Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 5/31/18

Beloved:

It has been a number of years since I have planted a garden. Last fall, Mike made me some fabulous planter boxes, so I won’t have to kneel down to weed and tend. So, I couldn’t wait to get started this spring. They are just the right height!

Unfortunately, I discovered rather quickly, that the deer think so too.  We figured they would find us eventually, but Mike was hoping to get up a deer fence before they realized that my lettuce was at exactly the same height as their mouths. Devin and I found some netting and a few stakes, so we have a temporary stalemate with our neighborhood herd. And I think the lettuce may even recover.

So, until Mike gets a chance to finish our fencing scheme, I am watching my garden through the netting. I planted a few plants, and a few seeds. As usual, when I plant a garden, I have included okra. Since marrying a native of Oklahoma, planting okra has become a tradition. You may not realize this, but Montana is not really an okra-friendly climate. Several years I got plants that were all of four inches tall. Two years in a row, I actually got blossoms! And one year—success! I had three little okra pods! Not quite enough to fill a frying pan for my man who misses his favorite dish of fried okra. I thought I would get a head start on it this year, by planting the seeds in little pots, and putting them in a warm window. They didn’t come up. So, I got another package, and just took a chance at planting them in my raised bed garden. I haven’t seen any sign of life so far, but I am not giving up hope.

If it doesn’t produce this year, I will try again next year. In the meantime, Mike has probably been able to score some fried okra on his trip to Oklahoma. At least, I hope so. This isn’t the first time I have struggled with growing what I wanted to grow. Back when my kids were little, my garden was much larger. We lived in Wyoming, and although the season was very short, I could count on at least growing beets and green beans. My downfall was trying to grow tomatoes.  The season was never quite long enough to get to my tomatoes to ripen. If I tried to plant them earlier, the frost would kill them. If I planted later, I might get a bumper crop of blossoms and fruit—but just about the time my mouth was watering, the frost would snatch away my victory. It was very frustrating.

It is funny how this garden metaphor has been engaging my thoughts this week. Or maybe not so strange, since I have been enjoying being outdoors and working in the yard. But, there are parallels between what I am doing with my yard and garden and the learning curve we have been experiencing as a church and denomination in this era. Over the last fifteen years or so, I have studied some of the trends and transitions, read vast amounts of books, attended dozens of seminars and workshops. I have learned a great deal about the “whys” and some of the “hows” of decline in church vitality. It has only gradually dawned on me, that I may have been working at things from the wrong end. Maybe it isn’t so much about what we have or haven’t done to keep up with cultural discontinuity. Maybe it has more to do with learning the new cultural climate.

We—you and I—need to learn to be Master Gardeners in a brand new garden. We won’t know which seeds will grow, until we plant. We will have to be willing to be innovative, patient, creative. We will need to be risk takers. Some crops will fail. We will start again. Even when we have done all that—and sprouts begin to appear–the garden is not going to look like the one we remembered.  ( I may never get okra to grow.) I’m not sure what the harvest is going to look like, but I do know that it will be glorious!  What an exciting time to be in this work!

Happy Gardening. Blessings, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 5/24/18

Beloved:

Two of my favorite seminary professors were married to each other. She was a theologian, and he was the Pastoral Care and Theology professor.  Shortly after I graduated, they ended up working at different institutions, cross-country from each other. When I returned to campus the next year to attend a seminar, I asked the spouse who had remained, how they were managing a cross-country marriage. He replied, in his calm professorial manner: “It isn’t really a problem, we are both well-differentiated.” This totally cracked me up at the time. It seemed so dispassionate, as well as framed in specialized “family systems language.”  The formality of his reply still makes me smile.

A few years later, Mike and I decided to get married. When we announced the news to our District Superintendent, the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, this is inconvenient for the cabinet.” His response was not exactly the one we were hoping for, but we understood what he meant.  In a conference of large geography and sparse population, the odds of finding churches near each other was going to be slim. And such was the case. For eight years of our married life, our appointments were far enough apart to require us to live in different communities. Some appointments we got to see each other every week, other appointments not quite so often.  At one point, Mike took a leave of absence until he could be appointed closer. He did get an appointment that was somewhat closer, but we still were far enough away to require separate households.

