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

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, 5/12/18

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