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Where is God calling you

By Rich Pleva - February 5, 2016, 9:45 am

“Render Unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,

       And to God that which is God’s.”


….which is easier to say than to understand.


After all….in spite of the Roman image on the coin which prompted this comment from Jesus….isn’t it true that even the coin itself was really God’s? Of course it was.


So does anything really belong to Caesar? I think yes…and no.


The question which precipitated the exchange about the image on the coin was about taxes….was it right to pay them or not. Whatever the ultimately “correct” exegesis of this text, it’s clear that very few commentators understand Jesus to be denying the obligation to pay taxes.  I pay my taxes and I bet you do too.


Most of you know that I grew up in what we now call “evangelicalism.” But the evangelical church of the 1950’s and 1960’s was a whole lot different from evangelical churches of today.  I grew up in a religious environment that was mostly agnostic about politics and current affairs – and no wonder, because in some (limited) measure we were politically UPDATED rich podiumand socially insignificant.  What’s the point (so the reasoning went) of political engagement if you’ve no possibility of influence anyway?


(An aside: I’m reporting what we (most evangelicals) thought and felt at the time.  If I knew and believed then what I know and believe now, I’d have taken issue with that conclusion – but I didn’t.  And interestingly, most evangelicals today no longer ascribe to those quietist assumptions which led to political disinterest.)


Here’s the irony of recent ecclesiastical history: Those evangelicals who 60 years ago ignored political activity are today politically muscular….and mainliners (with the exception of our national agencies and a minority of our congregations) have eschewed the political activism of the 1960’s and today scold those pastors with the temerity to address social issues from the pulpit.  It’s a stunning (and disheartening) role reversal.


I’m writing prior to the Iowa caucuses, but you will read this after they are done. This isn’t, therefore, a direct appeal for caucus participation.  But it is a call for worldly engagement.  I was taught as a young undergrad that “all truth is God’s truth.”  And I believe it.  Naturally, like all slogans it begs a bunch of questions….but to the extent this little aphorism disrupts foolish religious certainty about matters that can’t stand on their own in the open marketplace of thoughts and ideas….it’s valuable and important.


I reject the notion that God is disinterested in anything of interest and concern to human beings anywhere. God is the ultimate voyeur….God pries into every conceivable matter….not because God is prudishly keeping score of those who’ll pay someday, but because God loves God’s creation and if anything – addiction or climate change, poverty or depression, racism or materialism….the list could go on and on….if anything diminishes “life” (whether individual or societal) then God is concerned about that thing.


And so must we be concerned.


Where is God calling you to advocate for “life” in 2016?


Get in the fray. Make a difference. I’m rooting for you….and God is too!


With great hope!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa

By Rich Pleva - February 5, 2016, 9:45 am

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    How would you answer?

    By admin - January 29, 2016, 3:30 pm

    “Who do people say I am?” Jesus asked them. The disciples had heard tell of a lot of things—that he was John the Baptist back from the dead, or the prophet Elijah back from the great beyond, or the next of the great prophets. Jesus heard all their blathering, then looked at them and said, “But who do you say that I am?”


    How would you answer Jesus’s question?


    If you’ve hung around church a bit, you’ll see that many folks have been schooled to quote the next verse of that story, be satisfied (even if mystified) by that answer, and go about their day. But forget the answer lingering in the next verse.  Pretend you haven’t cheated by reading ahead in the story.


    How would you answer Jesus’s question?laura


    My answer, at least for today, is “Jesus was maladjusted.” Hear me out on this one.  Looking over the gospel of Mark, there is this pattern of Jesus doing what he can for the people around him because, as Jesus says, the world is not yet as it ought to be. Sometimes what Jesus does is its miraculous and sometimes its ordinary.  Often it’s confrontational with convention.  He doesn’t know his place.  He doesn’t play by the rules.  He doesn’t accept the way things are.  He doesn’t just fall in line.


    There is apparently a word for this: maladjusted. It literally means someone who fails to satisfactorily adjust their actions, expectations, and desires according to circumstances of their life.  This sounds a like Jesus to me.  Jesus doesn’t adjust his actions, expectations, and desires to fit the culture of his upbringing.  He flat out refuses to accept that the way things are is the way they ought to be.  For him, people ought not be sick, they ought to be well.  People ought not be ruled over by powerful elite, they ought to have a say.  People ought not go hungry, they ought to be fed.  People ought not live in fear that rages on like a storm, they ought to experience peace and calm.  He did what he could, to make right what he could, fighting back against the people who wanted him to just fall in line, to sit down, to shut up, to look the other way.


