July 19,2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

This week’s Preacher Woman comes to you from  “on location” at Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp. How blessed we are to have this fabulous resource so close by! Today is a bit cooler than yesterday, and I have set up shop at a picnic table near the green playing field. The trees are casting just the right amount of shade, there is a fragrant breeze, and I can watch the campers playing some incomprehensible (to me, at least)  game involving soccer balls and frisbees (there is a lot of running involved).

We are having a good week. The staff here is impressive, the meals awesome, and the location couldn’t be more beautiful. Most of the counselors are part of the Resident Counselor program here in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. The conference (our apportionments at work) provides youth and young adults training and support and a small stipend, and  they spend their summer traveling between our camps, providing leadership, continuity and the kind of expertise only young adults have (like great energy, new and exciting games, and the ability to go without sleep for long stretches of time). They are an impressive group. I am learning some great new songs and games!

I am one of the chaplains this week, so my job is to help with worship experiences, and be a good listener to campers and staff. Not a bad way to spend a week!

Going to church camp was always the highlight of my summer. Much of who I am as an adult, was shaped during those short weeks spent in that special place. Friends. Crafts. Skits. Music.

My counselors were good listeners, who took seriously the worries of a young, sensitive girl, and provided me with space to say out loud some of the things I didn’t think it would be safe to say outside the comfort of my own head:

What if there really isn’t a God? What if the stories in the Bible are just stories? If we need God, does God need us? What is heaven like? Can you be a Christian if your parents are divorced? If your family doesn’t go to church, does that mean they won’t go to heaven? Does God realize how scared I am?

It isn’t just young kids who need safe space to ask these questions. So many folks—of all ages—with whom I speak are in considerable ambivalence about this whole faith thing. As most of us are aware, the “Nones” are the fastest growing designation of religious affiliation in the U.S. In my world, I often hear doubt, curiosity, cynicism, and lots of questions. Here are some of the questions I hear:

Are we naively holding onto a remnant of hopeful and magical thinking? Or are we settling for a simple way to make the world easier to understand or have meaning? After all, people seem to be able to experience a sense of power and belonging at a college football game or a rock concert. Do we need church for that? Do we need God to be kind, or have integrity, or hold onto a sense of obligation to make the world a better place?

Maybe you recognize some of the questions. Maybe you have them yourself. Maybe you have even more questions than this list provides.

Stepping away to a quiet place can provide the mental and spiritual space to consider the world, our place in it, and our relationship to all that is beyond our ability to categorize and fully comprehend. In the sounds of trees blowing in the wind, the rich smell of pine, wood smoke, sun-warmed grass, our defenses against uncomfortable thoughts can quiet our souls enough to hear that still small voice, or the sounds of sheer silence that the prophet Elijah is said to have experienced when he was at the tipping point of his work as a truth teller. He was tired. He was lonely. He was burned out. Not so different than what many of us experience on a daily basis.

If we get quiet enough, we may have a chance to notice a moment when there is grace where it doesn’t seem possible; where there is love when it isn’t earned or deserved, forgiveness for the unforgiveable; connection between the most unlikely souls. And, my favorite awareness of all–  the moments of mystery that calls to us from a place deeper than we ever knew existed in this chaotic and seemingly meaningless universe.

Camp for me has always been about stepping away, letting the mental squirrels rest for a time, breathing deeply, listening and being listened to—and being held by a community—even if that  community only existed for that one week of camp. It fed my soul. It nurtured my dreams. It gave me glimpses of Holy Mystery that I had intuited, but rarely experienced. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we worship together at home base, and then join in a time of worship, food, and fellowship up here at camp. You never know what may happen at camp.

See you Sunday. Blessings, Pastor Nancy

July 12, 2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

Tuesday mornings at 8:30, I sit at a dining table at East Cascade Living Center and wait for the chairs to fill up. We are always a bit slow in starting, since not everyone lives in the same building, and because nearly all of the participants need the assistance of a walker to get to Bible Study. For the past few weeks, we have been reading the same scriptures I am preaching from on Sundays, which means we are in the book of Acts. Since our study is on Tuesdays, it gives me a chance to think out loud about the text as I do my weekly “sermonizing.” And this group is a great sounding board.

