More than WORDSBy admin - August 23, 2017, 3:36 pm
The past few weeks have been filled with words. Since Charlottesville there have been words of outrage, words of anger, words of sorrow, words of disbelief, words of fear. There have been words of hatred. There have been theological words calling us to both humility and clarity of purpose. There have been prophetic words calling for justice and hope and perseverance in the struggle. There have been legal words and posturing words. Everyone has an opinion, and there are words attached to those opinions! They come from political figures, from pastors, from historical figures who have long lived in the shadows, as well as from our co-workers and neighbors. Everyone has a word. And – truthfully – we need all those words that call us to repentance and help us all stand up to injustice.
But I’m not sure that I have any new words. I can only add my own horror as the rise of hatred takes shape in our nation. But maybe this is really a time for MORE than words. Maybe this is really a time for prayer. Down-on-our-knees-pleading-from-the-bottom-of-our-hearts kind of prayer. How long, O God? That was the Psalmist’s prayer. It could be ours as well. Hear our prayers, O God, and let our cries come unto you. Another Psalmist prayer that comes easily to our lips. And then there is the silence of deep listening. Listening for God’s voice calling us into a future we cannot see, but will help to shape whether we intend to or not. Listening into the silence for a still small voice calling each of us to play our part in making justice and peace in this place and this time. Listening as a burning bush calls our name, asking each one of us to help make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My first spiritual director once invited me into a prayer that is very simple but that has been very powerful in my life. In the face of long-term crisis, the words of our prayer might be something like: O God, I am ready for this to be different. And then…said my spiritual director….shut up, listen to what God has in mind, and don’t argue!
These are times that call for deep courage, as we come face to face with the evils of racism and white privilege. Mother Teresa is credited with having said that courage is fear that has said itsprayers. Could this be a time for us to say our prayers and trust that we will have the courage to follow where God might lead us? I pray that it is so!
—Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct of 2030 Iowa (Young Clergy Support)
By admin - August 23, 2017, 3:36 pm
Who do you choose to be?By Brigit Stevens - August 11, 2017, 1:25 pm
For the next few weeks I am on sabbatical. It’s hard for me to be on sabbatical. There’s a lot to be done! Sabbath is hard for me. Resting, slowing down, being less than productive, is hard for me.
I am taking this time to savor a new book, and I recommend it to you, “Who Do We Choose To Be?” by Margaret Wheatley. It is a book about leadership in this current day and age. It is a book about the hard realities of the culture we live in. It’s also a book about hope and clarity.
It doesn’t offer many answers. But it asks really really good questions. And I believe, as does the author, that hope lives in curiosity and a willingness to engage the questions.
Here are a few of her questions from the section about assessing the current climate of your organization:
“If you were to create a trend line from a few years ago to now and a few years ahead, how are people relating to each other? Has trust increased or declined? Are people more self protective or less so? Are they more willing to be there for one another, to go the extra mile, or not? What’s your evidence for any of your conclusions?”
When we stop to ask questions, and really wonder with a purity of curiosity and not a predetermined judgment, we are open to surprises from the Holy.
One of Jesus’ more charming, or exasperating, qualities, depending on which side of the conversation you were on, was his response to questions with more questions. Being open to wonder, listening deeply, and questioning our presumptions leads us to sacred truths.
I am loving this book and its questions! What a gift to have the time to sit and read it slowly during this sabbatical time.
(I also promised my spiritual director that I’d read something light and just for fun during this time too! Suggestions welcome!)
May the reminder of your summer surprise you with opportunities for wonder and curiosity!
Blessings for the journey,
By Brigit Stevens - August 11, 2017, 1:25 pm
Imitators of GodBy Rich Pleva - July 28, 2017, 8:58 am
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Why do you follow Jesus? For me, at least, there’s an element of mystery to this business of following Jesus. The ego-ish side of me would like to believe that there’s an element of personal virtue in so doing – that I’m sufficiently smart and appropriately humble to have recognized this as a good and proper way to live.
But that’s balderdash. We can (and do) speak of “deciding to follow Jesus” but the truth is jarringly different. If there’s any element of genuine faith in me, it’s a function of God’s call on my life – it’s not a function of my intelligence. Which is a way of (reluctantly) acknowledging the insufficiency of works-based religion. I didn’t choose God – God has chosen me.
