New LifeBy admin - April 28, 2017, 9:37 am
The Easter leftovers are gone from the stores now. Even the jellybeans and plastic grass that were marked half-price have disappeared to wherever those things go. But, in the church, we continue to proclaim the Easter joy: “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!” We point to the ever-bursting season of spring to proclaim the new life that is emerging all around us. We breathe deeply of soft air and celebrate the song of early-morning birds building nests.
But. Easter is more than spring. Resurrection is more than daffodils and tulips blooming in their normal cycle. This Eastertide, I am especially aware of that, because we just returned from a month of wandering through the far-away country of New Zealand. There, it is not spring during Lent and Easter. There (because it is the Southern Hemisphere) it is FALL. As in autumn. Easter celebrations run side-by-side with end-of-the-summer triathalons and last-of-the-season summer concerts. Winter looms on the horizon. It’s confusing! It changes my perspective! So this Easter I find myself looking for signs of resurrection that are not tied to my sense of the changing weather.
The other day, I watched as my neighbor (who had long ago given up hope of ever being a grandmother) walked her new grand baby down the street for a bit of fresh air. Joy has replaced sorrow – at least for now. “”Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
Every night, when I FaceTime with my mother (who is almost 90) I hear stories of her compatriots getting out of their apartments to walk, or go to a concert, or be part of a book club, or to join in a reader’s theater group, or to take a painting class. All of them carry the awareness of death and dying in their souls, and yet they choose to find new life in one another’s company. “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
We all hear the stories of refugees – stuck in camps under the worst possible conditions – and yet somehow finding the strength to keep looking for a new life. The human spirit is so much more than our circumstances! “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
At the church where I am a member, I watch refugees, who have found a new place to live in this country, gather day after day and week after week in our church basement to do the hard work of learning English, and the Pledge of Allegiance, practicing how to use electrical appliances, or how to shop for basic things like diapers and clothes for their children. New life is emerging for them through their own determination and through the kindness of volunteers and through the grace of God and through the gift of community. “”Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
Many of us look around at the landscape of our churches, and we see death and decay. Few of us would say that our churches are full of worshippers and we struggle to name “”new life” in our midst. We proclaim Easter’s joy, but too quickly our focus shifts to all the ways that we feel we are “failing”. We forget to look around us for the signs of Christ’s ongoing presence in our daily lives…and in the life of our church communities. Things like…..
A small prayer group that brings healing and hope. A shrinking Sunday School….that faithfully continues to teach children and adults to explore what it means to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ. A worship service that offers up our best talents to the glory of God, so that our hearts and minds might be warmed and challenged to live in the wake of the resurrection of our Lord. Even in our smallest churches, there is new life rising in this season of Eastertide! We are not a people of death. We are a people of new life, given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We may have to look for it. We certainly need to celebrate it. And we are asked to tell the story to everyone we know. “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
—Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct for 2030 Iowa
By admin - April 28, 2017, 9:37 am
Avoiding Easter ClearanceBy Jonna Jensen - April 21, 2017, 7:19 am
So, the Easter treats are marked for clearance. The stores which keep calendars for us have turned the page, clearing Easter and making room for graduations, gardens, barbecues, and the 4th of July. We find in these savoring days of Eastertide another blessed opportunity for the bold followers of Jesus to swim against the current.
Easter lasts. Easter abides. The days of Eastertide stretch into early June this year. Yet even when the Church has turned the page on Easter for Pentecost and Ordinary Time, Easter abides. We worship on Sundays, the first days of new weeks, because Sunday is the day of resurrection. Each Sunday is, and is meant to be, another Easter.
Folk showed up last Sunday, didn’t they? Folk do show up for Easter. I suppose some of this is still a family-getting-together thing. And some of this showing up may be led by special music or programs or celebrations for children (“and a little child shall lead them”). Thank you to each of you who had a part of welcoming the children and letting them lead us last Sunday! But. I don’t know, but I believe, that among the folk who showed up last Sunday there were at least a tender handful who came because they knew the Church is up to something on Easter.
They came wondering about that something we are called to be up to. They came hungry for it. They pulled in on a long walk through the valley of the shadow of death. They came for a light. They came to breathe in the scent of joy and lilies and life. Their Sunday news feed brought word of missiles and they came looking for some news of hope. And, even, purpose.