It wasn’t always easy, but we managed.  We worked at being “self-differentiated,” and were, for the most part, successful. We noticed, though, that there was always a period of adjustment when we came together. Separately, we developed habits and patterns that worked for us individually, but felt disruptive or even invasive when we were together. After many an overnight visit, I would tease him by turning to him and saying, “Oh, are you still here?” Humor helped a lot.

I also reminded myself that there are many people in the world who live in similar circumstances—separated by military service, illness, incarceration, or overseas employment. It seemed rather petty to fuss. We adjusted.

When Mike retired, we were able to live together full-time. Now THAT was an adjustment: Being in each other’s space; Getting used to a different set of priorities on our time and energy; Needing to consult with another person, when you are used to going it solo. Yikes. That first year was challenging! We also had to downsize from being two households to one—a project that is still in process.

This week has reminded me of how much our lives, and our marriage, have changed. Mike has been out of town, visiting family.  I always am aware of his absence when we are apart. But this time is different. The house just has a different feel. It could have something to do with the fact that I am definitely missing having my husband make my coffee every morning, or the times he gets up to let the dogs out so I can sleep a bit longer. But it is more than that—I think it is because we have found home here, in this place, and with each other. It is a rare thing for us, and I am grateful. Through all the bumps, difficulties, challenges of our life together, we have reached this moment of homecoming.

I’ve been standing, sitting and walking around my computer for the last hour and a half trying to figure out an “end” to this reflection. I intended to tell you a bit about our new sermon series I am calling “Acts Out.” Or maybe some of the things that are coming in the weeks ahead. But as I read over the above paragraphs, I realize, that what I really want to say is—Thank you.  Thank you to Mike (our 17thanniversary is Saturday) for being there in all the ups and downs and finding ways to assure me that I am loved. And to all of you (we are nearing our 1stanniversary) for walking with us in this year of transition, messiness, and new relationship.

Blessings and peace, my friends.  See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 5/18/18

Beloved:

I’m a bit slow with the Preacher Woman this week. We had a chance to head to the beach with our son and his husband for a couple of days. It was great to have time to spend together and watch all four dogs—their two chocolate labs, and our two little guys, romp on the beach. We ate great food and had a chance to catch up on what is happening in their world.

Meanwhile, the world continued on its way. Hawaii’s Kilauea volcanic eruption has displaced thousands and threatens to blast huge rocks into the air.  Another school shooting—this time in Texas (the 22ndschool shooting of 2018). Ebola threatens to spread to out from its rural roots, into the cities. Continued violence in Gaza with horrific loss of life. A plane crash with 100 lives lost. And a royal wedding offered a glimpse of fairy tale glamor and happily ever after for those weary of all the sadness and violence in the news.

Tomorrow is Pentecost. Besides the fact that we will try to remember to wear RED, we come to this day in much the same way as the earliest disciples. We wonder where God is amidst all the brokenness, cynicism, violence and fear. Jesus is gone. The world stumbles on. Are we a people of faith, or of wishful thinking? It all seemed clearer when Jesus was in their midst. But now? What happens now? What turns this group of well-meaning, but less than skillful men and women into a movement that changes the world?

There is something more here. Something Jesus calls the Advocate. The Helper. The One who Comes to empower us for the task set in front of us. We call it the Holy Spirit. But what exactly do we believe or understand about the Holy Spirit? Do I have the Holy Spirit? Do you? We of the Mainline churches can feel awkward when the “Spirit” conversations come up. We don’t want to come across as naïve or unable to take responsibility for our own thoughts and decisions. Or—perhaps even worse—releasing our need to control.

I remember a conversation in High School with a guy who had a locker near mine. He knew I was one of those “Jesus Freaks,” and tried to convince me one day, that believing in the Holy Spirit was the same as believing in being “possessed by a ghost.” Didn’t we sometimes call the Holy Spirit the Holy Ghost? It was hard to think of how to explain the difference to him. I no longer remember what I replied. But, I think of that conversation every so often, as I reflect on the question of how do we understand the third part of the trinity?

You may notice I have more questions than answers on this one. I can’t give you a formula, a list, a program on how this all works. But I know that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be with us. And I have experienced the mystery of seeing that promise—sometimes just a glimpse—and other times I think I may have heard the wind. So, whether we “get it” or not—it is there to walk alongside us, to fuel our passion, create a hunger for truth and justice, and empower us to do a work that is beyond our knowledge or skill.

