Do you like to get your own way?By Rich Pleva - November 29, 2016, 9:00 am
Most of us do…. I know I do. The instinct to compete and the drive to win is deeply ingrained. I suspect there were evolutionary advantages that granted an edge to those more driven than to those less so.
Like many human traits, this “drive to win” isn’t subject to easy moral analysis. There are many ways in which driven-ness has enriched individuals and groups, and many ways in which it has proved highly problematic.
One of the ways in which it proves troubling is when it morphs slightly into desire for dominance. Even though we are familiar with dominance as a relatively benign concept in sports, in many contexts the exercise of dominance becomes dehumanizing. It becomes dehumanizing when the capacity to dominate blinds the one able to dominate to the perspectives and situation of those dominated.
Majorities historically dominate minorities. They dominate consciously and unconsciously. They dominate benignly and perniciously. The dominate in ways trivial and in ways devastating.
I am convinced that this is at least part of the reason why Biblical values are so self-consciously oriented to the welfare of those on the margins. Almost by definition those on the margins are minorities. They are not always minorities in terms of sheer numbers (though often they are), but certainly in terms of influence and power they are “minor.” And the Biblical narrative insists that they are to be seen and considered.
We know this. We don’t always live it out as well as we might, but we do grasp the principle.
Imagine, for a moment, that the tables are turned. How does it feel when a once majority becomes marginal? What does the once influential do when they are no longer influential?
That question is huge and it is not (I don’t believe) given to any single or simple answer. If the question is difficult, all the more reason it be contemplated, partly because avoiding the question hinders the capacity of the faithful in churches like our own to figure out our place in a shifting cultural and ecclesiastical landscape. To put it bluntly, mainline Protestants have decades – yea centuries – of experience at being ecclesiastically dominant. At various times and places we’ve used that dominance for good but also for ill. But in the last several decades we have slipped from dominance. Instead of being “mainline” we are more honestly “old-line” or even “sideline.”
Like many others, I’m tired of this reality being a cause for lament. Instead I’m fascinated at whether it might become an invigorating opportunity. There is a Biblical theme that I think we must study. It is more a Hebrew Bible theme than a New Testament theme (though it is not absent from the NT) – it is the concept of “the remnant community.” The challenge for the remnant community is not one of dominance – it is one of creative and perhaps sly influence. It is one of bearing witness more than imposition of one’s will. It is one of shrewdly making one’s voice heard even when one’s face is invisible to the majority.
The God we serve often invites us to affirm the most ridiculous notions and among the more extreme of these notions is the one we find in II Corinthians 12:9 where the Apostle reports hearing the voice of the Lord this way: “…. power is made perfect in weakness.”
This concept requires an awful lot of unpacking – much more than I’m able to offer in this short article. Still, I doubt this assertion of power in weakness is intended to endorse either quietism or passivity, but certainly it eschews dominance. Apparently it’s possible to be powerful but not dominant.
Church: Are we willing to take our remnant status seriously and instead of bemoaning it as a curse, accept it as God-given opportunity?
I think we must. Let’s start figuring out what faithfulness requires of us.
With MUCH hope!
By Rich Pleva - November 29, 2016, 9:00 am
UCC in Iowa
Sing the hymn again!By Rich Pleva - November 23, 2016, 8:41 am
Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
If you drive the roads of Iowa, you know that by now the harvest is, in fact, gathered in, and in nearly all places it has been abundant. To top it off, commodity prices not so poor as many had feared. Assuredly this is cause for thanksgiving.
It is also true, of course, that not very many of us are directly engaged in agricultural. If, like me, your livelihood is only indirectly related to agriculture, then my pastoral counsel is that you still sing the hymn, but sing it metaphorically.
I need Thanksgiving because it challenges my instinct to the dour. I used to see a bumper sticker that I well understood, but still found cringe-worthy: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Maybe, but I’d prefer a slightly different take: “If you’re not thankful, you’re not paying attention.”
It is true that blessings….at least material blessings…. are not so evenly distributed as what I’d wish, but thanksgiving is not a zero-sum game. It’s right to give thanks even if you’d prefer that the world were ordered a bit differently than it currently is.
