April 29, 2014

Second-hand Stress and Church Living

This post originally came from the blog sponsored by the Duke University Clergy Health Initiative.

In a recent blog post, Jan Bruce, founder and CEO of meQuilibrium, introduced me to the idea of second-hand stress. A distant cousin of second-hand smoke, which we’ve long known to be hazardous to our health, second-hand stress is a recognized condition that indicates you can actually “catch” stress from other people.  Who knew that stress was contagious?

Well, YOU probably knew — pastors are among the most empathetic people out there, a trait which allows you to connect with your parishioners, coworkers, friends, and family and support them in so many ways. However, Ms. Bruce suggests that “being attuned to others’ emotions means that you’re potentially leaving yourself wide open to their frantic, messy, grousing, all-around unpleasant feelings, too.”
Humans are biologically wired to mirror each others’ emotions. Stress management expert Joe Robinson says, “Even if we’re not physically imitating what we see, mirror neurons still fire off a simulated version of the activity in your head as if you actually did it. It’s all designed to help us learn, understand, empathize, and connect with what others are doing and feeling.”

Okay, so your kid slams the door on her way in after school, throws her book bag against the wall and starts pacing back and forth in your kitchen, all the while muttering (or yelling) about the injustices of middle school, teachers, fickle friends, and life in general. You, once a teenager yourself and now a caring mother/father, notice the hair on the back of your neck prickling, your heart rate speeding up, and your palms getting sweaty.  You’ve picked up a case of stress from your daughter!

meQ recommends building “an emotional buffer zone, [which] allows you the space to feel, acknowledge, and name your reactions as they are happening.” This will protect you from the harmful effects of your own stress response and help you channel your energy into a positive reaction.
Here are meQ’s 3 tips for buffering against this second-hand stress (some will work better than others in certain situations):
  1. Trap it, Map it, Zap it: Be aware of your body and emotions. Figure out where these emotions are coming from and what thoughts are behind them. Then, decide if these thoughts are based on reality, or are they just your own interpretation of the situation?
  2. Relaxation Techniques: “The more you practice simple relaxation techniques, the faster and more powerfully they come to your aid when you need them.” Check out these quick-fix relaxation techniques from meQ.
  3. Boundaries: Know what your boundaries are and make sure to stick to them. Are there topics you need to avoid with certain people? Are there times of day that should be off-limits for serious discussions with your spouse? Here are some other examples of personal boundaries.
--Katie Huffman

About Katie Huffman

Katie is a Wellness Advocate with the Clergy Health Initiative. She has an undergraduate degree in History and French and a Masters degree in Gerontology; prior to her current position, Katie worked as a social worker in a retirement community in Chapel Hill. Outside of work, she enjoys gardening, spending time outdoors, baking, and hanging out with her husband, Noah, their daughter, Ada, and two kitties, Grady and Gracie.

April 25, 2014

The Bible Does Not a Christian Make

It's probably not shocking to you, but the Bible is not the same as Christianity, and being biblically literate is not the same as being a good Christian. The Bible is, however, a gift from God, but it is meant to be a light to guide our path--a path that can lead back to God. For us Wesleyans, that path is also known as the road to perfection.

The Bible is a light that helps us find our way; it is not the final destination. So as much as we are encouraged to read and understand the Bible, we must never be fooled into thinking that knowing the Bible means that we know all about God. Knowing is a part of faith, but practicing our faith and living in love and charity with others, whether they be God, self, family, neighbors, strangers, or enemies--that is reason for our faith. We have faith so we can love God, others, and ourself more and more deeply.

This light the Bible gives is also meant to reinforce and encourage our inner light, that place inside of us where God dwells. It seems that too many people believe "in the Bible." No, we believe in God who can, but who doesn't have to, speak to us from the Bible. The Bible is not a rule book or a book of laws. As Paul says in Romans and elsewhere, Christ has freed us from the law, which only brings death. In Christ, we are freed for joyful obedience not servitude. We abound in grace not law or even works.

Paul also wrote that Scripture was only one part of our armor. It is the sword of faith. The sword of faith, the Bible, is meant only to protect and defend us. It is not meant to be used as a weapon against others. And we are certainly never required to fall on our sword, that is, use the Bible in self-defeating or self-injuring ways. Although I have to confess that I do like to brandish and duel with my sword a little much too often.

A person once asked me if I believed in the Bible. It was a kind of "do you beat your spouse" sort of question --no good answer. I muttered something and changed the subject. But later I thought how I should have answered her and what I'd do next time someone asks. No, I don't believe in the Bible, I believe in God. There is a difference.