Bold followers of Jesus, if you have a way to contact the folk who showed up last Sunday, please do send them love notes. We may well not see these folk again for a long stretch, but we are called to sing to them that Easter lasts. And we are called to open our doors wide for weekly Easters. We are called to offer worship that welcomes wonderers and feeds hungers. We are called to proclaim the Easter gospel in all its fearing and rejoicing, doubting and believing, hiding and seeking. We are called to offer worship that shines light in valleys of deepest darkness. We are called to sing and dance and proclaim the life, hope, and purpose we experience in boldly following Jesus.
Avoiding at all cost the clearance of Easter…
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - April 21, 2017, 7:19 am
Fear - what will I learn?By Brigit Stevens - April 13, 2017, 11:30 am
Last week I had the opportunity to travel with a delegation of members from Plymouth UCC-Des Moines to visit Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana, Cuba for eight days. The purpose of the trip was to continue to grow and to make official the “sister church” relationship between the two congregations. It was a friendship-building trip, not a mission trip, not a vacation, nor a tourist adventure.
I’m sure I’ve not been on such a trip before. It was a remarkable eight days. And I came home with stories, pictures, and fear.
I am afraid that I will lose the “magic” of the trip over time. I am afraid that I will let the profound seeds of growth and change from the trip be perfectly preserved in acid-free scrapbook pages, never to actually sprout into the full gifts they may be in me and in the world. I am afraid of sounding trite when I answer my friends’ questions, “How was your trip?” with my, “It was really life-changing.” And I am more afraid that my words won’t be true.
Fear is a powerful force. It can be motivating. It can also be paralyzing. I haven’t uploaded my pictures from the trip yet to our group’s shared Google drive or to my Facebook page. I think I’m being held by my fear on this one. I want to hang on to them and not put them, “away,” like I’ve done after other trips I’ve taken. I am afraid that if I do the things I’ve done before, then I will get the same results. But I’m not quite sure what I need to do differently yet. So, my pictures have become a metaphor for my life right now, held captive by my fear.
I haven’t figured out what to do with the churning in my soul and mind yet. And the recognition of this churning as a feeling of fear reminds me of the fear in our Holy Week scriptures. There was chaos and confusion that last week of Jesus’ life. There was deception and betrayal. There was crippling grief and paralyzing fear.
But we know the rest of the story. We know that fear doesn’t win the last word. Life wins. Hope wins. Love wins.
I’m going to sit with my fear for a bit longer and see what it has to teach me. But I do so with faith (and therefore some deep comfort), knowing there is more to come of the story, a great glorious more! May your Holy Week be blessed with the churning of your soul and the gift of enough fear to captivate you and enough faith to comfort you.
Blessings for the Journey,
Brigit Stevens, ACM Iowa Conference UCC
By Brigit Stevens - April 13, 2017, 11:30 am
Are you surprised?By admin - April 7, 2017, 11:53 am
‘Surprise is the greatest gift life can grant us.’ ~ Boris Pasternak
I have served at Zion, Waukon for 7 years and every time Holy Week rolls around I have the same people ask if they can read the same piece of scripture that they read at the Tenebrae meal the last year, for however many meals those same scriptures have been read. Although I have changed up the outline of the service, the hymns that were sung, the translations that we use I still get the question from the same saints of the church right around this time of year, ‘Pastor I’d like to read …’.
I would venture a guess that many churches have similar people within their walls. And that as your services for Holy Week start getting planned or start getting underway that there is little surprise to who will volunteer to read what scripture.
Even though I feel bewildered by these congregants who insist on reading and enacting the same piece of the story year after year I too struggle with this. Instinctively. I feel like it is safer if I can keep the story contained. If I can put the hard parts of the passion narrative in little boxes and open them up when I’m ready for them. I can easily file them away as good and worthy of my time or challenging and unworthy and save them for when (or if) I’m ready.
That has been the most comfortable path, but it also leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to show up and surprise us.
And it also leaves little room to fully appreciate the scope of the resurrection story and the death of Christ. Which is why for me it’s important to earnestly try to change this instinct and to be open to the surprises that the season of lent, specifically the surprises that Holy week and the passion narrative bring to the understanding of the Easter story.
I’d be interested in hearing you all engage through the comment section about how you will, or already are being intentional about allowing this season to surprise you this year.
