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!
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)
(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.
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
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
One of the hardest transitions for me as a pastor every year is when the calendar slides from July to August. It is still summer, but fall is already casting a long shadow I can’t ignore. School supplies fill the store shelves. Gardens are producing in abundance (well, ours isn’t, but that is a topic for another day). End of summer adventures are squeezed into the schedule.
This week has me getting down to the serious work of fall planning. Lots of things start up in the fall. There is the re-gathering of the diaspora of summer adventurers we call “Homecoming Sunday” (September 9, if you’re curious), there is a shiny, new sermon series in the works (called Connecting and Belonging), and finance team and I are working on what we hope will be a fun (yes, you read me right, FUN!) stewardship campaign before advent. I am looking forward to seeing all these things take shape.
On the other hand, I don’t want to let go of summer. My flower beds are finally beginning to fill in, although I can still hear the siren call of all the plants that would add additional beauty and serenity. (The local nurseries love to see me pull in the driveway.) I love how the back yard is shaping up. Last year I could see the possibilities. I wanted it to be a place of peace and respite, and where we could offer friendship and hospitality. And it is! I love having people come over to sit on our back patio and enjoy the flowers, the shade, the gentle sound of our fountain and wind chimes as we share stories and a cool beverage. (Let me know if you want to come, you would be most welcome!)
I don’t want to rush through these next few weeks. There are many, many things on the to-do list, and the calendar is already getting full as we move toward a different rhythm. But I hope we will all have some moments of sabbath rest, even in the midst of this transition. Sometimes it is a matter of intention and attention, and other times, it means stepping away. Next week, I will be taking a few days to be intentional about rest and presence. I will be heading to my happy place—the beach—to enjoy the power of surf, sand, wind and sky to quiet heart, mind and body. There isn’t much on the agenda for these few days, except to eat as much fresh seafood as possible, watch the waves, have great conversations with a dear friend, and walk in the healing presence of the Holy One.
Chris and Mike will be around for any emergencies. And, I will be back in the saddle to preach next Sunday. Don’t forget to savor. Don’t forget silence. Don’t forget that you are beloved.
It was good to get home on Saturday afternoon from camp. I emptied most of my suitcase in the dirty clothes, took a long shower to remove the smell of campfire from my hair, and then got ready to go back for our adventure at camp together on Sunday morning after our service here in Madras.
What a great day! We are already planning for our all-church picnic and worship at Suttle Lake to become an annual event. There were 35 of us, plus staff and counselors gathered on the playing field for barbeque out on the beautiful lawn. The menu was traditional picnic fare with hotdogs, hamburgers, potato salad, chips and drinks. We managed to rearrange the tables so we could all sit in the shade, and even had a bit of excitement when the automatic sprinklers turned on suddenly. The intrepid Resident Counselors ran for the sprinklers to keep the water off all of us—so they were the only ones to get wet. After lunch, we gathered in one of the chapel areas and worshipped together. The Resident Counselors joined us for worship, and provided leadership in “Fred the Moose,” and also sang one of the songs I learned from them in the course of our week together. It is called “Madly,” and I wanted to share the lyrics with you:
I’m madly in love with you.
I’m madly in love with you.
I’m madly in love with you.
I’m madly in love with you.
Let what we do in here,
Get to the streets out there.
We will dance for you.
We will dance for you.
That is the whole thing, isn’t it? Earlier in the morning, a young woman stood out in our greeting area. Gary introduced her to me, and we visited a few minutes before worship. She explained that she was looking for a church. We chatted a few more minutes about this and that, and then she said that she had noticed our rainbow flag as she was walking by the church other day. “Is that for real?”
“Well, yes,” I said, “we are a reconciling congregation, which means that everyone is welcome here.
She paused, “I was kicked out of my home church. My pastor told me I am going to hell.”
Since then, she has been looking for a place to belong. So far, she hadn’t been welcomed in any church she had tried.
My heart cracked a bit as she shared her story.
I was glad to be able to say that I thought she would not experience that here.
She took a seat near the back, and I kept an eye out for her. I saw folks greet her, shake her hand and welcome her. The sermon text for the morning, was about Paul and Barnabas returning to Jerusalem. Some folk had heard about their welcoming the Gentiles into the fold, and wanted to make sure that the new converts realized they would have to change their ways in order to be part of the community of Jesus followers. Paul and Barnabas argued with them until they were blue in the face, and they all finally decided to head back to Jerusalem to see what the Apostles and elders had to say.
The conversation must have been long and intense. They had a hard decision to make—do we insist that all who follow Jesus conform to one orthodoxy—i.e. become Jews—or do we make room at the table for those who had never been invited? Their decision on that day changed everything. Who is welcome? Who can be one of us? How wide is God’s circle? The debate still rages.
After the service, I invited her to join us on our field trip to Suttle Lake. She couldn’t, because she works three jobs. I said, I hoped she would come back.
The card she filled out during the service had these words written in a neat hand: “I felt very welcome here.”
Beloved, may “what we do in here, get to the streets out there.” Thanks be to God.