liturgy and use it often. Several in my first congregation questioned my use of formal liturgy since their previous pastors had criticized using any formal liturgy. Then one Sunday morning, my Lay Leader asked to address the church. She admitted being one of the chief critics of liturgy but something recently had changed her mind. Within a month's time, she had attended the funerals of two young men under the age of thirty. She knew their families well and was devastated by the loss. Her grief seemed overwhelming until she attended their funeral services. It was in the ritual of the liturgy that provided familiarity and comfort. When the words began, they were like a healing balm to her soul. Now she understood the importance of liturgy. Sometimes we do not need spontaneity - we need structure and we need tradition.

Our military understands this. On Monday, I had the rare privilege of officiating at a military interment at Arlington National Cemetery. My uncle, Robert H. Waldrup, was buried with full military honors. He had served his country with honor in the Air Force and now, with honor, he was laid to rest. The ceremony was highly structured and timed from the transfer of his casket to the securing of the casket on the caisson, to the cermonial march to the graveside and all the elements of the actual service. There was beauty in the ritual and that beauty provided a sense of awe, wonder, majesty, and healing for those who gathered to mourn his death. We, the civilians who benefit from the sacrifice made by the men and women serving in uniform, may take their sacrifice for granted but the military does not. If you want to see how seriously it is taken, see the HBO film, Taking Chance.

I now cringe when someone tells me to just stick them in the ground without service or ceremony. Surely a life well lived deserves the honor of a ritual that gives honor to their lives. The ritual gives the living permission to reflect on the life of another and in that reflection, we may receive some much needed answers for living our own lives.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

All or nothing

It is a moment I will never forget. Five days earlier. someone I never met had confronted me with an issue that had been unresolved in my life for twenty-seven years. When I was fourteen years old, I had promised God to do what God asked of me. I knew God was asking something of me but when you are a female in the Southern Baptist tradition, you have a limited understanding of just what that means. God never answered my pressing questions as I finished high school, college, or graduate school. God never spoke up when I moved to Houston to take a job in banking, when I got married or had children. Now here I was, a divorced, single mother with three children starting over and God picks now to tell me what I was called to do. It was an all or nothing proposition and in that moment I committed my all.

You do not fully understand the sacrifice it will require. You do not comprehend how often your heart will be broken or how often you will be misunderstood. You cannot know how you will be brought to your knees or lifted up beyond expectations. The clearer your call becomes the more you are able to accept it all as being part of something far greater than you.

This is my eleventh year in pastoral ministry. I adore the people I serve - they are human just like me. They are a mixed of beauty and pain. They are capable of greatness and pettiness. I stand before them each week wondering how I can make them understand one great truth - you cannot serve yourself and serve God. They say God is important. They claim that their faith is a priority but it isn't. It is a convenience - there when they need it and nothing else more important is taking its place.

At some point, you must make a choice and deferring that choice is a choice as well. If you want a different life, you must make a different choice.