Deep and Purposeful ConnectionBy Rich Pleva - August 11, 2016, 7:56 am
I was a support driver for a RAGBRAI group the last week of July. Through a complicated turn of events that don’t matter here, the group I drove for were folk I didn’t know at the beginning of the week. By the end of the week we were friends.
This experience – both in its micro-aspects (this small group for which I drove) and its macro-aspects (the whole of the RAGBRAI enterprise) – was a powerful illustration of something that people of faith know deeply and with certainty – that deep and purposeful connection is essential to meaningful life.
In certain kinds of human enterprise, the concept of “logistics” is highly developed. RAGBRAI is a complicated enterprise – an apparently weeklong experience that only works because of years of accumulated experience and many months of practical planning and preparation and conversation and attention to amazing quantities of detail. RAGBRAI only seems to be a week long. In fact, it takes months of planning and work to accomplish. It is an event that is steeped throughout with “logistics.” Until you actually do it, you can’t really imagine how complicated and multi-faceted it really is. There are routes to be planned (two of them, of course – one for riders and an entirely separate one for support vehicles) food of all sorts to be supplied, sleeping accommodations arranged, showers, entertainment – both acts and venues – delivery of baggage, street closings, provision of emergency services…all this and more has to be attended to in advance. To an outsider it might seem as if it just happens….but of course it doesn’t.
Logistics – the everyday “science” of making things work together for a desired outcome – is a way of speaking of community – of interconnectedness. RAGBRAI is a powerful and clear example of what it takes for any human community to significantly advance a common goal.
Any reasonably fit individual could successfully organize his or her own bicycle ride across Iowa. But for almost 20,000 individuals to do it all at once is impossible without profound cooperation, meticulous planning, deference to the other, and a willingness to trust folk one has never and will never meet.
There are many ways to understand the importance of faith. One of them is as a coordinated way to advance the common good. That’s why churches support food pantries and advocate for social change. It’s why we care for the hurting and look to prevent the imposition of hurt in the first place. It’s why concepts as seemingly disparate as sin and grace and social justice are all essential to us.
Another way to look at it is to face our own temptation to going-it-alone and to understand that at least part of the reason Christianity isn’t just about “me and Jesus” is that community is part and parcel of our faith. The fact is, New Testament faith is always Jesus and me….and the church! It’s fundamentally communal. From the ineffability of the Trinity to a whole denomination, to a local church to a Bible study group in that church – this faith we claim is all about groups and about community. It’s about caring for neighbor as well as for ourselves.
This is partly why the proposal to share a staff with the Nebraska and South Dakota Conferences is so exciting to me! It’s another example of figuring out how to cooperate with the other for the good of all. Could we (the Iowa Conference) continue to go it alone? Of course we could….but not for very long. In fact, our long-term capacity to support congregations in the manner to which we are accustomed is assuredly unsustainable. The reality is this: our neighbors could benefit from our partnership right now and it seems a privilege to respond to that need – especially since doing so is likely to be in our own long-term benefit as well as theirs.
Logistics, it seems to me, is a way of speaking of coordinated interconnectedness. RAGBRAI has reinforced for me the value and essential need for real, on-the-ground cooperation with neighbor.
The group I drove for during RAGBRAI was small – as few as 3 cyclists on some days, as many as 6 on others. They were a real entity – entire to themselves in many ways – and nonetheless an integral part of something much bigger and deeply dependent on that much bigger thing. Just like the Iowa Conference will continue to be a real entity, entire to itself and yet at the same part of something bigger and more efficacious in cooperation with neighbors.
I can’t wait to see how it turns out!!
With hope and anticipation,
The UCC in Iowa
By Rich Pleva - August 11, 2016, 7:56 am
In light of my experience...By Brigit Stevens - August 5, 2016, 9:31 am
A Facebook note I wrote to a few close friends last week:
Monday, July 25, 2016
I just failed. Big time. And it’s too overwhelming to even have feelings yet. So I’m typing it out to you in the hope that it’ll trigger a big fat ugly cry, or some other emotional outburst, because my brain is in overdrive spin mode to protect my heart.
