Monday, December 27, 2010

My prayer for you in the New Year

(this was shared with the Trinity UMC congregation in the most recent edition of our newsletter - I tend to think it speaks to each of us as we grow in faith...Happy New Year!)

Last New Year’s Eve I, like so many others, made a resolution to lose weight.  I did not have a particular goal in mind; I just knew I needed to lose weight.  Actually, I wanted to lose weight.  And that is what made all the difference.

By making a few subtle adjustments to my diet and increased exercise, walking more and tai chi a few times a week, I have lost 28 pounds.  It’s not an earth shattering amount, but it has made a huge difference in how I feel.  Because I have integrated these healthier practices into my daily life I anticipate losing more weight in the next year as well.

We all know that to have a deeper relationship with God we need to do certain things; participate in worship, read scripture, pray, Bible study, service to others, etc.  But, like most things, until we want to engage in a new way of being, or until we see the benefits of investing our time and energy in doing so, it’s hard and often lonely work and quite frankly, it’s easy to just give up. 

Our faith journey is not supposed to be done in secret or alone.  That’s the beauty of being part of a faith community and it’s the genius of the Wesleyan/United Methodist tradition.  I fear this is something we tend over look and in the end why so many of us start with good intentions, but give up after a few days or weeks.
 
As we head into a new year I would like to invite those who are ready to integrate new spiritual practices in their day to day living to know that you are not alone.   One of the best parts of my vocation is walking alongside people, providing encouragement and resources for one’s faith journey.  Please contact me by phone or email so that we may set up a time to talk and pray together about how God is inviting you to take the next step in your faith life.

Walking together in our spiritual lives makes for a much richer experience; as one of my favorite scripture passages says;
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.”  (Jeremiah 29:11-14.  NIV)
Each of us has something that is holding our hearts and minds captive or apart from a deeper relationship with God.  But God’s love and grace knocks down those barriers, and this is Good News for us all as we begin a new year!

It is my prayer that we each grow closer to our amazing, loving Triune God in 2011.  As we journey together I also pray that we will in turn share the hope, joy and peace that comes along with being a follower of Jesus Christ with everyone we interact with in our day to day lives.  This will look different for each of us because we are each beloved and unique children of God.  (I love how creative God is by the way!)

May you and yours have a very blessed Christmas and a New Year that overflows with the Abundance of God’s Love and Grace!

In Christ, together,
Deborah

Friday, December 24, 2010

God bless us, every one!

In the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, its Tiny Tim who proclaims, "God bless us, every one!".  Despite his physical infirmities, the limits of what his family could provide on the table, let alone under the tree, Tim kept the main thing, the main thing.

Emmanuel, God with us, blesses us each and every moment of our life.  It's on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we are gathered with our family and friends that we should not be ashamed to witness to this truth with joy and thanksgiving!

God bless us, every one, indeed!  And friends and family -  because I love you - it is my prayer that you know deep down in your heart that God loves you so very much...God thinks you hung the moon - you are his beloved, precious child!  It's what this fuss is all about at Christmas - God's love entering into our world in the form of a tiny little baby...to live our lives, to die our death, to be raised up and reign as our Lord and Savior and bridge the gap between the brokenness of humanity and the glory of God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  What a wonderful way for God to show his love for his good creation!

Now go, share this amazing gift of love with someone else...especially the least and the lost like our friend, Tiny Tim.  As we have been blessed, so too we are invited to be a blessing to others.

Love, peace, hope and joy at Christmas and throughout the year!
Deborah

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blue Christmas

Wasn't it Elvis who sang "I'll have a blue Christmas without you...I'll be so blue just thinking about you"?

Indeed what is supposed to be the "hap-happiest time of the year" (an Andy Williams classic btw) is, for many, just plain depressing.  Is it for you?

the Coble women at my college graduation - August '84
(3 years before mom died)
I remember the first time my church gave me a tangible way to express the grief that I had held on to for 13 years after the death of my mother.  A simple, but meaningful, healing worship service was a turning point for me.  While I still miss her, I am able to remember her with fondness as we dig out her recipes, unpack old ornaments and tell stories of my childhood to my children.

I am sure that I am not alone.

On Monday, December 20th, Trinity United Methodist Church in Waverly will have a Blue Christmas service of prayer and healing, at 7pm in Pinney Chapel.  This quiet meditative worship service will make time for remembering, sharing our hurting places with God and allow us to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

If you are in the Waverly area I invite you to join us.  If you are unable to travel this far I encourage you to seek out ways to remember your loved ones within your faith community.  We also covet your prayers for those who will share in this special service in Waverly and around the world.

Ours is a broken and hurting world, but we are assured time and time again that we are not alone - and when we gather as the Body of Christ we will indeed find peace, hope and love.

in Christ, together
Deborah

Friday, December 3, 2010

anticipation...

If you are on facebook you may notice a few folks posting comments each day during the Advent season that begin with the phrase... "I am waiting for..."  This is the inspiration of a friend, Matthew Johnson, who lives is in the suburbs of Chicago.  This is how Matthew described #waiting2010 in his blog:  http://www.unfilteredwesleyan.com




So, this is what I propose: on Black Friday, we join together and begin daily postings on Facebook and Twitter, emphasizing the holy things for which we are waiting (or it could be e-mail signatures, youtube uploads, etc). They can be prayers for the world, calls to action, personal struggles, laments for friends or neighbors, or whatever you want to see redeemed. Begin the post with something like "I am waiting for" and, if you're using Twitter (or even if you're not), add the hashtag #waiting2010.


Kinda cool huh?  Actually its very cool - when you consider that the season of Advent is all about waiting and anticipation.   And I'm not talking about waiting for Santa...  As people of faith we are waiting for the return of Christ and the reign of the Kingdom of God.  In the meanwhile, as we wait, we are called to live in hopeful anticipation and to be kingdom builders.  


Kingdom building is putting into action the two greatest commandments - Love God and Love one another.  So, during this season of Advent what are some ways we can do this more fully?  Are there families in need?  Widows who would appreciate a visit?  Perhaps we should all spend a bit more time in prayer and reflection during this season of preparation!  Now is a great time to dive into scripture and reflect on how radical it really was for God to come to earth in such a way (start with reading the first two chapters of Luke - perhaps each day between now and Christmas to let this reality dwell within you!).


And throughout your day, if you think of something that you are waiting for - post it on facebook and twitter - be sure to add the comment  #waiting2010.  It is pretty amazing to see how many others are waiting alongside you.


peace, love in Christ
deborah


btw, I am waiting for the day when I can sit down with my brothers and sisters in Christ and talk and talk and talk...and laugh and enjoy a meal and talk some more!  #waiting2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

an advent rant...and it's only week one!

