November 9, 2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

This week is our Celebration Sunday. We will have a chance to turn in our thoughtful responses to the question: how am I called to support the mission and ministry of God in this place? I chose this year’s theme by wondering what gospel values might help me, and all of us, look prayerfully at who we are and who we are becoming.

It seemed to me that in order for me to really live into generosity, I had to look carefully at simplicity. It is so difficult, sometimes, to be honest with myself about how I practice my faith. Sometimes it is easier to think about my faith than live into it. I can love the idea of something, but actually walking the walk of it is far more difficult for me. This is true of things like prayer, meditation, listening, writing, serving—just about every area of life that I want to give over to God’s dream for me and for all human kind.

Most of the time, if I am totally unflinching with myself, I realize that there really is “enough” time, money, space to do the things I feel called to do. The only real obstacle is me. I get in my way. I get in God’s way.

I’m working on it. I will likely have to continue working on it until I take my last breath. Part of the journey for me, is to listen to the impulse of the Spirit—the moment when there is a choice between A and B. Between simplicity of habit and generosity or scurrying around like I am being chased by my calendar. I could help that person struggling with their groceries up the hill—or I could continue to hurry on my way so that I won’t be late. I could rush by the person standing in the office on my way to “important duties” or decide to listen attentively to the story that needs heard. I could finish my to-do list, or I might listen to the call of the Spirit and jump in my car to give a bit of comfort and space to someone feeling overwhelmed by new responsibilities.

This week is about looking at myself and deciding who I am, and who I want to be. I am looking at my time, my energy, my dreams, God’s dreams—and yes, I am looking at how I spend my money. Could the local congregation, the wider church, the people in need do without the money I give? Maybe. And just think! If I didn’t give what I do, I could do other things—buy a newer car, maybe take a nice vacation, do some traveling. And that would be nice. But, beloved of God, here is the thing I keep landing on—I love being part of what God is doing here. I want who I am and how I live to make a difference. I could make a difference in a variety of places, for a variety of causes, but I choose right here at Madras UMC and right now, in partnership with all of you. Of all the places I have been in my life, and of all the cross-roads at which I have stood over the years, this one seems the most important. The world needs us. Right now.

As Uncle Mordecai tells Esther, “Who knows, if perhaps you were put in this position here for such a time as this?” He was talking about her becoming Queen, who could save her people. But I think the words apply to us as well.

I rather think we are here for such a time as this. And it gives me goosebumps.

I am looking forward to sharing time together this week. To commit ourselves anew to who and whose we are. To work toward a world that makes room for the least, the lost, the lonely. To grow strong in faith and delight in God’s hope and dreams for the world.

Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy

November 2, 2018, Note From the Preacher Woman

In the space of a week, I have lost three men who I have considered mentors in my life. Two of them were Catholic priests with whom I studied Centering Prayer in Snowmass, Colorado: Father Joseph Boyle and Father Thomas Keating. The third, Eugene Peterson, was a retired Presbyterian pastor, whom I met only once.

Each one of these men has played an important role in helping me to shape my pastoral identity. On this All Saint’s Day, I would like to share just one thing I learned from each of these saints.

For a some of the toughest years of my life, I was a regular at St. Benedict’s at Snowmass. I went there to go deeper into the practice of Centering Prayer, the practice of silence, and to train as Centering Prayer instructor.  I wasn’t the only protestant—but I did get chastised once in a while for singing too loudly during the chanted prayers in chapel. (One monk told me they could always spot the Methodists).

Father Joseph was the abbot at St. Benedicts. He wasn’t directly involved in the retreats, but I saw him each time we shared worship with the monks. He had a certain presence that seemed to radiate compassion. At the end of compline each evening, Father Joseph would stand at the door, holding an aspergillum to anoint each person with holy water as we left the chapel in silence. I can’t remember what words he said, if any, but it was a moment that left its mark. It was a blessing. Intimate. Personal. Prayerful. A moment of intention and connection as individuals and as community. It taught me the power of bestowing blessing.

Father Thomas Keating was the original abbot of St. Benedict’s. He was one of the founders of the Centering Prayer movement and wrote the books from which we studied. I had begun the practice of Centering Prayer before visiting the monastery. We exchanged letters, and I was able to meet with him each time I went to Snowmass on retreat. There are so many things I learned from Father Thomas, that it is hard to share only one. But one thing I try to remember every single day, is that “God is present in every moment, no matter its content.” It doesn’t matter if I am having a great moment, an anxious moment, an angry moment, or a despairing moment. God is present. God is present. God is present.

