Thursday, December 29, 2011

hello, my name is Deborah and I have a thing for books...

Today a Facebook friend asked for reading recommendations - when another friend, who is not on Facebook, asked me what was on my bookshelf in regards to the missional and emergent church movement I figured it was time to share my reading list. Especially since I spent much of the day sorting through stuff and loading up a new bookshelf in my room!

So, here is what I have been reading in 2011 and what I'm looking forward to in the next couple of months.  I'd love to hear what you're reading too!

This year I have been to 3 different continuing ed conferences where I have heard from the likes of Phyllis Tickle, Doug Paggit, Mike Slaughter, Rudy Rasmus, Adam Hamilton, Alan Hirsh and then at Wild Goose Festival I heard Diana Butler Bass, Richard Rohr, Jim Wallis, Peter Rollins, Jay Bakker, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Shane Claiborne...well the list can go on and on.

In 2012 I am really looking forward to Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Faith and Practice for the 21st Century by Alan Hirsch - he speaks truth and he is winsome - he has a much better developed voice than even a few years ago when it seemed to me that he wanted to blow up the church (not that there is anything wrong with that!)

Elaine Heath, UMC prof at Perkins is doing some very cool stuff with the Neo-Monastic movement in Dallas/Ft Worth area.   Her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism is a must read for church leaders and especially for those who have been wrestling with what church can and should look like.  I highly recommend it. I was about to disregard the last 1/3 because it was a case study, but I ended up in tears.

Have you visited Henri Nouwen lately? The Wounded Healer and The Life of the Beloved are both favorites from this year. I did a study with some folks this summer on Life of the Beloved that was well received.  Both are small volumes but pack great wisdom.  The Wounded Healer was written in 1979 but is very post-modern in my humble opinion.

I was intrigued by Diana Butler Bass at Wild Goose.  I like what she is saying about the church and the culture shift we are in the midst of. She has a book coming out in February called Christianity After Religion.  I will preorder it soon.

I would like to do this study by Phyllis Tickle Embracing Emergence Christianity.  She is still one of my favorite people, as I told Mrs Tickle in March, I want to be like her when I grow up.  She is wonderful and I got to see her in June at Wild Goose as well!

I really like Richard Rohr - his book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See rocks - as does Falling Upward. Falling Upward really speaks to people at midlife transitions - so might be something to do with newly empty nesters. But it goes really deep - not for the faint of heart.

Brian McLaren is one of the most down to earth guys I have met this year.  McLaren is a pioneer in the missional/emergent movement. Brian led a conversation with Justin's age group at Wild Goose and Justin loved 'Brian'. It was a highlight for me when later I thanked him and he remembered Justin. :) I have been working on a couple of his books including Naked Spirituality and A New Christianity: 10 Questions that are transforming the Faith.  Good, thoughtful stuff.

Mike Slaughter was equally accessible at Ginghamsburg - which was very cool!  I have some of his stuff to read but have not had time to read it - yet.  I was really impressed by how willing Ginghamsburg is to share their stuff.  A real leader in the UMC!

Adam Hamilton is a great speaker and a prophetic and positive leader in the UMC.   I was VERY impressed by the Church of the Resurrection Leadership Institute - I will take a group of folks from Trinity to COR in the fall.  We used Hamilton's The Journey during the Advent season.

I would really like to hear Scot McKnight speak. His blog, Jesus Creed, is very insightful. I wish the UMC had someone who could speak with similar authority and as prolifically as McKnight.   McKnight is Evangelical Covenant and teaches New Testament at Northpark in Chicago. Brilliant and accessible writing - I just love it. His book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited is rocking my world right now - and One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is also very powerful - I could see it being used especially with 20 something/college ages.

I read Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy last winter and used it for a sermon series on the Beatitudes during Epiphany. His book really got me to thinking about being kingdom builders - wonderful book but very dense. We used his DVD study and it was well received by folks at Trinity.

Sean Gladding was at Wild Goose and he has done a narrative of the Bible called The Story of God, the Story of Us. It is meant to be done over 12 weeks with a group as readers theatre. Really cool way to look at scripture as a way to form people.

One more thing on my shelf - NT Wright has translated the New Testament - focusing on the Kingdom of God - the Kingdom New Testament came out this fall.   Good, good stuff!