There is something mysterious about how a table of strangers can, over time, become a community.  I have watched the process happen frequently over the years, and it never ceases to inspire me. This group has been meeting for a number of months, but the change from polite listeners to engaged community seems to have clicked just recently. When we first started, I would sit in the dining hall by myself, while the participants were rounded up by staff. These days, there are always a couple of folks there ahead of me, and we wait together for the rest to gather. If someone doesn’t show up, we have someone check to see if they are coming. No one likes to miss.

As I look around the table, I realize how much this group has come to mean to me. We are an ecumenical gathering—Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, none-of-the-above, and me. I get to hear their stories. I share in their worries about children, their grief, their sleepless nights, their struggle with pain, and the ennui that comes with the gradual shrinking of their world.

I am beginning to feel the first pull of it myself—the awareness that what is behind me is larger than what is ahead of me. That the season of life that seemed spacious with options and possibilities, has collapsed in the realities of time, age and infirmity. The world is getting smaller for my friends around the table. They have had to let go of homes, friendships, favorite possessions, privacy, pets, meaningful work, and independence. It is the season of reductions.

This week, as I prepare to preach about Paul and Barnabas, we shared stories of those people who shaped us and encouraged us in our faith—as Barnabas (whose very name means Son of Encouragement)  had done for Paul when he took him under his wing at a time no one trusted the authenticity of Paul’s conversion and call.  Holy Ground territory. Where would any of us be without those “Encouragers” who have been there for us, who continue to be there for us?

As I looked around the table, I realized that this small group of people had more power than any of us had realized. For here, sitting together on a warm summer morning, were people of faith who prayed, who cared for one another, who listened, who have the power to influence all those with whom they come into contact in love and grace. As I shared this thought, I saw on their faces the realization that it was true.  It surprised us all.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Yes. There are losses. The world gets smaller. There are disappointments. Set-backs. Big dreams may go through a process of shrinking down to the size of a one-bedroom apartment. But God’s dreams don’t shrink! All of us are called. All means all. God calls us, loves us, nurtures us—and we have a job to do, no matter what the circumstance of our life. Sons and Daughters of Encouragement: Who is in front of you, behind you, sitting alone in the corner, who is waiting to be taken under your/my/our wing? It is a giddy thought. God is Good.

Blessings, dear friends of encouragement! See you Sunday, Pastor Nancy

July 6, 2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

When, not quite a year ago, our belongings finally arrived in Madras,  Mike and I went right to work creating home. It was fun finding just the right place for our furniture and books, hanging pictures, figuring out the most convenient places to store special items. We didn’t totally succeed, because all this takes time, and eventually, I felt we just needed to move on to other projects. So, then there was the problem of what to do with the things we hadn’t had a chance to sort through. Some things were still in boxes, others in totes, some just in random stacks that, if I had them labeled properly, would declare as “things to sort.”

Luckily for us, the parsonage had a perfect room for these items, and a door that would close it off from sight and mind. We stacked all the leftovers in this extra room, and didn’t give it much thought, until one or the other of us would be looking for something we were pretty sure we had, but could not locate. Thus, began the next stage of moving. We would go in the spare room, generally in a bit of a hurry, and rifle through boxes and totes looking for the lost item. Sometimes, we would come upon something we had forgotten about, and pull that out as well. Over time, the neatly organized room, became less organized. Then, Devin, the beloved son, moved to Oregon and added some of his own boxes and piles to the room. The floor disappeared, and looking for anything became even more challenging—sometimes requiring the balance of a tightrope walker.

I began to call our convenient storage space “The-Room-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named,” while Mike simply called it the “Wrecked Room.” It became a point of stress in my life—chaos reigned. I can deal with a certain amount of mess and chaos, but there is generally a tipping point, and we had reached it.

This week, Mike and I have been working at trying to put a little organization into the confusion. Mike has built some cool shelves, that will help me know where things are. We have both done some sorting and pitching. We aren’t done, but it feels good to begin to see the floor again.

