Monday, May 26, 2008

“Called” and “sent.”


“Called” and “sent.” These two words sum up the ways in which clergy find placement in contemporary Christian culture. The first category is the larger, in which through a variety of mechanisms, clergy make themselves available for leadership within their denominations. Pulpit committees, resumes, interviews, and the inevitable potluck meals are on the pathway to finding a new pastorate for many Christian men and women.

The second type of pathway is that of being “sent,” appointed by denominational leadership to a ministry assignment with little or no input on the part of the one being sent. The systems vary by denominations, with the Methodist’s itinerant clergy the most common of the “sent” version, where, as my friend described, the pastor gets one vote, the congregation gets one vote, and the bishop gets three votes.

Not quite so for the Salvation Army clergy – no votes in this system, only the appointment board’s recommendation and the territorial commander’s decision. Time to move.

As “sent” servants of God, the first few moves brought a sense of excitement and anticipation to my husband and myself, as the challenge of fresh harvest fields re-ignited our passion for service. But as we get older, we find it harder to make the abrupt changes required of the itinerant clergyperson. As April eases its way into May, anxiety levels rise, and we stretch for ways to cope with what we’re experiencing.

Face the Anxiety
Will the divisional commander call tomorrow? Or won’t there be any call? What will I do if it does come? And how will I respond if there is no call? Serving in a denomination that traditionally makes all of the appointment phone calls on the same day, the “night before” can bring a sense of anxiety to the officers who have reason to believe that they might be reassigned. While I knew that this year we were safe (if we’re ever safe?), I experienced that anxiety a lot in the days before “D-Day” a couple of years ago, as my journal pages reflected.

I felt as though I was playing the bop-a-moley game. It’s found at those pizza and entertainment establishments whose threshold I’ve not willingly crossed in many a year. If you’ve been there, you’ll know why. But I do remember the game, for a monster head would pop out of one of the holes, and the player, focused, with hammer in hand, would bop him back into place before the next moley could sneak her head up. Unfortunately, there was no pattern to their popping up, and the hammer-holder could only stand ready, hoping to catch the next one before it was too late.

Pop! I can’t stand the waiting any longer. Bop! Be still and know that I am God. Pop! I know where my gifts would be used the best, but they haven’t asked me. Bop! Pop! I’m feeling so unsettled. Bop! Jesus reminds us that we don’t need to be anxious. Pop! Bop! Pop! Bop! I can’t handle this - Your Father knows your needs.. Pop! Bop! Get down, anxiety. Get thee behind me, Satan. Pop! Pop! Pop! BOP! Bop! bop!

I can handle this. After all, it’s only a low-grade anxiety, like a low-grade fever. It’s only kept me up a few nights, caused me to be slightly irritable, not much to worry about. Soon I will know, and this anxiety will be gone for now, I think. Perhaps to be replaced by another kind?

What can we do about the anxiety that comes with the territory of itinerancy? If anxiety medication is not an option, what do we do if it appears?

Embrace the Feelings
It does no good to pretend that we are not anxious when we are. Bopping all those ugly popping moleys takes an incredible amount of energy, and while it may serve as a distraction for a time, it is, in the end, a health-threatening response. Acknowledge that the season of unknowing is a difficult one. Because you are feeling anxious, are you less spiritually mature? Not necessarily – perhaps just more realistic about what a change will mean for yourself, your family and congregation.

Look for Signs of Grace.
In the midst of the unknowing, I began looking for signs that God was present to me, even in the mists of anxiety. Paula D’Arcy wrote of how her story and the life of a redbird intersected in life-giving ways in her book, The Gift of the Redbird. Just weeks after I read her account, during a very difficult time in my life, a red bird appeared in my backyard, and I saw her three times over the course of two weeks – and I have not seen her since. This week, I saw two redbirds in my backyard – and a tiny yellow one in the front yard. I claimed these feathered guests as the reminder of God that insisted, “I’m here,” in case I forgot how faithful he was during those weeks of uncertainty in the past.

Listen for the Wind of the Spirit
On a weekend of vacation, I found myself in the church I grew up in, between my mother, frailer each time I see her, and my sister, with her new son in her arms. As we stood to sing, the organ began a haunting melody:
Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free,
Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, Wind, wind on the sea.
You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes,
From the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams;
Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes,
With bold new decisions your people arise. (James K. Manley)

Pay attention, nodded the Spirit. Just in case I didn’t, there they were again, in Joan Anderson’s beguiling account of her friendship with Joan Erickson:
Blow through the wilderness . . . stir me from placidness . . .

