Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Place I am Content

As a teenager, it can be very difficult to find places where you feel completely safe, welcome, loved, and at peace.

Even as an adult it is very difficult to find these places.

Where do you go to find contentment?

Is it in nature?  

With some friends?

As an employee of the church, one thing that you want is for people to feel that the church can be that place too.

Church is and should be more than a place you go to worship once a week.  It should be a place you go to feel safe.

A place you are loved and welcomed.

A place you feel at home.

Recently one of our youth, Max,  wrote an essay for a college application answering the question of "A place that you are content".

Here is what he wrote.

Reclining in one of the several hundred mahogany chairs, I stare forward at the lengthy chancel and the extravagant sanctuary. The whole church is whispered conversations and relaxed postures, those in need of prayer filing off into the transepts. Praise songs and hymns are fingerpicked on acoustic guitars. The priest surveys the nave from his or her chosen position with a quiet countenance and a subtle smile. My fellows walk about the church in silence, the music echoing about the cavernous space providing enough sonic stimulation for anyone to converse in quiet tones without being heard. My gaze may shift when someone passes, but I stare off into myself as much as I can. I know no one will accost or speak to me. I indulge thoughts of my world, rethinking my recent observations and actions, hoping to assemble some phrase or fragment, one I can repeat in my head to make sense of some personal trouble. I am content in the midst of a large congregation of friends, allowed to sit alone and think with a clarity unattainable when conforming to the script of social interaction.

This place is All Saints Chapel of Sewanee, the University of the South.

Through Episcopal youth programs I attend a small service at All Saints twice a year. The congregation is consistent. Most of the same youth participate in the summer and in the winter sessions. The services always include a time for individual prayer and meditation. My fellows sit in thought, converse in whispers, walk the aisles of the beautiful church or kneel out of reverence to the triune deity. I utilize this period for personal reflection. I cherish the ability to be among so many people who I communicate with so often, and say nothing to them, exchange no ideas. Left to myself, I revert to an meditative state of mind in which I can analyze my universe with ease. I find the situation unique, the time precious, the experience transcendent.

Many of my peers ponder their relationship with the Lord, but I use the time to think in complete serenity. I find the halls and rituals of a peaceful religion pleasant, providing spaces of quietude and a sense of deep safety. Episcopalians rarely vocalize dogmas. They are accepting and maintain a healthy atmosphere of peace. The Episcopal church provides me with the opportunity to hear true silence and to feel true comfort. This culture of acceptance,tolerance, and serenity has become a major part of my identity over the last four years. Of the many experiences I gain through this community, the collective hour of each year in which I sit and stare into myself there is untouchable and magical. All Saints is a space in which I feel the subliminal, naked purity of my existence. The encroaching darkness, mellifluous acoustics, welcoming candlelight, sacred geometry, and Anglican architecture constitute an environment where my being truly belongs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Treat Yo Self

Well it is that time of the year again…Spring Break…

Many of you have just returned from you week long break from school and the rest of you are in the middle of your vacations right now. 

Whether you are camping, skiing, beaching, or just enjoying a week off of school and having a nice staycation…one thing holds true…

It is never a bad thing to take care of yourself.

I have been thinking about this concept this past week all because of one reason…the Memphis Grizzlies.

Last week, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger sat 4 key players to the Grizzlies line up.  Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen would all be taking the night off when they played the Washington Wizards last Thursday.  Granted, Mike Conley was recovering from a sprained ankle he received the night before while playing the Boston Celtics.  Conley would return later that same game was seen limping and wearing a walking boot after the game.  Conley has continued to sit and rest up and make sure that he is 100% healthy before returning to playing.

This really made me think about something that I know I struggle with a lot….taking care of myself.

Sometimes I really struggle with doing things that I know I need to do because I get caught up in all the things that I think I need to get done.  I make those my priorities and work my butt off until the job is completed.  Then I pick a new task and start to work on that. 

