Inside Out by Rev. Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson

This is a word of hope for each of us who struggle with our sense of worth and value.

Inside Out by Rev. Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson of Ministry Mentors

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Presence

I grew up without a sense of presence in my family, without feeling like I was known or seen or heard. Home wasn’t really a safe place. My family loved each other, but everyone was broken in their own way.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just what it was. We were like 5 people living in a house alone, each living their own isolated life.

So as a child, I learned to be invisible. I spent a lot of time daydreaming, reading, and by myself. Through those things I learned to escape the reality around me.

When I was around 7, God surprised me. After being discounted yet again, I heard God speak to my heart. I heard God say, not to worry, that it was God who was raising me. I don’t know how I knew it was God’s voice at that tender age, but I did. I just knew. I was flooded with a sense of peace and comfort I didn’t quite understand. I knew God had me. I wasn’t alone. God was raising me. In those moments I felt the tangibleness of presence. I felt so loved, so known, so seen. I knew I mattered. It was unlike anything I had ever known. Presence saved me. I still remember what that presence felt like as a child and as a teen. It didn’t take way any of the heartbreak but that sense of God’s nearness to me changed my life.

Throughout my growing up years God provided presence to me through many dear people who God brought at just the right time. People who saw me, heard me, and loved me. So many dear saints from the church I grew up in, who I will forever be grateful for. People who included me and made me feel like I mattered. My heart is so full of love and gratitude to them.

Over the years, God has provided other people who have been gifts of presence to me, including my beloved husband and kids, treasured friends, and spiritual directors.   There is nothing like someone listening deeply to your heart from their  heart,  holding your story with a sense of sacredness.  I have been blessed by priceless people who have done that for me and it has genuinely changed my life and infused me with life.

No wonder presence means so much to me. In Luke 12:48 it says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” I have been so deeply blessed through God’s presence and the presence of those I hold most dear. As a result my life has become about offering the gift of presence  to those who need to know they matter, to those who need their story held with a sense of sacredness, who need to know they are seen, heard and loved. It is a life call, because it is a life gift. And so the gift of presence comes full circle.

 

 

 

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Learning from Fear by Rev. Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson

This post is written by Rev. Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson the Executive Director/President of Ministry Mentors.

This advent meditation deeply moved me and expressed so well what it is in my heart.
It is a word for our times. Hope you will read it and be touched by it too. Share it. These words though hard connected me to hope. May it be true for you also.

Advent 3: LEARNING FROM FEAR

To witness from the safety of a television screen, the fear in the eyes of families struggling to leave Aleppo, brings not only tears and heightens my own fears but also releases rage.

How can we as the human race participate in such lack of love and care for the lives of others?

How can we fear others so much that their lives and hopes and dreams don’t connect with our own love of our families and friends and hopes and dreams?

How can we experience our own fears and see the same fear in the bodies and souls of people around the world that some want to call “the other” and not respond?

How can we watch an elderly woman bent over with crutches hobbling in an attempt to honor her fears to flee from the threat of death and not scream:

NO MORE!

No more fear driven wars.
No more fear promoting leaders who want to feed their power.
No more domestic agendas that hurt vulnerable people.
No more children dying.
No more senior citizens scared to death that their only source of income may be threatened.
No more, no more, no more!
No more fills my soul. I feel empty and powerless.
I’m tempted to honor the voices of powerlessness. I’m tempted to remain in my cocoon of inertia.
I am only one unheard voice in the midst of millions of voices of power.

Then I remember the homeless people I see every day and know that more people must use the church’s food pantry.

I see the fear in the eyes of the children who speak a different language or wear different clothes.

My husband’s prophetic question replays in my heart, “Is fear really becoming our norm and casting out love?” Once again I scream: NO!

This time I hear my biblical sister Mary say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

May we be so honored and humbled to hear and heed her words.

Shalom,

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President
Ministry Mentors
http://ministrymentors.org/advent-3-learning-from-fear/
Ministry Mentors is dedicated to the well being of pastors. It’s tagline- pastors mentoring pastors.

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Sing One Heart’s Out

“I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you.” Psalm 144:9

When I was growing up, I was always singing. I enjoyed playing the 45 and 78 records on my little children’s record player and singing along. The records were from children’s stories and movies, like 101 Dalmatians or Peter Pan. I loved to sing. It seemed like there was always a song in my heart that oozed out of me whether walking to school or walking to church. The songs just had to come out.

At church, the choruses were fun and meaningful and they replayed in my heart during the week. I sang in front of church and the school classroom. The only problem was when I got nervous I would start laughing and could not stop! While it looked like I was goofing off, I was really just nervous. It didn’t stop me though. I loved to sing, even if I did laugh some along the way.