Eugene Peterson was the author of the translation of the Bible called the Message. He was a pastor, a seminary professor, and a prolific author. I have half a shelf of his books. He grew up in Montana, returning there with his wife to live in the Flathead Lake area when he retired. I met him at a pastor’s retreat, and found him to be gracious, a person of deep faith and a servant’s heart. He was a scholar, and a contemplative. Even now, this is an unusual combination. In one of his books (I can no longer remember which one) he shares his thoughts on what it was like for him to be in pastoral ministry. He never wanted to serve in a congregation that was larger than his capacity to call everyone by name. In a culture where even pastors are tempted to believe that bigger is better, he chose relationship.

It has been a lot of years since I have spoken in person to any of these three special men. But today, I lit a candle for them, and said thank you. I pray that I will continue to live into the lessons they taught me. And I hope in some way to be the bearer of the light they brought into the world.

Blessings, dear friends. Pastor Nancy

October 26, 2018, Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

If I had a “word of the week,” today’s word would be HOPE.

When I read the news, it feels as if the entire planet has been infected by a “lethal absence of hope.” Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries,uses this phrase to describe why young people end up in gangs. But, lately, it seems like this is a phrase that is apt for all of us.

Many of us have been up close and personal with despair. We have observed it in loved ones. We have felt it when the losses of life have just become too much. We have seen it in the casual cynicism of many young adults who believe their future was doomed before they ever came of age, by the harmful choices of preceding generations. We have seen it in crowds of people shouting threats to one another. We have read and heard it in the acrimonious conversations surrounding the future of the United Methodist Church. So where is the hope?

Here. Right now. In this place.

One of the inmates with whom I have been working got released this week. As he prepared for the transition, he got increasingly anxious. There were so many unknowns. And he had some good reasons to be fearful—housing, job, support—would there be anyone on the outside who would take a chance on a parolee? As it happens, he had more going for him than he even realized.  The education department at Deer Ridge goes the extra mile to give inmates as much support as they can. They are an awesome group. He also had some unexpected help from what we know as  “the Methodist Connection.” I was able to connect with some pastoral colleagues in the area to which he was going, who were able to suggest some local resources. He was surprised there was anyone out there—especially churches, who were willing to help a former inmate.  But there was. There is. I give thanks that he has teachers, mentors, and people on the outside that may just prove to him that there are people of hope in the world.

After all, when Jesus said we are the “salt of the earth”, he wasn’t talking about seasoning French fries. Jesus was calling us to a ministry of hope.  We are not the wishful thinkers, the naïve, the taken advantage of—we are the risk-taking “hopers” of the world. We are the doers of grace that move the world in the direction of love, of grace, of justice. And even when we fail, we get back up and do it all again.

One of my favorite authors and mentors, Eugene Peterson, died this week. He was the man who gave us “The Message.” I will be telling you more about him soon, but for now, I want us to think about his interpretation of Romans 12:

So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

 What a good reminder. For that, beloved, is who we are. We are a people who choose Hope. We are a people who keep our eyes on God. We are a people changed from the inside out. We will walk around in our everyday, ordinary lives and live the Hope that God has given us to live. And the world will indeed change. Hope is contagious! Go spread it around!

Blessings, Pastor Nancy

October 12, 2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

Our office manager, Chris Jones, has been on vacation this week, visiting his family in Ohio. We tried to prepare carefully for his absence, but it didn’t take long this week to realize that there were some questions I should have thought to ask before he left. I tried not to bug him about things too much, but I have to admit there were a couple of emergency texts that winged their way toward Ohio. Next time he is gone, I am going to make sure I know where all the passwords and keys are located. And just where exactly IS the hold button on the phone?

Chris was well and truly missed this week. But it was good for all of us around the church to be reminded that we might actually want to know some things about how things work—just in case. It also was a good reminder that Chris does many more things than those tasks that are included in his official job description. For example, did you know that he makes coffee and refreshments for our Food Pantry visitors on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? It is just a small thing—but it provides an example of welcome and hospitality that is a model of how we intend to be in ministry in this place. He does a lot of things like that—he sets the tone in the office, making it a place where people know they are welcome and that we will do what we can to help. (This week, Terry Batza stepped in as our official coffee maker—thanks Terry!)

Our “Chris-less” week also reminded me of how many other folks in this congregation provide leadership in quiet ways—and that we should be thinking of how we can coach, mentor, cross-train in some of these important, but not always noticed tasks, so we can continue to be the vital, thriving community of faith on the corner of 12th and B St.

