Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/23/18

Beloved:

You may have noticed by now, that there are some things I approach differently than some of my pastoral colleagues. This is not a good vs. bad thing—at least I don’t think it is. It is more a choice I make out of my own experiences in life and how I understand the underlying message of the gospels. When I post about some of these choices on Facebook, I will often receive comments to point out the error of my ways. And I am okay with that. I appreciate that we are working from slightly different contexts and values. And I can live with a bit of disapproval in the service of what I think may be more important in a particular place and time. Or maybe I am just a bit of a rebel. Or maybe I just have a strange personality bent.

One of these “quirks” is the way in which I choose to look at our liturgical seasons of repentance, penitence and self-examination. For example, some traditions—like not singing “Christmas” songs until Christmas eve, or retiring the word “alleluia” during the season of Lent—until the day of resurrection. These are traditions I respect but may not choose to follow. And there are more: like how do we deal with the “secular” additions to our religious traditions? Do we cast them out into outer darkness and choose to set ourselves totally apart from cultural conventions?

Good theological food for thought. Personally, I always appreciate the paradox of being in the world and not of the world. Especially when we are trying to communicate a gospel to people who do not share the hundreds of years of tradition and practice that are so much a part of who we are as institutional church. Can they hear the story if we insist there is only one way to tell it?

We live in serious times. Brené Brown writes that every morning when we get up, we check the news so we know what to be afraid of today—and who to blame. It’s hard. It can be overwhelming. In counter-point, I would like to make a case for the need for whimsy.

Lent is a time for serious reflection. Holy week—even more so. We observe the loneliness of the story of Jesus moving toward Jerusalem and his sacrifice on the cross. Jesus stands apart from the kind of leadership the people of God have come to expect. He walks alongside the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten, the infirm. And he speaks truth to power. It gets him killed. This is heavy stuff. And, as we walk through the story this week, we will look closely at what it all means as we re-tell the events of so long ago.

But there is also another thing to keep in mind this week. In the midst of the darkest times, there are moments of light, even humor that help us to hold onto hope. One of my favorite characters created by Terry Prachett says, “laughter helps things  slide into thinking.” I believe Jesus knew how to use the absurdity of situations and the frailty of our human emotions to do just that. Take a closer look at his interactions with the disciples and antagonists this week. Jesus did this well. Hard things can be dealt with if we hold them lightly. A bit of whimsy can lighten the load. And sometimes humor can create a space to hear hard truths.

So, I invite you to walk with me through this incredibly packed week– of joy and laughter of disappointment, anger and fear. Friday we will sit at the feet of the cross. We will wait in silence on Saturday in suspense. But don’t throw out the Peeps and Chocolate bunnies—there is plenty of room at the Easter table for them as well.

Blessings and peace, my friends. Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/16/18

March 16, 2018

Beloved:

It is good to be back in the office! I’m still taking things slowly, but I am definitely on the mend after dealing with pneumonia last week. Mike has been a great nurse, but the longer I was home, the longer my list of spring chores was getting.  I have managed to re-landscape the entire yard in my imagination while looking out the bedroom window.  Mike is definitely ready to hand me over to Chris, so he can have some peace and quiet and get back to his woodworking.

It’s hard to believe that we are nearing the conclusion of Lent. This week we will be looking at perhaps one of the most difficult of our vows of membership: Witness. Just what did we sign up for when we agreed to this one?

For me, and perhaps many of us, the word “witness” or “evangelism” may conjure images of street preachers, or being confronted with a sincere stranger demanding to know whether or not we have been “saved.” One of the conflicts between mainline and independent evangelical churches over the last hundred years or so, is how we understand the nature of salvation. Are we talking about what happens after we die? Is salvation a kind of fire insurance to save us from a distressful afterlife? Or is salvation about how we are invited to live in the present?

As I write these words, I have to confess that many other words have been written, and then deleted from this page. Or as a former professor used to say, “much ink has been spilled…”  I have pages and pages of notes about how to talk about the idea of salvation and witness. It is muddy territory. It is particularly obscure in our time. We have been quietly converted by decades and decades of a certain strain of evangelicalism in the US to a theology that is not biblical– it is, however, pervasive. So pervasive, in fact, that we don’t realize that some of the theology that has become normalized as ancient truth, has actually only been around for a couple of hundred years.

If we are able to “set aside” some of this cultural confusion, perhaps we can separate out what God is calling us to be and do, from the cultural expectation of evangelism and witness.