If you want to read a novel, Ian Morgan Cron's Jesus, the CIA and Me: a memoir of sorts is a poignant story of grace and God's redemptive love.  Ian was at Wild Goose and he has a lovely voice and way of telling a story.  

I am blessed to be part of two different Emergent/Missional Church reading groups, it helps to gather together with others to discuss what you read and wrestle over ideas.  I'd highly recommend seeking out some others to do so - even if it means driving 100 miles each way!  It's worth it to stir things up and get your mind in gear.  You never know how the Holy Spirit will work through these sorts of gatherings!

This year my continuing ed schedule will look quite different, but I am just as excited for the new books that will be coming out in 2012.  In the meanwhile - Happy New Year everyone and happy reading!

Peace, love in Christ,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I need a wife.


thank you,

ps  not a wife/wife but someone to help around the house...maybe you could loan me an elf or two during the off season?  It would be nice if they liked to do stuff other than cooking and cleaning.  ummm, like folding socks (I hate folding socks) and sending out the Christmas cards on time, taking walks, hanging out is ok too.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

doing with out is a good thing, right?

“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. … Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting - that is, of hopefully doing without - will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Here we are, on the eve of advent season, and once again Bonhoeffer's words haunt me.  I am a child of our culture.  I personally don't like doing without much of anything!  Trust me, I have plenty of food, way too many clothes and let's not get started talking about all of my books....

And yet, Bonhoeffer invites me - invites all of us - to wait.  And not just wait, but to consider that waiting is a blessing - and to wait (and do without that thing we desire most) hope-fully.  Talk about counter-cultural!  I do see his point.  If we rush through the next 29 days, if we consume and consume and don't exercise moderation in our lives, if we don't w a i t  for it - then whats the point?  We will never experience the blessedness of fulfillment if we can have all that our hearts desire instantaneously.

And so I wait.  We wait.  We wait expectantly, hopefully, and we don't wait for stuff.  Waiting gives our minds time to clear.  Waiting takes practice and is best done along with the spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture reading, worship, Holy Communion and yes even fasting.  These practices allow us to start to see the world through 'God shaped lenses'...its actually pretty amazing to realize that with practice we get to see the world as God sees.  And if we are gentle to ourselves and to others we see how blessed we already are, how God moves and breathes and gives life meaning and we learn to hope again.  

Psalm 131 speaks to this kind of hopeful waiting 

God, I'm not trying to rule the roost, I don't want to be king of the mountain. 
I haven't meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. 

I've kept my feet on the ground, I've cultivated a quiet heart. 
Like a baby content in its mother's arms, 
my soul is a baby content. 

Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope. 
Hope now; hope always!   (The Message translation)

And so this is my hope for Advent this year.  That we may find peace, hope, joy and love as we wait hopefully throughout this Advent season.

in Christ, together

Paul writes in his letter to Romans (Romans 15:12-13)

Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”  
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, 
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

what have I done now?

It starts innocently enough - a simple envelope with a membership card included - well, it's actually a temporary membership card - and the first few times I ignored it simply because AARP was emblazoned on the front.

Yep, I started getting my invitations just days before my (gulp) 50th birthday in June.  And every few weeks since a new 'temporary membership card' arrived in the mail.  Being more mature now, it wasn't long till I started comparing my AAA benefits with AARP.   Did you know that AARP has a better hotel discount than AAA???  Go figure!

So, a couple of weeks ago, I paid my $16 dues and am now a card carrying member of AARP.  Why not, right?

In addition to discounts of all sorts membership benefits include email newsletters with helpful tips and information for a better life for us older folks.  But I'm not sure what to think of the latest newsletter.  It's this headline that has me disturbed, quite frankly:  "13 Little Luxuries We Deserve Now That We're Over 50"  It's enough to make me wonder if I should cancel my membership right away!!

I don't know about you, but I didn't know that I deserve much of anything just for turning a year older.  I fear this is another example of what's wrong with our culture.  The article promises, "Big satisfaction for small expenditure, and small guilt!" hmmm, that sure sounds nice, but just because I am over 50?!?!