Could you be one of these quiet, behind-the-scenes folks? No muss or fuss, the ones who notice things that need to be done…the jobs that we tend to only notice when they haven’t been done?

The ones who make sure that… the coffee is made, the sanctuary tidied up, the bulletin boards updated, the cookies set out, the altar filled with flowers, the leaves raked, the trash picked up, the toilet paper rolls filled, the dishes washed and put away, the church is locked or opened, the refrigerators cleaned out, the ice scraped off the walk, the light bulbs changed, community meals cooked, food pantry operational, Back pack buddy bags filled and delivered, Brown Bag truck emptied, Food delivered, Heavy tables set up and taken down, People welcomed and made comfortable, children cared for, powerpoint created, attendance recorded, money counted and put in the bank,  bills paid, budget created, reports generated, classes offered, worship planned, microphones work, worship service videoed, new ministries designed, shut-ins visited, food taken to the ill, worship and bible study offered at the nursing home, musicians lead, plants planted, plants watered, closets cleaned out, bells rung, bird feeders filled, weeds pulled, strangers made to feel loved…

We are all called. Some of us will serve on a team or committee. But absolutely every one of us is called to be the helpers in this place, and outside the building. We just have to pay attention. If we don’t know how to do something, or where something is located, or how we can be the most help—we don’t have to wait to be asked—we can step forward.

I really am going to find out where that “hold” button is on the phone!

BTW—Chris’s birthday is Monday! Happy Birthday, Dear Friend! And, boy, is the Pastor glad to have you back!

Blessings, see you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (Romans 12, The Message)

September 28, 2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

(First, a warning. I am going to say some pretty frank things in this note. So, if you are not ready for the conversation, come back next week.)

I took a couple of Sabbath days earlier in the week. It was wonderful to rest mind and body and walk in the woods painted in fall colors and look out on a lake that was calm and glistening in the sunlight. It rested my weary soul.

As I thought about my weekly PW, I decided to reflect on how sabbath can help us recharge open up our spirit. However, other events this week have crowded in, and I decided to give us a chance to think together on a more difficult topic.

This week, we have, once again been part of a national conversation about sexual assault. The reason it has gotten so much attention, has to do with the profile of the alleged perpetrator–a Supreme Court Nominee. Let me be clear, in case you think the pastor is about to go all political on you, that I am less worried about the political ramifications, than the moral ones.  I have read, listened, and had conversations with a wide number of folks about the allegations of Dr. Christine Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Why now? Why did she wait so long to report? Why should allegations from so many years ago even be relevant? Aren’t people presumed innocent until proven guilty? This could ruin a man’s future! Think of the damage this is doing to his family!

Yes. I get it.

But the part of the conversation I want us to focus on is at the very core of who we understand ourselves to be—as a nation, as a democratic system and as people of faith. Do we believe that some people are of more worth than others—their safety, their past, their future, their success? Do we believe that women, girls and vulnerable men and boys should not have to endure sexual assault and harassment—even if the perpetrator has a bright future ahead of him or her? Should their voices be heard? Believed? Taken seriously?

I read this morning that the phone calls to national sexual assault hotlines had increased by over 200% this week. The hashtags #metoo and #whyIdidn’treport have flooded social media. Every woman I know has a story. Every. Woman. I. Know. (This is higher than the reported national average.) Think about it. Every time we get a story like this in the news, women (and many men as well) have had to relive some of the worst experiences of their lives. Some of us end up telling stories to each other that we have never told before. Why didn’t we share them when they happened? Why didn’t we “call the FBI?” Why didn’t we tell our caring parents? Why didn’t we report the behavior to a teacher? Why didn’t we yell, scream, struggle, fight, make a scene?

Ah. Let me count the ways. Let’ start with the questions: What were you doing at that party in the first place? Were you drinking? What were you wearing? Were you flirting? Did you encourage him in any way? Did you scream? Did you fight him? How many times did you say no? Did you say anything at all? You know, if this goes any farther, it could ruin his chances at…

Guys tend to get carried away at this age. He didn’t mean anything by it. He couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t that big a deal, he didn’t manage to go all the way, did he?

There are lots. Lots. More.

Over the years I have had conversations with many girls and women. They (we) feel shame, responsibility, and fear when it comes to unwanted advances, aggressive behaviors and sexual harassment and assault. For as much advancement women have made over the years, there is still a huge stigma attached to “allowing” yourself to be a victim. “I should have….” “Why didn’t I” and, of course, “No one would believe me.” (He’s young. He’s old. He is a nice guy. You must have misunderstood.)