This is a major chunk of my sermon from Sunday, November 28th. It is both a rant and an invitation to really think about what these next 4 weeks are about.  Are we in a mad race to Christmas complete with special sales each week or is this a season to think more deeply about Christ's return in final victory? Perhaps, in a sense, I am trying to convince myself that the Church is still culturally relevant...but some of the signs that I have seen this Autumn have me concerned.

I confess that I also come at things with my past life as a marketing and promotion type fully intact, and I continue to repent for my contribution to the disease that affects us all these days. We are easily swayed by images on TV, radio and yes even the web...we are lulled into indifference at times and called to action at other times and I know the nature of the marketing types who are out there seducing us all...it is about power and principalities - it about making more money and filling the God shaped hole that is intrinsic with our humanity with stuff that is easily broken, temporary and totally unsatisfying.

But as a whole we do not want to take the time to be in relationship with others - in Christian community that makes us reflect on deeper meanings of life, on what God is really asking of us...that is hard work, being a Jesus follower is not all about singing Kum Ba Yah around a campfire...it is all about living in ways that are counter-cultural, loving God and loving neighbor means everyone - not just those who look like you and me.

So, thats my intro - here's where the Holy Spirit led me Sunday morning...(note it is written for the ear, so lots of elipses and dashes to make me pause)

*******************

You have to excuse me, I am feeling more than a wee bit cynical this week… perhaps miffed is more like it. Yes, miffed is a good word

Why you might ask? Well, here we are the first Sunday of Advent with texts that are rich with imagery, images such as these from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5) God’s people going to the Mountain of the word – so that He may teach His ways and we may walk in His path…so that God’s people are compelled to turn their weapons of war into tools for working the land – and make the desert bloom again!  I am all for that...

Or Paul’s language – in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 13:11-14) Where God’s people are encouraged to set aside the darkness that is indeed all around us and to actually clothe ourselves with Christ – we are to be awake – open our eyes to the finishing touches of the salvation work that began when we first believed, and is ongoing as our faith grows and deepens…and we know the signs of people who are growing in faith, our worldliness is to be set aside! We are to live as God’s people – people who love one another and who care for one another – no more quarreling or jealousy, we are to set aside our sinful ways and instead live as Christ Jesus lived…that’s a powerful invitation isn’t it? To live into how God created us to be…don’t we all want to please God with our lives?

And how about the imagery in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 24:36-44). Here’s something we can sink our teeth into…the Lord Jesus returning – in a day or hour that we do not know – but he is coming – and we need to be ready – not out of fear, but out of a joyful anticipation!

Wonderful images all of them…embracing language that until recently had been set aside for the Church and God’s people – language that invites us to live holy and hope filled lives because our hope rests not in this world, not in the things of this world but in the kingdom of God – which truly is here and yet not to completion…

But this year, I have noticed that a thief has come. A thief has come and stolen something very precious. Our language…and it makes me kinda ticked off…

Let me show you what I mean…I first noticed it with this 
Since when do we believe in a cell phone company? Give me a break.

You should know I am a US Cellular client, have been since 2004…and when I went in and transferred my account over to the new plan I didn’t save a dollar…its still ridiculously high…oh, I do get points, which accrue each month, and I can use them to buy ring tones or get discounts on a new phone if I earn enough points over time. puhlease… how did a new cell phone plan give me something to believe in anyway? Oh, and look at this added bonus - they will give me forgiveness! Forgiveness AND protection - really? Frankly, I am offended…but am I offended enough to break my contract, pay $150 per line to switch to a new company? I am still figuring it out.

I had hoped this thief would stop there…then I went to the store a week ago and saw this display –

my future happiness comes out of a bottle of Coca Cola? I mean I like the fizzy burn - I was a Coke drinker for a number of years (have since switched to Diet Pepsi btw)…. But happiness? I can buy happiness for what – a dollar? The bottle is cute and all, but I don’t think it matters one bit in my long term happiness for heavens sake! Good Lord!

I knew we were in for it when I saw this on facebook Friday – a friend posted it and I wanted to frankly barf…

Give Glory – are you kidding me? Are they saying that if, IF I buy a new computer, that game that the boys have been begging for, or the new IPod touch – that I am able to GIVE GLORY ???? Are you kidding me?

It’s the final straw… Glory is off the table – it is sacred language – it refers to God’s glory – the worshipful honor and glory that we give to Him!  What has the world come to?

And as I was chewing on all of this – and trust me – there is much angst involved here...It has come to me, this, our church is not the destination for worship, the people of our country worship at the altar of commerce – their aisles are lined with the newest, greatest thing – their object of desire is not the love of God but the love of stuff…because the only way to find fulfillment is by gathering around oneself more stuff.

Our Gospel passage talks about a thief coming in the night, well friends – we have seen the thief and it is our consumer driven culture. I am all for having the freedom to buy and sell things, but how much is enough?

And then, I had a phone call at 5:09 this morning – I was asked to go to the home of a dying member of our congregation, and as usual, I noticed no suitcases packed, no pile of stuff waiting to go with her. Instead I saw her family and friends surrounding her with stories and tears and even some laughter…and what they wanted wasn’t a delivery of the latest sales items from a department store. They wanted a prayer and assurance that our hope rests in God in whom is all the power and glory forever and ever…

We know…we know, don’t we? Deep down in our hearts as people of faith we know that consumerism is not the Christian way to celebrate the birth of Christ…is it possible for us to opt out of this insanity to turn our hearts and minds to the God of glory this Advent season?

Let’s start by taking back our language, Let's start by living into the imagery that ties us to God… we have already been given instruction in how to do this - with the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is the prayer that Jesus prayed every morning and every evening. This prayer speaks of the commandment to Love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and how we are to live into the Word of God...and the importance of teaching this to our children.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Take a look around you - even here in our sanctuary we are surrounded by a picture language that over time we have grown so accustomed to we don’t see it any more…but let’s take a moment to relearn what these symbols mean so that when we see them out in the world we are reminded of our three in one God! And then, let's recapture and share these images from todays texts and these word memories all around us with our children...so that they have meaning, so that this - has meaning... so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the return of Christ, the true meaning of this season of Advent.

one of the 10 stained glass windows
Trinity UMC, Waverly
********

I then walked around the sanctuary and talked about all of our stained glass windows, the images up front in the chancel area, the cross, the candles, etc... after worship several members of the church mentioned that they had never known what these things meant. Perhaps, just perhaps, this advent season has started off on a different foot...perhaps...