The problem with this method is that you can quickly grow tired…and when you are tired…you are not working at your best.

In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger coined a term most people are familiar with these days…burnout. 

The problem when you focus so much on a task or a job or even school (yes, I said school) is that you burnout.  This can cause exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, none of which sound like good things when it comes to anything related to how you work or perform in school.

Luckily, there is a way to prevent this from happening.  Just sit back and take a lesson from the Memphis Grizzlies…rest…take care of yourself.

In the famous words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle…Treat yo self!

Now, before toss your books off the desk and tell your teachers that you didn’t do your homework last night because you were treating yo’ self…

This excuse does not also work very well at work…if you did you may end up with a lot of free time on your hands, cause you would probably be fired.

But, there are still times that it is ok to treat yo’ self…let’s look a one example of a pretty awesome dude who lived about 2,000 years ago.

Jesus ate healthy, rested when he needed, and took time to relax…Matt 4:6-7; 26:18, 20; John 12:2).

He also would go off to be alone when he needed but then also would gather with his friends when that was what he needed.

Something else Jesus did a lot...he said no.

Not to everything but he said no to the things that were not good for him to do. 

Jesus did everything that he needed to do and did it passionately and whole heartedly.

This made me think...

As some of you know, I used to work as a carpenter before starting my job at the church.  I remember there was this one time I was working on a project and I just was not feeling it.  It was late in the work week, towards the end of the day and I had been working a lot of extra hours leading up to that day.  It was a relatively simple job.  It was an old jewelry cabinet that need some pieces replaced and to be touched up.  When it comes to wood working, they is so much going on that it can become mentally and physically exhausting and I had become burned out.  My work became sloppy.  I was not focused.  And I used any chance I could to work slower and take more breaks.  I was not very motivated to work hard on this project.  My heart was not into it.

I remember I took the following Friday off and spent the weekend relaxing and taking care of myself.  When I went back to work on Monday I started a new project.  We were working on refinishing an antique dresser.  They drawers were missing most of the knobs to open them.  Normally that is an easy fix, but since it was an antique, the pulls were these hand carved decorative knobs.

If you have ever carved anything out of wood, you may know that it is very tedious, time consuming, painful (finger cramps), and painful (chisels are very, very sharp!), and very frustrating.  One tiny mistake can ruin the whole thing and you have to start over.  Luckily, I was well rested and was feeling prepared to start my new project.  I didn’t make excuses this time... I just went right to work.

I was frustrated at the project a lot but that didnt keep me from losing my focus like I had done on my previous project.  The end result... well, I was pretty darn proud of myself.

I was able to really focus on my new project and was able to put more of myself into the project because I was more present thanks to the few days of rest.

Many times we may have to push ourselves pretty hard to get over the mountain of life.  It is a lot of work and it is tiring to make that uphill battle. 

When we encounter these challenges, make sure you take care of yourself afterwards. 

Pay attention to yourself and your own needs every now and then.  When you are starting to feel burned out and that you may need a break...

Treat Yo Self!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I had a rough day, but that's life...

What is your all time FAVORITE musical artist?  Favorite song?

I am not going to lie…this is one of my least favorite questions…like it might be safe to say that I hate this question and refuse to answer it. 

“That is a weird question to have so much anger towards, Mattthew” you may be thinking.

Well, I will tell you why I feel this way and how some of the music that I listen to has helped teach me a listen during this season of Lent.

I will start off with the easy answer…Why I hate this question.

Well, I like a lot of different kinds of music.  My Pandora station I use has about 30 different artists not even counting the tracks that I have thumbed-up.  These artists range from The Guess Who, to Avett Brothers, and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears to Tokyo Police Club.  I am currently on a big Milky Chance kick but also like relax to some Lettuce but am not afraid to bust out my old Korn and Metallica albums…

How in the world do you expect me to choose ONE song…from that list…really?

