The writings, thoughts, notes, and articles of Rev. Nancy Slabaugh Hart
Notes from the Preacher Woman:
The Jericho Rose
As I prepared for Ash Wednesday this year, it occurred to me, that last year’s Lenten season had never really ended. Emotionally and spiritually, 2020 gave us twelve months of Lent! Resurrection never seemed to come. We’ve trudged through the wilderness, tried to protect
the weak, encouraged the other pilgrims along the way. We have made it once again to Holy Week. So, I’ve been thinking and wondering. Will resurrection come this year? And just what will resurrection look like? What am I hoping it will look like?
Years ago, a friend put a strange looking package on my desk. She explained that it was a “resurrection plant.” It didn’t look like much, kind of like a miniature tumble weed. I immediately thought, “Cool, I can use this on Easter Sunday.” The instructions explained that the Jericho Rose was a plant that could survive years in a dormant state, and then come to life when moisture was provided. I was game. I dithered for a bit trying to decide if I should try it ahead of time, but then reflected that since I didn’t know how long it would take to go back to dormant, I had better just save it for the “day of.” I read the instructions, it seemed pretty straight forward—basically, they consisted of—add warm water, and I waited for Sunday. For children’s time, I had the warm water ready. I explained to the children a little something about the plant, and then poured on the water. Nothing much happened. A few scraggly shredded-wheat-like arms uncurled. But that was about it. Ah well, it was worth a try. We were a bit disappointed, but I invited the kids to come back up after the service to see what progress it was making.
At the end of the service, we took another look. It was a bit more open. But it didn’t really look like much. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like, but definitely not a “Rose of Jericho” a name that conjured up images of a beautiful flower of the desert. Maybe I just didn’t follow the instructions well enough.
Cue the fast forward effect of calendar pages flying past (I think all this video editing has gone to my head) to last week. I realized I could use some help encouraging a bit of soul-blooming in preparation for Easter. So, why not try the experiment again? I got online, and in two days, my small scruffy package was in my mailbox. This time, I wouldn’t rush. I would add warm water at home, and then take pictures as it emerged from dormancy. Every half hour or so, I would check in with the little mini-tumble weed, and check its progress.
Sure enough, over time, the little shredded-wheat arms began to unfurl and stretch outward. And after a couple of hours, it even turned green! Okay, then. This is more like it, Resurrection! I gave it a few more hours, changed its water bowl, and by evening, it looked about as good as it was going to get. Um. Hm. To my chagrin, it wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. It wasn’t what you could call pretty. It wasn’t glorious, or even charming. It
looked like one of those childhood experiments I used to do with my friends, where at the end we all just look at each other and say, “well, there’s that.”
I hate to admit I was disappointed. I did everything right this time around. I was patient. I followed directions. I made sure it had fresh water. And it “worked.” The plant emerged from its dried state to become green. But the outcome was not what I was hoping for.
This week, we are very slowly emerging from the long Lent of the pandemic. I know we still need to be patient. We can’t rush this. For the first time in over a year, we will be in the sanctuary. But we already know, that it isn’t going to look anything like what we have been hoping. In comparison to what we all hold dear in our imaginations, it may even look down-right scruffy. But, oh Best-Beloved, it will be Resurrection! I’m going to reach out my scraggly shredded-wheat arms and give thanks that Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!
Blessings and peace to you all! Alleluia! The Preacher Woman.
COVID 19: One Year Later
Words from the Preacher Woman
We have reached a milestone this week—it has been a full year since we were able to worship in the sanctuary together. (For those keeping score at home, this means that we have published 54 worship videos on YouTube.) Who knew? In the weeks prior to closing down in-person gatherings, we did the best we could to prepare for the unknown impact a global pandemic: we stopped passing the peace during the service, we gave up hugging, we received instructions during the service about the proper way to wash our hands properly, and we asked our medical folks to keep us from falling down the rabbit hole of misinformation. And of course, we cleaned everything we could think of to clean, and then some.
I’m not going to re-visit every detail of those early days—you were all there, after all. But I think there is something of value to taking a moment or two to celebrate how far we have come in the past 12 months.
We were afraid the church could not survive if we couldn’t worship as we always had.
We are still here.
We were afraid that people would stop giving if they couldn’t attend in person.
We have experienced faithfulness and generosity—even from people who are not a regular part of our pre-Covid congregation.
We were afraid that no one would want to watch church online.
That was true for some. But, we discovered that more people are participating online than we would have had in the building—at all times of the day and night, and from all across the country. We have reached people we will never meet or know.
We were afraid that if the Food Pantry could not serve people in our building, that we would lose all our volunteers and people would not have access to food.
That one has been a challenge. Not everyone could continue to volunteer when we had to change over to a “drive-through” operation. But others stepped up. And we are serving many more families than we were serving a year ago. And our volunteer base, and financial base has expanded, as our community embraced the work of feeding our neighbors.
We were afraid that our children would not thrive, if they couldn’t be in the school building.
For many of our children this is, unfortunately, true. However, the teachers, parents, community members and our children have done amazing work. They have creatively built new systems of learning. This season has also drawn necessary attention to the inequities of our institutions of learning. Not all of our children have the same resources from which to draw. This has always been true, true, but Covid has made it even more evident that we have much work to do. AND, I can’t think of one parent of school age children who have not given thanks for the work our teachers do for us each day—maybe that will encourage cultural change as well.
We were afraid our medical facilities would be inundated with the critically ill.