In Christ, together,

deborah

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a blast from the past

video
When I was in high school I ditched my last semester to work at a radio station...it made sense at the time - I had all of the credits I needed, I had gotten into a little bit of trouble about some letter to the editor in the county news paper (thanks to my neighbor)...I was not doing well in Physics (my only 2 semester class), and I wasn't ready to go to college - I needed to stay in high school so that I could be eligible to complete some state 4-H activities.

My parents said I could 'graduate early' if I had a job - and somehow, by the grace of God, the Adamsville, TN radio station (WLIC) hired me.  My on-air name was Debbie Lynn...really creative.  I was the mid-day DJ spinning top 40 records...it was that awkward time between disco and Duran Duran - the biggest hits were from the Dire Straights Brothers in Arms album (yes, album) and I vaguely remember Supertramp and Rickie Lee Jones singing Chuck He's in Love...ugh.

In college I worked at radio stations in Union City, TN (WENK radio), another Top 40 station.  I was on the air Friday nights and I think Saturday nights too...in case of emergencies, I would put on Stairway to Heaven and have 8-9 minutes to take care of things...Terry Hailey is still the General Manager - he would come in at the end of my shift and have me record commercials for the next week.

Senior year UTM 
While in college I worked at the campus radio stations (WUTM), and in my 3rd and 4th years was the AM and then FM station manager.  And my last year in school (I confess - year 5)  I was in charge of campus video productions and worked at WFUL radio in Fulton, KY.  My claim to fame at WFUL was my first big promotion experience as Ag Director - we made and sold an Apple Recipe collection for the fall, oh and I got to do color commentary during the International Banana Festival parade - that was interesting.

After college I moved on to work in TV stations and cable TV networks in the marketing and promotions departments.  From time to time I would do some voice over work - but it had been a while...until this week.

As a way to reach out to folks in the area our church council approved the purchase of radio air time on the local station, KWAY for the next 6 weeks.  I recorded two announcements and will do a new one each week till Christmas.

It was the first time in 8 years since I had done anything like that - sure I write sermons each week, but there isn't a hard and fast time limit or anything.  In radio (and TV) you only have so much time to say what needs to be said.  My poor secretary spent the day yesterday hearing me practice as I timed myself...I am sure she even overheard me muttering about going over - again...

It was fun to go into the booth and be a client - the station manager was great and showed me how technology has progressed - so much easier than back in the old days.

If you're in the area, be sure to listen to KWAY, FM 99.3 - the spots run three times a day, Monday through Friday; in the morning between 6 and 9am, in the middle of the day and in the afternoon.  It is my prayer that these 'thoughts for the day' will invite folks to slow down and prepare their hearts and minds for the season of Advent and Christmas...I know I sure do need to take my own advice and do the same.

video
Have a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving!      

in Christ, together
deborah

Sunday, November 21, 2010

random acts...

I just enjoyed watching the video of the "random act of culture" that was staged at Macy's in Philadelphia in late October.  650 voices belting out Handel's Hallelujah Chorus was thrilling, and it's pretty obvious from the looks on the faces of the shoppers what a treat it was for those who were there that day!

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week and then move into the Advent season - what are some ways that you can bring a bit of Joy to the World?  How are you going to express thanks and look forward with anticipation the return of Christ in final victory - that is what Advent is all about you know...

Maybe its time to do things a little differently - step out in faith and think counter culturally...go ahead, I double dog dare you...and then, would you share your experience with others?  Tell us how you saw God in the midst of your random act of kindness...  It may just inspire others to go and do likewise - and wouldn't that be an awesome way to head into the Advent season?

Praying for God's love to shine through you in the weeks ahead,
deborah

(I am thankful to Karol for sharing the link - tho we have not met I am blessed by our fb friendship!)

click this link if you want to see the video (tissues may be needed - yes, its that good)
Opera Company of Philadelphia - Hallalujah Chorus

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the good stuff

This evening was Justin's first band concert in the new school district.  It was a packed house of proud families celebrating the achievements of their children - something that is happening all over the country about this time of year.

Interesting how in the midst of all of the evening's activities conversations popped up totally unrelated to the actual concert...I touched base with the mom of a 5th grader who is going to play special music for one of our Christmas services; spoke with the elementary school principal, who also happens to be a member of the choir; and did the across the room smile, nod and wave with other members of the church.

Once the music began we were, of course, all focused on our children...and aside from the stray note that ended the 2nd to the last song in the 6th grade set, everything went off without a hitch.  According to Justin that note caused all sorts of excitement after the concert as the french horn, clarinet and saxophone sections all blamed the other for the errant note...of course WE know who it was (Justin swears it was the boy who sat next to him...and I believe him on this one -he didn't look mortified after it happened).  Gotta love band drama - whodda thunk it began in 6th grade!

When we moved to Savannah, Tn,  halfway through my Sophomore year, I joined the band.  My favorite band activity was the Christmas parade circuit.  I have fond memories of riding in the back of the band bus my Junior seated next to my boyfriend (I played flute, he played trumpet).   I wasn't in band my Senior year.  I honestly can't remember why, tho my sister said it had something to do with the band director and shoes.  Who knows?  I was busy with 4-H State council by then and wasn't dating the trumpet player anymore.  I hate to admit it, but I wasn't much of a musician either - didn't/don't have much of an ear, but it was fun from 5th thru 11th grades, I still have my flute and in a pinch I can still play a scale.

As families milled around after the concert a parishioner came over to where I was standing.  We chatted for a bit and then she said, "I have to tell you about a moment I had tonight."  She then told me how she and three other women, all Sweet Adeline's, went to the home of Miss Opal and sang Christmas Carols.  "We sang for 30 minutes," she said.  "But when we sang White Christmas, thats when I about lost it."  Opal is under hospice care, and a faithful member of Trinity UMC.  "She kept asking us to sing another.  It was wonderful."

Tonight I was reminded, yet again, how cool it is to be a pastor.  I get to hear about all of the good stuff in people's lives...I get to celebrate along with others the moments when God's love breaks in...that's how it is with God; precious moments, small victories, loving one another through the good times and the bad times.  God can do big and splashy but the small moments sure are sweet.

God's love is amazing, without end and all around us!  We just have to open our eyes to see the Kingdom of God bursting through. I hope that I get to share the good stuff in this community for years to come.

To God be the Glory!
deborah

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let there be Peace on Earth...

Elizabeth and Mark in Iraq, (2004/2005)
My sister and brother are both Lt Colonel's in the Army.  I am very proud of them and supportive of all that they do.  They have both made sacrifices that are unfathomable; physically, psychologically, in their family lives.  They are very talented, focused and they are very good at their jobs.  As I said, I am very proud of them and appreciate all that they have done on my behalf.