As a teen, I learned to play the guitar. Our youth group was quite musical, but even more, we just loved to sing together. We sang everywhere. We sang on the beach or in one of our homes. We sang on retreats, and during the school lunch hour. Music was so much a part of us. We formed singing groups and sang at our church and a few others. Music was deep within us and it just had to be expressed.

As a teen, I spent hours playing the guitar every week, and I began to write songs.They were almost all prayers written from my heart to God. Singing became for me without my realizing it, a spiritual practice. I sang songs of joy of God’s goodness and nearness and enveloping love. Through music, I worshipped God and expressed my love to God.

Over time, the songs I wrote and sang encompassed more. I wrote songs of love for friends getting married, and for those who meant a lot to me. I wrote a song for my beloved spouse for our first Christmas together, and I wrote songs for our kids when they were born. I sang them to sleep every night. I shared with them the gift that was so deep within me- music. Singing was almost another form of breathing for me. It has been so much a part of me. How often I have cherished John Denver’s song, “This Old Guitar.” It has been a dear traveling companion these many years.

Singing has enveloped all of life and I discovered that it became even more meaningful and necessary during times of sorrow. I lamented in song over the tragedy friends experienced. I cried out to God in song when my dad died. I learned to sing my pain. How much that has meant. During times of great sorrow, singing out my lament helped me to grieve and it brought me comfort and relief.

Due to carpal tunnel, I don’t really play the guitar much anymore. And for some reason, over time, I haven’t sung as much either. I am not sure why, maybe life’s responsibilities filled my time. I am not sure, but I have missed it. I didn’t realize how much until I started singing again. My heart was uplifted and I greeted the music as a long lost friend.

For some, it is easy to sing when life is good, and it can seem almost impossible when life’s sorrows are great. The news of late has been filled with so much that has been heavy. It has felt more like a time to sing in lament. At Resurrection Covenant where I attend, we sing a song by Matt Redman, “Ten Thousand Reasons”. It is beautiful. This is the chorus:

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name
Bless You Lord

With permission, the church changed the forth line to “Sing your sorrow and joy”. When our hearts are breaking, singing our sorrow can be a great gift. It helps us to grieve and it can bring comfort and relief.

Click on the link to hear Matt Redman’s “Ten Thousand Reasons.” I encourage you to change the forth line to Sing your sorrow and joy, and see how it speaks to you.
I am returning to Singing as a Spiritual Discipline, and I hope you will join me.

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A Standing Applause Sermon

I found this to be a challenging and powerful word by Rev. Shannon J. Kirshner, at Fourth Presbyterian Church.  It was an engaging way to interact with the scripture passage. It is a word that the church at large needs to hear. It is worth reading. The last half is particularly poignant.

Worshipers at Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago rose to their feet with sustained applause in response to the line in this sermon we have bolded in red. Scroll down for the line. THE PERSISTENT GO…

Source: A Standing Applause Sermon

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Reflecting…

I have not written in a long while. Life has been full. However, I have yearned to take a few minutes to write what is on my heart once again. So here I am.

I recently turned another year older. Often on such occasions it a time of reflection of what has been as well as what may be. So again I say, here I am.

Like so many before me, and those who will follow me, with age comes clarity, clarity about what is important and what is not. For example, it doesn’t matter so much about being right. So much time and energy can be spent that way. However, the reality is there are things that I know and there are things that I don’t know. With age comes an acceptance of that, and it is truly okay. I continue to learn and seek to grow because in that is great substance and meaning. I have learned that in this journey called life we continue to learn and grow. Indeed it is an integral part of our journey. At the same time, I am okay with what I don’t know. I am at peace to let God hold those questions and wonderings.  I have discovered it is freeing to do so.

At the same time, what I know, I know deeply, in the depth of my being. It has to do with  who God is and who God has been in my life and in the life around me. When I look back I see God’s fingerprints and footsteps throughout my life and in the world around me, and nothing means more to me than that. If I were to write all that God has been and done and meant I doubt there would be enough pages to contain it all. I consider my life so rich because of it. What I know is not based on my own life only, but on those with whom I have had the privilege to walk beside. What has and means so much is God loving everyone deeply, just as they are.   We don’t have to do anything or be a certain way to receive it. It just is. It is real. It is unconditional. It is healing, uplifting, and encouraging.  It so forms who I am. How deeply grateful I am to be able to come as I am and to be so lovingly received, just as is true for everyone. That matters more than anything.

When I reflect on that which means so much, then what doesn’t is easier to let go of, like titles and degrees, status and positions, and all the things we can find in society that divide one person or group against another, including who believes they are right. Life is not found in those things.

Life is found in relationship with- not against. So, what matters is love, simplicity, and humility. Gentleness, kindness, hospitality, an open heart, compassion are what make up the substance of life. My desire is to reflect these substantive characteristics which are found in the God of my heart and life. My desire is to love well and to show my gratitude to God and to those who fill my heart who mean more to me than ever before.  Life is a journey. May it be a reflection of God’s goodness, hospitality, and unconditional love and acceptance of all.  I am another year older, thankful for the gift of life.