Why? There’s an ancient question! The opening words of Malachi’s prophecy are laden with embarrassing difficulty: “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated,” says God. Why? Because Jacob was somehow superior to Esau? Assuredly not. Malachi’s assertion is difficult to the core, but whatever it means, it’s clear that God’s choosing is NOT based in the character or in the will of either of Esau or Jacob.
But having been called, the human is then confronted with choice: To go one’s own way, or to follow God. At some level that sounds pietistically noble, but if one is to follow another, it makes some sense to pay attention to the intended destination of the leader. In Jesus’ case, the destination seems to be the cross – which is, of course, death. That’s the message, it seems to me, of the text above: Be imitators of God…. the one who gave himself up for us.”
I realize there’s a Christological assumption inherent in that assertion – that Christ can be identified with God. For me, at least, that’s an identity I’m willing to entertain. That means I’m willing to entertain the likelihood that my call is (at least partly) to death.
Back in July it was privilege to join the people of Zion UCC in Calumet in celebration of their 125th anniversary. My sermon was derived from this text from Ephesians. Here’s part of what I said:
- The message of the Gospel isn’t that we ought to be nice (though there are plenty of times where being nice is a good idea). No…. we must be clear about this: the message of the gospel is something entirely different than good manners. The message of the gospel is that there are people who are excluded from polite society and who are viewed as not belonging and God particularly loves these people and if we want to be part of what God is doing, so must we.
- In the times of Jesus and Peter and Paul, those outsiders (from the perspective of a good Jew) were Gentiles, and women and slaves. They were tax-collectors and prostitutes and children. (This is hard for us to get our heads around because for the most part children are adored in our culture – but in Jesus’ time children were viewed essentially as sub-human – thus it was so radical for Jesus to say…. ”Unless you become like a child…..” Nobody in Jesus’ day wanted to become or to be thought of as a child!)
- So…. if Jesus were physically around today, who would he be hanging around with? Well, I think you know. The equivalent in 2017 to the outcasts of Jesus day are folk on welfare and Medicaid and people with skin a darker color than yours and mine and people who perhaps have come into this country illegally and people whose sexual orientation is puzzling to most of us. I’m pretty sure these are the folk Jesus would hang around with. And I say this with a lump in my throat, because for the most part, these are NOT the folk I spend much time around.
You and I, dear reader, both know that the church is struggling. Not every single congregation is struggling, but many, many are. Partly we struggle for reasons well beyond our control – I need to say that clearly and unequivocally. But I also need to say that partly we struggle for reasons of our own making. To put it bluntly, partly we struggle because we try to make following Jesus easier than it can ever really be. We need to face facts – to follow Jesus is hard. It involves choices that many of our neighbors will fail to understand or even find objectionable. But I’m convinced that unless following Jesus is a matter of some actual difficulty, it will never again attract a meaningful cadre of pilgrims.
The apostle put it bluntly: “Be imitators of God.” Can we try that? It will be hard. We will fail. And perhaps by so doing we will find salvation. The salvation that arises from the paradoxical reality that out of sacrifice (death) comes life.
UCC in Iowa
By Rich Pleva - July 28, 2017, 8:58 am
Favorite ShirtsBy Jonna Jensen - July 21, 2017, 9:36 am
Mom is back in the hospital this week. Here are some Mom stories for you.
By Jonna Jensen - July 21, 2017, 9:36 am
Mom didn’t have any use for Sunday School. Mom was a Girl Scout. She didn’t believe girls in the 1960’s needed to learn how stay in the lines coloring pictures of Jesus. Girls needed to learn how to mark trails to keep from getting lost in the woods. They needed to learn about first aid and aviation. They needed to learn to sleep on the ground, to build their own fires and start them with one match. They needed to learn songs from other countries. They needed to learn to lead.