Before them our family military service record is pretty sketchy.  A couple of Uncle's during the Vietnam era (none saw combat), a hint of a relative or two on the Lazarus (mom's) side.  There is a story of when Dad's number came up at the draft board during the Korean conflict - and how they decided they needed farmers more than soldiers - so he was deferred.  Dad always said if he had been drafted he would have gone in as a conscientious objector...which I think irks my sister a bit.

I know that when Liz or Mark are deployed my dad has made peace with their decision to be in the military - but he still prays without ceasing and is unsettled while they are out of the country - as we all are when a loved one is in harms way.

When I worked at Turner broadcasting in the early 90's I was the producer of the franchise "Operation TNT".  Veterans and their families submitted hundreds and hundreds of personal stories, photographs and other memorabilia to us which I then used to produce vignettes that aired during our various war movies.  I considered it an honor to be the holder of these stories, and as a result of reading them I have a great appreciation for Veterans and their loved ones and I love hearing and re-telling their stories.

So it seems fitting that I preached my first sermon on the day before Veteran's Day, November 10, 2002.  I was newly minted from the Iowa Lay Speakers Academy, a nearby pastor needed someone to fill her pulpit and knowing that my church (Eldora UMC) had 14 lay speakers to choose from she called my pastor for someone to fill the pulpit in Gladbrook for two Sundays in November.  As my pastor read the names of her Certified Lay Speakers she chose me (for some odd reason) to preach.

I was nervous and excited - and determined to prepare a good sermon.  I can't find a copy of the sermon anywhere, but I do remember calling Liz to ask her for some thoughts about being a veteran.  She said that she wanted me, and all of us, to remember that soldiers wanted one thing - peace.   It may seem counterintuitive to many of us, but she pushed again saying; "what we want and work hard for and train for is ultimately peace -peace for our country, safety for our loved ones, and for the world to be a better place."

Which leads me to my point.  I hate war. I hate what war and going to war does and has done to our young people.  I hate how victims of war seem to be the poor, the weak and the most vulnerable.  I hate that war is a part of our government's policy.  I understand the concept of defending our country from aggression, but the toll that it takes on the human spirit is devastating.

Because I hate the effects of war I have intentionally taken additional training on PTSD, on walking alongside Veterans and military families and I seem to gravitate to those who have served our country.  I genuinely love veterans!  From years of hearing their stories I have no doubt that Veterans experiences in the military, whether at times of peace or war, were the most formative and perhaps even the most invigorating experiences in their lives - because they lived into radical community, team work and service beyond themselves.  That is what military training does.

Radical community, team work and service beyond ourselves is what I too am passionate about - it is my vision for how the church should and can be - if we live into our call to be authentic followers of Christ.  I am not sure that we could get folks to enter into the kind of training the military does, but I get glimmers of this sort of passion through shared mission/service experiences and it warms my heart.

The song, Let There Be Peace on Earth, is challenging me today...

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.


Let peace begin with me let this be the moment now.
Withe very step I take let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment
with peace eternally...
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

What if we were to walk in harmony with those who thought (looked, acted even believed) differently from us?  What if we were to take a solemn vow to live in the moment - loving God and loving others as Christ modeled for us - wouldn't we then have a world built on peace, rather than ruled by the threat of violence?

Look at how we can't even talk about public policy in our own communities without dissolving into name calling and rhetoric - friends - this is NOT what God had in mind for his good creation, and not the kind of Church that Christ handed over to Peter, James and John.

Show me where Jesus said that his followers had to all think alike to be loved by God?  No, Christ came to free us to be unique and creative people with one focus:  to love God and to love one another!  We need to get a grip here and think about what is truly important -how can we say we love our sister or brother if they don't have clean water, shelter, food, or their basic physical needs cared for?

tomb of the unknown soldier
Arlington National Cemetary
Don't we owe it to our Veterans to go beyond waving a flag for the day or posting comments on Facebook to truly honor them and their sacrifice by doing everything WE can to make things more peaceful back at home and around the world?  Let's not let their efforts be in vain.

I'm just saying -

Let there be peace on earth -
and let it begin with me,
Deborah

Monday, November 8, 2010

being and doing

a dear friends daughter died suddenly this summer...
a saint of the church has decided that she is done with dialysis...
a 54 year old woman is under hospice care with colon cancer...
another saint of the church died this past week after a long and exhausting battle (she was only 64)...

These were just some of the thoughts and stories that ran through my mind as I led worship yesterday.  It was All Saints Sunday.  While my message was all about doing - living into the examples of the saints and doing more to build up the kingdom of God and caring for those in need with our talents (Luke's take on the Beatitudes was the text), I also was reminded of the importance of being.

This was really driven home as I walked to the back of the church during the final hymn (a rousing rendition of When the Saints) and was nudged by the Holy Spirit to stop and hug a member of the church who was in tears.  Her son had died a number of years ago, and I think that the memories of him and his battle with cancer were on her mind.  Honestly, I am not sure - because it wasn't a moment for words - there really wasn't anything I could say, and so I just hugged her for a moment and then continued on to the back of the church.

There is great tension in being and doing (at least for me).  I am a do-er.  I like to keep busy.  Ok, I admit it - I am easily distracted.  But sometimes we just have to be.   I just have to be...

Be present...
Be still...
Just be.

any advice on how to learn this being thing would be appreciated...I am definitely a work in progress.

peace, love in Christ
Deborah

(btw the root of my name is Hebrew and means bee...how funny and odd is that?!)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Brand New Day

Over the past few months I have been re-acquainting myself with some of my favorite music.  Last night, in the Waverly Hy-Vee of all places, I heard the opening rifts of Sting's "Brand New Day" and I had to smile.  Here is the first verse of the song (the music video is ummm - well its interesting...you may check it out on YouTube if you aren't familiar with the song)


How many of you people out there
Been hurt in some kind of love affair
And how many times do you swear that you'll never love again?

How many lonely, sleepless nights 
How many lies, how many fights 
And why would you want to put yourself through all that again?

"Love is pain," I hear you say 
Love has a cruel and bitter way 
Of paying you back for all the faith you ever had in your brain


How could it be that what you need the most 
Can leave you feeling just like a ghost?
You never want to feel so sad and lost again
     Sting - Brand New Day (1999)


In a sense this song really resonates with me - because Monday, November 1st, officially became a brand new day for me.  On Monday my divorce became official as the judge signed the final papers.  I have been reticent to post anything about the divorce, mainly because in my mind it really isn't something to celebrate.  I am deeply saddened by the events that led Steve and I to make this decision - it was not entered into lightly, but I do believe that it was the right decision for all involved.