What I listen to depends a lot on what I am doing, how I am feeling, and a plethora of other factors.

So the other I had some music playing in my room while I was trying to clean up a little bit when a song came on that caught my attention.  It was a song that I have heard a number of times before…but for some reason, this one particular time…it made me stop and think.

The song is called The Best Day by Atmosphere.  The song starts with the line, “I had a rough day, but that’s life, it happens…”

“Isn’t that the truth!” I thought as the song began to play, as I continued to try to get some work done around the house.

Later in the chorus the song goes “Every day can’t be the best day; Do what you can right now, don’t hesitate.”

For some reason this immediately made me think back to Matthew 6: 25-34...and back to my first youth minister, Paul Canady and the parable of the Prodigal Son, and finally Lent.

You may be very confused how I was able to quickly connect all of those things…but just keep reading and it will all make sense.

So, as I said, Paul was my first youth minister when I was a youngster at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, TN.  He is currently an Associate Rector at Christ Church in New Bern, North Carolina.  A while back I was listening to one of his sermons online…yes, sometimes in my spare time I like to listen to sermons…

This particular Sunday, Paul was preaching on the Prodigal Son.  He began by naming something that I am sure we have all thought before…

Sometimes, when we hear the reading on a particular Sunday, a reading that we may have heard a hundred times…once the sermon starts we go, well I already know what they are going to say…and we zone out and read the information in the service leaflet…  Don’t lie….we have all been there.

Instead of trying to come up with a whole new twist to put on this story, Paul just named the problem.  Yes, it is a story that we have all heard many times.  We are familiar with it.  We know how it ends.  We have already heard the lesson of the story and blah blah blah.  But, there is something that is different now.  Something is no longer the same as it was the last time you heard this story last…you.

You are not the same person you were the last time you heard this story.  Maybe you will relate to a different character in the story.  Maybe you will take a completely different lesson this time…so listen up.

That was what was going through my head as this song by Atmosphere was playing.  A song I had heard a hundred times…but for some reason…it stuck out to me this particular time.

Like a mentioned earlier, I immediately thought of this story from Matthew…
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-Matthew 6:25-34

It was getting to be late…I was tired, worn out…it was just one of those days…nothing particularly bad happened but it was just one of those days where at the end of it you are just like…blah…

Then I hear…I had a rough day…(yup, sure did)  but that’s life, it happens…(Yes, it sure does…)

The whole first verse of the song goes with the singer, Slug, complaining about things going on in his life. 

He almost lost his job because he overslept, he is not enjoying work, he is poor and struggling to get by…

Then it gets to the chorus when he is like…you know, not every day is going to be great.  You just have to take the good with the bad.  Just do what you can.

This was when I thought back to the story from Matthew.

For some reason, the mood I was in that day, allowed me to hear that song in a completely different way.  It spoke to me in a way that made me reflect on a lesson I had learned before, but had forgotten to live.  A lesson I constantly try to teach and encourage our youth to do.

One thing I say a lot is that if you go into something expecting to have a bad time…you are going to have a bad time.  But go into it with an open mind…you just may have a great time.

Just like if you go through out your day focused on the bad…you may miss those countless number of times that God tried to make an appearance in your daily life.

Luckily for me, that one evening, God found a way to me through that song…

How is God making an appearance in your life even when you are not looking?

My challenge for you this week, at least one day, spend a day taking the good with the bad…keep an open mind and be on the lookout for how God is working around you in your everyday life.

It may be difficult but like I said earlier….if you go into something with an open mind…

One time, a friend of mine was giving the chapel talk at Mud Camp at St. Columba Conference Center.  They had all the kids at camp look around and point out every place that they saw a cross.  Whether it was two branches of a tree that crossed by each other, the supports of the pavilion, the veins on a leaf…once they started looking…they were spotting these cross shapes EVERYWHERE!

Every place you see one of these crosses…that is God at work…

Imagine if we started each day with that mindset.