Should I really care about real maple syrup (at $100/gallon) and weekly manicures, numbers 4 and 7 on the AAPR list, as luxuries I now deserve when I see broken and hurting people each and every day?  I think that if I have enough money to pay for real Hawaiian ginger or a six-pack of massage certificates then I should be tithing to my church at the very least and investing my time and talent in mentoring and volunteering too!

I'm not sure if I'll keep the AARP card -  I don't really like the warped perspective its giving me about ageing in the 21st Century.  Seems pretty immature and shallow to me, but what do I know?


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

God's mysterious ways

I was raised in the United Methodist Church.

When I went to college I just didn't have time to go to church.

I moved.  Started a career.

Dealt with my mom's death without the church.  It wasn't perfect, but it was ok - I wasn't angry with God.  I just learned that life is fragile and sometimes people get sick and sometimes they don't make it - no matter how much they or you pray.

I got married in my back yard with a retired pastor officiating for $35.  The local United Methodist church said they couldn't do it since we weren't members.  They suggested we call Rev. Fite instead.

And yet, when my first born child was 1 1/2 I knew, like a homing pigeon, that I needed to be in a church.  The fact that my stepson, who was 14, had recently moved in with us helped as well.  For some odd reason I figured that the only place I could learn about how to raise a 14 year old was in the church.  (btw: I went to the church that had said no to the wedding 3 years earlier.)

One Sunday not too long after I started attending the pastor did his normal altar call after the sermon and for some reason as we stood up to sing the final hymn I felt compelled to go forward.  I have no idea what the pastor said that morning, but the hymn was "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus"

I remember the surprised look on his face, the questions he asked as the congregation continued to sing; he wanted to know my name, if I had ever been baptized (I had as an infant) and if I wanted to join the church right then by profession of faith.  Through my tears I said, "yes."

Afterwards I can't say that I felt a whole lot different, but I sure was welcomed by folks.  That church showed me and my children radical hospitality.  It was later that I figured out that it has been a long, long time since anyone had come up and joined without pre-arranging things with the church staff.  But there I was  - a newly minted member of Mountain Park United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  I had always figured I was a Christian, but now I was a member.

I joined a Sunday School class - I intentionally chose the one with folks who had kids my stepson's age.  For the next couple of years, until we moved, we attended worship on Sundays and participated in the life of the church.  No committees, not many expectations.  My husband was angry at God at the time and was not interested in church, so the children weren't baptized.  I was ok with that because no one pressured me to do otherwise.

When number 2 child, Hannah, was born I remember some people from the church stopping by to bring us some meals.  The very best thing was the strawberry jello with lots of real strawberries in it.  Funny, the things you remember.

It was in my Sunday School class that I learned that Jesus was God.  The whole Trinity had escaped me until that time.  I'm not sure if I wasn't listening, or if I just missed it along the way.  Probably a little bit of both.  I was 30 years old.

12 years, 2 more children and three moves (and 3 churches) later, I was in seminary.

God sure does have a sense of humor.

On this All Saints Day, I can't help but think of the Saints in my life.  Many of whom I don't even remember their names.  Go figure.  I hope that one day we can renew acquaintances and reflect on the various places God has taken us.  Actually, I count on this to be true.  The communion of saints and feasting at the heavenly banquet all sound pretty wonderful to me.

A facebook friend asked earlier this evening; "Have you ever wondered, in the quiet moments, if what you give your life to---time, energy, heart, soul---really matters or makes any measurable difference?"

Yes, I have...

I think God is ok with me asking such questions.  And yet, I don't really know how to respond to her apparent angst.  Except with my story.

 And so I carry on, serving our Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the best way I know how.  By the grace of God someone's life may be a little better.  Who knows?  And even if I never know -  I am ok with that...most days.

in Christ, together

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Change the World - who me??

Mike Slaughter and Alan Hirsch - Change the World 2011

Just back from Ginghamsburg UMC's Change the World Conference.  It was a great event with inspiring speakers and breakout sessions.  There is SO much running through my head right now but there is one thought that struck me...Mike Slaughter said it a couple of times "I'm 60 years old, I'm almost dead!"  and while the comment always brought a laugh, there is power in those words.

I am, ummmm, 50.  I most likely have 25-35 more years ahead of me.  What am I going to do with the time that I have left?  