In the midst of all of the changes of the past year; separation, changes in job, a move, a child graduating from high school, sending the two girls to college, helping the boys get acclimated to living in a new community, the challenges of being a solo pastor... need I say more?   And yet - despite all of these things - I am so grateful for God's very real presence in the midst of this journey and for the love and affirmations that I have received from family and friends alike.


I will have plenty of challenges ahead, but I anticipate many, many great joys as I re-discover who I am as an individual, and more important as a beloved child of God.  That really is the whole point after all.  


This weekend is the boys first official visitation weekend with their dad.  I wasn't sure how I would feel about being home alone...but last night as "Brand New Day" played in the grocery store I noticed that my step became lighter.  I watched a movie, went to bed early, and this morning I am getting a jump start on some projects...including finally writing this blog post about the big changes in our lives.  


We are going to be ok.  It is well with my soul!  
deb

Friday, October 29, 2010

Homegrown tomatoes

Tomatoes seem to always get me into trouble.

I got my start growing tomatoes when I lived in Georgia.  Gardening in red clay was an adventure, and by August I usually gave up on the garden...it was just too hot to weed anymore.  When I give my reasons for moving from Colorado to Iowa I say that we weren't able to grow tomatoes living at 8,000 feet on the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

When we first moved to Iowa I was woo'd by the Burpee catalog that came to my mailbox in January, so 6 weeks before the last frost date I started seeds for the first time. I had a ridiculous number of tomato plants that germinated - no one should ever plant 25 cherry tomato plants!   I finally gave the kids permission to chunk the tomatoes at each other - the Wellsburg tomato wars of 2002 are legendary.

When we moved to the parsonage in Apple River, IL Lyle Temperly, my neighbor across the street, and I had a running joke about his midnight excursions to 'steal' some of my tomatoes...I would then serenade him with the the song "homegrown tomatoes"
Lyle and Justin (2004)

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
there ain't nothing like homegrown tomatoes!
There's only two things in life worth givin'
thats: true love and homegrown tomatoes!

When I wrote my commissioning papers (part of the process to become an ordained United Methodist pastor) under Hobbies I wrote 'growing tomatoes' - this one comment generated some interesting conversation with my Board of Ordained Ministry committee.

We've moved twice since then and I'm always able to find a place to grow tomatoes (and basil and fresh sage - the other two musts for my kitchen garden).  This year when we moved to Waverly there wasn't a plot for a vegetable garden, so I tucked a couple of tomato plants in among the perennial bed that surrounds the parsonage.

Overnight last night we had a hard frost, which means that tomato season is now done.  It also signals that winter really IS around the corner and that we had best prepare for what ever may be next.  For Iowans that means digging out winter coats, boots and such, perhaps tuning up the snowblower too (tho I have 2 able bodied sons - so no snowblower for me).

This week my denomination released a Call to Action report.  It's getting a lot of buzz - especially among those who fear it does not go far enough.  I don't know if any denomination/institution is really nimble or prepared to go far enough to make huge institutional changes...we are by and large all about preserving what we know and love, warts and all some times.

So what does that mean for those who are calling for MORE change?  Well it means that we must love deeper and realize that our hope does not rest in the institution...but should not forget that there is value in what has gathered us together as God's people.

"He took bread, blessed and broke it.
and gave it to them.  Then their eyes
were opened."  Luke 24:30-31
We also need to realize that some people are not able to dig deeper and become radical disciples of Jesus Christ - they are however going to do their best to live good and faithful lives and they are going to want to be part of a community of faith - we have to make room for them to hear the gospel and enter into community and then trust that the Holy Spirit will move them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

And those who do want to dive in and drink deeply as people of faith, what about them you ask?   We have to have ways to offer them more - more challenging mission/service opportunities, more thoughtful and thought provoking Bible studies, more encounters with the living three-in-one God!

And those who do not yet know the love of God?  We need to step out of our brick and mortar buildings and meet them where they are - and walk alongside them...modeling the same kind of love and acceptance that we have come to know through reading about Jesus' own life and ministry and through our own experiences as precious children of God.

There are lots of different ways to 'do' and 'be' in ministry, but shouldn't we really think of ministry as being 'with' someone  - along 'with' them on their journey?  Surely there are more faithful, engaging and incarnational ways that our denomination can equip leaders (lay and clergy alike) to explore their spiritual gifts and live into our baptismal vows.  To do this will take intentional focus, vision and hard work...I think that is the crux of the matter - are we willing to invest more of ourselves to be intentional Kingdom builders?  I have to ask myself - as a church leader am I using my own time wisely?  Am I doing all I can to share the good news of Jesus Christ?  Am I equipping others to go and do the same?

During this season ahead my garden will lie fallow as the winds blow and the winter snows come.  But I know that in the spring the soil will be ready to receive new seeds and from it will spring new life...even a couple of homegrown tomatoes will find their way amidst the black-eyed Susan's, roses and cosmos.

I am really excited to find myself in the midst of times such as these - as long as our focus remains on Christ and our dialog is based on truth, hope, mercy and justice we can learn a lot from one another.  We may even learn something new.  I know I need to use this season of my life to dig deeper and focus on my current appointment in Waverly.  God is doing great things here - and I have much to do.  I need to be prepared for however God is calling me to walk with others in our community.

the last ones...
This weekend I will savor the last homegrown tomatoes from my garden...and perhaps I will find someone to share one or two with - cause thats what you do with homegrown tomatoes - and thats what we all should be doing with God's love too.    

peace, love in Christ
deb

Friday, October 22, 2010

change of seasons...

I realized this morning as I drove to the central part of the state that harvest time is almost over.  On top of that there is a chance for snow not too far away (toward the end of next week in the northern part of the state!).  It's that time of year...time to unpack the hats, gloves, coats, long johns and electric blankets.  yikes!

When I was younger snow was very exciting.  It meant all kinds of adventures outside - especially sledding down the hill in front of the barn on the family farm in Pennsylvania, or crunching out to help do chores on our farm in Illinois.  When we moved to Tennessee from Illinois around Christmas time 1975, unseasonably cold temperatures and a dusting of snow delayed the re-start of school for three weeks!  My family found this response kinda silly, but after living in the south for over 20 years, I get it now.

Hannah and her snowman
(Senoia, Ga 1996)
When the girls were little, and we lived in Atlanta, I would bundle them up and take them outside to play in the snow - in fact the only pictures that I have of them in snow were taken at night, because it would melt by morning.

On the front range in the mountains of Colorado we would have snow - but it wasn't anything like snow in Iowa.  Very seldom did we have a gloomy, dreary or even windy winter day - the sun would shine and everything looked like a winter wonderland!

