Have things changed?

On Monday, January 19, Ruby (my wife) and I went to see the movie “Selma.”


I knew I would be moved, and I was.  Though I was just 13 years old in the spring of 1965 (and raised in a church, family and community where matters of race were never addressed), even then I instinctively knew something important was happening.


Now 50 years later the question is fairly asked – how have things changed?


There is no “right” answer to that question.  Obviously many things have changed, but acknowledging and celebrating the progress that has been made cannot be allowed to obscure the reality that much work remains to be done.  Yes, the law makes clear that segregation is not permitted and that all citizens have the right to vote, but law and the human heart do not always coordinate.  As an example of continuing racial disparity, the stunningly high incarceration rates of young, black males should move all concerned citizens to deeply probing questions.  The law may be colorblind (perhaps), but people are not the law, and clearly there remains much work to be done before America can honestly declare itself a “colorblind” nation.


I would invite you and your church to read and discuss a recent pastoral letter from the officers of the United Church of Christ.  It is a thoughtful and important statement of current reality and the work remaining to be done.  Each of us must ask ourselves, “What is my part in the work that remains to be done?”


You can access the letter by following this link.




richreading 20130502Sometime on the afternoon of February 13, I will set up an “out of office” message to be sent in response to all email that comes to me after that date.  It will state that I am on sabbatical through mid-May, and give directions on how to obtain wider church assistance in my absence.  Then I will walk out of the office and begin three months away from this work.


Walt Brueggemann recently authored a little book about Sabbath, which he subtitled, “Saying No to the Culture of Now.”  I intend to spend three months learning to say “No” to the culture of “now.”


Sabbatical, of course, is modeled after the biblical concept of Sabbath.  It’s a countercultural discipline in which the practitioner acknowledges that as compelling and necessary as work can be, it is not and cannot be the measure of human worth.  Our worth as human beings finds its foundation in our reflection of the Creator, not in our day-to-day production.


Therefore, God encourages…insists!…that humans stop buy brand levitra work on a weekly basis and listen for truth that we might otherwise never hear.


A handful of individuals are so privileged as to be granted “sabbatical” from work on a more extended basis, and I am one of those fortunate few.  It is, to be honest, a remarkable privilege.  I’m well aware that most human workers will never experience the gift of extended time for the express purposes of renewal and rest and spiritual exploration.  Thank you for this gift!


“Sabbatical” has no formal definition, of course.  In the academic world it is often constructed to allow research and writing that is otherwise impractically pursued in the day to day responsibilities of instruction.  But for clergy it is possible for sabbatical to be something other than “work in a different form.”  It is precisely such a different model that I will pursue.


My program is simple.  I will read (mostly novels) and think and go on long walks.  I will spend time with family.  I will spend time at a monastery.  As the weather warms, I will try to correct the consequences of neglect that are becoming evident in my landscape gardens.


And what about the work that remains here in the conference office and among our churches and authorized ministers?  That work will go on.  Our staff may be small, but it is highly competent.  If a need arises that might otherwise be directed to me, please call the conference office (515-277-6369) or send an email to my assistant (Jo Ordway, jo@ucciaconf.org) and you will be directed to someone who can help.  If general needs arise in the Southeastern Association, please contact ACM Jonna Jensen and please address situations in the Southwestern Association to ACM Brigit Stevens.


Rev. Becky David, a UCC pastor from the Quad Cities will serve as Acting Conference Minister in my absence, but she will be very part-time and her work will focus more on the staff than on the other aspects of my work.  Nonetheless, you should also feel free to contact her for assistance (becky@ucciaconf.org).


I do not always perceive my work as one offering joy and pleasure, but it is nonetheless and indisputably one of privilege, and I do not lose sight of that fact.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of serving you and our churches.  Thank you for the gift of this time away.


I’ll turn off the email auto-response when I return to the office on Tuesday, May 19.  Blessings to each of you until then.


With gratefulness!


Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
United Church of Christ in Iowa

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