A Safe Ear
Traditionally, there has been a request for secrecy until the arrangements of a move can be finalized, and having to keep this life-changing news to yourself can make a difficult situation worse. That is when it is good to have a listening ear outside of the denomination. For as careful as you are to speak only to those you trust, too much pressure is placed on them to “keep the secret,” and too much is at stake in the air of flying gossip. A spiritual director, former seminary professor, or pastor in another denomination out-of-state could be a safe choice. As an extra perk, you get an outside perspective on the situation.

Trusting God
At some point in your life, you trusted God enough to place your life under the authority of the denomination in which you serve. I was twenty. I look at my young adult sons and ask, what does a twenty-year-old know about trusting God? About life? Yet I made that commitment, and I have kept it now for thirty years.

Yet a high level of anxiety, especially one that seems out of proportion to the actual likelihood of a re-assignment, could be a sign that you need to pay attention to. Can I continue in this system? What are the options? The week before new appointments are announced is not the best time to entertain these questions, but taking a serious look at them with your spouse and family during a less stressful time can be life-giving. It may be that you are able to continue in the ministry under these conditions, and, like my Methodist friend, find a sense of God’s peace about that direction: “My husband is being asked to move again, and this time he really struggled with a continuing of his call to ordained ministry within the denomination. But, through prayer and the baby steps of listening as well as we could, we felt called to continue within the denomination.”
You may find, however, that your understanding of God and life has changed, and that you can find obedience to him without being in an itinerant system. There are no clear-cut directions in the scripture that prescribe one system or the other – if there were, then (maybe) there would be one system. God may be giving you permission to seek other options for service, or giving you the motivation to work for change in the system. After all, it is a system that has been created by people, not handed down from Mt. Sinai. The Salvation Army’s system developed out of the context of one family’s vision, based on what they knew of the church in the mid 1800’s, with an overlay of a military metaphor. Right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, it is what it is. Maybe we just need to unplug the Bop-a-Moley machine – or get a bigger hammer!

Major JoAnn Shade D. Min
USA ET 

Friday, May 23, 2008

God can and does heal...


Does anyone else notice particularly when the anniversary of their Covenant Day and Commissioning fall on the “right” day of the week? For any other Proclaimers of Salvation reading this, Tuesday is the 20th. May, & Friday is the 23rd., which were our Covenant & Commissioning Days respectively, in 1980. I really can’t believe it was so long ago.
A few thoughts on healing, from my own experience.

Some people think that when God heals, he heals physically and entirely, but I have found that it may be the case that He gives us all the healing that we need, even though it doesn’t fit that definition.

I injured my back in an accident at school, but didn’t find out for a few years. When we were young Officers, it had got so bad that sometimes the only way I could get to sleep at night was to put a pillow under it until it went numb, then I used to throw the pillow out just before I fell asleep. Eventually I was needing to take 9 pain killers every day – both could have severe & cumulative side effects, especially if taken over many years.

When we were at our first Officers’ Councils at Swanwick (what fond memories I have of that place), God spoke to me while we were singing the verse which says “While in Thy sight I stand, my heart, I seem to see, has failed to take from Thine own hand the gifts it offers me…” I suddenly understood that I was carrying a lot of bitterness because of my condition, which can never be completely healed – only contained - and the circumstances surrounding it. I didn’t know why God was telling me to go to the Mercy Seat, or what I was seeking, and certainly didn’t have any expectations in mind. Our Provincial Officers were Godly and loving people, a wonderful example of Christlikeness – they’ve both gone to Glory now. Mrs. Colonel P.O. was –unlike some people, sadly – gracious enough to accept that I didn’t require anyone to speak with me.

As I knelt there, I felt warmth from something – which I know to have been the hand of Christ himself – on the most injured part of my back. At that time, the pain ceased. From then on I never took the painkillers any more – I threw them away. That’s not to say that it never hurt again, just that the pain wasn’t so excruciating and disabling. Certainly I was healed from the mental bitterness which I had been carrying. As I’ve got older, obviously nature takes its course as you approach 50, and I certainly have some bad episodes with it now, although they are the exception rather than the rule, as had been the case until my “Swanwick Miracle.” However, that doesn’t in any way negate what happened – Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but he still died again when it was his appointed time.

The experience which I had meant that my condition doesn’t rule my life, or feature as large as it did before that, and when I have doubts, looking back on that experience serves to remind me of the presence, power and reality of God.

