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Flipping the Script on the Narrative of Scarcity

By Aidan Spencer - November 29, 2019, 1:34 pm

I opened my first business when I was ten or eleven years old. I was a lawn mower extraordinaire with an eye for straight lines and clean patterns. And, I was rolling in the money. Maintaining lawns, I soon discovered, was quite a lucrative venture. And so I saved and saved and saved, hardly spending a dime…

Until I discovered beanie babies. As any child of the 90s can tell you, they were all the rage. They first made their appearance on the scene in 1993, with 9 original designs. Within a year or two they were THE trending toy, with children and adults alike collecting these cute $5 sack of beans. Folks seriously could not get enough of these.

Ty, the company making beanie babies, had a brilliant marketing strategy for a while: scarcity. Keep the supply low, keep people unable to get their hands on them, and the demand goes through the roof. My friend, Jenny, and I had this whole beanie baby collecting thing down to a science. On weekends and every day during the summer, we called each and every store that carried them to see if they had received any in and if so what time they’d put them on the shelves. We weren’t the only ones doing this. Stores got so sick of fielding such inquiries that many began screening their calls with beanie baby status reports on their recordings.

If a store had the beanies, we’d begin stage 2: beg the parents for a ride. The lines usually took hours, so our parents would usually drop us off and we’d call home after we were done. I remember vividly the adrenaline rush of racing into stores and this sense of utter gratification every time I forked over the cash at the register holding some hard to get, scarcely found beanie baby. But the moment of satisfaction was fleeting and soon a desire for more returned, and the cycle of calling stores, standing in lines, fighting with the crowds, and spending way too much money on sacks of beans began again.

As Ty knew well, the reality is, it doesn’t take much to get people to buy into a scarcity mentality. Humans seem to be wired by fear to see our lives through the lens of “not enough” and “what if” rather than a lens of “there’s enough” and “all is well.” We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about having enough money, enough time, enough energy; enough brains, power, or beauty. Students worry about having grades that are high enough, test scores that are good enough, or standing out enough or blending in enough. Adults worry about if they have saved enough, done well enough, taken care of their loved ones enough. The power of scarcity is that it breeds fear exponentially. Our fear that we will not ever have enough soon leads to a fear that we will never be enough, and soon we easily confuse our priorities, equate happiness with acquiring, emotionally wall ourselves off, hoard our resources, become unable to see that humans are inextricably connected to one another, and seek contentment through all the wrong means. In short, our preoccupation and fears of scarcity when they are unjustified, threaten our own well-being and the well-being of others.

I find myself thinking about what this all means as I clean out the large bin of beanie babies still housed at my parents (a delightful thing to do on holiday break). I think that one of the most powerful antidotes to scarcity mentality is recognizing where there is abundance. Recognizing abundance isn’t just a frame of mind or talking ourselves into it. Recognizing abundance requires spiritual discipline. Martin Luther and John Wesley are (wrongly) attributed with the infamous theological reflection on how to cultivate this sort of spiritual discipline: fake it till you make it. Their work has much more nuance to it, in truth, but they do offer advice from experience that you have to practice gratefulness and being thankful before you actually are grateful and thankful.

So the invitation is this: as Thanksgiving rolls around again and you begin the days that follow, work at recognizing abundance and practicing gratitude. Make a list of what’s abundant in your life or invite folks around the dinner table to name something they are grateful for, too. When you’re pondering those Black Friday ads or making the endless shopping lists or feeling more frenetic than ever, pause. Breathe. Ask yourself, “What am I really seeking?  What am I already grateful for?” When you do this, you’ll flip the script on the narrative of scarcity, and y’all, when you can flip that script that says you aren’t enough or you don’t have enough, you’ll find a peace that passes understanding.

Rev Ellis Arnold portraitRev. Ellis Arnold

Associate Conference Minister

By Aidan Spencer - November 29, 2019, 1:34 pm


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    Slow Down and Savor the Moment

    By Aidan Spencer - October 24, 2019, 3:00 pm

    As I write this article for our e-news publication I am on my first vacation since starting in this role as Associate Conference Minister. That means it has been 9 months without intentional pause. That also means that I am still doing work on vacation (insert chuckles of understanding here). I assume that the response to reading those last two statements will bring up a variety of emotions depending on my readers’ ability to set boundaries and allow for self-care; however I need to put it in writing…for myself. 

    Internal mirrors are difficult and yet facing the areas in which we struggle are important accountability mechanisms.

    It is easy for me to get caught up in a fast paced world. In the worlds or paces of other people and churches. I am definitely overworked and overextended. AND I am working hard to bring that back into alignment. To find quiet moments where I can focus on my breath. Time where I can settle in and offer space for my mind to ease itself into clarity of thought. Space for my body to relax.

    There are a whole slew of reasons for pastors (and others) to be attentive to their own self-care, not limited to: amplified impulsivity, secondary trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout.  Even if we can do a “good” job without caring for our own wellbeing, it is better if we are able to be kind and caring to ourselves in order to offer a more holistic approach to those whom we serve.