I invite us to Get Our Red On tomorrow. And do a bit of wrestling. A few exploratory steps. We don’t know where it is taking us, but we can count on not being alone as we walk this way together.

See you tomorrow! Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 5/12/18

Beloved:

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. According to National Retail Federation, sales related to this holiday will reach over 23 billion dollars this year. It is the third highest spending holiday in our nation. It is a big deal. For some of our churches, attendance will be one of the highest Sundays of the year.

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Mother’s Day. I don’t mind that it is a secular, rather than spiritual “holy” day. Motherhood has always been a rather underrated profession, and I believe that taking a moment in time to recognize and celebrate that can be a good and healthy thing. I don’t even mind that the price of flowers goes up this weekend—Mother’s Day provides florists with ¼ of their yearly income. Got it. Cards? Always a good idea. Breakfast in bed—bring it! A crayon drawing and a bouquet of dandelions…perfect.

But here is the thing. This is not an easy day for many people. In fact, I know a number of folks who will intentionally stay away from church, restaurants, and friends to avoid thinking about this day. Death. Conflict. Abuse. Infertility. Miscarriage. Incarceration. Estrangement. Divorce. Loneliness. There are all kinds of reasons why this can be a tough day for many of the people we love, and many more whom we don’t even know are struggling.

Over the years, I have wrestled with this Sunday in May as a daughter, as a mom, and as a preacher. The lectionary planner calls this Sunday the Festival of the Christian Home. Sorry, same difficulties as the above. So, what’s a preacher (or a child, parent, friend) to do?

I believe that we all have people in our lives—mentors, relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, who help to make us who we are—they are the helpers. Men, women—old, young—intentionally, or in passing. In the course of my life, I have been blessed. BLESSED! BLESSED! BLESSED! By those who have nurtured, nourished, guided, loved me into becoming. Many have been women, some have been mothers—if not biologically, spiritually.

Tomorrow, no matter how you feel about this one crazy Sunday of the year, I hope you will join us. We are going to be speaking about the Helpers. The night before Jesus was put to death, he stopped everything else he was doing to pray for his followers: All of his followers. He called them his helpers—and knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. And, it isn’t. (Don’t we know it!)

As those who claim Jesus as our guide, we too are called Helpers. So, we make ourselves vulnerable to a process of becoming—in our own brokenness, woundedness, loss and uncertainty. We midwife, we mother, we walk along side—no matter our sometimes “iffy” qualifications. And, that, beloved, is a Mother’s Day we can all celebrate.

See you in the morning. Blessings, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 4/26/18

Beloved:

What a gorgeous week! The sun has been out, and the flowers are blooming all over town. The mountains, oh my, the mountains! We used to have a gym teacher that said we had to have a jacket or sweater on at recess until the snow was off Mt. Hood. Not yesterday!!

Another spring memory, one that goes back to Jr. High, has been on my mind this week as well.  There was a married couple who taught at our school who, as soon as the worst of the winter weather was gone, rode their bikes to work every day. Just to be clear—this was not a thing back then. No adult rode their bicycles to work. There were no bike lanes. There was little in the way of gear. It could be pretty dangerous to be out in the middle of rush hour traffic. As I recall,  most people thought they were just eccentric. I wish I could remember their names, what they taught—that is all gone from memory—but I do remember one particular thing about them: they were worried. They were very concerned with the changes they were seeing in the environment. In a time before we talked about ecology, global climate change, and pollution—they talked about caring for the earth all the time.

To be totally honest, this whole issue was not that much on my radar– Jr. High stress was just about all I could handle. But it made an impression on me, even then. I remember one conversation in particular, when they talked about how they used to be able to ride their bikes without feeling like they needed to take showers afterward. The air had become so polluted, that they felt covered in grim by the time they got to school. They could remember a time when that was not the case.

And it is much worse now. I won’t make a list—it is too discouraging. But you know the facts as well as I. There will be no quick fix. But we do have the power to change a few things about the way in which we live, that when counted together will make a significant difference.