This could end up being an excursus on the dangers of having too much stuff (a most worthy topic for later reflection) but the thought that has been bubbling around at the edges of my mind this week has more to do with space—spiritual space.

When my physical space descends into chaos, I feel as if I can hardly breathe, until I take time to open things out again by cleaning and decluttering. My spiritual well-being is impacted in much the same way. The clutter just looks a little different, and it is definitely harder to simply “close the door.”

Carrie Newcomer, in one of my favorite songs, sings:  “I’m traveling faster than my soul can go.” That is a perfect description of the contents hidden in my spiritual “Room-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.” I can get so distracted by the sense of “hurry,” the 24-hour-a-day pull of electronic connection, the pseudo-urgency that seems to be part of living in this new century and millennia. So, this week, as Mike and I create a bit more physical space, I am wondering if I can make room for my soul as well. Breathe. Listen. Pay Attention.

You may have noticed that I try to avoid the words “you” and “us” when I preach and write. My experiences may not be yours, and I would never assume to know what the deepest needs of your soul might be.  But, I suspect that at least some of us may struggle with going faster than the speed of our own souls. I invite you to join me this week in taking some deep slow breaths, in stepping away from the screens and the to-do lists. Let’s be present to this glorious moment that God has given us and allow grace room to do its healing work. I’ll keep the door open.

Blessings, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 6/28/18

Beloved:

I finished up jury duty this week. This is the only week that required me to actually show up at the court house during my two-month term. Most trials get settled out of court. It was an interesting process. There were forty people in the jury room waiting to be sorted down to six. We watched a video describing what would be expected of us, and then received further instructions from the jury coordinator. When the judge was ready for us, we all shuffled into the next court room for the elimination rounds. When your number was called, you would sit in the jury box, then asked questions by the attorneys on both sides of the case.

It wasn’t like television. Most of the questions were addressed to the entire jury pool—a “raise your hand if…”you know someone in law enforcement,” “you may have a bias about…” The questions were so general, I began to think we would be in that room all day. Finally, the questions began to be more specific, and things began to get more interesting.

The most interesting question of the morning came from the prosecutor. He told a story. He described himself driving south on 97 going 56 miles per hour. A farmer witnessed him speeding. An officer clocked him on radar speeding. And then the officer following in his car observed him speeding. The officer stopped him. What would be your response as a juror?

Most of the room chuckled at his example. One young woman explained, that going 56 mph on 97 would cause other drivers to tail gate, or pass you going 80. True that. Another young man raised his hand. He was asked, would you have difficulty with that as a juror? “Yes,” he answered, “it would be ridiculous. The officer should have just cut him a break.”

The point the prosecutor was trying to make, of course, was that as a juror, you are not asked to make a judgment on fair or unfair, or even reasonable or unreasonable. A juror is asked to look at the evidence, then decide whether or not the evidence supports the charge. The rule of law means that choosing to break it opens you to the consequence of that choice.

It reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when I was driving an old Chevy Malibu. It was a beater car, and I had been having some trouble with it stalling out when I slowed down. I came down a small hill, and gunned it to keep it from stalling out, and then noticed a police car right behind me. I didn’t even wait for him to turn on his lights, I simply pulled over. It made him chuckle, anyway. I explained the situation to him, and he told me to get my car into the garage. I can’t remember whether or not I got the ticket, or just a warning. But, I knew that I had been speeding. I was ready to take the consequences, as inconvenient as that would be.

Accepting responsibility and consequences for our actions are never easy. We seem to be living at a time when it is much easier to try to lay blame for our choices, than to accept the impact of words, actions, and behaviors. Or we may apply one standard to the behavior of others, and a different standard to our own. This is not to say that there should not be times when we apply grace or mercy in extenuating circumstances. But, unless I am the judge, that is not my job. As someone who believes that there are times when I must in conscience make choices that may rock the boat, I must be willing to pay the price for my actions.

Jesus’ disciples understood this. They were told over and over to “cease and desist,” with what they were doing. They didn’t stop. This meant they faced alienation in their communities, public humiliation, beatings and arrest. Sometimes it cost them their lives.

