A crystal ball for the future?By Rich Pleva - January 6, 2017, 1:00 pm
Have the holidays laid bare strong differences in your family? I suppose it is inevitable that in the wake of the most divisive presidential election in our lifetime many families would evidence those same polarizing fault lines.
There is, I have heard, a small subset of humans who relish disagreement. I am not one of them, and neither are most of you. And of all public places it is church where many of us imagine and hope that these painful divisions might be set aside. It is not uncommon to hear folk opine that “politics” have no place in church. Typically this conviction is based on the belief that church should be about personal (private?) morality; that church should be a place where the individual and her relationship with God is the focus on attention and where the messiness of politics and public policy is not addressed.
But I cannot agree. On Christmas morning I was reminded why this cannot be so. In the place where I worshipped the text for the morning was from Matthew 2 – the story of the visit of the Magi. And as beautiful as is this story of these renowned figures coming to offer homage and gifts to the Christ, the story ends on a jarring note – they must leave by a different road and the child and his parents must flee as refugees to a far-away place. Why is this so? Because Herod – the political ruler – wants the child dead.
Was Herod mistaken about the threat represented by this child? I think not. Even though Jesus never threatened this particular despot, Herod was exactly right in suspecting that all human authority would sooner or later be challenged by Messiah – by the intervention of God into human affairs. Herod knew – knew rightly! – when God intervenes into human affairs, human authority will be called to account!
Followers of Jesus can only avoid the hard and vexing messiness of “politics” by selling our collective birthright. We are heirs, after all, of the one whose coming spells trouble for the wealthy and deliverance for the poor (how else can Mary’s hymn – the Magnificat – be honestly read?) Certainly it is true that the gospel demands that individual humans “get right with God,” but to privatize the Gospel – indeed all of Holy Writ – and expunge it of social and political implication is to take a scalpel to countless texts – an activity to which we must not be party.
At different times the exigency facing the church has varied. At the time many of our Iowa congregations were being formed the abolitionist movement was hot, and some of our churches are directly descended from the missionary activity of abolitionist preachers. This is but one example of a social and political issue which demanded the church to speak.
None of us possess a crystal ball about the future, but each of us has a moral responsibility to wonder about those social and economic issues – political issues! – which our grandchildren will either praise us for addressing, or condemn us for avoiding. I am convinced that systemic racism and quiet acquiescence to structural systems which privilege some to the disadvantage of others may well be the issue that my grandchildren will look back at to see where I stood.
For me this demands attention to something called “white privilege.” You may or may not grasp what I reference when I speak of “white privilege.” The leaders of the United Church of Christ have produced a curriculum to assist congregations in studying this concept. Surely we have a responsibility – to Christ! – to inform ourselves so that we can be sure that we are on Mary’s side – on Christ’s side – in God’s cosmic program of justice and equality.
With hope for the now and not yet Realm of Christ!
The UCC in Iowa
For more information about the UCC White Privilege Curriculum please visit: http://privilege.uccpages.org/
By Rich Pleva - January 6, 2017, 1:00 pm
A child of GodBy Brigit Stevens - December 23, 2016, 10:17 am
At my Ecclesiastical Council, the last examination of me before approval for ordination, my now friend and colleague, the Rev. Rick Wagner, asked me a hard question. (He tells the story now that the meeting was going too easily and he wanted to challenge me a bit!) He asked me to tell the gathered group my understanding and experience of soteriology. As my performance anxiety froze my brain and the only thought I had was, “Oh no! I’m sure I should know that word! Oh no!” Rick graciously turn to the crowd and said, “For those of you unfamiliar with the term, soteriology is the doctrine of salvation.”
“Phew!” my brain relaxed, “I know that word!”
I told the group about my understanding and experience of renewal found in salvation, the reuniting of me and God, over and over again, along my journey of life and faith. By the grace of God, salvation hasn’t been a, “once and done,” kind of experience for me, but an ongoing reminder and renewal of who and whose I am. Each and every day. Some days, each and every hour. A renewed right connection with my Creator, our Beautiful Parent, God.
I find great comfort in the fact that I keep getting to make new and more choices each and every day. And God refuses to give up on me. This is a great reminder to me that soteriology rests in the hands of God, not mine, praise the Lord! No matter what I do, no matter what I don’t do, the things I’ve said and left unsaid, I am claimed as God’s beautiful child. And the same goes for you.
So, as you are ringing in the New Year, looking back on how things have gone and making lists and plans for the year that lies ahead, remember who and whose you are. Remember that no matter what gets done on that list and what is left undone, what accomplishments are achieved and those that remain out of reach, you are a perfect child of God and beautiful to behold!
Have a Happy and Blessed New Year!!
By Brigit Stevens - December 23, 2016, 10:17 am
Associate Conference Minister
Will we follow?By Rich Pleva - December 20, 2016, 11:01 am
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…. full of grace and truth.”
In the old days…. the VERY, VERY old days…. humans were tribal out of existential necessity. Safety was secured in the company of those with whom one was related and had known since birth. This advantage of allegiance to the known and fear of the unknown was so profoundly significant that over countless years it became hardwired into the very biology of the species. Those who possessed the wariness and the fear survived more reliably than did those who did not. And so, countless generation after countless generation the trait of fear was reinforced until it became second nature to fear and debase the outsider.