Grace, Kathy

April 21, 2014

The Color of Prayer

This comes from the leaders of our Adult Education at our local church. Thought you'd enjoy it as well.

"We have been using a video during our class time to teach us more about prayer and yesterday one of the topics on the video was The Color of Prayer. I thought this was so fascinating because I had never thought about prayer having a color. Think about that for a minute. What color would you assign to prayer? Some responses of people on the video were white, rainbow, and blue. But the response that I loved was a man that is a hospice counselor. He said that the color of prayer for him was water. He explained that he knew that wasn't a particular color, but when he thought about prayer he always compares it to water. Water is fluid just as our prayer life should be. A constant flow of communication between us and God. He said sometimes the water is clear and sometimes the water is muddy. Sometimes the answers from God are crystal clear and sometimes the answers are not so clear and we have to spend more time in meditation and discernment. Sometimes water flows gently and calmly and sometimes the water is rough with huge waves. Our prayers can be loving words of praise and gratitude exchanged between us and God or our prayers can express our anger, frustration, or impatience for why we are going through particular trials and tribulations."

Happy Easter Monday,

April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

If you're looking to understand Maunday Thursday better, see Will Willimon's book, Thank God It's Thursday. You can get it for under $5 at Cokesbury.com.


And here's a good book about Good Friday also by Will Willimon. You can get either a print or ebook for about $10.


Have a great Holy Week. We continue at our church tonight with a Maunday Thursday service.


April 15, 2014

God's Plan for You

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday and next Sunday is Easter. Many Christians are all to happy to celebrate the triumphal entry and the glorious Resurrection, but not so keen on what happened between.

The New Testament  is very clear that Jesus did not simply get swept up into events when they got out of control. He had a plan. He had a plan then; he had a plan for his followers; and he has a plan for each of us now.

Even before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, he had things planned out. He directed his disciples to go get the donkey. He could do this because he had made arrangements ahead of time. Before the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples to prepare the meal in a place that's he's already "booked." While the disciples might be clueless and stumble, Jesus never does. He prayerfully planned and stuck to it, even when tempted to go a different way in the Garden.

Jesus was a planner, but his planning do not conflict with his dependence on God. The Gospel of Matthew quotes the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The messiah would come riding humbly on a donkey. He's not humble because of the donkey. He's humble because of his total reliance on God. This was his refuge when he suffered and wrestled with his will in Gethsemane . He gave himself over the God's will, which always intends only the good for us.

But if you're like me, sometimes we have difficulty understanding the line between our plan and totally relying on God. Depending on God does not mean that we just let happen what's going to happen or that we just fling ourselves headlong down a particular path. It means consulting with God as we make our plans, so that they reflect God's desires in the first place. So when things get dicey or we want to chicken out, we can fall back and depend on the steadfast loving kindness of God to move us forward and along that road to perfection.

Hope you find ways to reflect Christ in your life this week.

Nashville, TN

April 14, 2014

Cosmos Rewrites History

The FOX series, Cosmos, is truly wonderful. But it also shows that even something that advertises itself as strictly factual can stoop to rewriting history or presenting history as they wish it had been--as their version of the story.

Take, for example, the cartoon scene where the series talks about first buds of democracy in the Greek city states. Here the show plays fast and loose with history. When the Greeks talked about "the people," they had a highly selective group of people in mind: no women, no slaves, no children, no foreigners, no one who was not a citizen. Perhaps the show should have said, democracy was it was understood in the 19th century, not as we understand it today.

Next, Neil DeGrasse Tyson mentions Democritus as the "father of science" and he was indeed an important thinker, but he was also student of Leucippus. These are both shadowy figures at best, and it is difficult to attribute what ideas originated with whom. If the show wants accuracy, some things have to be nuanced.

Then there is the wildly inaccurate cartoon scene of ancient Greek men and women sitting together informally discussing philosophy. Very appealing but highly unlikely that women were allowed to mix with men on an equal basis and be allowed to speak with authority in the public sphere. This is just wishful thinking.

All this to say, that viewers need to be careful when watching even a great show. With the limitations the producers have to work with, they do a fine job. But not all of what it shown and said is reliable. You can't bank on all of it. The show exhibits its own degree of prejudice. They should leave the history to real historians and let the scientists do science.

Grace, Kathy

When Is the Church not the Body of Christ?

We are all familiar with Paul's letter, First Corinthians, which tells us that "You (you plural) are the body of Christ." And sometimes the Church does act like the Body of Christ. But like Israel went astray, chasing after false gods, so can the Church. The Church is meant to be active in the world, helping reconcile its people to God. But all to often, it becomes self-preoccupied and not only forgets its mission, but forgets whose mission it is anyway. It's not our mission but God's. The Church is only a means God can use to offer people salvation--healing and wholeness.