Am I going to look back at the past 25-35 years and lament my mis-steps, and yearn for my former adventures - so many of us live in the past and yet, that doesn't sound like what God wants for my life.

me - 25 years ago
Am I going to look ahead wondering what will be next - perhaps some day I will fall in love again, or maybe I will move to the mountains of North Carolina to a little cabin and read all night...will I ever learn to fly fish?

Or perhaps, just perhaps, I need to look at the time that I have left as a gift - and live with gratitude and in anticipation of being used by God in powerful and exciting ways.  I think it boils down to whether I am courageous enough to live life fully, with gusto...anticipating that there will be hills and valleys along the way (I already know this from experience) but also great blessings too!

If I start the day confident in God's abundant love for me then why not just dive in and be... just be who God created me to be.  Of course, I am still trying to figure that one out - one of the benefits of being so young is that I don't have to have all of the answers. I do need to be faithful and trust that love, the source of which is God's amazing abundant love, will win in the long run.

Bottom line - it's my only's what gets me out of bed in the's what fuels the fire and passion I have to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  
What is this Good News? Well, I think the Gospel of Luke Chapter 4 has a lot to say on this:

Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God's Spirit is on me;
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."
       (The words of Jesus Luke 4:16-19 The Message translation)

Alan Hirsch was one of the keynote speakers at the Change the World conference.  I've been reading Hirsch for years and it was a thrill to hear him in person.  
He said that the one virtue that he sees lacking in church leaders is courage.  He reminded us that the fundamental job (and opportunity) of a leader is to exercise the power of the imaginative leap. To help people see the world like Jesus sees it - to open up new and exciting ways to approach each and every day and to set parameters by which people can dream dreams.  

That's what Jesus was saying in the gospel of Luke as he quoted the prophet Isaiah:

*The world does not have to be this way any longer!  
*There is no need for anyone to be without food, clean water, health care or safe shelter! 
*The blind can have their vision restored! (open your eyes to the possibilities, friends)
*People who are burdened and battered can be set free from the fears and addictions that imprison them!

As a person of faith and a leader in the United Methodist Church I believe we are called to make this come true each and every day of our lives...but I can't do it alone. That is why I am part of the Body of Christ - the Church - and together, using our God given gifts, we can do this.

The world is full of beautiful, beloved, broken people and as servants of our risen savior, we need to share the Good News - and release others for ministry and mission. We can make a difference!

How is God calling me, you, US to bring the Good News to our community? How can we lift each other up and partner together? How can we live out of our giftedness and be a blessing to others?

These are the questions I'm wrestling with this beautiful October day.

Peace, love, in Christ,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Looking into the future - a view from 1969

The Fort Dodge Messenger Farm Edition July 26, 1969

Shocking Forecasts:

Predicts no sermons in churches of the future

by George W. Cornell AP religion writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Out of the murkiness of the present commotion and changes in the churches, a Protestant scholar has taken a long look at the eventual results of it all - and he sees some shockers ahead.

Among them: The disappearance of sermons and Sunday morning church services; growing interest in Jesus and less in the mystery of God; broad church consolidations; multiple memberships by some believers in more than one church.

The Rev. Dr. Roland W Tapp of Philadelphia, a United Presbyterian specialist in religious education, says "part of the upheaval now going on in the churches is temporary, but much of it will have permanent effects."

Recently on a three month research assignment for analysis and planning, Dr Tapp said in an interview that indications are that the organizational structures of churches "are not going to make it" to the end of the century."

"The long-range prospects are good for essential Judeo-Christianity, but not for the institutions.," he said.

Dr Tapp, a one time missionary, California pastor and World War II bomber pilot, is a former professor of psychology and philosophy of religion at Kentucky's Center College and of Biblical languages at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

He offered his lively preview of the future church at a recent gathering of religious publishers.

Items on the forecast included:

- A re-enactment of the fundamentalist-liberal fight of 60 years ago...It already has resulted in a marked polarization of the church at all levels...the split may become irreparable.

-With Protestants and Roman Catholics "no longer in real dispute" over major doctrines, they wil move increasingly toward "merger at practical levels" - between fundamental Protestants and fundamental Catholics and between liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics.

- Most institutional members will be 45 years old, and up.  "There will be a steady decrease in total membership...fewer youths will join the church."