And God was grieved. For God did not create humans with the intention that the “other” should be hated and feared. But what could God do?
Well…. God could love. And so, God did love. And setting aside all divine prerogative, the Holy One did the absurd… the Holy became human. In so doing the Divine contradicted the wisdom of natural selection and crossed boundaries so wide as to be unthinkable…. unimaginable… and joined sides with…. became one with…. you and me.
Was God fearful in so doing? It was a risk, after all. God is, by human standards, the ultimate outsider. Humans have a poor record with outsiders. But God took the risk and lived among us and taught and preached and healed and listened and prayed….and changed human history.
And on this Christmas – as at EVERY Christmas – the inheritors of the story face a miniature version of the challenge God faced. Will I keep to my own, or will I build bridges to those who are unknown…? who may even do me harm?
If the only criteria for choosing is personal safety, then the answer is simple. Look what happened to Jesus, after all. But if the criteria something bigger than myself, then it’s not so easy.
Yes, the Word became flesh and lived among us. The word crossed all those boundaries to let us know that we are loved, that we are capable of good, and that risk taking is strongly to be preferred over the familiar.
The Word became flesh. Herein lies the absurdity of Christmas. Yes, it tugs at the heartstrings to imagine that baby in the manger, but remember…. the baby was God, come to entice us into behavior that seems dangerous and unwise and risky.
Will we follow?
By Rich Pleva - December 20, 2016, 11:01 am
UCC in Iowa
Recalculations for ChristmasBy Jonna Jensen - December 15, 2016, 9:27 am
“Recalculating” may be the word you hear from your GPS tool when you deviate from the recommended route. I invite each of us to opportunities for “recalculating” the route that takes us to or from the worship services of Christmas this year, opportunities to bear witness to the hope, peace, joy, and love that pour from the sacred stories of our Savior’s birth. Maybe you’ll choose one of these little holy detours. Maybe these few notes will inspire you to discover a little holy detour of your own. Be in touch after Christmas to share your detour story. We’d love to hear them.
- If your neighborhood convenience store is open when you’re on your Christmas worship route, pull over and stop in for a minute. Share a “Merry Christmas” and a “God bless you” and a “thank you” with those who are there to offer gas and a bit of food and drink … and some unusual gifts…for Christmas travelers.
- If your route to worship takes you past a care center or a hospital or an urgent care clinic or a drug store, pull over and stop in for a minute with your greeting and blessing and words of thanks with someone who’s at work as a vessel of God’s healing gifts while others worship and feast.
- If your route takes you past your local law enforcement center, pull in for a minute to offer your greeting and blessing and thanks to those who are serving and protecting on a particularly challenging night for law enforcement.
- If your route takes you past a bar that’s open on Christmas Eve, stop in for a minute and give the bartender your warm greeting and blessing. These are some challenging shifts for bartending, too. Stay for a drink if you will (soda’s fine). Buy a round for some folk you might not know. It’s a gospelly thing to do.
- If your route takes you past a grocery store that’s still open, stop in for a minute and share your greeting and blessing and thanks with a checker or a stocker or someone still at the meat counter for all they’ve done to make so many feasts possible.
- If there is a shelter in your community where those without homes are staying on Christmas Eve, drive out of your way to stop in. Listen for your GPS tool to announce the recalculation and shout back, “Amen! Recalculating! Boldly following Jesus!” Bring an offering (something warm, something yummy, a contribution to the host organization). Share your best Christmas blessing. Thank those who are doing the holy work of welcoming on the night we tell the story of our traveling God-with-us, laid in a manger because there was no room …
Awe and wonder await as we add some holy recalculating and bold Jesus following to our cozy Christmas customs.
May God-light guide your detours. May those you meet hear angel songs in your tender words. May you meet Christ somewhere along your Christmas roadsides.
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - December 15, 2016, 9:27 am
The beginning HOPEBy Brigit Stevens - December 9, 2016, 12:38 pm
Advent means beginning. The first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of our church calendar each year. It marks the beginning of God’s new way of being in our world in the infant Christ. I love that Advent, the beginning, is a season of preparation. The beginning is not the day of Jesus’ arrival. The beginning is all the planning, praying, worrying, and wondering leading up to that arrival. For me, this is where the hope lives. I love the beginning of projects, when the plans are drawn and materials are collected together. I love the great ideas that are just barely real enough to be explained and described, but not yet tangible enough to touch and hold. They haven’t tarnished from exposure yet. Realities of limits to resources and laws of physics haven’t been given reign. Pure unbridled hope and awe live in the possibilities and the plans, in the beginning.
Our human stories have beginnings, middles and ends. We typically order our lived experience in linear ways, moving in one direction through time. But God’s time is eternal, without the same limits as our time. In God’s time, the beginnings are also mixed in with the middles and the ends.
Here we are again, in the beginning, in the season of Advent. Regardless of where we are in our own stories, we are invited into God’s story. We are invited to revel in the beginning, where the hope lives.
God reminds us, that in the beginning, God created, and saw that it was good.
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By Brigit Stevens - December 9, 2016, 12:38 pm