I am still working on this, so as I make some suggestions, please know that I am a work in process. For example:

  1. STOP USING PLASTIC BAGS at the grocery store. Hawaii has banned them—which is interesting when you go to the store without remembering your bags. On vacation I saw several people with their arms full of their purchases, because they had forgotten their reusable bags.
  2. STRAWS KILL SEA LIFE—There are several ways we can help. They make a variety of metal or glass straws that come in little pouches that we can carry with us. They even come with little squeegees to keep them clean. TELL SERVERS you don’t need a straw. If you saw the pictures of what happens to Sea Turtles or other sea mammals, you would never want to use another plastic straw.
  3. It is a hassle, I know. But here in Oregon, we actually have a pretty good system. You can get recyclables picked up at your house. For glass, and pop cans, however, you have to take them to a recycle drop location.
  4. EARTH FRIENDLY PACKAGING—I have found detergents for laundry and dishwasher that will be delivered with no extra cost to your door. They are packaged in cardboard, and use little packets of detergent that dissolve in water. Those big jugs of Laundry Soap are a huge waste.
  5. Wow, do we ever have terrific water in Madras. But lawns are a poor choice for how we use it. I haven’t quite decided how best to work on this—but sprinkler systems help. And turn some of your lawn into garden space, a rock garden, or wood chip space. We are in the desert! Cactus look fine.
  6. It is good for us (me!) and saves using fossil fuel for small trips. (definitely need to work on this one.

I’m going to try to continue posting ideas, and work at implementing them in my own life. It will take some time, but I want to witness to my love for this wonderful world God has given us. And care for the earth that sustains all life.

Coming Sunday—Isaac and Rebekah. The golden child of Abraham and Sarah’s old age. He is the “middle child” of the Patriarchs. Read ahead! See you Sunday.

Blessings, Pastor Nancy

How Attending Church Can Help the Senior In Your Life

Jason Lewis is a guest writer on our website.  He is the primary caregiver for his mom and a personal trainer specializing in senior fitness.  In recent years, he noticed what an impact church has had on his Mom, and not just spiritually. Going to church and participating in church activities has helped her stay both mentally and physically active. He wants to spread the word about that and offer additional tips on improving physical, mental, and spiritual health for seniors.

For many seniors, there is a daily battle: due to life circumstances that may be unique to their age or health concerns, elderly people often confront a variety of emotions or mindsets that may be somewhat debilitating and hard to bear. These include a sense of isolation, loneliness, boredom, and grief, as well as others. Even those who have family members nearby may not feel fulfilled, or they may feel lost after the death of a partner or close friend. It’s common for loved ones to feel unable to help when a senior shows signs of these problems, but for some, the answer lies in a very simple solution: church.

Going to church can help your loved one feel that they are a part of something, stay social, make a difference in the lives of others, help in their community, and find peace or solace after losing a loved one. There are many ways a religious organization can assist the senior in your life with staying healthy and vital; the key is to find the right one.

Here are some tips on how going to church can help impact your loved one’s life in a positive way.

Stay healthy

Going to church can help your loved one stay healthy by encouraging talk-based resolutions and peaceful relationships, which can help discourage substance abuse. Many seniors have fallen victim to prescription pain medication or turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their emotional pain and depression; attending church can help combat that. For more information on seniors and addiction, click here.

Reduce stress

Going to church can help reduce stress, in part because it allows for social situations that will help your loved one find happiness. Making a connection to others will help seniors find something to look forward to and can boost self-esteem and assist with healthy brain function, making for much happier days.

“Social support is no doubt part of the story. At the evangelical churches I’ve studied as an anthropologist, people really did seem to look out for one another. They showed up with dinner when friends were sick and sat to talk with them when they were unhappy. The help was sometimes surprisingly concrete,” writes T.M. Luhrmann of the New York Times.

Give back

Many church organizations give back to their communities by organizing food drives, helping shelters, putting together fundraisers for various charities, and giving children safe places to play and learn. These are all great activities for your loved one to participate in, as they can help foster a sense of community and togetherness.

“Many times, adults want to find ways to give back to the community once they retire, but aren’t sure where to start. Seniors who are part of a religious organization will be exposed to a number of charitable opportunities that will often coincide with their interests and abilities. Older adults may find that lending a helping hand to the less fortunate gives them a newfound purpose in their retirement and helps them make new friends,” writes Julia Little.

Finding the right church environment for your loved one may take some time, but it’s a great way to keep him active and social, especially if he’s recently lost a partner or has been battling loneliness. Encourage him to participate in church functions and offer to go with him for support, as any new venture–even a friendly one–can be daunting for some seniors. When you make it a joint effort, you’re showing how much you are about your loved one’s well-being.

  •  Photo via Pixabay by 12019