Mom had a sharp eye for girls on the margins. She didn’t set out to fill her troops with the prettiest and most popular. She watched for the girls who lived on the wrong streets and had the wrong last names. I remember the evening she took me in the car to a wrong street to pick up a girl with a wrong last name. JoAnn was in my class, but I didn’t play with her. Mom had boxes for JoAnn. In the first was a new Girl Scout uniform. Mom had JoAnn try it on so that Mom (who also didn’t have much use for sewing) could fix the hem just right. In the other boxes were a new Girl Scout beret, new socks with the little gold flag garters that held them up, and a new sash for collecting merit badges. After we took JoAnn home, I complained that she kept asking over and over again for glasses of water. Mom explained to me that where JoAnn lived there wasn’t any running water. Getting glasses of cool water out of the faucet, which was nothing to me and a nuisance for me to do for JoAnn, was something precious to her.
Mom invited Nellie to spend a summer week with us. Nellie was in my class at school and I didn’t play with her either. Nellie’s clothes were dirty. Mom knew that Nellie’s parents were struggling. They couldn’t get her to Girl Scout Day Camp. And Mom wanted Nellie in her troop. I will never forget the two laundry baskets that Mom gave Nellie and me on the Sunday night before camp began. Each basket was full of folded shorts and shirts, socks and undies for the week. On top of one basket was my favorite shirt. I reached for that basket. Mom stopped me. That basket was for Nellie. More than fifty years later, I can still remember how much I didn’t want Nellie to wear my favorite shirt. Nellie and I both learned good stuff that week. She learned about fires and trails and making things for ourselves and leading. I learned that I hadn’t figured out anything important about sharing until I understood it was about favorites, not discards.
The people of the United Church of Christ have begun living a call to three great loves: the love of children, the love of neighbor, the love of creation. As you and your congregation discover wider and deeper ways to love the children of your community and the world, I commend to you what I learned from Mom - what I learned about Gospel by watching her be a Girl Scout. Pay holy attention to the children you haven’t been playing with. Willful, cozy ignorance is evil. Right the wrongs you can. Make sure your favorite shirts are in the basket for sharing.
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
What makes you glad?By Rich Pleva - July 6, 2017, 1:00 pm
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”
What makes you glad?
I’m writing this while on a plane in Detroit, Michigan. I’m on my way home from General Synod and we were delayed a bit out of Baltimore, so I had to run through Terminal A and just made my connection. That makes me glad! Next month I’ll get to spend time with all three of my grandchildren (and their parents!). I’m sure that will make me glad. When I was much younger, doing well on a test made me glad. To be honest, something as trivial as finding orange juice on sale can make me glad!
At General Synod we contemplated that which brings gladness to the “city of God.” In worship and workshop and resolution we wondered and speculated about community gladness. We heard voices familiar and unfamiliar; comfortable and uncomfortable; “sensible” and perplexing – all inviting us…. sometimes challenging us…. sometimes annoying us (or at least me!)…. but always in the direction of gladness.
I’ve already established that gladness can be pretty trivial. I don’t think, however, the Psalmist had cheap orange juice in mind when composing this poetic image. This is a picture of wellness and jubilation and contentment and wholeness. Clearly the psalmist has love and justice in mind. And clearly it’s communal – this is not private or individual gladness…. it’s the entire city.
Can you imagine? A glad city! A city moved to this gladness by a river of streams.
On the final morning of Synod the South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa delegations (we chose to caucus together) were visited by General Minister and President John Dorhauer. He reminded us of the place of love (“love the Lord your God with your all and your neighbor as yourself”) and justice (“the Lord looks for justice and mercy and humility”) in communal gladness. He reminded us that justice without love becomes sterile and bony and love without justice becomes flaccid and cheap. If we are to follow God towards the prophetic sense of gladness then we are obliged to seek justice with love and to love with justice.
For the next two years between this just completed Synod and the one which will convene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2019, the whole of the UCC is invited to experiment with a myriad of justly loving experiments. Our congregations – every setting of the church – are invited to embrace three great loves:
- Love of Children,
- Love of Neighbor,
- Love of Creation.
You and your church are invited to enflesh these loves in ways that make sense in your congregation and in your community. AND…. you are urged to tell the wider church what you are doing. Why? Because good begets good and if we tell each other how we are enacting the love of Christ, our stories will beget more loving and more stories. It becomes a virtuous cycle!
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Let’s together get into that river and talk with each other about how it goes!
By Rich Pleva - July 6, 2017, 1:00 pm
UCC in Iowa