    Who do you say Jesus is?


    You know my answer. Jesus was maladjusted.  He refused to adjust to his culture.  He didn’t fall in line or keep quiet or pretend he didn’t see the hurt in the world.  He refused to adjust himself to the hurt and suffering of others, the abuses of power and corruption within his community, and the segregation and oppression that had become commonplace.  He was maladjusted.


    Dare I say it, as followers of Jesus, it means we are to be maladjusted to our culture, too. I, for one, never intend to adjust to the violence that has become common place. I never intend to adjust to the building of walls at our borders or turning refugees away. I never intend to adjust to the discrimination faced by people with black and brown bodies.  I never intend to adjust to people having to beg for food on the street.


    As disciples of Jesus, let us, too, be maladjusted. Because it is only in our maladjustment that we can envision a new way of being and move forward.


    Laura Arnold, Program Support/Adjunct Lay Education at Iowa Conference UCC and Pastor at Decorah Congregational UCC

    By admin - January 29, 2016, 3:30 pm

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    The Hokey Pokey

    By admin - January 21, 2016, 1:13 pm

    Years ago, when I was still working in parish ministry, there was a moment in our “Sunday School” program that has left a lasting mark on my faith. (Why is it that so many of those wonderful moments come as we listen to the children?)  Our Christian Education Director, Susan Chesley, was teaching about the Baptism of Jesus…the way we often do as we begin the season of Epiphany.  In detail, she described Jesus going to John in the desert – along with so many other people who were followers of John the Baptist – to be baptized.  And…like most good teachers…Susan asked a question.  “What does John the Baptist want you to do with your life?”  And up goes a hand.  An earnest young boy eagerly responds…”THE HOKEY POKEY!”  Deep breath.  And Susan says, “Tell me what you mean by that, Charles?”  And the whole class responds – in unison – “YOU TURN YOUR LIFE AROUND!”

    katherine office


    OK. Lesson learned!  Class over! Once again, the children have become the teachers!


    Unfortunately, this is a hard lesson for us adults to really begin to live. Life is serious business, not some kid’s dancing game.  Or….maybe not.  Just imagine!  What would it look like for people of faith to dance together through the season of Epiphany – joining our hands in a circle and turning our lives around?


    For one thing, I think there would be more people smiling and laughing at church! But, seriously, if we really took to heart John the Baptist’s invitation to do the Hokey Pokey and turn our lives around, what would the world look like? I think there would be less finger-pointing and more listening.  There would be less blaming and more forgiving.  There would be less certainty and more open honest questioning.  There would be less time sitting in front of the TV and more time reading with kids who might need a little help.  There would be fewer gated communities and more kind-hearted neighborliness.  There would be less fear-based behavior and more courageous, forward-looking action.  We might let go of the pontificating that is associated with the issue of climate change and get down to the hard work of doing what we can to actually preserve life on this planet.  We might begin to engage the justice issues of our day – racism, economic fairness, homophobia, immigration issues (to name a few).    You can add to that vision, I’m sure.


    If we each picked just one thing – the world would be a better place. If we each picked just one thing – our faith communities would be stronger as we join hands in a dance that twirls us all around into a new way of living and being.   So.  What DOES John the Baptist want us to do with our lives in this season of Epiphany that celebrates the light of Christ coming into the world?  THE HOKEY POKEY!  Come join the dance!


    Katherine Mulhern, 2030 Iowa Program Support/Adjunct

    By admin - January 21, 2016, 1:13 pm

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      Will you pick up your drum?

      By Brigit Stevens - January 14, 2016, 3:21 pm

      It is my turn again to write our staff blog post as we approach the weekend of the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I could just repost my reflection from last year. So very many things have sadly remained the same, displaying the unresolved, continued, systemic racism in our culture and communities, and my feelings are all over the board this weekend.


      The opening to my post from this time last year reads, “As I reflect this year on the birth, life, and death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have mixed emotions. I am overwhelmed with awe and respect for his leadership, his courage, his faith, and his sacrifice. I am ashamed of my white European and American ancestors who participated in perpetuating systems of injustice and denied the humanity of our brothers and sisters that required such leadership from Rev. King and countless others. I am heartbroken that we continue to need to fight for true freedom and opportunity and justice for one another here in our nation and all over the globe. And I am wondering about what the call from God is to me and to us regarding the work that needs to be done here and now.”


      The hard questions continue this year: what are we called to do now? What does God require of us, here in the United Church of Christ of Iowa? Where does Jesus invite us to walk with him, in light of the needs, the wounds, the struggles, and the pain of our people, God’s people? What should this day of remembrance of Rev. King’s birthday spur us to do and to be?