I rode my bike for 15 of 420 miles of RAGBRAI yesterday. I was overcome by heat exhaustion, anxiety, and under-training in the first 3 hours on the first day. Now I’m home in my own bed. Done for the week on Monday night.
I know where I can and want to land on this epic failure. I have sermons and blog posts in my head already about failing and learning and stretching far enough to find your limits.
But by jumping right to that place I skip the pain, embarrassment, and disappointment, which is nice but not real.
I want to be afraid of other people saying, “I told you so. I knew you couldn’t do it.” But truthfully the loudest voice shouting that right now lives in my own head. (Oh good. It’s working. I’m crying now.) It’s ok. I’m going to be kind to myself. It’s ok to be disappointed and sad. And I’m still lovable that way. Even when I fail. Even if my failure isn’t inspiring to do anything different tomorrow and it just is what it is. Welcome to grace.
God and I are still working on a few things in light of my experience of RAGBRAI 2016. I want so badly to tell you all about how hilly it was, how hot it was, how awful my 2+ day migraine was, and on and on and on about the reasons why I went home on Monday night after only 15 miles of pedaling. (See what I did there?) But, then I miss out on the grace. Oh my goodness, God’s grace is amazing, but it’s also hard to receive sometimes.
The Truth is, that God loves me regardless of how many miles I did or didn’t pedal. God loves me whether I tried hard or not. God loves me when I get excited about new things. God loves me when I am disappointed and embarrassed about things. God loves me even if every single person reading this blogpost is at home laughing and pointing their fingers at me. (I know you’re not. You are good, loving, supportive people who are actually thinking about all of kinds of interesting and important things, not about whether I rode my bike a long way last week.) God loves me. Grace.
God loves you.
I have more to learn and say about failure from this experience. But, that is for another day.
Today, there is just grace.
By Brigit Stevens - August 5, 2016, 9:31 am
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
Is Christ wearing a Fitbit?By Jonna Jensen - July 28, 2016, 2:24 pm
Stirring in my prayers this week are the bold followers of Jesus – including 126 from the Iowa Conference – gathered in Orlando for our UCC National Youth Event. And, stirring in my prayers are my son and his wife, who will move into their first home this weekend. And, stirring in my prayers are dozens and dozens of women whose beautiful pieces of handwork found their way to collectors and antique dealers and eventually to a storage unit.
First, the handwork. Some weeks ago, I went through box upon box of handwork pieces that my mother had collected. Dealers had assured us that there was no market for such things today. Once, they had both practical and sentimental value. Today, the sentimental ties are broken, they are no longer practical, and they have little monetary value. I picked up doily after doily, tea towel after tea towel, pillow case after pillow case, fancy apron after fancy apron (the kind we don’t wear any longer when serving guests). I wondered about the stories of the women who had made each piece. I caught my breath, thinking of the hours and hours and hours these pieces had taken to complete. I brought one small box home. I don’t need these embroidered pillow cases and doilies, but I need a little time to let the prettiest ones go.
Second, the new house. There is almost nothing in my home that is new. It’s full of hand-me-downs, rescues, thrift shop finds, and a few family treasures. The décor is something born of a mix of necessity and sentimentality. Neither my amazing son nor his amazing wife are drawn to surround themselves with old things. They are gracious and firm in kindly declining to inherit old dishes and funky attic artifacts. Their new home isn’t a place for my stuff. It’s a place for their stuff.
Finally, the bold followers of Jesus gathered at our UCC National Youth Event. These saints are soon ready for their own houses – including their own houses of worship, where they lead. They will not be moving in with our doilies and dusty boxes. But these precious bold followers of Jesus will amaze us with their energy for service and mission. These precious bold followers of Jesus will amaze us with their passion for worship that is light with Spirit flame and fuels the right-now work of Jesus. As our congregations and Associations welcome our NYE travelers home, let’s listen hard for what they can teach us about the body of Christ in motion.
Praying for these bold followers of Jesus this morning, I imagined the body of Christ wearing a Fitbit…excited about counting its steps.