This just has to change.

A social researcher named Jackson Katz poses this question to groups of men and women;

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.
Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? “

 Want to guess the response? Yup. Except for a bit of nervous laughter, there was none.

He repeats the question to the women in the room.

(Try it. Ask any woman you know. Any.)

Look in the backseat of the car when returning from shopping. Carry car keys with the keys pointed out, to use as a weapon. Avoid parking garages. Don’t walk alone at night. (anywhere). Lock the windows at night, even if it is hot outside. Don’t ever put a drink down and come back to it. Watch your drink getting poured. Own a big dog. Carry pepper spray. Don’t get into an elevator alone with a strange man. If you walk alone and hear someone walking behind you, cross to the other side of the street. Don’t hike/camp/drive cross-country alone.

So beloved. This is hard. I want to change the world. For me. For you. For my kids, your kids, everyone’s kids. For our nation, that can do better—that must do better. I believe we are created to be people in relationship and community. If we are to connect and belong in the way in which Christ invites us—we better make sure that it is a safe place for everyone.

Thanks for reading. See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

September 14, 2018, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

There are some fun advantages to doing unexpected things. The odd surprise gift. An unexpected card written by a friend. An unexpected thank you from someone we barely know. Flowers that show up for no particular occasion. A random act of kindness performed by a stranger. I love giving moments to others like this. And I certainly love receiving them

Several weeks ago, I was leaving an art gallery with my friend, Judy. We had a great time looking at the work of local artists. The arrangement and design of the building was soul nourishing. But, there was something even more soul nourishing right out the front door. Along side the entrance was a row of carefully cultivated roses—they stood at least five feet tall. There were bright reds, deep pinks, and an absolutely gorgeous yellow, that had the barest touch of pink at the center. And they smelled just as a rose garden should smell. We both stopped to reach out to the roses and inhale deeply. Glorious! Just then a man came out of the building, and in a teasingly gruff voice said to keep my hands off the roses! I smiled at him, and said we couldn’t resist.

He walked over to us and gave us a bit of history about the gardens, then he reached over us, and plucked a single yellow rose. He smiled, handed me the rose, and said, “It’s okay, I know the gardener.” It was a moment of kindness, grace, and gave us both a moment of joy—that held us all day.

Over the weeks since that small moment happened, I have been thinking a great deal about kindness. It really doesn’t take much time, effort, or thought to provide that indefinable experience of caring for someone or something that you might not be expected to care for or about. A number of years ago, there was a short spurt of activity spurred on by the phrase—“perform random acts of kindness.” It was a great thought. And for a short time, there did seem to be more people being attentive to those random moments of opportunity—to hold a door, give away a parking space, carry someone’s groceries to the car.

But lately, I’ve been thinking that kindness needs to be a bigger part of my intentions than just something that happens randomly. I think we may need to bring out the BIG INTENTION—and live in a place of kindness. Every moment. Not just when I happen to remember that being nice is polite, or courteous, or could make a stranger’s day better.

Kindness isn’t something that gets a lot of press these days—although there are plenty of human interest stories on social media and the news that attempt to focus on something other than all the bad news. And this is good. But what if…

What if, I, what if we realized that what we put in the world matters. The words we use. The way we walk through the grocery store. The kind of conversation we have at the bank counter. Our 3 minute conversation while we are waiting in line for coffee. The way we answer the phone when we don’t know who is on the other end of the line. The way we notice and respond when someone looks lost, afraid, uncertain.

One day I was contemplating the concept of “being Jesus” in the world. Kind of silly, really. None of us, especially pastors, should try to be anyone else’s savior. It is unhealthy for us, and irritating to everyone else. But I think there is something there that calls to me. I don’t need to replace Jesus, pretend to be Jesus, or even dress like Jesus. But I can be Jesus in the sense of looking through the eyes of God on those who co-habit the planet with me.

I can make generous assumptions about the actions of others, without assuming that they are out to make my life difficult. I can choose to believe  that others are just trying to get through the day the best they can-just like me. I can acknowledge that sometimes ,we all need a bit of grace. I can practice Kindness. Attention. Intention. And although it might not bring about world peace, it might bring a moment of peace, joy, and relief to someone who needs it. And if enough of us do this, who knows what else might happen?