Not to be overly dramatic, but I think there is a lesson for me—for us—here. Like the parables of Jesus, if I cannot be faithful in a little, how can I be faithful in the great? Am I willing to pay the price for loving? For caring for those who are the stranger? For going against the grain to make the world a more just place? For standing with the alienated? For showing hospitality and mercy to those who have been labeled, sorted, dismissed?

I may not be asked to choose today, or maybe not tomorrow. But I have no doubt that the choices I make this day are preparing me for whatever may lie ahead.

Blessings, dear friends. See you Sunday.

Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 6/23/18

Beloved:

Nearly every summer of my childhood, my family made the drive from Portland to Caldwell to visit my Grandparents. They lived on a farm that overlooked the Snake River. The only house within sight was that of my Aunt Opal and Uncle Cliff. Some of my happiest childhood memories were of being there. Time seemed to slow down. There was “nothing” to do that we didn’t create ourselves. And it was glorious. The tire swing in the back yard could be a space ship, and running horse, or simply the best way to fly if you didn’t come equipped with your own wings. At Grandpa and Grandmas, my imagination had long hours to roam free.

Since our annual conference was held in Boise this year, I decided to see if I could find the old home place. Back in the day, the road didn’t have a name—just a postal road designation. Now, it was called Plum Road. I wondered if that meant the land would be covered with housing developments. When my friend Judy and I turned off the highway, I was relieved to discover that there was still farm land spreading out in all directions. There was also a sign that proclaimed we were now entering Idaho wine country.

Back in the day, we used to drive by a lot of acres planted in hops, alfalfa, potatoes and beets—but no vineyards. It took a few false turns to get my bearing. But I finally found a hill that looked familiar, and the view of the river that I remembered. As I drove around the final curve, there was a wine press standing on what used to be part of my grandparent’s crop land. And then, there it was.

Everything was smaller than I remembered it.

The yard. The house. The driveway. Even the river.

The lush green lawn that my grandfather cultivated and was so proud of was gone. Someone had recently mowed the weeds around the house down, but there was not a whisper of green to be seen. Grandpa used to flood the yard with irrigation water—and running barefooted through it was like running on deep pile carpeting. He would flood it for us when we visited—and my sister and I had a giant wading pool to play in.

The yard had seemed enormous through the eyes of my childhood. Could it have really been that small all along? The house was tiny. I remember its floorplan well. Even then, I knew it wasn’t a large house—but it was perfect in every way. The floor slanted, making it possible to roll marbles from one end of the house to the other. But that was just part of its charm. And now, it was just a tiny, decaying house. By current standards, the farm house was not nearly large enough to raise three children in, or house six extra guests for weeks at a time. But it was enough back then.

It was hard to see my childhood holy ground in such a state. But I am glad I went to see it. It reminded me of days filled with play and imagination and freedom from worry. (I worried a lot as a child—it prepared me to be an excellent worrier later in life.) My visit also gave me an opportunity to examine my story—our stories. Are the things I remember “factual?” Not entirely. Were my memories “true?” Definitely.

The farm was a place of “being” over “doing” all through my childhood. It was a moment in my life that provided a kind of Holy Emptiness. Room to breathe. Room to stop. It grounded me. There was even enough room for growing my soul.  And it created a space for stories.

All summers should have space like that. I am so glad to have my grandparent’s farm as a landmark in my story. It gave me a safe place to just be myself—and nurture my imagination. I hope each of us can find a place like that this summer—a place to be ourselves, to imagine, to soar in the tire swing of our daydreams and just be.  And I look forward to hearing our stories.

Blessings, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 6/14/17

Beloved:

So, I was wrong. Sorry about that. On Mother’s Day I gave you some inaccurate information.

I mentioned that Father’s Day was a late addition to the national calendar—which is true—but the earliest Father’s Day Sunday actually goes back to the early 20th century. There are several stories surrounding this special day, but the one I will go with, since it has a Northwest connection, is about a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington. In 1909, she was listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day, and felt the absence of a parallel Sunday for fathers–and for good reason. Her own father had been a civil war veteran, who after his wife died in childbirth, raised their six children on his own. A number of attempts were made to bring this to national attention, but it was not until 1972 that her efforts finally succeeded.