-On the other hand, there will be "increasing interest in religion and Christianity" among college students and young adults but "they will continue to avoid the institutional church."

-Christian teachers will see themselves "more as fellow-seekers" rather than "transmitters of heritage."  They "will be more interested in Jesus and less in God"  even though this seems a "flat contradiction in Biblical terms."

- The Consultation on Church Union will bring unification of major Protestant denominations among "great wailing and gnashing of teeth," but the new connective church "will be no more of a monolith than it is now."

-"Sermons are out.  And so is the Sunday morning worship service at 11 o'clock.  The death rattle will be long and loud and gruesome."

-The main theological shift will be away from doctrine of divine transcendence toward a "doctrine of panentheism," which holds that "God is in everything," in contrast from pantheism, which says "God is everything."

- Racial integration "will be a fact within the churches...It already is a workable everday truth at headquarters levels."

- Church property, valued today at over $80 billion, will go on tax rolls.  "In a pluralistic society with Christians rapidly becoming a minority, this kind of tax exempt welath simply cannot be tolerated.  It won't be."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

All shook up!!

In my past life (before seminary and becoming a pastor) I watched movies for a living.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.  I was part of a team of folks who wrote and produced 15 and 30 second movie promos for TBS and later TNT.  My job was to convince you, the viewer, to set aside 1 1/2 to 2 hours of your life to watch a movie on my station.  It was a great job and Atlanta in the late 80's and into the 90's was a great place to be.

Back then we aired the classics: westerns, dramas, war movies, and an occasion horror flick too.  One month I was assigned to promote a week of Elvis movies...and later I had the opportunity to help produce our live coverage of the release of the Elvis stamp - LIVE from Graceland, which brings me to the title of this post.  Something's going on - it's like everything's All Shook Up!

Just about a year ago a steering committee appointed by the General Conference presented the Call to Action report to the United Methodist Council of Bishops.  They used outside research agencies to examine our organization and to identify markers of Vital congregations.  They then put together a series of proposals that if put into effect, will essentially re-order how we do things in the United Methodist Church.

I believe that these recommendations have been made with the very best of intentions after a great deal of prayer and deliberation.  Some of the recommendations are painful, some are down right scary.  They all will require thoughtful and courageous leadership to implement.  I believe that the people serving on the Steering committee, as well as the subsequent Interim Operations Team, are doing their best to advise and guide the United Methodist Church so as to continue to be a viable and vital Church well into the future.

What is interesting to observe are the responses to the reports over the past year.  AND, what is noticeably missing - response from the laity of the church.  Yes, friends, the lions share of the responses that I am reading on blogs, websites, twitter, facebook, etc are from clergy folk and much of it is centered around the use of various 'dashboards' to measure on a weekly or atleast more regular basis worship attendance, small group participation, outreach/missions work and benevolent contributions above and beyond apportionment giving.

the TBS crew circa 1988
Now, I hate counting things and paperwork as much as the next gal.  I admit that I am blessed at Trinity UMC with an administrative assistant who rocks and handles many of these sorts of details.  I know this may seem like one more hoop to jump through, but then, I think about my 20+ years in the TV industry when we poured over Nielsen ratings and marketing reports as soon as we could get our hands on them.

I fear that the ones rattling the cages the most are my brothers and sisters who have not experienced life outside of the church...(folk I affectionately call 'lifers').  There's nothing wrong with being a lifer, but friends, lifers, fellow clergy folk - get with the program.  We should all know that by and large our parishioners do this sort of thing all the time!  We've brought in tons of other ideas from the business world, (some good, some not so good) whats so wrong with counting heads and checking out how we're doing?  I seem to remember from my UM History class that John Wesley took his spiritual temperature every 15 minutes and journaled about it - yikes!  Now that's overkill!

Another complaint that I'm reading is that the 'higher ups' in the UMC have tried this sort of thing multiple times but to what success?  Well, again, lifers, the reality is that for this 'newer' clergy person this is the first time a plan has ever been given to me (and to many of my colleagues as well).  Perhaps using our previous life experiences we can help with the adjustments that need to be made - of course for this to happen we need to be invited to the table for these sorts of conversations - even tho some of us have not been ordained for that long.  It seems to me that Moses was a 2nd career kinda guy and look what God used him to do.  Perhaps this is why there was an uptick in the number of 2nd career folk called to ministry and who entered seminary about 10 years ago.  hmmmm who knows God's mysterious ways?