Too often, the Church gets caught up in its own organization and committees. When that happens, the Church takes its eyes off God and thus opens itself up for temptation to follow something or someone else, whether it is a self-proclaimed guru who promises success or the shiny god of a particular political ideology.

In our conference appointments are finished. And there is nothing that speaks to the human character of the Church like this process of sending pastors, despite the fact that Cabinets often fret and stew over them. Sometimes bishops and Cabinets have to make painful decisions that they know will hurt the pastor and/or the pastor's family--for the "good" of the Church.

As we approach Holy Week, let's remember what the Church is called to be and what we as individual Christians are called to do. Let us, at least for this week, keep our eyes on Jesus.

Grace, Kathy

April 7, 2014

The TV series Cosmos, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, inspires awe, as viewers enjoy learning about the wonders of the universe. And it is a good reminder of our place in it.

We are infinitesimal. And watching the series has given me new depth of meaning to the Psalms--"Oh, LORD, my Lord, how majestic is your name." Yes, our God is beyond all imagining. And we are so small in comparison. This fact alone can go a long to remedy human pride and concupiscence. Earth is only one planet in one galaxy in one star system in the visible universe.

Cosmos, as a voice from science, can serve to remind us that, in the grand scheme of things, even all together, we really don't matter very much. But as the series also points out, individuals bear the weight of discovery. And without these people, we would still be living in caves with lifespans half of what we now enjoy. And God loves us individually.

The fact that God cares for us blows my mind. The fact that God came to us is beyond belief.

As Paul says, "we see in a glass darkly, but then face-to-face." Consider that we can never experience the broad spectrum of sound and/or light waves. We know in part and we understand even less. What really matters is faith, hope, and love.

Surely, seeing how small we are and how contingent our planet is when compared to the vastness of the universe will encourage us to seek even greater dependence on God. For God is the ground of our hope and a ready source of help in time of trouble.

Grace, Kathy

April 3, 2014

Request for Help and Information about UMC Spilt

Friends, sometimes it is hard to really know what is going on in our United Methodist Church. Where I sit, I'm hearing rumors about a UMC split over the issues related to homosexuality. But in my local church, no one is talking about this at all. So I'm trying to find out just how prevalent conversations about a split actually are in local congregations. Do local churches really care? Is this just a general church issue, a clergy issue, a lay issue, a regional issue, or what?

Are these rumors like the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus talks about in Matthew 16:8-13?

Frankly, if we split, it will be like us shooting ourselves in the foot. How will we support our missionaries and UMCOR? We will dilute our witness and weaken our effectiveness. As United Methodists we should be experienced at reconciling divisions rather than promoting them. All congregations have disagreements, but they remain one church. We are a body of believers who, in my experience, represent a range of beliefs on most everything. We may want to agree on the essentials, but sometimes even that is impossible. There was a much-loved Sunday school teacher in one of our former congregations. In her heart of hearts, she believed in double predestination. In this, she was a Calvinist through and through, but she was a member of The United Methodist Church. Because beside her belief about God’s sovereignty, resided another—God’s gracious and extravagant love for us and God’s intent that we love and serve unselfishly. But given a UM theology litmus test, most likely she would fail. Does your congregation have people like this?

The real question is whether or not we, as a church, will succumb to letting our own human sin and frailties divide us. How sad would it be if we split only because of what we believe about ourselves and human nature. But first, it this even on the radar in your local church?

Grace, Kathy 

April 1, 2014

Wisdom for Appointment Time

Let's be in prayer for all involved in the appointment process. But as I thought about the difficult and all-too-painful results, this story from Judges came to mind. It was comforting somehow.

Judges 9:10-15
Once the trees went out to anoint a king over themselves, so they said to the olive tree, "Be our king." But the olive tree replied to them, "Should I stop producing my oil, which is how gods and humans are honored, so that I can go to sway over the trees?"

So the tree said to the fig tree, "You come and be king over us!" The fig tree replied to them, "Should I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, so that I can go to sway over the trees?"

Then the trees said to the vine, "You come and be king over us!" But the vine replied to them, "Should I stop providing my wine that makes gods and humans happy, so that I can go to away over the trees?"

Finally, all the trees said to the thornbush, "You come and be king over us.!" And the thornbush replied to the trees. "If you're acting faithfully in anointing me king over you, come and take shelter in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the thornbush and burn up the cedars of Lebanon.

Grace, Kathy