Why did it happen to me? I really don’t know – after all, I wasn’t obedient to God’s call, and I wasn’t faithful, but God is faithful even when we aren’t. I have testified of this experience a few times, once when someone who knew asked me to, because they felt that someone in that Meeting needed to hear it. So maybe someone needs to hear about this today. Be assured that God can heal, even if that healing is not what we imagined or expected.

Margaret Day
“A Proclaimer of Salvation.”
UKT

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Do you know who your neighbor is?


Part 3

Major Glad cheers up 'Ken'....

If one is allowed to have a favourite General, mine would be General Jarl Wahlstrom, who I had the pleasure of meeting several times over the span of twenty five plus years. And in his retirement years I was privileged to have him as a guest in my New York Corps and later the Ostersund, Corps, Sweden appointment. During those visits he shared his experience when conducting Officers Councils in India. He shared that at the end of one session he somewhat reluctantly but yet felt compelled to offer the Mercy Seat for prayer. When sharing the story in his native Swedish language (he was a Finn but his first language was Swedish) he highlighted the words ‘it’s a place of grace and thanksgiving’. As he made the invitation he said he thought he saw two angels dressed in white walking towards him through the mist. As they came closer he recognised that they were of course Officers dressed in their white saris. They knelt for a few moments only and then stood to their feet and witnessed to the assembly ‘we just came to say thank you again for that great salvation we received and now for living in it as we serve’. The Mercy Seat is that place where we return to thank God salvation and for 'calling us to service'.

For now my Mercy Seat will remain my bed and, once well, I will take with me the lesson that Christ meets us and our need wherever we are and whatever it may be, no matter how overwhelming.. But I will also take with me a new ministry role; to visit the infirmed; stroke victims… perhaps you won’t be surprised that I was reminded by God that just where He needs me He has placed me… But the question is, how can I serve just now, with my many limitations of movement and a prisoner of my room?

My only room mate until last night was a 91 year old Russian/British gentlemen… oh what stories he told and how pleased I was to share my own Russian and Ukrainian salvation stories. Our room was quiet and peaceful…

Glad, my major (no pun intended) human pillar of strength and joy these dark 4 weeks and I had taken a short drive in the countryside only to return to a ruckus in my room. An 85 year old blind stroke victim had been ‘delivered’ by hoist in the bed adjoining mine. It took him little time to find fault with everyone and everything… the staff tried all possible to comfort him physically and psychologically, all to no avail. He became less loud and verbally abusive as nightfall came and the ward lights were lowered…

Today was no different! No matter what was offered in the way of a meal or physical activity, ‘Ken’ wanted no part of it… In overhearing his comments with the nursing staff my interest was piqued as he shared that the most important thing in his life was his faith… My Mac laptop holds several hundred downloaded SA band and songster music. I wondered if I dare ‘try’ some music therapy, and if so, what type music and which piece of music?!

Well, I thought, why not go for broke! Let’s try Praise (Heaton~), and with volume cranked up, I watched eagerly for a reaction… (Don’t get ahead of me!!!) At first a raising of an eyebrow, a searching look on his face, and then, you had to be here, a broad smile as Ken loudly sang along , ’I’m so glad I ever met the army…’ and as the march wrapped up he exclaimed to the now gathered audience, ‘that’s the ISB, still the best band playing the best music in the world !’ For the next hour Ken, who has an excellent tenor voice entertained and blessed staff and patients alike with stories of his days as a Salvationist bandsman (Exeter Corps Band Sergeant in his day) and through singing the words to the many songs played. He said it was like 'COMING HOME'! Another surprise was when my physiotherapist sang the words to Jesus Folk by memory, sharing that she knew all the SA musicals from her childhood.

The staff shared with me privately that Ken was like a different person; responsive and even "kind"!

I suppose it’s the ‘former’ in me that wonders what could have been done those years ago to avoid losing Ken, and countless others. His obvious love for army music and fellow musicians was very evident. He shared many names and was thrilled to hear me share the names of Terry Treherne and Ret. B/M Woolway, former comrades of the corps.. And we both spoke about our favourite army pieces and composers… perhaps avisit to Ken's home and an equally simple exchange 25 years ago would have made a difference in Ken’s commitment and faithfulness to the corps, as well as that of many others…

Is visitation to hospitals and to ex-soldiers my next assignments? I recall three very special people who mentored me, and who telephoned or visited me when my absence became of concern to them. (Brig. Cy Everett, Lt.Col. Olof Lundgren and my father)

Perhaps you have a story to share about your mentor?

Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A PLACE OF GRACE OR DISGRACE ?