(I know how much you all love my pastoral hegiras into cultural trivia.) Anyway. Happy Father’s Day! This week, Mike will be in the pulpit for Part II of his “Good Story” sermons. I will be finishing up Annual Conference in Boise, and then taking a day to explore some family roots. My maternal grandparents farmed in the Caldwell area, and some of my most cherished memories of childhood have their roots there.

My dad died a few years ago, so for me this day brings bittersweet memories of our times together. Dad was of the old school. After high school, he went in the Merchant Marines, and then the Army. It was at the tail end of World War II. When he got home, he went to work. He never went to college. He didn’t wear a suit to the office. He worked hard and long to provide for his family. He came home tired, and with grease stained hands. Like many men of his generation, he was steady, loyal and dependable. He was a good dad. But it never occurred to him that he should be a caregiver, playmate, or confidant. But then again, neither did anyone else. We lived in a working-class neighborhood. The pattern of family life was much the same in every house.

On weekends, dads worked in the yard, summer evenings meant barbeques (which was a “blue” job!) As the sun began to slant toward dusk, the moms stood at screen doors calling in kids from playing kick the can, or softball in the vacant lot across the street.  The dads would be sitting on webbed chairs out on the lawn with some of the other neighborhood dads, catching up on sports and drinking a cold one.

The job description for dads has changed dramatically since then. Dads have a much higher profile and job description.  You can see dads out solo with baby strollers, at the doctor’s office, and even staying home to care for hearth and home while their spouses work. I like seeing dads taking a more active role in nurturing and caring for their kids. But, our dads did okay.

My dad could fix anything. He took the girls of the family on long Sunday drives in the country. The times when we had dad and daughter times were some of the most memorable of my childhood. And when he held my hand, well, that was just the best. I felt absolutely safe. Nothing in the world could touch us to do harm.

So, this week, as we remember our dads, as we celebrate this new generation of super-dads from whom so much is expected, I just want to say “thanks.” Thanks for showing up. Thanks for all the things that you have been and done that create strong, creative, and competent children. We may look at things a bit differently now, but the love is still the same, no matter the job description.

Blessings. Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 6/7/18

Beloved:

I was working away at the office the other day, when I suddenly realized I was humming “If you’re happy and you know it.” It seemed appropriate. We have a happy office. We don’t always clap our hands, but there is just something about the energy of our office that creates happy and creative space.

I can always tell when Chris is happy. He rearranges, organizes, creates new formats for documents and updates our webpage and newsletter. If you have been in the office lately, you might notice that he has been an especially happy camper lately. I think we make a pretty good team.

My nearest and dearest know that when I am happy, I hum. If they notice a prolonged period of time when I am not humming, they start to worry. I am not always aware of what I am humming, but there is a certain logic to it and appears to have a connection to something I am pondering or going on in my life. For many years, whenever Mike and I are going through an especially sweet time in our relationship, I invariably hum: “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grand.” I have no idea why this is the case. But, whenever Mike hears me start in on that particular tune, he joins along when I get to “Yippe Ki  Yo Ki Yay.”

I have other repertoire, depending on the occasion:  Beach boys tend to show up on vacation; Vivaldi creeps in when I am driving those lonely stretches of highway. Sometimes it feels random, and at other times it seems to suit the occasion perfectly.  It is a bit like having a private sound track for my life.  I don’t consciously choose the song, it isn’t something I have heard on the radio and then can’t get into my head: The music just bubbles up. There are times when I don’t realize how I am feeling about something, until I listen to what I am humming.

Pretty quirky, eh? But over the years, I have come to consider it a gift. My “inner” self is talking to my “outer” self. Sometimes in prayer, sometimes in playfulness, sometimes with driving rhythms and high energy, other times in meditative quiet. The music comes when I am feeling most present to God, my life and those I love.

What do you do when you are happy?

Chris creates order. Pastor Nancy hums. Mina takes a picture. Mike works with wood.

Or as someone else once sang: I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His Eye is on the Sparrow. So, I know he watches me. Or if all else fails—you can always clap your hands—after all, happiness can be contagious!

Blessings, Pastor Nancy