The Discipline of ‘I Can’By Nicole Havelka - June 14, 2013, 8:50 am
“There’s a green one down there by your left knee,” a voice boomed from about 10 or 15 feet below. I craned my neck down to the left, seeing the toe hold I had previously missed and pushed myself a little farther up the wall. Each ensuing toe and hand hold was often guided by calm, reassuring instruction. I finally climbed within 3 feet of the top of the 40-foot tall wall. With triceps and biceps quivering, I hoisted myself up and over the wall to the landing of the high ropes course we were doing as part of Certification School in Progressive Christian Youth Ministry. I looked out over the landing to my friends and colleagues below and raised my arms above my head in joyous “victory.” It dawned on me later that I had never thought, “I can’t do this” during the climb.
By contrast, “I can’t” was the mantra running through my head as I started the bike portion of the first triathlon sprint I had ever entered. I had pretty easily swum the 400 yards in the pool and had transitioned to my mountain bike (a decided disadvantage in a road race). Only two or three miles into the 12-mile bike ride, I was beleaguered by my heavy bike and the 20-30 mile per hour winds whipping into my face. I looked down at my newly purchased odometer and knew I was going much slower than expected. I was near tears and ready to give up as person after person passed me on their much faster bikes, always shouting encouragement over the howling wind. At about three miles, I mentally stopped myself. In a brief moment of lucidity, I realized that although I wasn’t entirely ready for this bike ride, I was nowhere near my physical capacity. I literally put my head down and pressed on toward the halfway mark, where I turned and coasted much more easily into the next transition point with the wind at my back. After the 5K run, I checked my time – just under 2 hours – which was a little better than I thought I’d do even without the wind. Nowhere near record-setting, but I had finished.
“I can” is a powerful tool we can employ in all aspects of our lives. As a leader in the Iowa Conference UCC for the past four and a half years, I have tried to discipline my mind to go to “we can” much more than “we can’t.” After seeing so many decades of decline in the mainline church, it’s too easy to simply throw our hands in the air in exasperation and say, “We can’t.” This is an understandable way to protect ourselves from the potential disappointment that can come if you fail when you take that risk. On the other hand, if we take no risks, we doom ourselves to failure by default.
Given this spiritual discipline that has become embedded in my leadership, I am deeply disappointed that my position as Associate Conference Minister for Youth and Young Adult Ministries has come to a close far too early. (The Iowa Conference Board of Directors voted two weeks ago to shift priorities and eliminate this position in the face of a lukewarm response to a fundraising effort to retain it.) I feel like we were just rounding that proverbial corner, ready to have the wind push us more easily toward the finish line. Numbers of participants were on the rise, excitement for the training programs we were offering was palpable and the networks of faith formation leaders and young leaders were becoming more and more vibrant.
But, even in the face of what may seem like yet another failure, I hope you, my friends and colleagues in the Iowa Conference UCC, think even more creatively about what you can do. Every great journey of success is littered with spectacular failures alongside the road. With strong winds in our face, we should be putting our head down and pedaling onward, asking ourselves, “What can we learn from this situation?”; “How can we move forward even with what seems like a major setback?” and “What CAN we do now?”
Nicole Havelka, Associate Conference MinisterBy Nicole Havelka - June 14, 2013, 8:50 am
Leave a Reply
Remnants...By Rich Pleva - June 5, 2013, 7:25 am
I understand that in fabric stores there’s a section for remnants. I’m not much familiar with such things, but my intuition tells me that fabric remnants might be useful for quilting and other such projects (if I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will be happy to correct me!!).
In fact, the “remnant” is a fairly important theme with a few of the Old Testament prophets. They understood the remnant to be that small leftover portion of what once was a mighty host. I don’t know for sure how “mighty” the nation of Israel ever really was, but in memory it was something grand – and in the wake of the exile it was pretty clear that the remainder – the remnant – was certainly not very grand. The devastating impact of the exile on national identity was clearly a matter of significance to the prophets, and their oracles were not infrequently given to expressions of faith and hope about restoration – about the capacity of God to take something like the “stump of Jesse” and cause something new and important to grow forth from it.
The “stump of Jesse” (a related, though not identical concept to that of the prophetic “remnant”) is an idea that I have always found fascinating. Christians have embraced the “stump” notion in relation to Jesus – the one who we understand restores and surpasses the royal glory of David and Solomon.
The remnant, then, is the realm – the people – over which the newly restored Annointed One (the shoot from the stump) reigns. And in the time of the writing of the New Testament manuscripts, remnant would have been an apropos description of the people of “The Way.” They were ragtag and few in number and far from influential.
But over the centuries things changed. Whether by the compelling power of the gospel, or by edict of the emperor, “The Way” grew into “Christendom.” It became influential and powerful. It mattered (though sometimes it lost its soul).
Today we are heirs of Christendom – but that which we’ve inherited is diminished and still diminishing. It’s a shadow of what it once was (or at least of that which we imagine once was). Still, it’s hard to let loose of the vestiges of importance and influence. They are deeply ingrained in our sense of identity – particularly those of us who came to this church from the Congregational tradition – that church which was, once upon a time, formally established in a societal position of power and influence.
Whether we like it or not, those days are gone. I’d suggest that we’ve become a remnant – a shadow of what once was. And about this reality we face a choice – to go on forever lamenting and grieving that which once was, or to attend to our grief in a way that empowers us to let go of the past and begin to walk determinedly into an unknown future – the future of figuring out how a no longer influential remnant bears witness to the gospel. How we as a remnant people live and worship and serve so that we exemplify a faithful devotion to the Stump of Jesse – our risen and ruling Lord.