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - July 28, 2016, 2:24 pm
Emotional and Spiritual ExperiencesBy admin - July 22, 2016, 9:28 am
At the end of this month thousands of UCC youth will gather in Florida to learn, to worship, to meet new people, to experience the UCC in a different way than what they are able to in their own churches. While this is an exciting endeavor, not just for the youth but for the adults that have the joy and privilege of accompanying the youth on such a trip, there is also a heavy weight as we count down the days to NYE2016.
Many of the youth across the country will be making their way to Florida via bus or plane. Some riding or flying for the first time. But with the excitement of a new journey on the horizon there is also the understanding that around the world, buses and planes have been and are being used as weapons against crowds.
Many of our youth will be heading to Disney World (where the National Youth Event is being hosted this year) for the first time in their lives. But with the excitement of a new adventure coming up there is also the knowledge that this place of wonder, in fact the whole state of Florida has been in the news for some horrific and deadly events.
Many of our youth will be experiencing the extravagant welcome that our denomination prides itself on. Some will be accepted for just exactly who they are for the first time in a church setting. But with the excitement of a new way of being in church in front of them there is also the awareness that the country is an increasingly inhospitable place.
So I ask that you would hold the 126 people from Iowa going to NYE in your prayers this week. Also, I ask that you hold the thousands of youth, chaperones, families, workers, speakers, and local pastors in Florida in your prayers this week so that we might have not just a physically safe trip; but an emotionally and spiritually safe experience at this national youth gathering.
Samantha Houser, Program Support/Adjunct Youth Ministry
By admin - July 22, 2016, 9:28 am
What CAN we do?By Brigit Stevens - July 15, 2016, 1:19 pm
St. Anthony, MN.
Baton Rouge, LA.
There isn’t enough room on the page to list the places I know about today where death and terror have recently flexed their power. My heart and soul are weary. What is our role, Church? What would Jesus have us do today?
My spiritual director was reminding me this week to pay attention to my limits in order to not be overwhelmed and paralyzed. It seemed contradictory at the time. My limits are what frustrate me the most. I want to DO something to MAKE IT ALL BETTER. I feel like all I can see at times are my limits.
But she wasn’t telling me to stay fixated on those things that lay BEYOND my limits. She helped me to see and accept where my actual limits are, which then allows me to see the vast landscape between here and there and to begin to see how many things I CAN do.
I cannot end racism in the world, or even just in my own neighborhood. But I can speak out in love and respect at the neighborhood grill-out about experiences I have had, the stories from my friends’ experiences, and the articles I’ve read regarding racial privilege and injustice in our world instead of just chatting about the weather.
I cannot end gun violence in the world, or even just in my own neighborhood. But I can ask the parents’ of my children’s friends if there are guns in their home, and if so, how they are stored, and I can choose to not send my son or daughter to that house to play but instead entertain that friend in our home if they say that guns are present and not stored with trigger locks, in locked cabinets, and away from the ammunition.
I cannot stop the actions of ISIS or the KKK or other hate-filled groups of terror. But I can name their actions as hate whenever I have the chance, among family, friends, or letters to the editor. I can understand, and share with others, how ISIS no more represents Islam or the Muslim faith than the KKK represents the Church or the Christian faith.
I cannot make people stop hating and hurting one another. But I can love others. I can go to where they are and tell them they are beloved. I can stop whining about millennials not showing up to worship on Sunday morning and instead bring a case of cold Mt. Dew to the front steps of my church around 7-10pm each night and meet and greet them with love and kindness as they roll up playing Pokemon Go. I can bring fresh cookies to the police department and say thank you for their work and sacrifices. I can march in the local Pride parade and declare God’s love and creation reflected in my LGBTQ neighbors and friends. I can write a card with a note of love and thanksgiving for the leadership to the one African American woman on the staff at my children’s summer childcare site, acknowledging that her experience may be different than mine, committing to caring for her children in our world by advocating for policies and laws that protect her loved ones fairly and justly, and thanking her for the nurturing care she showers on my children.
I trust that next month I will again need my spiritual director’s wisdom to remind me that my limits can be frustrating but they can also be instructive. It all depends on my perspective regarding them.
So, I ask all of you, what CAN we do today, Church? What would Jesus have us do?
—Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By Brigit Stevens - July 15, 2016, 1:19 pm