      I look to Rev. King himself to help me answer those questions. He understood in a way that I never can what “the long game,” must look like in the pursuit of justice for all. He knew in his very being how one day fits into one year, which fits into one decade, and so on. And he knew how his life and his work and his ministry both fit into the grand arc of Rev. Stevenshistory, bent toward justice, as well as the intimacy of their precise moments in time. He knew both immediacy and eternity, and seemed to have a sense of his place in both.


      I look to his words from the sermon he delivered on February 4, 1968, unfortunately prophetic, offering thoughts about what he hoped would one day be shared at his funeral for answers to today’s questions and guidance for my own life and work and ministry:


      “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.


      I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.


      Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.


      And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” (King, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther. (Feb. 4, 1968). “The Drum Major Instinct” [sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA]. Retrieved from http:// http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/drum-major-instinct-ebenezer-baptist-church.)


      Friends, this year, I’m working on continuing to be a better drum major for justice. Will you pick up your drum and join me?


      Peace and Blessings for the Journey,

      Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister

      By Brigit Stevens - January 14, 2016, 3:21 pm

      • Lisa J Griffith Tierney says:

        Brigit, blessings to you from the Holy land this week! I am here reading your letter and reflecting on my own level of intention and courage after listening to teachers like Rabbi Arik Aschelman of Rabbis for Human Rights, who challenges us to recognize God as our mirror, and at the end of the day, to ask ourselves how close we came to seeing God in the reflection of ourselves. His work and words had me thinking about the courage it takes to continue walking into a cloud of teargas to save a young Palestinian boy from being beaten by Israeli police. When he was asked what gives him hope, he answered “if even one young Palestinian boy could say “I was saved by a tall Jewish man in a kippa…”.

        In the states we continue to be challenged by injustices. We continue to be called to Take Action, just as we have always been called…to speak up when someone is treated unfairly, to stand against intolerance, to visit the sick and the imprisoned…we cant be the church from our couches…there is still work to do!

        The other day I heard drums outside the Temple Mount that were sounds of a bar mitzvah celebration, but seemed also like an ancient heart beat from this land. If our hearts beat, let our drums sound to let others know that our community, our church, is alive with action!

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      Time to know YOU

      By admin - January 7, 2016, 2:09 pm

      Time seems to be the resounding theme of the season. Time to put away the Christmas decorations, time to get the kids back into their school routine and schedule, time to reflect on how you’ll live into Christmas even though the season is over, time to discern for yourself and possibly your family how you’ll change during this next year.  Time to get things done, or started, or reinitiated. Time to lift your voice, time to take a stand, time to….well you get the point.


      Most people right now have taken time or are trying to find the time to make New Year’s resolutions, trying to figure out how they can work towards becoming the very best version of themselves this year. Many folks out there might be carving out time to sit down and reflect on what their resolution will be-excited for the chance to make a plan and put it into action.  Even more folks, I’d imagine are having doubts about how they will maintain the changes they are wishing to make.


      houserWell, I’m not a big resolution kind of girl. Like many others I like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but it’s hard to take them too seriously because we know from experience that our resolve doesn’t always last terribly long into the New Year. Most often that resolve is linked to the doubt that I mentioned earlier.


      Here’s the thing though, sometimes we need doubt. Doubt can keep us safe in a dangerous situation, doubt can lead to epiphany moments when we question things that we’ve been doing or thinking or believing ‘just because’, doubt can help…sometimes.


      But sometimes we need to doubt our doubt.


      Life coach Brooke Castillo says, “Self doubts are thoughts that don’t support us in our capabilities. Our ability to grow is our ability to move beyond doubtful thinking.”


      So this year instead of a resolution I purpose that we take time to honestly evaluate our habitual thought patterns and ways of being in the world. Not in a judging, you should be different, kind of way…but in a notice how you act, feel and think kind of way, with kindness and compassion for yourself.


      It’s startling how distant, indifferent, and distracted we are when it comes to what is really going on with us.  But it’s important to take the time to get into our own heads, to get into our own hearts and minds and very beings so that we might truly know ourselves.  The real truth of who we are beyond the expectations and the impressions that we allow others to place on us.


      It’s only then, once we have taken the time to truly know ourselves, that we are more fully open to knowing that which created us and guides us.


      May you find the time, no, intentionally create the time it takes to know you this New Year so that you might know God that much more.


      Pastor Samantha Houser

      By admin - January 7, 2016, 2:09 pm

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