Imagine the multiplications!By Jonna Jensen - April 28, 2016, 2:11 pm
Almost 400 miles separated us this afternoon as Conference Minister Rich Pleva, Associate Conference Minister Brigit Stevens, and I joined one another for our weekly web-based check-in time. We spent nearly an hour together, listening and talking our way through topics that were sadder and more challenging than usual.
At the end of the hour, I closed my laptop with a sigh of thanksgiving. No, no, not because another staff meeting was over! But for the God-gifts I found in that shared hour; for Rich and for Brigit and for the Holy Spirit. When the three of us are prayerfully puzzling, there are more than three portions of wisdom on the table. When the three of us are prayerfully groaning, there are more than three portions of strength and support at the table. When the Spirit stirs among us with the balm of playfulness, the laughter multiplies by a number greater than three.
I am excited about the opportunity to puzzle, groan, laugh, and collaborate with an even wider circle of partners if our vision of tri-Conference staff sharing is voted into reality. Together with one shared Executive Conference Minister, four Associate Conference Ministers (two in Iowa, one in Nebraska, and one in South Dakota) will be connecting to offer wisdom, strength, support, and – no doubt – doses of healing humor for one another’s ministries in our three Conferences. Imagine the multiplications! Imagine the insight, experience, faith and courage multiplied by a number greater than five.
One of the great talents Rich Pleva has brought to the Iowa Conference is the gift of gathering staffs whose members contribute fairly few overlapping gifts to the whole. We each bring widely different experiences, skill sets, and expressions of bold Jesus following. For these differences, our ministries are richer. Imagine the collaborations when five persons with few overlapping gifts can support one another’s ministries across three Conferences!
I look forward to ongoing opportunities for wondering and learning and listening with you as conversations continue around the Iowa Conference about the vision of tri-Conference staff sharing. I hope toward the opportunity to bring my little dish of gifts to a potluck with a longer table, joining a larger staff team in cheering on the congregations and pastors of our three Conferences.
Thanking God for gifts that multiply,
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - April 28, 2016, 2:11 pm
Gazing UPwardsBy admin - April 22, 2016, 11:39 am
The sanctuary is adorned with butterflies. After the cold and colorless winter, these colorful wood-cut butterflies take center focus to continue the Easter story. New life is indeed springing forth. The events of chaos and tragedy don’t have the final word. Transformation awaits.
The heady theological notions I am prone to entertain in my overly intellectualized experience of Christianity somehow become known and experienced differently when I look at those butterflies. In awe at the wondrous and weird part of creation, I wonder where transformation is underway in the community, in the church, in my parishioners, and in me. And I wonder if my eyes will be open to see the transformations emerging from the safety of a chrysalis. Will I see the new life breaking forth, sunning itself, and figuring out how to ride the breeze in this new season? I hope so.
What about you?
As I sit outside the church, watching the thistle growing an inch a minute, and resisting the urge to run over and pluck them up, I’m aware that many of us drop our heads and shift our gaze to matters and things more akin to weeds rather than butterflies. We get focused on the stuff that threatens to change the landscape and sabotage our well-laid plans and carefully manicured efforts. But too much focus on the weeds of life means we’ll miss the butterflies. Too much focus on the prickly stuff means we’ll miss seeing moments of transformation and new life all around us.
What would it take for you to adjust your gaze?
It is true that we put the butterflies up in the sanctuary because they’re pretty and because our kids made them and we were excited to celebrate their contribution to our community. But we’ve decided to keep them up there behind the altar so that we have the opportunity to practice casting our gaze upwards, paying attention, and celebrating the new season, the new life emerging in our world and in us, and the fundamental beauty and blessedness of our world that God has declared since the very beginning.
Laura Arnold, Program Support/Adjunct
By admin - April 22, 2016, 11:39 am
Lay Education and Technology
A New Day in Every DayBy Brigit Stevens - April 15, 2016, 9:14 am
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
If you have emailed me in the past few weeks, you’ve likely received an auto-reply message right back from me. That auto-reply message says something like, “I care about your message and I’m overbooked this month. Please be patient with me while I do my best to get back to you in a thoughtful way.”
It’s a season, hopefully a short one, but still a season of way too many commitments on my calendar, and I am feeling overwhelmed. And I’ve noticed in the past few days particularly, that the overwhelmed part is not just regarding my calendar or commitments, it’s seeping into my soul as well. And so, I went looking for this message today, to calm and encourage my heart and soul for the rest of this overcommitted season. I needed to be reminded where to look in order to find my way through this season.
I found Paul’s words to the church in Philippi rang true for me today, and probably every day regardless of which season I am in on my journey of faith and life.
I am a firm believer in choices. Each day before us we make choices. We choose how to order our days, what to fill our schedules with, who to see, who to call, what appointments to keep and which to decline. (And yes, I’m keenly aware it is my own choices that have created a good portion of this overwhelmed season, thank you very much.)
We also choose what to think about.
We can choose to dwell on moments of grace, friendship and love. We can choose to look forward to opportunities of community and faith. We can choose to celebrate and lift up the tiny miracles of God’s creation around us each day. And that will take up as much space and energy on our calendar as if we instead chose to think and dwell on the shadows of the day: the disappointments, the failings of others, the places of struggle and doubt.