    In the week ahead I will be focusing on the words of 13th century Persian poet Rumi, ‘I have come to drag you out of yourself and take you into my heart. I have come to bring out the beauty, you never knew you had and lift you like a prayer into the sky.’

    Some other ways we might value ourselves throughout this pastor appreciation month are:

    • Make space for creative practice. Whether it’s writing, painting, playing music.
    • Turn your notifications off while you are supposed to be away from the office. You don’t need to respond to everything, or anything, right away. Make yourself less available.
    • Download a meditation app. Then listen to it.
    • Take your time making a tea or a coffee. Then take your time drinking it.
    • Spend some time in nature. Get outside whether it’s with your cup of coffee or a group of friends. Just be outside.

    As you design your month of October, appreciate you (it is pastor appreciation month after all) and try to allow yourself to slow down and savor what is right in front of you in the moment.

    I would love to hear your ideas on how you all care for yourself…

    Rev. Samantha Houser

    Associate Conference Minister

    By Aidan Spencer - October 24, 2019, 3:00 pm


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      Dis-empowering Loss with Gratitude

      By Aidan Spencer - September 27, 2019, 1:45 pm

      “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” -Job 1:21

      Over the past month I have visited both churches where I was commissioned and released from my role as pastor and teacher in the Pacific Northwest in March to join you all in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. One community is a 125 year old predominantly white congregation who called me as their first queer, African-American pastor; and the second a new church start birthed 12 years ago to be a safe place for folks of color, who were also LGBT that had been displaced from various congregations because of who they were. Somehow these two very different and diverse congregations shared a pastor, similar sermons, occasional joint worship and missional outreach to the community. When I was preparing to transition these were the questions of my heart: Why would God call me to leave these jewels in the Church? Why would God lead me to leave such a model of who we could be as the UCC? What could possibly remedy or feel the void from such loss?

      After some prayer and discernment at that time, I realized my framing was all wrong. I wasn’t losing. I wasn’t losing the work of the past 12 years or my church families. The more I curated my experience in loss the more sad and despondent my departure became. The Spirit reminded me that I could choose to use a lens of gratitude. I was immediately uplifted with the amazing memories I had serving these congregations. The first drag show, the first baptisms, the first time we used online giving, the first communion at pride event. 

      My life was so filled with gratitude that I realized that loss was simply a distraction, blocking me from the abundance I had been privileged by the divine to experience. This abundance would follow me for the rest of my ministry in the church. 

      These wandering six months ago have proven to be true as I have ministered in the Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota Conferences and as I have seen the move of God through her Spirit,  I know i have not lost but gained abundantly.

      What have you framed as loss that you could choose to see as a blessing of abundance?

      Holy One, help me to see how blessed I am, in the midst of transition and change. Help me to see that when one moment in our journey changes we will always carry the life and mission with us forever. Amen

      Rev. Darrell Goodwin

      Associate Conference Minister

      By Aidan Spencer - September 27, 2019, 1:45 pm


      • Denise Johnson Pastor First Congregational Church, Grant, NE says:

        Darrell, I love this perspective! Focusing on the abundance and not the loss is what I plan to use for my mother’s funeral message any day soon. While my heart will ache for her passing and the fact that she will no longer be here with me physically, my heart is also full of her love and memories of an amazing woman. She defined “abundant joy” for me and I want to remember her blessings.
        We are abundantly blessed in the Tri Conference that you chose to come to the center of the US to share your abundance with us!

        • Barb Johnson says:

          Such a blessing to others, Denise, as you share your thoughts on your mother’s passing. I will be holding you in thoughts and prayer as you make the final journey with your loved one.

      • Barb Johnson says:

        And we are blessed to have you with us in Nebraska Conference, Darrell.

      • Jackie Perry says:

        Thanks for your reflection, Darrell, and the question to ponder. Your reflection also helps us learn more about you and your passion for God’s church.

      • Emily Munger says:

        I love this- and the spirit you bring to us and illuminate with who you are! Thanks for helping me cultivate a spirit of gratitude today.

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      Beautiful, Diverse, Complicatedly Holy

      By Nicole Havelka - July 15, 2019, 3:33 pm

      A Reflection on General Synod 32

      I stood at the back of the convention hall with a cup of coffee in hand. I watched people strolling in, chatting among themselves, then suddenly growing silent as they heard the music in the air. A jazz ensemble is leading worship with contagious joy. Nearby an organist sits tall and ready to play when the time comes. I know that when the organist taps the keys, I will feel the strain of a little liturgical whiplash. But the echoing transition between jazz ensemble and organ remind me what I know already is true: the United Church of Christ is incredibly diverse. Across our denomination our worship styles differ greatly as do our theologies, beliefs, and practices; our backgrounds, cultures, and geographies; our ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations; our life experiences, bodies’ abilities, and embodiments. When we, the United Church of Christ, are gathered, we are collectively the beautiful, diverse, complicatedly holy Body of Christ.  