 

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Religious Pain vs. Spiritual Pain

When I was in seminary 30 years ago,  Dr. Rev. John Weborg  was one of my professors. He was the professor of theology. He is a deeply reflective  speaker and teacher. His words were always profound and offered much substance.  There was one topic he talked about that took root deep within me, and I remember it well these 30 years later. He talked about the difference between religious pain and spiritual pain, which I will describe in a moment. Let me share a little more first.

When I first graduated from seminary, I worked with refugees who had been tortured. They were from all over the world, but at that time, they were predominantly from Central America. What people went through was heartbreaking and beyond comprehension.  It was a hard way to begin ministry being faced with such extreme suffering. I learned quickly, that much of what I thought I knew, went right out the window. It was hard to know what to do with such extreme suffering.  

Most of the people I spoke with had two responses. One group claimed to have gotten through the horrific ordeal because of their faith, believing that they would not have survived if they hadn’t had God and prayer to cling to. The other group gave up because they didn’t know where God was in the midst of it.  

It was then that I had a conversation with Dr Rev. John Weborg and described to him this ministry. He spoke again of these two different kinds of pain.

Religious pain is pain that we encounter through persons or the church who represent God.  In the case of the refugees, some churches blamed them for being tortured, claiming it was their sin that caused this to happen. This was so grievous, for instead of the church standing with,  for, and beside these persons, they blamed them instead. Maybe they did so to stay safe, or because they aligned themselves with persons of power, or maybe they had a skewed view of faith. No matter what the reason, it was grievous. It happened in World War II, when those in the church were silent while Jewish persons were taken away to concentration camps. What many don’t know is that countless LGBTQ persons were taken and killed there as well. And it happens today when we in the church are silent, when the Body of Christ doesn’t stand with, for or beside a person or community especially during a time of suffering.   

 Spiritual pain, is experienced through one’s direct struggle with God, like: when we undergo a trying time and don’t understand what God is or is not doing in the midst of it; or when we don’t sense God’s presence or we feel like God has abandoned us; or  when we don’t receive the relief or the answers for which we are seeking, especially during a time of suffering.  People can experience that during a time of illness, loss, and tragedy. They may wonder where God is or why God isn’t delivering them. 

The tragic part for me is that people often interpret religious pain as spiritual pain. They can believe that God is letting them down, that God has left them,  when it is the church that is doing so. I have journeyed alongside many in this place.  Nothing breaks my heart more, and I believe that God grieves and weeps too.

When I told Dr. Rev. John Weborg about my ministry with the refugees he suggested that I teach them how to lament. To lament means to cry and grieve and mourn out loud, to express sorrow strongly.  When we lament in prayer, we express our pain and grief in words and cries and groans directly to God. And one of the many things that is so great about God is that the Spirit partners with us in our lament, because as it says in Romans 8:26 & 27, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” So even when we don’t know what to say, when all we can do is groan or cry or sigh, God promises us that the Spirit “intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  God joins us in our groans with God’s own. And when we don’t have the words to pray, we can also use God’s words, for the Psalms are filled with prayers of Lament. (Psalm 22, 25, 27, 74, 90 are but a few)

To lament gives voice to our pain, our cries, our bewilderment, and our anger. Especially in times of suffering, to lament can bring relief. Spiritual Director and writer, Teresa A. Blythe says, “If Jesus can ask God why God forsook him on the cross, we can have confidence that God can handle our honesty as well.” When we lament, we are working out our pain, giving voice to our anguish in prayer, with the one who joins our groans with God’s own.

We just journeyed through Holy Week in the Church Year. We remembered and experienced the great loss again of  Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Grieving through that gave birth to the celebration of new life on Easter. What’s difficult is that suffering has not ended. The recent bombings in Brussels reminds us of this, as does each time racism claims another life, or when another LGBTQ person loses theirs. There is so much suffering around us, and so much to lament, including the racial profiling of Blacks, Muslims, and Immigrants. We lament the acts of violence of persons against persons. We lament the ways people of color still experience discrimination and prejudice on so many levels. We lament when the church does not stand with, for, or beside those who are suffering. We lament when others, like so many in the LGBTQ community,  believe that God has left them because they experienced being left by and excluded by the church. 

Each time the church contributes to suffering either by omission or co-mission, spiritual pain may be experienced. So how do we experience the life of Resurrection in a world where so much suffering exists? I think one of the ways life comes, one of the ways that  the light shines in the darkness, one of the ways that hope becomes a reality is when Christ shines in and through us. It happens when we are present with, to, and for others. It happens when we let God be God, and when we love just as we have been loved. We stand with, for, and beside all, just as Jesus showed us through His life, just as Jesus does with us. May we be agents of God’s healing in people’s lives and in the church.

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