Thankful for YOUBy Rich Pleva - November 25, 2014, 11:45 am
There are a lot of “non-liturgical” holidays. Mother’s Day….Valentine’s Day (sort of)…Labor Day….and more. I think Thanksgiving Day is the most Christian of the lot.
Some holidays take more explanation than others, but Thanksgiving Day requires almost none. That act of giving thanks is the quintessential act of acknowledging “creatureliness.” I am contingent. I am not God. I am dependent on others.
On my more sinful days, I wish to be independent – to depend on no one but myself. It is part of the American myth to imagine oneself self-made – autonomous. There are few insults more universally affirmed in our culture than that of “dependency.”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reality of unhealthy dependencies, but the idea that anyone could be, or should be really autonomous is, it seems to me, idolatrous. Only God is autonomous….and even God choose to create and in some measure make Godself dependent on the welfare of that which God had created. Is there any biblical text more breathtaking than that of Philippians 2:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave…..
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
So, assuredly I am thankful for food and for clothing and for money in the checking account, but mostly I am thankful for the web of relationships that make life something worth living. I am thankful to and for God and I am thankful for family and friends and colleagues – for YOU!
Thank you. God bless you!
By Rich Pleva - November 25, 2014, 11:45 am
UCC in Iowa
All the Good GivingBy Jonna Jensen - November 20, 2014, 12:54 pm
I’ve been praying and wondering quite a lot and preaching a little bit in and about this passage from the first chapter of the Letter of James:
“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above…”
In our daily and yearly rhythms of reading, praying, and listening through the Bible, we are blessed with occasions to startle over a familiar text. In the same way as we startle over a beautiful tree or an architectural detail along a route we’ve traveled hundreds or even thousands of times (“Has that always been here? I’ve never noticed that before!”), so we startle over words of Scripture that we’ve driven by hundreds or even thousands of times, noticing a detail we’ve never seen before. One of the luscious blessings of making time all the time to offer our attention to sacred texts!
Like you, I’ve sung and prayed over and sighed on and preached from the second portion of this passage a lot of times. All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. Amen. Thank God!
But I startled this fall over the first portion of the passage, which seems to have caught my attention for the first time. (“Has that always been here? I’ve never noticed that before!”) Every generous act of giving is also from above!
Not only the gifts we receive but the gifts we give are Godsent. God has my PIN and password. God writes checks on my account. God has access to my calendar and can spend my time. Amen. Thank God!
Our calendar years close with seasons of feasts and gifts. Very good times, my beloved, to watch for what hasn’t been noticed before. Very good times, my beloved, for God to use our PINs and passwords and account numbers to give gifts to precious souls who are not on our lists of favorites, whose names we didn’t draw for the gift exchange. Very good times, these weeks of crowded calendars, to pay attention to ways God may choose to spend our time on an unnoticed someone needing presence that God chooses (WOW!) to send through us.
Thank you and thank God for the stunning ways God sends gifts through you!
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - November 20, 2014, 12:54 pm
REALBy Brigit Stevens - November 13, 2014, 4:19 pm
Every few months or so I hear from a colleague, or read in an article, or am challenged by a friend that virtual/digital community isn’t REAL community. You know, Facebook friends aren’t REAL friends. Twitter conversations aren’t REAL dialogs. Instagram pages, Pinterest boards, blogs, list serves, etc. aren’t REAL community.
And I’m going to shock some of you:
“Facebook friends” aren’t my real friends. According to my Facebook profile I have 549 “Facebook friends.” Facebook has co-opted the term “friend” from our casual vernacular and claimed it to mean something technical within its platform. I do not believe that I have 549 real friends. However, among those 549 human beings, the ones that sit at their desks, on their couches at home, or at tables in coffee shops and engage me in fun, meaningful, challenging, supportive, authentic relationship are my REAL friends. And it’s amazing how often and deeply I am able to connect with them via the TOOL of Facebook! Instagram pages and Twitter feeds are not my community. However, the real live people whose hearts are beating and souls are stretching across time and space to me through their pictures, thoughts, resources, ideas, etc. using the media and tools hosted on the internet, such as Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Foursquare, etc., are indeed my REAL community.
These people are also my church. Our church. In my experience and understanding of church, including Jesus’ declaration of Peter as the “rock” of the church, church resides in and among and between the people, not in the buildings or internet platforms that connect them. When I was a local church pastor in rural MN, our youth group, and their parents, communicated almost exclusively via Facebook messages. I counseled a teenager through an awful breakup via text messaging one night. The new fellowship area’s design was inspired by photos of other church parlors shared on Pinterest boards. I continue to have theological debate with colleagues regarding baptism, stewardship planning, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how to set appropriate rental rates for non-profit groups who want to use church buildings via Facebook pages. These people are our church, and Facebook, text messaging, etc. are the ways we have found to connect with one another.
I agree, that I (we) need REAL community. I agree that REAL community isn’t a plastic box or powered by electricity. However, these tools are incredibly helpful in the task of connecting with other human hearts and souls in this day and age. I am eternally grateful for the creativity of the Holy Spirit and the wide variety of ways that She continues to draw us all nearer to one another and therefore closer to God. I love when I run into my REAL friends in person at worship on Sunday morning, at occasional retreats across the country, when serving on boards and committees of non-profits I care about, etc. and our relationships are deepened by our conversations in other ways and times. I also celebrate in the mystery of God who is bigger than I can explain or contain, and trust that even those folks who I will never see the whites of their eyes in person, I may still call my real FRIEND, even my real CHURCH, because of the way we have been in community with one another along this journey of life and faith together.