Ahhh, but the Midwest - something about being on flat ground and within reach of the polar express...let's just say the wind can be relentless (I can see why pioneer women went crazy from the blowing winds).

It's not that I dread the change of seasons...I love them all in their own special way.  But the approach of winter, at least in the Midwest, is messy.  And as I get older I realize I don't do messy so well.

I think thats the crux of the problem.  Change is messy.  Change can easily signal a time of instability as well as realignment, whether that is layering sweaters or grabbing a coat on the way out the door, or learning to live in new ways as one's family or life is reconfigured.  

I am at the Next Step Conference in Ankeny.  First UMC Ankeny is doing great things - Kingdom Building things.  Folks gather from across the state to share ideas and to learn from one another, we do this because we want to be agents of change in our parishes.  

As I think about what it means to be an agent of change I realize that so many times we (pastors) ask our congregations to embrace change - not thinking about how hard change is...we can talk all we want about the reason for change and how it is going to move us from one place thats good to another that is even better.  We can be cheerleaders - sharing a vision of hope that in the new place we will be healthier, and able to do things more faithfully (I pray that I do this as a church leader).  But as a person trying to navigate through some pretty major life changes right now I am reminded how hard change really is.    

Ethan power-kiting on snow covered
Big Spirit Lake, IA (2010)
Just as I have to put some effort into swapping our summer clothes for winters hats and gloves, I also need to set aside some time and reflect on where I have been and where God is calling me to go in the next season of my life.  I fear that I am not so good about this part of change...who wants to really slow down and think about (or even re-hash) this stuff?  But it is essential to really make any healthy, lasting change.  And ultimately that is what we pray for, isn't it?

Likewise to be faithful agents of change in the Church we must first pray - asking God for a direction or vision of where God wants us to go, and then listen...listen...listen...and THEN talk about it - sharing the vision, sharing the hopes and dreams and even, at times, grieving with one another as we move through the change of seasons.  

I am grateful for a safe and bountiful harvest across our nation, I am also grateful that I do not go through any changes of season alone.  God is always more than ready to embrace us, messy as we may be, and lead us through seasons of change.  We just have to be willing to step boldly into new places and do the hard work before, during and after we move through these times of change.  

Let's get out there and embrace change - even the messy parts!

to God be the glory!
deborah

(one of my favorite books of the Bible during this time of change is Ecclesiastes - you may want to check it out too) 



Monday, October 18, 2010

Companions on the way...

http://www.cruzblanca.org/hermanoleon/
Not long after I started seminary a friend told me about the 12-3-1 formula for discipleship.  


Discipleship is a big buzz word these days in Christian circles - it means forming a people to be disciples of Christ.  When we read the gospels we read that Jesus preached to the multitudes, but He called 12 men to be his disciples.  They came from all sorts of walks of life, none of them were good enough to be rabbinic scholars so they often took the vocations of their fathers - they were business people, tax collectors and fishermen and the like.  They were both eager to follow Him and prone to saying stupid things at just the wrong time.  (I think my favorite has to be Peter - he didn't get it much of the time but he sure loved Jesus and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost he got it!).

Out of the 12 Jesus chose three to go to some pretty big events:  the healing of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane to name a few.  Peter, James and John had front row seats to witness Emmanuel, God with us, do amazing and miraculous things.  (tho they still didn't get it...someone had to be there to witness and later tell the stories).

And one was the beloved.

What if we each followed the 12-3-1 formula in our faith journey?

We worship with our chosen community of faith - praising God for all of the blessings and sharing in the mission and vision of our respective congregations.

But vital to our growth as people of faith is participation in small groups of 12 or so for study, prayer and Christian fellowship.  12 is a good number for a small group - too many more and everyone won't be able to share their thoughts, hopes, dreams and prayers.  It is in small groups that we are able to grow and be formed - it was the backbone of the Methodist movement - they were called classes back then - and in churches with an active small group ministry it is what grows disciples and forms a people to be more like Christ.

The next part of the equation is 3.  What if we were willing to be open, authentic and vulnerable with three Christian friends?  These three friends are the ones we turn to to hold us accountable in Christian love.  Warts and all it is because of their love of us and their desire for us to grow in faith that we can share our joys as well as our struggles and sorrows.  When we have three close faith friends we are able to walk in places that may have seemed impossible and yet because of the depth and authenticity of our relationship with one another we are able to grow even closer to God.  (As a church leader - these are 3 lay folk to mentor into leadership roles.)

And then there is the one we call beloved.  For many this will be a spouse or a very close friend.  The beloved is the most elusive part of the equation and the greatest blessing.  What an amazing gift to have someone who is our beloved, who prays with and for us, who encourages us as one of God's precious children, who is a confident faith friend and when needed he/she is also about to tell us to straighten up, get over ourselves, or even to be more bold in our faith!

Today I was blessed to meet 2 of my closest seminary friends for coffee - we each had to drive over 2 hours to get to a centralized location - but it was worth every mile.  We each serve churches in different states.  As we shared the joys and challenges of ministry we came to the conclusion that we have been richly blessed by the call and vocation of being United Methodist Pastors.

Regardless of how God calls you to live into your baptismal covenant, my prayer this evening is that you become part of a small group, that you seek out 3 close friends to share your faith journey - and that you have one who is indeed your beloved.

It's the pattern established by Christ - so it has to be what our Father had in mind for us...right?

Peace, love in Christ
deborah

Friday, October 15, 2010

kick a** shoes

About a month ago I had a wake up call - and it hasn't been pretty since.  I was attending the birthday party of a parishioner - and after greeting Jim and his wife I got a piece of cake, a cup of punch and sat down with a couple of other parishioners for a visit.  After a few minutes the husband (I will call him Z) said, "I have been meaning to ask you, whats up with your shoes?"  I was shocked, stunned, speechless even...

You see, I am my mother's daughter - clothes are to cover one up - not to make a statement...and shoes - well shoes are for protecting one's feet and comfort.  This is especially true since my late 20s when I started dating a man who was close to my height - and then, I had 4 children - and my shoes size jumped from size 10 to 11.  Ugh.

I phoned a clergy friend and he laughed when I told him my story - his advice; "you need some kick a** shoes!"  I protested, "I wear a robe so no one gets distracted by my clothes.  Do I really need to worry about my shoes?"  "Absolutely," he said.  "You must get some kick a** shoes.  You can have another pair to wear when you aren't preaching, but you have to just do it."  UGH!