—Reverend Samantha Houser, Waukon Zion UCC and Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct of Youth Ministry
By admin - April 7, 2017, 11:53 am
Listen, Give, SpeakBy admin - March 24, 2017, 1:54 pm
What does it mean to live with privilege? I have been consciously wrestling with this question ever since the White Privilege curriculum was introduced from the United Church of Christ. But if I am honest, I have been unconsciously wrestling with this spiritual question my entire life. Growing up in Alabama in the 1980s, I wrestled with our communal sin called racism. I was fortunate to grow up in a progressive college town, where education for all was the bedrock of our community. In high school, I worked at a drug store, where James, an African American in his 50’s, taught me what subtle Christian racism looked like as an older customer entered the store with a nice smile and James whisper the customer’s 30-year old sins of beating him for going to the “wrong bathroom.”
By admin - March 24, 2017, 1:54 pm
The more personal expression of racism took many more years to process and confess: my family’s sin of paternalistic racism. They disagreed with Governor George Wallace, who stood in my dad’s high school doors, emphatically pronouncing segregation. Years later my family bemoaned Wallace’s shrill actions when they could have worked toward a more peaceful resolution (which was a stalling tactic just as sinful as Wallace’s doorway demands). They eventually fled their hometown when African Americans rightly boycotted my grandfather’s business. But they did so because they had the financial means to leave and move to another town. Privilege.
I have privilege. I am a white, middle-class, middle-aged southern, educated woman. For many years, I was reticent to identify my privilege lest it sound like bragging in a terribly superior manner. But if I don’t name my reality, I cannot breathe God’s goodness and peace into my reality. I have been poor, but I have always known that I had a safety net to protect me from imminent financial danger. I have experienced sexism, but I have always had enough power to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
When I named my privilege, it was as if I was finally open to healing within my body, mind, and spirit regarding my privilege and my racism. My spirit sought the stories of Jesus and how he interpreted and lived out his privilege. Jesus indeed had privilege. He was a man. He was Jewish. He was a rabbi. And he was educated enough to know, recite, and preach from the scriptures. In Jesus’ privilege, he listened to the stories of the oppressed (Samaritan Woman), he gave his privilege away (healings on the Sabbath), and he spoke truth to the powerful (turning the tables in the Temple).
Recently I asked myself how I live out my privilege. How do I listen, give away my privilege, and speak truth to the powerful? Recently with the Executive Order banning Muslims from seven particular countries, I really wrestled with my privilege. What do I do with my power, prestige, and privilege I have been given as a UCC Conference Minister? And what is my spiritual obligation with this privilege? And so I decided that my Lenten spiritual practice would be to wear a hijab, or head scarf, to spiritually reflect on who God created me to be while giving my privilege away. I sought to stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers, who are unfairly being judged and discriminated against because of how they worship God.
And so on Ash Wednesday, I donned a head scarf and began my journey. To be honest, wearing a hijab has been an eye-opening experience. Watching those who look past me, when they normally greet me warmly. Listening to people processing their own privilege as they admire my “courage” for this practice. And receiving racism in verbal and non-verbal expressions especially when I am at the airport. Last week, as I entered the St. Louis airport, there was a woman with a head scarf on and we looked at each other with big smiles on our faces. Talk about extravagant hospitality! There were people, who were extra nice to me and even a flight attendant who winked at me! Her wink lifted my spirits because not 15 minutes earlier, a man gave me an ugly stare as we boarded the plane. At first, I forgot about my hijab and wondered what I had done to cause such an ugly stare. And then I remembered. And I stared at him right back as if to dare him, “Bring it on, you mean man! I’ll take you down!” (Not quite the loving spirit of Jesus but I’m being honest). In my wearing a hijab, I have also committed to reading books by Muslim American women about their spiritual lives. I am currently reading “Threading My Prayer Rug,” by Sabeeha Rehamn (here is a youtube interview with Ms. Rehman: https://youtu.be/jj0RKe2mZ74) as to listen to the story of one Muslim American woman.
I have learned more about my white privilege wearing a hijab than ever before in my life. I am more concerned when I walk through the security line (even in the privileged TSA Pre-check). I am more aware that, as they say in the broadway play Avenue Q, everybody is a little bit racist. I am more aware that discrimination stems from other people’s own fears and has nothing to do with the person being judged. I am more aware that there will always be compassionate people willing to stand with the powerless and oppressed. I am more aware that my privilege is not granted because of who I am as a child of God. I am more aware that I have a deeper spiritual responsibility to give my privilege away by listening to the heart of others, by giving my privilege away, and by speaking truth to the powerful.
I, like all of you, have been created in God’s image. Our spiritual work will always be to live into who God created us to be while we give our privilege away. This indeed will be a just world for all!
—Ginny Brown Daniel, Conference Minister of Missouri Mid-South Conference UCC