We are asked to something that is far simpler that we would imagine. We are asked to tell the story. It is a story that doesn’t come with a club. It is a story of grace. It is a story of changed lives. God’s story is about relationship—with human beings—you, me!  Salvation is right now! The story we are given to tell is good news. Of love. Of forgiveness. Of abundance. Of justice. Of mercy. Compassion. Unconditional acceptance. Of power to transform the world around us. We are all part of the story.

We tell stories all the time. Stories that we feel compelled to tell—we can hardly wait to “give witness” to finding a new restaurant, a good book that has changed the way we think, an excellent massage therapist, or the new car we just bought, the excitement of the latest grandbaby.  Just think how easy it is to tell those stories!

To witness, beloved, at least in my understanding, is to be willing to share the beauty, the grace, the power of what God is doing in the present moment. The ancient stories are important, they are powerful. They have much to teach us.  But what is God doing right now? What God moments do we see each day? And don’t we want to share that abundance, that joy, that mystery? Sounds pretty compelling to me. Can I have a witness?!

I am looking forward to being with you in person this Sunday. Blessings and peace, my friends.

Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/2/18

Beloved:

Text from Chris:  Did you send me the Preacher Woman weekly note? I have the newsletter article, but I can’t find the weekly note.

Text from Pastor Nancy: Well, I had it nearly finished…and then I got interrupted…and then when I got back to it, it no longer felt right, so….

Earlier in the week, I got on a roll with my writing. It felt like the words were spilling out so quickly that all I had to do was type fast and let ‘er rip. I love it when that happens! Ideas, creativity, images, metaphors—spilling out and over the page as quickly as I can scoop them up and put them on the page! I would love it if I felt that way every day. It is exhilarating, and one of my favorite experiences in my life as a writer. But it doesn’t happen all the time. At least, it doesn’t happen all the time for me. And then there are times like this week—when I was in the zone—that sweet spot where it is all working, and my fingers are flying—and then life happens.

By the time I got back to what I was working on, I no longer felt the fire. I re-read. Tried adding some sentences. Delete. delete. delete. Start again. Wrote some more. Rearranged a paragraph. Delete. delete. delete.

When this happens, I know it is time to step away. It feels very much like when I am peeling an egg and the shell will not come off in big pieces, but shatters into tiny little islands of shell that I have to remove piece by piece. Even then, I may destroy the smoothness of the cooked egg white. Painstaking. Irritating. Maybe I don’t want deviled eggs anyway. I think I will just make a sandwich.

I could give up, and just tell Chris “I got nothin’.” And sometimes that is okay. But the thing is—I do got somethin’! Lots of somethins’! So, I sit with the blank page of the screen, and I wait. I watch the blinking cursor. I write. Delete. delete. delete. And I write some more. Delete. delete. delete. And, this morning I have the added blessing of Mike bringing in more coffee as needed. Drink coffee. Write more. Delete. delete. delete.

(Now watch, as I make this silliness into something…)

This week we are talking about Gifts. Such a familiar comforting word. I love receiving a gift that someone has spent some time thinking about. I love giving gifts even more. And as a follower of Jesus, I love the idea that when we give of our resources in love and intention. But that is only a small portion of what this word means when we consider what it is we have signed up for when we promise our “gifts” to one another. Gifts are not just the things we give to make sure ministry happens. Part of it? Oh yes! An important part. Gifts are also those abilities and passions we receive from the Holy Spirit so that the work of God happens in the world. We often mistake spiritual gifts for natural ability. But think about it. A spiritual gift is one given by God for the good of the community and world. It may be something that comes once and then is gone. It may be something that no one in their wildest imagining could expect. AND we all have them. And WE all have them. And we ALL have them. And we all have THEM.

They may come in a storm of passion, creativity, excitement and joy. Or it may feel like peeling that stupid egg. But no matter how it comes, we know from whom it comes. And I can’t wait to think about it together. See you Sunday. Blessings, Pastor Nancy.

P.S. Still working on the one I started. Will let you know.

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 2/16/18

Beloved:

It is Lent. The forty days, excluding Sundays, where the church has traditionally set aside time for penitence, self-reflection, and spiritual discipline. The church in which I grew up didn’t say much about Lent. That was for my Catholics friends, who came to school talking about what they had to give up—chocolate, or their favorite dessert, or soda pop. In my church, the season was all about the two big days—Palm Sunday and Easter. The Easter cantata was the place where we were told the whole story of the events leading up to Good Friday and the triumph of resurrection.