The remnants in that fabric store might be made into a quilt of stunning beauty and utility. Maybe the remnant of the people of God can also become something of stunning beauty and utility – folk of whom God may one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of my presence.”
May it be so!
Iowa Conference Minister
Leave a Reply
AttitudeBy admin - May 30, 2013, 2:06 pm
Faith is not just a theological principle; it is a mental and emotional muscle. It is an aspect of consciousness, a function of the mind. With every attitude we demonstrate faith – either faith in what can go wrong or faith in what can go right. Our problem is that we tend to have tremendous faith in the power of our disasters and far too little faith in the power of miracles.
Our faith itself is a potent force: we increase a thing’s power by increasing our belief in its power.
—Marianne Williamson – The Law of Divine Compensation
I believe in miracles. Not the law of physics changing, mountain moving, once in an eternity miracles. No, not the impossible. I believe in the possible. I believe in the every moment of creation miracles. I believe in the miracle of: bees dancing in pollen; pelicans migrating in the spring; hummingbirds suspended in the earth’s breath; first seeing my sons’ vernix covered faces 34 and 30 years ago; falling in love over and over from age 15 to 58 with the same, different woman; running on a trail for 15 miles and having the desire do it again; feeling The Presence and knowing I am not alone.
I choose to have faith in the power of this moment’s miracle.
Pastor Chuck Kelsey, Journey United Church of ChristBy admin - May 30, 2013, 2:06 pm
Leave a Reply
VowsBy Jonna Jensen - May 23, 2013, 7:59 am
Among God’s especially tender mercies is a lovely bubble bath called “Overtired and Cranky”. It’s for children, but I find it works equally well on overtired and cranky old ministers. It comes with a wand so that those who are overtired and cranky can also blow bubbles around the bathroom while they’re soaking. God is good beyond our gift for telling.
In an overtired and cranky moment some years ago (before I had access to this lovely bubble bath), I ranted in a small meeting of colleagues that I was tired of spending so much time and energy as a parish pastor asking and persuading and encouraging and asking again and figuring out new ways to persuade brothers and sisters to do simply what we all vowed to God we would do when we joined the congregation: attend worship faithfully, contribute a percentage of our annual income to the work of the church, continue to grow as disciples, live lives sufficiently virtuous that Jesus didn’t get a bad name around town on our account. We made vows. We promised God.
When not overtired and cranky, it’s easier to remember that fulfilling these vows is a lifelong journey made with our daily decisions and God’s daily grace. And there are icy stretches, construction zones, loose gravel, and wrong turns along the way – along with smooth miles for zooming.
If you are reading the weekly email from the office of the Iowa Conference, you very likely have joined a congregation. And made vows. Promised God that, with God’s help, there were decisions you would faithfully make: to attend, to give, to grow, to behave in ways that glorify the One in whose name we gather.
I’m writing to you on my ordination anniversary. The day’s travels will bring me home in time to pour a glass of my favorite sparkling juice and light the red Pentecost candle in my prayer space. With time to read an old bulletin. Time for tears. Penitence. Grace. Vision. Time for a deep, long listen in God’s presence. Memories of the road from there to here. A fresh, blank page. Time to raise grateful sighs for the gift of a life that could be vowed and can be vowed.
It’s just morning light now. I’m sending these words to you with my prayers. That the vows we made to God a little while ago or a very long while ago may still stir us to awe and gratitude. That we may recognize the help God is sending us to keep them. That we may decide with love, joy, grit – and enough abandon to raise some dust- to do and keep doing what we promised God we would.
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - May 23, 2013, 7:59 am
Leave a Reply
Random reflections...By Tony Stoik - May 16, 2013, 3:41 pm
Random reflections on 6 years in service to the Iowa Conference:
When I started with the Conference back in 2007 I had no idea what the job of Associate Conference Minister entailed or how to do it. I still don’t, but it’s too late. My work here is (almost) finished.
When the only tools you have in your bag are an axe and a hose, all you can do is put out fires. I think one of the primary missions of the Iowa Conference has been to provide local church leaders, both clergy and lay, with other tools that will help them stop fires before they ever need an ax or a hose. Ultimately, we would like to be in a place where the only smoke you smell is from the fires of our burning zeal to serve the Lord. We’re still a long way from being there, but I like to think that we are much closer now than we were 6 years ago.
Ambiguity is not such a bad thing. I learned and practiced my prior trade in a world where there was no gray. There was only that which was good for my client and everything else, and everything else was evil. I have learned that the world is not really like that, that it is a rare story that only has one side. It’s been an invaluable lesson and one that has literally reshaped the way I look at life.
It’s a tough world out there, especially for those who are struggling to do the right thing. I am constantly amazed at the way people in the Iowa Conference cling to their faith and continue to try to do the right thing when anyone with a lick of sense would have said long ago “The heck with it. Let’s go play golf.” Maybe there really is something to this whole Holy Spirit thing.
I know that it may not always seem like it to everyone, but the staff of the Iowa Conference really has your best interests and the best interests of the churches in the Conference at heart. It’s what motivates all of us to do the work we do. Heaven knows, we’re sure not in it for the money.
Iowa is a really big place. You have no idea how big until you try to cover a morning meeting in Calumet and an evening meeting in Fort Madison—the second time. Who knew just how big 56,000 square miles could be?
Along the way, I have met some of the most wonderful, gifted, faithful people I have ever known or had the pleasure of working with (and 2 or 3 really miserable old crabs, but that’s a story for another time). I am going to miss you all and I will be forever grateful to the people and churches of the Iowa Conference for giving me the opportunity to practice this ministry.
May God continue to bless you all.
“Retiring” Associate Conference Minister Tony StoikBy Tony Stoik - May 16, 2013, 3:41 pm