And the consequence of the choices we make is multiplication of what we have been thinking about. Being loving, offering admiration, celebrating truth, leads us to more truth, nobility, and righteousness. Just as dwelling on the darkness creates more clouds and struggle.
For today, I’m going to see the new day in front of me. I’m going to boldly follow the resurrected Jesus, seeing again the freshness of life and grace in a new day. I will intentionally work to fill my mind with thoughts of whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable and all that is praiseworthy.
For the risen Christ offers me the gift of a new day in every day. Will you join me?
Blessings for the Journey,
By Brigit Stevens - April 15, 2016, 9:14 am
Easter - is it a VERBBy admin - April 8, 2016, 8:42 am
I love the season of Easter! It is partly that spring is emerging. Trees are beginning to flower, and the daffodils are perky and the sunshine is filled with warm promises. But my love for the Easter season is about more than just spring flowers and sunshine.
A very wise teacher once remarked that Easter is really a verb. It isn’t so much an event as it is God’s action. Easter is what God does. Every year during Holy Week, we witness and remember the worst that human beings have to offer one another. We watch as Jesus was (and is) arrested, tried, crucified and buried. And on Easter morning we celebrate that God “Eastered” him. Through that gift of resurrected life, we come to know that God’s will for us is life – resurrected, abundant, eternal. Even when we are quite sure that there is no life left, God’s “Eastering” love has another word.
In so many ways, we live in a “Good Friday” world! Fear, anxiety, anger, violence, bullying, cheating, theft, incompetence…. All of that and so much more swirls around us on a daily basis. It’s easy to list off all the things that are wrong with our lives, with our churches, with our families and workplaces and schools. It’s easy to call to mind all those things that make us frightened or angry or indifferent – all the ways that we are disappointed by people or institutions. Those are long lists. We all have those Good Friday feelings of despair and helplessness.
But we are not Good Friday people! We are Easter people. Which means that God’s “Eastering” love didn’t just happen 2,000 years ago. It’s loose in the world today. God is “Eastering” our lives, our churches, our families, our schools, even our national and international politics. I see God “Eastering” when I see hungry people receiving food at our church’s Food Pantry, when I watch refugees carefully and painstakingly learning English every morning in our Fellowship Hall, when I hear stories of churches around the Iowa Conference that are making a difference in their communities and in the lives of those who gather for worship.
Easter – as an event – is over and done with. Easter – as the way God acts in the world – is just beginning. Take this season (it lasts all the way to Pentecost) and notice what God is “Eastering” in your church or your life or your community! It could surprise you.
Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct at Iowa Conference
2030 Iowa (Young Clergy Support)
PS The computer is quite sure that Easter is NOT (and never was) a verb, and so has suggested several alternatives to the word “Eastering” – including pestering and festering! I am enjoying the thought that God’s resurrection love is “festering” in my life, as well as the image of God “pestering” us with new life when we least expect it!
By admin - April 8, 2016, 8:42 am
Foolishness?By Rich Pleva - April 1, 2016, 11:06 am
“We are fools for the sake of Christ…”
I Corinthians 4:10
I suppose it’s tritely predictable to choose this text for a column to be published on April 1. Nonetheless….
In spite of some interpretation to the contrary, it doesn’t seem that Paul is really recommending “foolishness.” This text oozes sarcasm and irony (if you doubt that, read the entire context starting at verse 8!). It’s really a text about power and influence. More precisely, it’s about the hoary ecclesiastical instinct on the part of many church folk (clergy and laity alike) to want to run things….to be seen as smart and powerful and important and influential. It’s about control.
Control is not inherently bad – neither you nor I want either our own car or the one we are meeting on the highway, to be “out of control!” But when religion is allowed to devolve into structures by which to force others to do what I think they should do…. there’s trouble afoot.
Among the many ways that New Testament faith can be understood is as a protest movement against religious structures of oppressive control. The Galatian letter is the ultimate statement of this thesis. We are a people called to covenantal freedom – not a kind of freedom that does whatever the heck I want no matter what…. but a kind of freedom that seeks good – good for the other and good for me, as well.
The 20th Century writer Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) is in vogue among many Americans in these days, and it’s not hard to understand why. Her philosophy appeals to the American myth of self-reliance and self-made-ness. But it’s hard to reconcile those themes with the themes of social solidarity that run back and forth and over and under the entirety of the New Testament.
The structures and external trappings of faith – in this case Christian faith – have always evolved (contrary to the assertion of some), and they will always continue to evolve. But the heart of the matter remains quite constant: That God eternally exists in community and has created humankind to do the same. We boldly assert that humans were never intended to be alone and in fact aren’t alone for we have God and each other. We insist that any attempt to claim one without the other (choosing only God or only our neighbor) is distorted and ultimately unfaithful.
I enjoy a good joke as well anyone, but jokes don’t sustain when life is hard and the chips are down. On those days we need God and each other…. not just one or the other, but BOTH.
Let us strive to shape our congregations that they become manifestations of deep community – with God and with neighbor. And that’s no April Fool’s joke!!
By Rich Pleva - April 1, 2016, 11:06 am
UCC in Iowa