Perhaps the capacity to joyously – even raucously – give thanks can become one of the underpinnings of justice work. Anger may have its place, but when it excludes joy it is something of which to be wary.
In fact, I’m thankful for many, many blessings. You, dear reader, are among those for whom I am thankful.
So, sing the hymn. Eat a feast. Embrace your family and friends. Take a nap, or watch a game. Then sing the hymn again.
God’s best to you!
By Rich Pleva - November 23, 2016, 8:41 am
UCC in Iowa
Wow, hallelujah, and thank you!By Jonna Jensen - November 18, 2016, 3:23 pm
One of the great delights of my ministry with you is the privilege of worshipping with you. This past Sunday, I was the guest of Ripley UCC in Traer for a celebration of the congregation’s missions. They had a LOT to celebrate!
The photo you’re seeing is of some of the 124 quilts draped throughout the sanctuary. These 124 were the second gathering of quilts the congregation blessed and dedicated this year. The quilts themselves are given as love gifts to persons for whom a bright, beautifully pieced quilt is a vessel of blessings, including residents in care centers, veterans, those without settled housing, those who are homebound, and families with babies in a neo-natal intensive care unit.
A group of nine dedicated quilters assemble these beautiful quilts, but the entire congregation shares in the giving. Members of the congregation pledge donations for each quilt completed and those funds – in this amazing “quilts to blankets” project – are used to purchase Church World Service blankets. As of Sunday, the congregation had provided 98 blankets for refugees and those impacted by natural disasters here in the U.S. and around the world.
But the celebration of the congregation’s missions didn’t stop with hundreds of quilts. This year, the saints at Ripley UCC packaged 2000 dry rice and bean meals on their way to Africa. They sewed bags, purchased school supplies and assembled 100 Church World Service school kits. Four times this year, the saints at Ripley UCC have served a hot, sustaining meal to the guests of the St, Francis of Assisi Catholic Worker House in Waterloo. The congregation has provided financial support for at least fourteen different mission offerings so far this year. More mission projects are coming in December.
One more number is important to share. On Sunday mornings, worship attendance at Ripley UCC is usually in the thirties. While there are children, youth, and young families in the congregation, most of the members were certainly alive the first time Elvis Presley sang on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Sunday was a high mileage day in my ministry with you. When I left Traer, there were two more visits and 300 more miles to go. But the journey felt light. There was bouncing in the car seat. Singing. Prayers rising on sighs and giggles. The saints at Ripley UCC blessed me with energy and excitement for what one small congregation, with a big, loving heart and hands ready for service can do in the name of Jesus. Hallelujah.
If you’d like to send the saints at Ripley UCC your own hallelujahs, share your own stories of mighty missions flowing from a small congregation, or learn more about Ripley’s missions, your greetings will reach Pastor Bob Fread and the congregation at: RipleyUCC@mediacombb.net.
In this season of thanksgiving, I thank God for each of you and for the radiant ministries of your congregations. I thank God for the small but mighty gatherings of saints among us where expressions of holy justice, mercy, and love flow so freely.
Wow, hallelujah, and thank you!
By Jonna Jensen - November 18, 2016, 3:23 pm
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
BEing the ChurchBy Brigit Stevens - November 10, 2016, 10:11 am
This banner hangs in the hallway of the Iowa Conference UCC office. I walk by it on the way to my desk and each walk I take to the printer/copy machine.
Today, I find a deep comfort in its presence.
It has been a particularly difficult week for me.
I had strep throat, while on the road and away from the comfort of my own bed.
Our family said “Thank you, bless you, and goodbye,” to our beloved black lab, Sammy.
My dad had a heart attack and emergency stent procedures to open two arteries, one 90% and one 100% blocked, and now rejoices at his healing and well-being at home.
AND the general election results revealed the depth of the polarization and division of our nation.
And that was just MY stuff. You have your stuff too. And our world, oh how our world has stuff too.
It is time to be the church.
Just like it was yesterday. And will be tomorrow.