As I got older, I began to appreciate the idea of Lent—of taking time to slow the story down; to reflect not only on the journey of Jesus and the disciples, but my own journey as well.  Over the years,Lent has become pivotal to my life, and I look forward to this season of reflection, of taking a bit more time over what it means to be doing the things I do as part of my faith and commitment, and wandering and wondering about my job as a follower of Jesus in this time and place.

This season, I am reflecting especially on what it means when we take on the words we recite at the time of our “joining” the church. We promise to support the work of our local congregation through our PRAYERS, PRESENCE, GIFTS, SERVICE, AND WITNESS. Everytime I invite persons to unite with a local congregation, I ask the entire gathered body to reaffirm those vows. But this Lent, I would like to re-examine what it is we think we are signing up for?

This week, in particular, I wonder what it is I think I am promising when I am promising to pray. Today, social media is blazing with outrage over the facility with which we say this new set of victims are in our “thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers are clearly not enough. Or are they? I think it may just depend on what believe we are signing up for when we say we will pray. We need to be outraged. We need to take stock. We need to DO something different than we are doing—which for the most part is just a brief wave of words that disappear until the next time our children are shot at in a senseless act of violence.

Maybe. Just maybe. It is time to take our prayers to the streets—oh I don’t mean like the scripture I read on Ash Wednesday about the piety of the Pharisees, who loved to pray loudly in public, so the people would be impressed by how religious they were. But, the real deal. Real Prayer takes us places. Real prayer changes things. And I will tell you the most important thing that prayer changes—it changes the one who prays.

My heart is heavy today as I wonder what I can possibly do that will actually make a difference—save a life, change a mind, build a different kind of world for our children. I don’t have the answers, but I do know that prayer is part of it—if I could only truly understand what is being asked of me. I hope you will join me as we ask our questions together.

Blessings and see you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

 

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 2/8/18

February 8, 2018

Beloved:

I was recently inspired to begin re-reading the works of Jane Austen. One of my continuing education classes is in family systems, and part of our recommended reading is Ron Richardson’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Relationships. It wasn’t hard to convince me to read Richardson’s book—one, because I have benefited from his other books on how understanding our family systems can assist us in our work as leaders, and two, I couldn’t resist the title.

In the book, he examines various characters in Austen’s novels from the stand point of Bowen theory. You don’t have to know much about Bowen’s family systems theory to get the idea that when we enter into a relationship, we do so at varying levels of readiness for healthy and mature interactions. Jane Austen was astonishingly astute at perceiving the way in which our longing for love and connection can either be strengthened or sabotaged by character, sense of self, and emotional maturity.

As I was reading the book, I found myself trying to remember the various character’s strengths and weaknesses, and finally decided that to fully participate in the conversation, I would simply have to go back to the source. This was in no way a hardship. I have always loved Jane Austen.

An unexpected consequence of reading Richardson and Austen at the same time, was a renewed sense of frustration over the loss of artful conversation and clear writing in our daily lives. We have so many ways in which to tell our stories these days—but I often wonder if we have abandoned the power of style, clarity, beauty of the spoken and written word in our obsession with brevity and lowering of expectations. It seems to me that our primary means of communication depends on sound bytes, tweets (140 characters or less) acronyms (LOL) and emojis (insert smiley face here). We are seldom challenged (or enriched) by interesting word choice, a beautifully crafted description, or a poetically expressed sentiment.

I am not advocating for verbosity or needless complexity. But have you ever wished, when selecting a movie to watch or a book to read, that the characters, just this once, could at least speak in complete sentences?! And do all our modes of communication need to be reduced to language choices we knew by third grade?

This may make me sound like a word snob. I don’t mean to be, and I certainly don’t care for people who pepper their conversations with esoteric words just to prove they are smarter than me. But there is something delightful in reading a book like Pride and Prejudice and allowing myself to revel a bit at the way in which Jane Austen can transport me with a description of a quiet evening at home that makes me want to sit next to her in front of the fire. And wouldn’t it be delicious to be crafty enough in the art of language to be able to put an impertinent cad in their place without resorting to vulgarities and dull put-downs, i.e. allowing your disapprobation to be known without resort to crudities or simple name-calling. She was the master!

I love simple and clear writing. Being concise can be an art form in itself. But every once in a while…wouldn’t it be lovely to engage in the felicitous art of gracefully crafted communication. It would require slowing myself down. Thinking before speaking. Weighing the impact of my words. Perhaps this might even be something I could direct my energy toward during the coming season of Lent. A time to consider the power and impact of my own words. And to pause to think through what I am trying to communicate, rather than blurt out whatever happens to be bubbling below the surface with little thought or deliberation. It may be worth considering. It might even be an interesting spiritual disciple. In the meantime, I have Jane’s characters to delight me with their graceful speech, and only hope to be positively influenced by their understanding of the human heart and our desire for connection.