Since then I have been on the hunt for a pair of kick a** shoes.  You would think it would be easy, right?  WRONG!  Remember, I wear size 11's.  Also, I am not a stiletto heel kinda gal, plus, what really constitutes kick a** shoes in the first place?

I looked in my closet, because of my shoe size dilemma I don't have many options - a pair of sensible dressy shoes in black, a pair of leather 'ballerina' style shoes, some slip on clog type shoes, 2 pairs of sneakers and my Sunday morning favorite of late, a pair of Clarks dress shoes that Z obviously thinks are more for older ladies.  Sigh...

I started shopping on line - but truth is, you don't know much about shoes from pictures - especially when you have feet like mine.  So, when the opportunity presented itself I went to a store to see if I could find something in my favorite brand - Clarks.  I got my first pair of Clarks a year and a half ago and I love, love, love them.  Of course, they are slip on flats - very practical if one is walking around town, but definitely not worthy of any special attention.

I was very disappointed - the Clarks dress shoes all looked so - ordinary...I left the store discouraged...and yet determined not to give up...that is the point of a challenge isn't it?  Never, ever, give up!

My next outing I went to a department store.  The clerk shook her head when I said that I needed a size 11 heel - nothing boring please.  "We don't have many size 11's" she said.  Wow, was she right.  I tried on a couple of pairs, when she tried to give me pointy toed shoes I laughed out loud.  "Umm, not when you are already starting with big feet," I muttered.  At her urging I tried to squeeze into some 10's (I knew better, but was compliant).  I narrowed my selection down to two pairs that I thought might be worthy of the quest.  It was while I was trying on what seemed like dozens and dozens of pairs of shoes that a repressed memory came back to me...

It was 1970 something - and I was shopping with my mom.  I was probably only in 8th or 9th grade - definitely not very grown up (atleast according to standards back then) and we were doing the annual 'back to school' shoe shopping trip.  Since I am from a family of 6 children shoe shopping was excruciating and expensive.  She could make our skirts, dresses and even shirts - but we had to pay money for shoes.  Each fall we were allowed one pair of sneakers for PE and one other pair of shoes that would double for school and church.  I don't know if you remember shoe styles back then, but women's shoes were not very kid friendly.  By the end of our time trying on dozens and dozens of shoes (from cork wedges to who knows what) I ended up with a pair of sensible men's Earth Shoes - yes, I was scarred for life...
mine were brown, but you get the idea

I did make my mom laugh a couple of times tho - she said I reminded her of Lucille Ball as I tried to walk in the women's dress shoes...which is what led us to the Earth Shoes in the first place - did I mention that I was scarred for life?

Back at the department store, I finally settled on a pair of shoes, they were kinda cute in the front, although they were sling backs.  I wasn't sure how the style would work on Sunday mornings - I have to walk up steps a couple of times and I move around a good bit when I preach.   But I thought I would get them anyway and give them a try.  They sent me home with a return policy stapled to my receipt...whew, I would have an out if need be.  Oh and I did get another pair of Clarks slip ons (brown this time, cause every gal needs a comfy pair of brown shoes AND they were on sale).   When I got home I tried on the Clarks - perfect!  But, the other pair - they didn't feel right.

This past Sunday was our Fall Festival, I didn't have an opportunity to wear my new shoes, but I whispered to Z as I shook hands after worship that I was on a quest for a pair of kick a** shoes - he and his wife both burst out laughing.

Monday afternoon I made a hospital call, and a parishioner, let's call him B, rode along.  B and I had a long way to ride - so we talked about our families, we talked about the church, we talked about God, and then we started telling one another humorous stories.  I had my shoe adventure on my mind so I told him about Z and his comment about my shoes.  "Oh," B said, "you mean the pilgrim shoes?"  "Pilgrim shoes?!?!" I exclaimed...and then huffed.  "Really?"  "Yeah," B said, "I would never say anything, but, what's up with those shoes, they look a little old for you."  grrrrrr....

Tuesday morning I tried on my shoes again, they just didn't feel that good, so I stopped on my way home from a meeting through Cedar Falls to see if there were any other options.  Nope, not a thing.  This morning I had an appointment in Cedar Falls again - and afterwards I drove to Waterloo, with my shoes in hand ready to exchange them for something truly kick a** worthy.  I hit all of the department stores in the mall, Famous Footwear too.  What a disappointment...I could order a pair of 11's but nothing was going to work.  UGH!
 these didn't make the cut...

Did you know that Fergie has a line of shoes out?  They are called Fergelicious.  Of all the shoes I tried on at the mall, hers were the most comfortable - but the heel height was ridiculous!

I did stop one more place, a shop outside the mall called Shoe Carnival.  They were having a sale - buy one pair, get another 1/2 off.  I ended up with two pairs of shoes - one might be considered fairly tame, the other might just be kick a** worthy.  I am not quite sure...I still have not figured out what constitutes kick a** shoes.

I will wear one of my new pairs of shoes Sunday morning (pray I don't fall).  It seems like a lot of energy for a pair of shoes.  Energy I could have spent doing other things...but in retrospect, this has been an interesting adventure in learning more about myself.  I am not very tall and a bit overweight.  I would rather invest in books or stuff for the kids than clothes for myself.  I am ok with that, but I think that as I have said to myself my clothes didn't matter I was also in a sense being too practical and not acknowledging my feminine side.  I still don't think that clothes make the woman, or man, but sometimes its nice to have fun, dress up, and wear kick a** shoes!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

the BIG meeting

Tonight was Trinity's charge conference - in United Methodist circles this is our big annual meeting.  Back in the day, way back, John Wesley would meet with the pastors for conferences each year and they would report on all manners of things - such as attendance at classes and bands, offering collections and missions to the poor and marginalized.  In the Iowa Annual conference we still follow this pattern...and I think this is a very good thing.

What made this evening special was that we had a good turnout of folks from the 5 churches in our county, I was especially pleased with the turnout from Trinity UMC!  Not only did we have most of the church council present, we also had our lay speaker and our School for Lay ministry student.  In time I pray that we will have more folks taking advantage of these opportunities to grow in faith and service to their local churches through the Lay Speaker Academy and School for Lay Ministry.

All in all our time together was fruitful, we spent some time in bible study, we shared some ideas for ministry and I got to know folks a bit better - those sitting at my table didn't want to stop talking to work on our creative/art project, but we sure could sing!

It was also a special evening because it is likely the last charge conference for our District Superintendent, Rev. Anne Lippincott.  Anne and I go way-way back - she was my pastor when we first moved to Iowa in 2001.  It was out of the church she was serving that I was called to ministry and Anne guided me through the discernment and candidacy process.  It is an honor to call her a colleague and a friend.