      After several days at the UCC’s recent biennial gathering — General Synod 32 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in late June — I looked around at the thousands of people who had gathered and wondered what is it that actually brought us here?  Some would say it was the desire to worship together. For others the chance to see friends. For some it was the workshops. For others it was the hope to work on meaningful resolutions that would either help focus the direction of the denomination or offer a public statement of witness to the world. Whatever it was that brought us all to this place, what we have done collectively is BE church in its fullness, messiness, and beauty.  What unites us in this room is a love of the United Church of Christ and an abiding hope its future. What brings us together biennium after biennium to gather as a General Synod is to discern where God is calling us next and to discern how to be light, love, and hope in this world.  

      That is what we did. Among the actions of General Synod: we declared support for the Green New Deal and affirmed the intersectionality of climate justice with all justice issues. We directed the UCC to bring bylaws revisions that include non-binary gender language. We passed a resolution for a working group to explore how local churches, conferences and the national church can better live into their covenantal relationship. We committed support for survivors of rape and sexual violence and asked for ongoing church-wide observance of Break the Silence Sunday.  

      Other resolutions were passed as well, each important in their own right. Some other resolutions were tabled. Some were not recommended by their committees. Others were defeated. Through it all, fallible and human as we are, we engaged in learning and dialogue, listening and reflecting, wondering and discerning, and ultimately, found words to articulate what we see as our way forward. This is Church.

      It is true that the General Synod’s statements and decisions do not dictate what other settings of the church have to do, but it is even more true that we are a covenantal denomination. This means that each setting of the church — whether a local church, association, conference, covenantal partner, or national setting — is expected to lean in, listen with holy openness, and discern how they are called to live into these decisions in their own communities of faith.  

      Friends and siblings in this wonderful United Church of Christ, the work of General Synod was hard but it was good. There were painful moments and also moments of hope and grace. I invite you to look at the resolutions, to reflect on them, to wonder how they speak to your own church, and to engage them in ways that will spark life-giving, Spirit-inspired energy for ministry. Read more about resources that are available to you as you begin to learn about, and perhaps wrestle with, resolutions coming from General Synod 32. I look forward to partnering in this work with you.

       

      Rev Ellis Arnold portraitRev. Ellis Arnold

      Associate Conference Minister

      By Nicole Havelka - July 15, 2019, 3:33 pm


      • Nancy Jensen says:

        Thank you, Ellis, for this beautiful envisioning of what you experienced! In this time of ugly strife that we are living in, it brings a glimmer of never-ending hope.

      • Karen Peters says:

        Very good article, Ellis.

      • Sandra Rehder says:

        Very good article Rev Ellis. I believe in all UCC beliefs and projects! My heart is very diverse and I hope it shows in the way I live! There may be trying days but always have my church family!

      • Heidi Hulme says:

        Thank you for this. It was hard and holy work. It was an honor to view my first Genera Synod through the eyes of our youth. It offered hope, passion, grace, and love that I wouldn’t have experienced if I went without them. Thank you for your perspective.

      • Rev Steven R Mitchell says:

        Ellis, thank you for this article. I will be including it in our Sunday bulletin this coming Sunday as it can easily relate to this weeks lectionary Gospel reading of balance work and listening (in part.)

      • Linda K Cron says:

        Thank you for your clarity, compassion, and perceptions. The UCC is home to me. You described it so well.

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      We Are All Artists

      By Samantha Houser - June 4, 2019, 2:04 pm
      Artist painting on wood block

      I am an artist. It has been a hard thing to claim because it isn’t my profession, but it is one of my callings in this life. To create.

      In fact, I believe that we are all artists in some capacity. Creating with various mediums the feelings that we have, the change we want to see around us, the beliefs that we cling to, the doubts and fears that we tuck away until no one is around, the curiosities that we whisper into our safe spaces.

      In the origin story of our Sacred text, we are given the narrative that the Original Artist chose to work with many different mediums in order to create as well. It was in the beginning, in the separating of dark from light that God invented negative relief. It was in the extracting of the waters from the dry earth that God created the ability for the earth itself to shift and move and dance. It was in the up bringing of trees and foliage and all things from the ground that bursts of color beyond light were played with in a cascade of prismatic beauty.

      It was in the creation of the birds of the sky and the whales and sea monsters of the deep that music was brought to life. It was in creating humans that words were formed and prose and poems came into being. All of this as a way to continue, to expand the creativity that is ingrained in all of us, in all of creation.

      In this season of ministry together, I hope that we can take time to unpack these truths. To allow them to give each of us the ability to create and to express ourselves in exciting ways as we worship and discern what it is that God has in store for us in the Tri-Conference Ministries.

      Rev. Samantha Houser

      Associate Conference Minister

      By Samantha Houser - June 4, 2019, 2:04 pm


      • Carrie Hansen says:

        Thank you for this Sam. What a beautiful and gentle nudge for all of us to not let our creativity get lost. To allow it to come through in whatever way it needs to and to appreciate the special and unique way that we all can join in the joy of creating together.

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