Our medical community has worked very hard to help us prevent that happening. Much of what our public health, local physicians, pharmacists and other health professionals have done this year is visible by what we can see, but what we are not seeing. They have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, and to prevent the kind of catastrophes that could well have overtaken us.
It has been a most difficult year. But, as I look back, I can see the many blessings of this season as well. Fear does not always speak the truth (unless there is a bear in your path). Fear makes strangers of neighbors. Fear creates scarcity and selfishness. Fear keeps us isolated. Fear makes us forget who and whose we are. As 1 John 18 reminds us:
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We have come a long way, Beloved. And there is light, just ahead. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Easter is coming. May our hearts be ready for resurrection. Blessings and gratitude, Pastor Nancy
February, 1, 2021
In the weeks since Mike and I have purchased our retirement nest, I made two discoveries: 1. I don’t always have to choose neutrals, and 2. HGTV. The latter is my sister’s fault, actually. She got me to watch with her when I would stay the night when we were tending to my mother the months before she died. And then, our house happened, and BOOM—totally addicted.
This could sound like an exaggeration, but did I tell you that I bought a bright blue sofa? (I did! Really!) I immediately had buyer’s remorse, until I saw it in our new living room. I am in love. Sigh.
Anyway, one favorite show features Ben and Erin Napier from Laurel, Mississippi. They are re-vitalizing their community one house at a time by renovating neglected, historical homes that “just need a little love.” Their project has made a huge shift in the energy and vitality of this small southern town. Erin and Ben choose two homes for prospective buyers to look at. They take a tour of both homes and then the family or individual decides which home suits them the best. The homes, however, are not exactly turnkey ready. The looks on folks’ faces as they get their first look at chipped paint, dated colors, and renovations gone wrong can be priceless. The part I love, though, is when Erin tells them, “don’t look at what this looks like now, imagine with me what it can be.”
That phrase just doesn’t get old for me. Don’t just look at what the scars. Don’t just look at the wounds and neglect and broken dreams—look with me at the possibilities. Wow!
That, my friends, will preach. It seems to me that God is constantly inviting us to see our world, our community, our relationships in this way. I can choose to see the brokenness, the fatigue, the conflict, the damage—or I can see the hand of God, leaning in, waiting for us to catch a vision of what is right there in front of us—if we will take the risk.
It makes me think about Jesus and his first followers. I have no idea what Jesus saw in those guys. I do know they had stories before the day Jesus invited them to be part of his crew. They had been bumped around by life, their emotional and spiritual paint was likely more than a bit chipped, there was bound to be some crooked floors as well as crooked hearts (some of them definitely had foundation issues.) But, somehow, Jesus could see all of that, and still invite them to create something new and beautiful. Renovation started early in the process, and is still in process.
When I was young, I found a home in the church. It wasn’t a perfect home—I could see flaws and inconsistencies in my community, and I know for sure they saw the work that needed doing on me. But, for all its imperfections, the community of faith has continued to draw me in. There are times when they have lifted me on the wings of eagles, and other times when I was pretty sure they dropped me on my head. I keep coming back because, for all our imperfections, God is still present. God says we have promise. And there enough times when I catch a glimpse of it, that I just have to stick around to see what happens next.
There is work to do. There are people who are waiting. We call them by a lot of different names—the lost, the lonely, the hungry, the frightened, the sick, the prisoner, the misguided, the forgotten. The only way to do this work is to start small. One person. One conversation. One moment of grace. One act of courage. One moment of imagining how glorious it will all be when God is finished.
Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr wrote: “God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.” Maybe you need to hear those words today. Maybe there is someone needing to hear them from you. Happy renovating. Blessings, Pastor Nancy
January, 1 2021
I’m not much of a New Year’s Eve enthusiast. Christmas is definitely more my jam. New Year’s Eve always seems like a holiday for extroverts, the tribe that needs noise and crowds and excitement. My tribe tends to go for a few quiet friends, a good book, or jammies in front of the fire. I used to worry that my life was a bit too boring, but I guess I’m old enough not to worry about that kind of thing anymore. Plus, I know I am not the only member of this tribe.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the liminality that is the ending of one year and the beginning of another. On the first day of the year, there is one thing that I nearly always do—I begin a new journal. Sometimes it works out that I am nearly finished with whatever journal I have been writing in, and other years I just leave one journal with pages yet to be filled, and start fresh anyway.
I love beginning the new year with a fresh blank page. So much possibility. The first thing I do with the blank page, however, is to look back over the previous months. What have I thought and felt about life, about faith, about work, about my relationships? What have I learned? What stands out in my memory? What areas of life do I need to re-evaluate? How are things with my soul? Where is God leading? What does it mean to belong to God?
In Methodism, an early tradition at the turning of the year was the Covenant Service. It wasn’t original to John Wesley, but he used it as a teaching tool. Every year the community was given the opportunity to ask some questions, to re-commit heart, mind and body to being who we believe God is calling us to be. There is an entire worship liturgy that goes with this service, but the most important part of it, at least for me, are these words near the end:
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
It has been quite a year, dear friends. When I started writing this afternoon, I began with a list of life events, turning points, obstacles, anxieties, challenges—and the list was long. I know yours is as well. The turning of the calendar will not mean the sudden disappearance of those things which have tested us. But it does give us the chance to take a beat. To listen for God’s voice. To remember who and whose we are.
You are God’s beloved. You are my friend. Together we walk this road, no matter what lies ahead. Blessings and peace on this turning of year. Things are changing. God is present. All shall be well. Blessings, Pastor Nancy