A year ago I never would have dreamed that I would be serving a church as a solo pastor in the Northeast District.  I am humbled to be called to serve as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church...I could not imagine doing anything else in this season of my life.  I am indeed very, very blessed!

Trinity UMC is a wonderful church with so many gifts and graces - God is so good to place me here at this time...I pray that we all work together to discern how God is calling us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World - and then let's get out there and make things happen!

To God be the Glory!

(btw, special congratulations to the Waverly-Shellrock Freshmen football team -I wasn't able to make the game tonight due to my responsibilities at Charge Conference - but they continue their undefeated season winning both of their games tonight!  I can't wait for Ethan to get home and tell me about it!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

what we've got here is failure to communicate...

Strother Martin "Captain"
Cool Hand Luke 
Warning:  this is a rant - and the views I am expressing are my own...(I may not be the most articulate person to go blah about this stuff - but I believe its time for some of the folks in the trenches speak out...)

I am part of a denomination that has been going through turmoil for decades - I would even say its been going on since before we merged the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches in 1968.  While I was never really aware of the messiness until the past 10 years or so (mainly out of my own lack of interest and ignorance) it seems to be getting messier every year.  Ask an old EUB (like my dad) and you'll get an earful about how we have lost our focus on missions and evangelism...and yet, the EUB was in sharp decline and unable to sustain their structures 40 some years ago, thus the reason for the merger...sigh.

Not only do our battles between factions seem more like whats going on in politics today (shame on us for mirroring our political structure in the first place) all of this infighting makes us look more like avowed enemies  than brothers and sisters in Christ working out our salvation in fear and trembling.  We get so bogged down in our power struggles (exhibited in our fights about sex and money among other things) that we miss out on opportunities to be salt and light to the world.

I have disagreed with a number of clergy friends as of late who say that the denomination is dying (if not already dead) until, until the 10-Fold campaign was launched this week.  If you want to check it out go to www.10-Fold.org

I may not have a whole lot of experience serving a church, and I am definitely not a person with any authority at all at the conference or even district level...I am a fairly 'young' pastor and I have lots to learn.  BUT, I know marketing - I did it almost all of my adult life...and boy, talk about a bomb.  And this makes me sad, sad, sad...

It is a great idea - for 10 days in October (starting 10-10-10) promote 10 different mission areas of  focus...get 10 churches or UM Agencies who are passionate about these ministries to pledge $10,000 each - and invite folks via social media (I assume this is the main distribution method because I don't recall any emails about the initiative) - to click a couple of links and sign in to show support for this area of ministry.  Each click means $1 toward the project, and I (the person sitting at home) don't have to pay a dime.  I am invited to watch a video and learn more about the ministry and if I am interested, and able, I have an opportunity to donate more money to the campaign/project.  Sounds simple - right?

WRONG - somewhere along the line the message has failed to gain a foothold, let alone capture the imaginations and inspire the passion of the members of the United Methodist Church, let alone the general public.  What is happening?  Well, the marketing person in me begins to wonder, how are people even supposed to know about the campaign?   I first heard about it on Facebook - my younger clergy friends were 'talking' about it a few weeks ago.  I did see it on my Annual Conference website - a week or so ago...being inquisitive I decided to check out the websites of the other annual conferences in the surrounding states.

Of the annual conferences in the North Central jurisdiction, only 4 (out of 11) feature the 10-Fold project prominently on their home page (main article above the fold).  It is no where to be found on the home pages of two of our annual conferences (mine is one of those).  AND, our own denomination website (UMC.org) doesn't have anything about 10-Fold on the homepage - whatsup with this???  While I saw an initial push on Facebook on Sunday, this has died down (and we are only on day 4 of the 10 day campaign!)

Speaking of Facebook, when you look at the numbers - the United Methodist Church has over 11,000 friends, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) has over 36,000 friends, and the General Board of Global Ministries, the sponsor of this initiative, has close to 5,000 friends.  I have tons of friends who are church members, lay leaders and pastors and between us we have thousands of friends - and yet...The daily average for 'pledges' for 10-Fold is hovering around 3,400.  ugh...this is so sad!

It makes me wonder about the conversations at the GBGM this week.  Are they surprised?  Frustrated?  Angry?  Cynical?  Saddened?

Like I said, it's a great idea - it should have worked...but something is missing.  The former broadcast marketing/promotions gal in me would say that perhaps it's a problem with the distribution of the message...are we getting enough coverage via web, email, radio, tv, etc...?  Are there perhaps too many messages out there for folks to sort through?  Open Doors, ReThink Church, Christmas displays are already up at the stores, the election cycle is in full swing, there's lots of drama on Dancing with the Stars...who knows?

But, the United Methodist pastor in me says that this reflects a deeper problem...as a denomination we are in trouble.  We seem to be unable to deliver a clear message.  We use a scatter gun approach to try to equip our churches with the tools to bring in more folk, but what do we do with them once we get them into the pews?  And what about the ones who aren't interested in sitting in a pew, but who are 'spiritual' and hungry to learn more about God?

As a member of the United Methodist church I am - well - frankly I am embarrassed.

As a Christian I am sad.

I am sad that we have wasted so much precious time... time that could be used to glorify God as opposed to tearing down others.  Time that could be used making friends, building relationships, engaging in authentic Christian community.  Time that could be used to 
"preach Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
 recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed 
and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
This was part of Jesus' discourse at his home synagogue in Nazareth.  (see Luke 4:14-30)  Of course, his own people ran him out of town and tried to kill him after that message.  hmmm...

I am not writing this to try to brow beat anyone into signing up for 10-Fold.  The process is a bit clunky, it takes more than 30 seconds to sign in - and if it doesn't resonate with you then don't feel like you have to 'just do it'.  I think this is just another sign that we are not only in trouble - we have some important work to do and my friends my be right, we may be too late to fix this...and quite honestly I think we will still be ok.

Christ is still my Lord and Savior, the Church is still his bride.  It doesn't have to be a certain flavor of denomination to do the work that we have been called to do...to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to provide recover of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor!  To do these things does not require a Masters degree in anything - all that is required is faithfulness and trust that God's grace is indeed sufficient to heal the hurts and set things right.  We, as the Body of Christ are to be His hands and feet in the world - empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit   it doesn't take superhuman effort to visit a shut-in, pick up trash along the roadways, or pray, pray, pray.

Maybe its time we tried the spiritual discipline of fasting - won't you join me in fasting from politics as usual and shameless manipulation of others, no more condemnation or negativity about any of God's precious children, let's take a break from all of this mess that is distracting us from being who God created us to be...and let us instead turn our energy toward building up the Kingdom of God.

peace, love in Christ
Deborah