From the Pastor’s Desk, 5/2/22

Exile is the experience of powerlessness, in extremis. Everything is determined by another. We are removed from where we want to be and whom we want to be with. We are isolated from place and persons. We are victims. The worst punishment possible in ancient Israel was banishment. To be separated from family and country, from community worship and family faith—that was the cruelest decree. The severest judgment that the nation experienced was exile to Babylonia. A person created for personal relationships of love cannot live adequately without them. Exile dehumanizes. It sentences us to death by bread alone. “On the island called Patmos” Rome showed St. John who was in charge. Every lonely hour on the barren rock was proof that Rome determined St. John’s destiny, that Rome’s word was the final word on his life, that Rome’s decree set the limits within which he was permitted to exist. St. John was alone, powerless, and bereft. –from Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, Eugene H. Peterson (Harper Collins, 1988) pages 88-89

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From the Pastor’s Desk, 4/18/22

After my mother’s death, my sisters and I (and spouses) sifted through mom’s possessions, which included some of Dad’s things, too. One item of interest in particular we found was a clothes hamper stuffed full of scraps of material. The material was useless in our eyes but, we assume, valuable to Mom. Why? Well, Mom loved to sew and, we speculate, she may have used the scrap material to piece together a quilt top had she retained her ability to do so sans dementia.

Scraps of material are useless unless or until fused together to produce a beautiful piece of quilted artwork. Fragments then become a masterpiece, a thing of beauty.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, 4/11/22

I’ve been thinking lately about the ways in which our worship services are developed and presented. A beauty of this process is that it involves a number of people to make it happen, and some of these folks are not known to us personally while others are quite well known. For instance, we have been utilizing the SHINE curriculum produced by Brethren Press and other associated communions as a guide for developing worship services. The writers of and contributors to this material are generally not known to us personally. Occasionally, we may know some of those who help to publish the material. But the number of people involved in bringing the material from ideas to the printed page to making it available for us are numerous, and mostly unfamiliar to us.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, 3/21/22

From the Pastor’s desk—

   The following quote by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave me reason to pause and reflect: “People resist change, and can become angry and hostile when faced with the need for it.”

   I’m aware that proposed and/or implemented changes can arouse anger. Having read various books and articles on the subject of change, anger often stems from loss in the midst of change. Change means something different may or will happen which in turn has the potential to eliminate a comfortable feeling or practice of the past. This loss may be necessary for a system or organization to not only survive but also to thrive. However, loss is usually not wanted and can move into anger.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, 3/14/22

From the Pastor’s desk—

I enjoy watching YouTube videos about woodworking. It’s a great way to learn about tips and tricks of the trade.

A recent video I watched offered a few tips to beginners. The tip I found really profound is this (paraphrased): Strive for improvement, not perfection. The presenter of the video shared that striving for perfection nearly cost him the opportunity to continue in the woodworking enterprise. He claimed that his personality is such that he wants to do everything as perfectly as possible. And in woodworking, perfection is not always, perhaps never, achievable. He had to move past this personality trait to grasp a new reality of continually improving.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, 1/10/22

    When attending Annual Conference (pre-pandemic), Tammy participates in the blood drive, if possible. Frequently, a tee-shirt is given away as a gift for participating, and Tammy usually gets a size that fits me. So, I am the beneficiary of her benevolence. Those who receive her blood are too.

   The tee-shirts, of course, are imprinted with advertising for the local blood-drive organization and include a catchy phrase to alert others about the benefit of giving blood. One particular tee-shirt received has imprinted on the front in big bold letters, OUT FOR BLOOD, with the word “blood” in red. On the back, in small print, inconspicuously, is the name of the blood drive organization.

   I went to the post office one day wearing this tee-shirt. As I stood at the counter being waited on by the usually friendly employee, I noticed her demeanor being somewhat different than usual. I think I caught her momentarily glance at my tee-shirt. That is when her usual outgoing personality changed. She didn’t smile much and spoke only to ask a question or state her usual pitch about the survey at the bottom of the receipt. Otherwise, she was reserved and seemingly disturbed.

   Thinking about how unusual the encounter at the counter was, it dawned on me that maybe the message emblazoned in my tee-shirt was the problem. Without proper context, OUT FOR BLOOD can have weird connotations. Did the post office employee think I was some kind of enraged goof ball waiting  to pick a fight if someone looked at me cross-eyed or said something I didn’t like? Was she concerned that I would go off on some crazy tangent if she inadvertently did something to cross me? Maybe she was simply having a rotten day and I’m blowing out of proportion the whole scenario, but, I have never worn that tee-shirt publicly since.

   Words matter, even those displayed on a tee-shirt. If the words we choose are heard or observed out of context, then the good meaning we intended may have consequential outcomes. It is important to choose wisely.

   Abraham Lincoln was a prolific letter writer. A number of the letters he wrote were never sent. Lincoln let the letters simmer in a desk drawer, and after giving careful thought about their content, he ultimately realized it would be best if the recipients did not receive his remarks.

   Recently, Tammy and I were engaged in a conversation in which I could have responded very quickly to one of her comments, which reviewing in hindsight, would have escalated the conversation to an argumentative pitch. I walked away for a few moments and gathered my wits to respond more calmly and with a greater degree of diplomacy. The conversation developed much more amicably at that point. I’d love to tell you that this is always my response but, quite frankly, I all too often reply quickly and curtly with some of the aforementioned consequential outcomes. Thankfully, once in my life, I thought before I spoke.