Part 2 0f 3
The photo to the right depicts a very prized family heirloom given to me from the time my grandparents “opened fire” in St Petersburg and later Moscow. As the eldest grandchild, when they were Promoted to Glory, it came into my hands The other items left to me is the family Bible, too worm and torn for anything other than to serve as a testament to their steadfastness in spite of threats, midnight break-ins to their Moscow flat by the Red Guard and even imprisonment.. The other items include a small tin box where their daily ration of four small potatoes was kept. (they were very inventive and conjured up feasts using whatever ingredients available on any given day or place). Among the items gifted to me is also my grandfather’s daily diary from those difficult years serving in Russia…. Each page ends with the words; Hallelujah, Praise God!!! most often referring to a sinner’s repentance.

The diary has an abrupt ending as they had to quickly depart Russia along with other Salvationist in fear for their lives… Incredibly I, along with my then wife, were privileged to add our own chapter to keep that diary alive, albeit in much less difficult circumstances, but that’s another story…

Back to the photo! That particular and unique ‘Mercy Seat’ is stained with tears of grief, hopelessness but also joy and thanksgiving... It is the Mercy Seat carried by Adjutant and Mrs Otto Ljungholm. It was woven from the remnants of their tattered sweaters and strips of clothes supplied by others. They did their utmost to include the Army colours…

The “prayer rug” was woven in Leningrad in 1920 , used there and later in Moscow when visiting and praying with patients and residents in TB wards, homeless and childrens shelters, and in rural farmhouses. When returning to Sweden it was carried, along with a Bible and blankets in a rug sack as they skiid from one frozen Sami (Lapland) village to the next in northern Sweden’s tundra regions ministering to the nomadic reindeer herders.

In Russia the tears were often shed when begging God for simple needs such as “food for just one more day”, or “fire wood to keep a rustic shack just warm enough for the children to sleep through the night.

In Sweden the Mercy Seat was spread in the Tepee and prayers of thanksgiving were given for bountiful grazing provided the reindeer herds. The prayer rug was also used as a Penitent Form and my Grandfather’s diary records the joys when even just one soul was saved at the end of a meeting. If no one came forward the soldiers and officers would band together and weep and “plead” with God to ‘please send more sinners’.
---------------
In that all of the visitors to my hospital visitors are Salvationists it should not be surprising that many bring Christian literature including the Salvationist and, in that I suffered my stroke in England the UK War Cry. I reluctantly confess that I have never found the lay out or content of the British War Cry very attractive; no doubt a cultural thing. However, in this week’s issue a name unfamiliar to me until his book The Mercy Seat was gifted to me some weeks ago, Nigel Bovey, stood out in bold type and I knew instinctively the article would be a good read: “but for those who put their faith in Jesus great things will happen they will know God’s forgiveness. They will gain new strength and direction. They will be a new person. Believe!”

People who know me well would never believe I could suffer from depression; it is a totally foreign word to my psyche (Grk: spirit). And I doubt that any of those who visited my hospital bed sensed it either.

One of the first warnings to me by the several medical experts was there is every likelihood that you will suffer from a depression beyond what you can possibly imagine. Their warnings were dead on! It took all of twenty four hours and the depth of the tunnel seemed to have no end or light. All I could do was believe, not in healing but in Jesus’ assurance that He is with me in all things. And I created a special place in my heart, a Mercy Seat, to hold that promise where He and I could share my suffering; our special hiding place safe from any intrusion including my own depression.

In last week’s post I eluded to the fact that the Mercy Seat can and ought to be defined by each persons’ understanding and experience. In my native Swedish language the word most often used when referring to the Penitent Form translates ( "botbänk") as remedy or cure; the bench where one prays. It is a place where mercy and forgiveness mix. It is a place where grace abounds, and the distinction is clearly made in the words of General Bramwell Tillsley who points out ‘The Mercy Seat is a place of grace not disgrace’

Yesterday morning at daybreak, with a glorious sunshine lighting both lovely landscape outside my window while streaming through the window curtains and privacy curtains surrounding my bed, I was awakened by an unknown visitor and Who said; ‘Sven, lift up your left arm!’ It was an authoritative voice- not asking me but telling me; Lift your Left arm…and so I did, for the first time in 4 weeks… ! His presence in me is both real and eternal.

These past few weeks the words of the chorus ‘ I CAN, AND I WILL, AND I DO BELIVE’ have been a constant song in my mind…..“but for those who put their faith in Jesus great things will happen they will know God’s forgiveness. They will gain new strength and direction. They will be a new person. Believe!”


Dr. Sven Ljungholm (impatient patient)
Budleigh Salterton Hospital,UK