See you Sunday. Blessings, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 1/18/18

January 18, 2018

Beloved:

I have always been a lover of words. New words. Old words. Colorful words. Words that pop and sizzle. Words that calm and comfort. Words that uplift and inspire. Words that sparkle and glisten. Onomatopoeia to metaphor to figures of speech. Words have power. Words matter.

Words can change the world. Fifty years ago, the world shifted.  Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the Washington Monument and spoke these words:

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!”

I am thankful for his words this week. Lately, it seems like we are being bombarded by words—spoken, written, tweeted. They are words that are changing the world as we know it. Scary words. Violent words. Demeaning words. Incendiary words. And it is difficult to imagine that I have any power to change the tide that seems to be rolling over the top of us. But I have to believe, as did Dr. King, that what we say, what we do, who we walk with, will make all the difference.

Listen to your words today. Listen to the words of other. Create a conversation. Speak words of power to those in power. Live into the dream that Dr. King spoke of, and the one to which God is leading us. I have a dream, too. And we will walk there together.

Blessings, Pastor Nancy

1/4/18 Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

January 4, 2018

Back in the olden days, when my body was much younger and more forgiving than it is now, I used to cross-country ski, all by myself, in the Big Horn mountains. I wouldn’t like to do that now, since getting up once I have fallen has become a bit more of a challenge. But, at the time, there was nothing I loved more than getting the boys off to school, and then heading up the mountain for a morning of swooshing along trails and meadows. Now, those who know me, know that I have never been much of an athletic person. But cross-country skiing felt much more like taking an invigorating walk, and the exercise kept me from feeling the cold.

During the week was the perfect time to go—everyone else was busy in town doing their everyday activities, and I had the trails to myself. My preference was for “flat” surface. Flat is good. But, if I was going to use the beautifully groomed trails, I would have to learn how to do a few hills as well. Going up—fine. I would herringbone up sideways (which always made me feel accomplished). Skiing down, however, was always a bit scary. I don’t like going fast, and my heart would leap into my throat, threatening to fly out of my mouth. I knew there were ways that you can slow down, but my favorite go-to for those moments of panic was to simply “sit down.” It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

I kept trying to get a bit better, and not let my fear take over. Sometimes there were hills I just couldn’t avoid skiing down. I would bend my knees and draw the tips of my skis together, and try to concentrate. The real problem became the tree that always seemed to be at the bottom of the trail, right where I needed to turn.

I would look at the tree. The tree (I swear!) would look at me. I would breathe deeply, adjust the angle of my skis and take off down the hill (real skiers would likely not have considered these to be more than a slight decline). My enemy the tree would inevitably jump right in front of me, and I would end up in a heap at its trunk.

It wasn’t obvious at the time, but eventually, I came to understand those trees as great life teachers. The more I concentrated on the tree at the bottom of the slope, the more likely it was that I was going to succeed in hitting it.

Because…are you ready for this? “You will only hit what you aim at.”

This week, we are reflecting on the Light. It is Epiphany—the day we look to the story of the Wise Men who came from the East following the star. “The Light came into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) I invite us to consider—where are we aiming? Are we engulfed in the darkness, our worries, our fears, our insecurities? Or are we ready to lean into the Light? Let’s aim for where we want to go.  See you Sunday. Blessings, Pastor Nancy

December 28, 2017

December 28, 2017

You know it is almost New Year’s when: the ads on your Facebook page change from “Last minute gift ideas” to ads for gyms, diets, exercise plans, and books on self-improvement. On the news, the stories all look back to the year-that-was. Parents begin to look forward to school starting up again. And pastors look to see how many Sundays we have before the next big push that leads from Ash Wednesday to Easter (we also pray that it isn’t early this year, which never works—it is, when it is.)

It makes me sad that a culture that spends so much time looking forward to the event called Christmas, we so easily put it back into the box. Christmas, after all, actually only begins on Christmas Day. It ends with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th. But by then, most of us will have our trees down, the decorations put away, and our thoughts have moved backward—to the year we may be glad to put in the past, and forward—to what may come in the New Year.

I’m hoping that this week, you will join me in staying in Christmas-mode for just a bit longer.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Howard Thurman, scholar, wise mentor, and man of great faith:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Let’s not turn the page too soon. Let’s look together at what the gift of Christmas is and can be—as we stay in this present moment—in the post-rush, post-chaos, post-guest moment when perhaps for the first time we can examine what this work of Christmas is truly calling for in each one of us.