The world needs us. God called us for such a time as this. We live in a fractured, broken world, in need of deep healing.
BEing the church together matters. It heals the broken places.
As my family wept over the loss of our beloved pet of 10 years, Sammy, Terra (6) decided we’d be attending worship the next day in order to say our prayers aloud in the gathered community. Praying together matters. It heals the broken places.
As I returned to my seat from the communion table during worship, waiting for texts regarding my dad’s health, I walked past the table with the worksheets of families in need this coming holiday season. The single mom and two kids in the lower-left corner of the array were waiting for my family to adopt them. Giving to those in need matters. It heals the broken places.
When Native American brothers and sisters cried out that their lives were endangered by greed and consumption that threatens their water in the form of a pipeline for crude oil, UCC clergy from Iowa and across the nation joined 500+ clergy in peaceful protest, allies of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, and drew attention to the needs of humanity and Creation in that place. Caring for the gift and resources of the earth matters. It heals the broken places.
As we grow increasingly aware of the discrepancy between the experience of white and black Americans, and the deep wounds of systemic racism born from the sin of slavery and oppression, the UCC has begun exploring a curriculum on White Privilege and encourages us all to find ways of repentance and reparation. Confessing our corporate sin and dismantling unjust systems matters. It heals the broken places.
This summer, when our LGBTQ friends and family were targeted again by hatred and violence at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, we marched together behind the very banner that hangs in the hallway outside my office, declaring God’s love for ALL of us. Standing up in love and celebrating those who live in the margins of our society matters. It heals the broken places.
It is time to BE the church.
Just like it was yesterday. And it will be tomorrow. It matters. Because it heals the broken places.
Sharing the journey,
By Brigit Stevens - November 10, 2016, 10:11 am
So vote!By Rich Pleva - November 4, 2016, 1:28 pm
As you read this, the election is hard upon us. Most of you already know with certainty for whom you will vote, and significant numbers of you (like me) have already cast your ballot. Good for you!
We’re often told that voting is a “civic duty.” That may be, but I also view it as a sacred privilege and responsibility.
The Bible offers scant direct guidance about “voting.” This thing we take for granted – self-government – was hardly something that could be imagined in biblical times (After the ascension of Jesus the apostles were confronted with a need to select a new leader. They didn’t vote – they drew straws!). As we try to figure out what it means to responsibly and faithfully opt for this candidate or that one, we are left to extrapolate from admonitions to obey and pray for those in authority, to render taxes as “due” and on the other hand, to “obey God rather than any human authority.”
The history of church and state in the United States is fascinating and complicated. It’s at the same time distant and cozy – helpful and destructive – and almost always confusing. Our national constitution prohibits state interference in religion – the government is adjured from either advancing or hindering it. But governance is exercised by humans – and whether intentional or not, humans bring their values to work with them. Therefore, it seems evident to me that people who care about justice and compassion and equity ought to wonder and probe about the ways those who aspire to office think and act about justice and compassion and equity.
I think it is clear from the breadth of the scriptural story is that God is interested in human governance – and therefore we should also. God is interested that those who govern do so justly. When justice and equity characterizes any human authority, God seems to claim the authority thereby wielded as God’s own (whether the governor recognizes and/or admits to it), and when the contrary is true, God is opposed. The notion (frequently expressed) that God punishes evil-doers by agency of human government is a fraught proposal. Some scripture seems to support the notion, but other readings would cast doubt on this notion.
So….shall we throw up our hands and cast our votes on the basis of self-interest? Many (most?) will, of course. I’d suggest a slightly different approach – that as people committed to a communitarian vision of the human family that we cast our votes on the basis of our best guess about which person and which proposals particularly advance the welfare of those (American and not) who live at the edges. As faithful followers of Jesus we may nonetheless legitimately differ on the wisdom of this policy or that, but certainly we can agree that love of neighbor is not a negotiable value.
So vote! Do so with your neighbors – all of them –near and far! – in mind!
With great hope!
By Rich Pleva - November 4, 2016, 1:28 pm
The UCC in Iowa