I love my REAL friends because we exchange REAL love and build REAL community together. And as explained beautifully by Margery Williams in The Velveteen Rabbit, “And once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
Blessings for the Journey,
By Brigit Stevens - November 13, 2014, 4:19 pm
allow God to arrest you + potpourri of encouragementsBy admin - November 7, 2014, 10:45 am
Back in the late summer it was my privilege to spend a couple days with many of the young clergy of the Iowa Conference. We worshiped and prayed…we ate and laughed….and we puzzled through some important issues of pastoral identity, namely….what is the job of a pastor?….and who gets to make that determination?
There’s no simple answer to the question. The pious (and undoubtedly true) answer is that God decides! But God rarely sends a text message saying, “Do THAT!” or “Stop it! Do this instead!!” Like so many matters, the pastoral role is a matter of discernment. It’s a matter to be wrestled out in weighty conversation with parishioners and colleagues and mentors and family and friends.
I’m pretty sure that one part of the pastoral role – at least for most of us – is the significantly counter-cultural discipline of periodically removing ourselves sufficiently far from the routine and hustle-bustle of everyday life (including parish life) so that ideas and convictions and insights (to say nothing of the sense of the divine) can break through our sensory-saturated lives.
I’m writing this from St. Benedict’s Center in Schuyler, Nebraska. It’s a place to which I come several times a year precisely for those purposes.
Being able to do this is a remarkable privilege. Most people work at jobs where that which sort of looks like “wasting time” can be cause for probation, or firing – not an intrinsic part of the job. If clergy, however, are folk to whom our communities look for a sense of the Holy….then we must ourselves ensure that we put OURSELVES in places where the Holy can be encountered.
Thank you for this privilege. I’m grateful for it and do not take it for granted. If you, my reader, are a pastor I hope you ALSO appreciate the privilege that is yours to allow God to arrest you (sometimes being arrested is a GOOD thing!!) so that you can in turn communicate that possibility to those in your care.
Now…a potpourri of miscellaneous encouragements:
- The United Church of Christ is seeking a new General Minister and President (GMP). These are challenging times to serve in the wider church. Our denomination needs a person with remarkable wisdom, faith, and skill to lead us into the next chapters of our common life. Do you know someone who should consider this call? If yes, call them TODAY and challenge them to pray…and to apply. Watch this video for more info: http://youtu.be/f14gvrCAybs
- While here in Schuyler, I finished reading “Hot Dogs & Hamburgers.” It’s a book about literacy….perhaps more it’s a book about parental love. Folk around the UCC are reading this book together as introduction to a church-wide commitment to literacy education. You should read it. I’m thinking I may have found one of the things I’ll want to be doing in retirement!
- Did you know that the US constitutes just 5% of the world’s population, but that we incarcerate 25% of all the world’s prisoners? Did you know that young African-American males are 14% of all young males in the US, but that they constitute 40% (!!) of the prison population? Several resolutions will be coming to General Synod this coming summer about the industry of mass incarceration and the “New Jim Crow.” Perhaps a group of interested and concerned persons from here in Iowa would like to help sponsor one of those resolutions. If so, you’ll need to act soon. Talk with me for more information.
- Finally…it’s fundraising time in the Iowa Conference. The bulk of our financial support comes from our churches (God bless them!!), but increasingly we are dependent on the generous support of individuals like yourself who believe that the work of supporting leadership development among our clergy is important…even essential work. Please consider making a generous gift for the support of this work.
With Great Hope!!
By admin - November 7, 2014, 10:45 am
UCC in Iowa
Just change...By admin - October 30, 2014, 4:31 pm
During our Annual Meeting this year there was a lot of talk about change within the Iowa Conference. Change in compensation guidelines, change in the way we look at Conference structures, the inevitable change of our Conference Minister…so much change. Which reminded me of the saying, ‘change is hard’. And sometimes it is. Changing the way we worship, changing the time we go to bed or get up in the morning, changing the foods we eat, changing the work we do, the friends and family that we hang out with, the language we use…sometimes change is hard.
But there’s another saying, ‘we live in a changing world’. A world that brings changes that can be easy—maybe because we have had to adapt to so many changes. Changing the phones we use, changing the way we interact with people, changing the way we write and edit things, changing the way we travel, the way we share information, the way we get news, the way we give news…sometimes change can be almost effortless when it’s a change that we want.
Within all the change of the world around us the church is often seen as the unmovable, unchangeable, stable entity where people can hold onto their nostalgia and tradition and their way of doing certain things—because change in and for the church would surely fall under the first saying. In fact there are plenty of jokes and quippy remarks that remind us how change in the church is HARD, even impossible!
But I think that a better way to think of a changing church would be to say that change in the church, like change in any part of our life brings on its own unique complications and demands…not necessarily hard, just change. The church that we worship in, the church that we work for and that we form our faith in is an entity itself that lives in the world that we live in and it IS a changing world.
Even God-the most unmovable, long lasting and never changing entity in the universe has been changed and I would say is still changing. The story of the Exodus people grumbling in the desert and Moses advocating that God change God’s mind about the wrath that was sure to fall on the impatient Israelites. The tale of Jonah and the people of Nineveh changing their ways so that God would change God’s mind on the destruction of the city are both great reminders of a God that can and does change, in case you were wanting some examples.
So as we as a Denomination, as a Conference, as Associations, as churches, as individuals continue to live and breath in a ‘changing world’, it’s important to remember that change doesn’t have to be hard. Change is just change. It comes with its own unique complications and demands but nothing ever stays the same-not us, not the churches we love, not the Associations that we cling to, not the Conferences that we identify with, not even the God that we put our faith in. We live in a changing a world. One that God has asked us to embrace and care for and change with.
—Pastor Samantha Houser, Waukon Zion UCC and Program/Support Adjunct for Youth Ministry in the Iowa Conference
By admin - October 30, 2014, 4:31 pm