What do you think? Blessings dear ones. See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy

August 2018 Note From the Preacher Woman

I’ve been reflecting on the nature of family this week in preparation for preaching a short series on the book of Ruth. I took a quick look at Merriam-Webster, and noticed something interesting. The first definition of family does not even mention biological relationship; rather, it is called “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not. The annotation continues on down the page, biology enters the definition at subsection 4.

We all need the things that family is built to provide: unconditional love, nurture, safety, stability, belonging, connection, correction. Not all of us are lucky enough to have received these building blocks of life from the families to which we are born. And even if we are, the concept of intimate, trustworthy “social units”  is much too important to only include those who are connected to us through biology.

I am blessed with a pretty fabulous family…only some of whom are biologically related.  I have given birth to two amazing sons, Jonathan and Devin. I love them more than words could ever express. I am proud of the men they have become. They are that part of my heart that exists and walks outside my body. Wherever they are, my heart walks with them.  Years ago, a quirky Cistercian monk named Theophane, asked me: “What have your children taught you?” I didn’t even hesitate, “unconditional love.” Jonathan married Michelle, who became the first daughter of the tribe. She is a very competent nurse, and promises that she will still love and take care of me when I am old and cranky, and I believe her.

My husband, Mike, became family through our marriage. He is the steadiness to my creative “starbursts”  upon whom I can depend. He keeps me grounded. He helps me laugh. He teaches me that love doesn’t have to be perfect to be love. Justin became my son, because I married his dad. I loved him from the first day we met. He in turn married Jonah, who is a delight. From Jonah, our whole family has learned the power of expressing a happy moment with a simple and powerfully enthusiastic “Yay!”

Mike and I also have a daughter, Abbie. I met Abbie when she was a senior in High School. She is not ours by birth or adoption, but we belong to each other nonetheless. For a while, I thought I was helping Abbie to learn and grow what she needed to prepare for life. But, as is often the case, I have learned so much more from her, that I could have ever given. She is a phenomenal woman. We love her to the moon and back.

My sister Judy. Well. What can I say. She came into my life during my first full time appointment as a pastor. She has fed me, encouraged me, stuck with me, and been everything I could have ever wished a sister could be.  Our relationship reminds me of  the way some cats show up on the doorstep, and decide they have found home. Sometimes it has been me sitting on the porch, and sometimes it has been she.

My family continues to grow as the years pass. My tribe includes many of the folks who have been part of my life as a pastor over the past 20 years or so. Some are friends who chose to be present during some of the darkest moments of my life, those who I know would move heaven and earth to show up if I truly needed them. And those who know I would do the same for them. That is what the best kind of families do.

A few years ago, I was at a workshop where a presenter instructed pastors that if we wanted to grow our churches, we needed to stop referring to our congregations as “family.” Putting the family label on a congregation can inhibit growth. It sets up insiders and outsiders. The old guard become gate keepers, as the circle of intimacy keeps out those who are unaccustomed to “our way of doing things.” We often don’t even notice that we are doing it, declaring to all and sundry that our church is just one happy family. And what about those of us for whom the whole concept of family is toxic. If all you have ever known is a family that is dysfunction, judgmental, untrustworthy, why take a chance with “church” as one more opportunity to be betrayed?  There is truth to both of these critiques.

I can totally understand the ambivalence that many folks have these days toward the church. I understand the cynicism and skepticism of our times, when we simply cannot trust that any institution, especially one with the kind of checkered reputation as the Christianity, could provide the kind of unconditional acceptance, safety, belonging and connection that we all need to thrive.  But I still believe it to be true.

The church (with a little “c”) has been my family since I was nine years old. Even when I have been hurt by the church (big C and little c) it is the family to whom my heart still turns in times of stress and in times of joy. The church is my tribe. They are my people. They are my hope for the world.

It can get kind of messy—this business of creating God’s dream in the world—the “kin-dom” I like to call it. It is a big table, but about the time it looks like there is no more room, God tells us to scoot over and adds a few more chairs. (No cardboard tables in the other room.) If we get too squished, God will just make the table bigger. It is madness by the world’s standards. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

A family is many things,

Not bound by size or kin.

Each person’s gift a breath of spring,

God’s music can begin.

A dream, a voice, a smile, a prayer,

Together we are strong.

United, coming now to share,

In one accord God’s song.

To celebrate the gifts we bring,

The Christ in one we know,

We dare to hope, to laugh, to sing,

To praise, to dance, to grow.*

Blessings, dear family. May we live into God’s dream together. Pastor Nancy

*©Nancy Slabaugh Hart 1996