   Words matter. When and how we say or display them matters. To think before speaking or wearing a tee-shirt, matters.

Recap: Worship, Jan. 9, 2022                                  

   The scripture text around which the worship service centered was 2 Samuel 12:1-15, the story of the prophet Nathan confronting King David about his unacceptable actions involving Uriah and Bathsheba.  

The service emphasized the importance of caring for those who are vulnerable and elevating their dignity. Those in powerful positions have a tendency to think of their own well-being at the expense of those unable to exert power. Nathan’s efforts are a reminder that the powerful need to understand the consequences of their actions for the good of all.

   Songs and videos used in the service may be accessed using the following links:

Prelude in C Major (Bach) – J.S. Bach – Prelude in C Major – YouTube (Intended to use this in the service but inadvertently skipped past it.)

Lord, Speak to Me – Lord Speak to Me, That I May Speak – OUMC Choir – YouTube

Disney Princess Advice – The Wisest Disney Princess Advice! | Disney Princess – YouTube

Beauty for Brokenness – Beauty for Brokenness (God of the Poor) – YouTube

Worship Services January 2022

   The Leadership Team recently engaged in conversation regarding continuing to meet in-person for Sunday worship services in view of heightened pandemic concerns. Consensus reached was to continue in-person services noting the importance of following helpful pandemic protocols such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, sanitizing, and washing hands. Also, if you are not feeling well or have been in contact with anyone with COVID, please refrain from attending in-person, and if you have the capability, connect via Zoom. We are continuing to provide the Zoom option with all in-person worship gatherings. The Zoom link is included here (also above in the opening article) for January through March services. If in-person services need to be canceled due to inclement winter weather or state mandated pandemic protocols, information about such changes will share using the prayer chain and other means as needed.

   January through February worship services will follow themes from the SHINE curriculum. SHINE curriculum is produced by Brethren Press. Biblical stories encountered during worship include Nathan confronting David, Esther saving her people, proclaiming jubilee, a son returns home, Zacchaues making amends, and more. We will spend two Sunday’s on each theme.

Topic: Worship Services January – March 2022

Time: Jan. through Mar. 2022 each Sunday 09:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

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Meeting ID: 816 8283 3350

Passcode: 006979

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From the Pastor’s Desk, 10/18/21

From the Pastor’s desk—

   Books come into my library and life in a variety of ways, one of which is as a gift from someone culling their personal library. I’m presently reading “The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages” written by Joan Chittister, O.S.B., a gift from the library of another that I have added to my collection. The writing is divided into daily readings in which Chittister shares a small portion of “The Rule of Benedict” upon which she then writes a brief commentary. Following are a couple of excerpts that I’ve found helpful and enlightening.

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From the Pastor’s Desk – “Big Things in Small Packages” (7/12/21)

BIG THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES

   Some significant gifts come in small packages. A diamond ring is encased in an exceedingly small box. Two $100 bills are enclosed in a congratulatory card. A $500 gift card is found in a tiny envelope. A concise, informative, erudite concept emerges from a 52-page book. It is the latter that captured my attention this week.

   Vernard Eller, a past-professor of religion at the University of LaVerne in California and author of over twenty books, has become one of my favorite authors of things related to religion and the church. Eller thinks outside the box and adds imaginative perspective. Even though his writings are several decades old, they remain relevant to the present age, in my humble view.

   The book alluded to in the opening paragraph of this article, written by Eller, is entitled Proclaim Good Tidings: Evangelism for the Faith Community. The e-word, evangelism, frequently elicits anxiety and fear primarily because it is associated with telling (speaking) the good news of Jesus Christ in a manner that will entice people to come along, to join the company of Jesus followers. Moreover, evangelism invokes images, maybe nightmares, of well-defined programming wherein “evangelists” are trained with tools to convert non-believers to the way of Jesus, to Christianity. Anxiety and fear kicks in when those of a more timid nature are concerned about speaking to strangers. What if difficult questions are asked or the good news is rejected? OH MY! Those more outgoing have less trepidation about visiting with others, but…OH MY!…there isn’t enough time to squeeze in a training program!

   Eller, consequently, eases these evangelism burdens. Instead of boxing evangelism into a programmatic monster to be tamed, he develops a portrait of evangelism as a community effort of radiating the essence of the Jesus way. In other words, the body of Christ, the church, or the community of Jesus followers, simply needs to let their manner of living serve as their witness. This manner of living “speaks” volumes, not always in words, but unquestionably with actions. Eller calls this “evangelism through body language.”

   A paragraph from Eller’s 52-page gem provides a nice summary of his thesis. He writes: “The calling of the church is that it function (sic) as ‘the body of Christ.’ Thus, within the body, the members are to operate, not for their own enjoyment or enhancement, but to the end that the body as a whole is built up. When the group is functioning so, its body language is such that a chance observer can read it and be moved to fall down and worship, crying, ‘God is certainly among you!’ And what is going on here is nothing more nor less than evangelism.”

   Eller also helps us to understand that evangelism is not a one-person enterprise. Sharing the good news of Jesus and the Jesus way is most effective when it is done together, in partnership, as the whole. It isn’t a programmatic enterprise, either. It is, at the most basic level, a way of being, acting, and living, revealing evidence of the Spirit of God moving within and acting upon our individual and collective lives.

   So, if the e-word puts you into a state of panic, take heart. Simply be who you are shaped and informed to be in the Jesus way, joining with the company and gifts of others. The rest, in a manner of speaking, will take care of itself.