I am looking forward to seeing you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

P.S.—don’t’ forget that our services are available on Youtube—Madras United Methodist Church Madras, Oregon.

 

Thursday Notes: Practice

Beloved: We are in the midst of our sermon series on “Bearing Fruit.” As many of you know, this is grounded in the writings of Bishop Robert Schnase, who wrote the “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” In each section, Bishop Schnase highlights on practice that is at the core of our practice as followers of Jesus. He then tries to rev up the adjectives we use to describe these practices–So, hospitality becomes “radical” hospitality; worship becomes “passionate” worship; faith development becomes “intentional;” mission and service becomes “risk-taking;” and generosity becomes “extravagant.”

I have worked with this concept for a long time, so I decided to tweak things one step farther, and take the adjectives back out. I love the strong words Schnase uses, but because I just received them, rather than wrestling with them myself, I began to wonder what adjectives I would have used. So, each week I am asking each of us “fill in the blank.”

What kind of hospitality am I willing to extend–today?

What kind of worship am I coming prepared to participate in? what do I bring in the door with me? What do I take outside our doors when I leave?

This week, we are on faith development. There are many words for what we mean when we talk about this, but the long and short of it is PRACTICE. What time do we set aside to practice the art, craft, life of disciples, so that we become more like the Jesus who has called us? How are we intentionally creating a culture of maturing discipleship? How do we get from “beginning” to “advanced.” And perhaps most important of all–How do I create space in my life for becoming? See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

September 2017

Back in the day, when my children were small, I took pictures of them at various important intervals. In fact sometimes I would just take pictures of them because they were doing something I deemed to be adorable. I had no idea if the picture I snapped had captured the moment I was trying to capture, because at that time, all cameras had to use a thing called “film”—which had to be developed before they could be seen. So, I would have to use up the entire roll of film, roll it back into its little container, and head off to the drug store to have it developed. After a few days, I would pick up my pictures, and hope that I had at least gotten a few pictures worthy of sharing with the grandparents, or putting into a photo album.

I remember the excitement of opening the envelope with the pictures in it, and smiling at the successes, and sometimes the failure of my efforts. Pictures like the “First Day of School” were especially welcome by grandparents, but it sometimes took until October to get them sent off.

I was reminiscing about all of this recently as I was perusing Facebook. These days, we can take a picture, double check to see whether it is what we wanted it to look like, and post it to social media in the time it used to take me to push the button and advance the film to the next exposure. Facebook has become the new “family album.” In fact, even if you don’t even have to organize the pictures into albums—the magic and mysterious Oz behind the curtain will offer you a slide show of what happened on Monday, or the anniversary of friendship, or pictures taken and posted on the day of your birth. It is pretty amazing.

So, this week, I have enjoyed seeing dozens of “First Day of School” shots that remind me how quickly children grow up. And the privilege I feel at having a chance to share in those memories with their parents. I have enjoyed the vicarious pleasures of summer getaways to restful and/or exciting locations. I have marveled at first glances at college dorm rooms—that will never be as tidy as this moment in time. And I have been in awe that a friend traveling thousands of miles away can share her pilgrimage in real time.

Sometimes I miss the way things “used to be.” I miss the excitement of waiting for the photos, and quickly pulling them out of the envelope to see if what I thought I was captured, was indeed captured. I miss receiving those things called “letters” that were thick, because someone had enclosed pictures with their missive. But there is something to be said for the way we can share with many of our dear ones at once the fragile and ephemeral moments of life that we might not have had the time or energy to share “back in the day.”

I have a certain amount of ambivalence about the ubiquitous nature of social media. We are living in pretty negative times. Some people tend to use the internet as a bully pulpit, and it is tempting to just shut down and tune out. Where is basic human dignity and courtesy, anyway?  But, then there is the other side. I get to see the ongoing journeys of friends, of family, of colleagues, it gives me hope that maybe true connections are being made, even in a world of oversharing, overexposure, and friends who may need to set some better boundaries on who they share what with…

I often talk about the importance of stories. To me, everything really does come down to the stories. What story are we telling? What good word does the world need to hear? How can we make an impact in a world of brokenness, negativity and emotional and physical violence. We have the power to impact the shape of the story that is “out there” in the world. We have the tools. So let’s put it out there, friends—the first days, the good news, the joy, the power of love. Because if there was ever a time when the world need to hear a good story—it is now. And I’m not sure we can wait for the film to be developed.

Blessings in this day, and to quote my favorite podcast—“may you have a story worthy week!”

Pastor Nancy