I know that the ultimate goal of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission found in Matthew 28; to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world, preaching, teaching them all that Jesus taught his disciples and healing broken lives.  I know that the best way to do this is through faithful preaching and teaching and mission/outreach to the community at large.  I also know that disciple making is messy, challenging and done one person at a time.  It is a huge investment of time and energy to get to know one another as Jesus knew his disciples.

Our foundational way to do this in the United Methodist Church is by encouraging disciples in small groups, holding one another accountable in Christian love to: do no harm, do good and practice the means of grace (prayer, worship, bible study, holy conferencing, fasting, etc).  Please click here to see what the General Rules are all about.

So, here's an observation and a couple of questions (finally): I believe that anyone CAN be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  But, does everyone GET to be a disciple if they are not willing to invest the time to learn how use their God given giftedness to walk and live as Jesus has taught us?  To do good, avoid evil and attend to the means of grace?

And, if you aren't a disciple, does that mean that God loves you any less?  I don't think so.  I think it just means that in this season of life some folk have chosen different priorities...but that doesn't mean that they don't love their church or God. I also don't think it means that the person who can't dive in should be judged or treated any different than anyone else.  It just means that we are fragile human beings in need of grace.

As leaders in the church we need to be faithful to our call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but we won't get anywhere using scare tactics.  We need to be dispensers of grace.  Grace says something like; 'let us walk alongside you during this challenging time in your life, we are here to love you and your family and to provide a safe place for you to grow in faith.'  I have found that when we approach someone in this manner we are in the best position to disciples them - funny how that works.

By the power of Holy Spirit we can lead our church into the future.  All of us (clergy and laity alike) are needed to build up the kingdom of God and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It's what Jesus calls us to do, its the covenant we entered into at baptism and regardless of dashboards or restructuring, it sure is a rewarding way to spend the time that we are blessed to have together.  In my humble opinion anyway.

To God be the glory!

in Christ, together,
(the 2nd career gal who really thinks lifers are aok)

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12th

For several weeks we have been building up to the 10th anniversary of 9-11.         

There was 'drama' about the commemoration events...  9-11-first-responders-left out

There were heightened fears about terrorist attacks... here's one news story

and there was one group who encouraged folks to get out of their houses and walk their neighborhoods - make new friends and knock down barriers between people.

What I want to know is, now that the speeches are over, now that the wall to wall coverage is done, what are we going to do differently?

Is the whole point of the 9-11 hoopla to trot out our politicians and film footage of the events of that day 10 years ago or is it to make us appreciate our country/family/freedom more or is it just another day to get everyone emotionally charged and then we can be relieved on 9-12 that things aren't nearly as bad  as we were afraid they were??

Just thinking out loud here...

What should/can/are we going to do differently now?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

some thoughts after today's hike...

Hillside Chapel Cross
Pictured Rocks Camp
I'm spending the first part of the week at Pictured Rocks, one of Iowa's three United Methodist Camps.  My official title is "Spiritual Director" but in reality, I'm here with two Trinity kids: Justin and Claire - and 14 other youth from around the state ages 9-13 as we explore what it means to be a beloved child of God and to enjoy the wonders of His beautiful creation.

My responsibilities were light today, so I spent much of the morning catching up on paper work (yeah, I know kinda boring) and then this afternoon I did some worship planning.  After a while I thought to myself; "hey you, what are you doing?  It's beautiful outside and you're in the middle of the woods at camp - what are you doing working?"  So I strapped on my Keens and went on a hike.  

Wesley Trail - Pictured Rocks Camp
This is my first time here, and I blew all of the rules; I went by myself, I didn't tell anyone where I was going, and I didn't have a map - yikes!  But the paths are nice and wide and I paid attention to where I was going (no bread crumbs necessary).  I set out from my cabin hoping to follow the route that the Triathlon runners took when they were here on Sunday, but I couldn't find the chalk lines that marked their path.  What was quite visible when we arrived Sunday afternoon had been washed away by yesterday's heavy downpour.  While I was out of luck, I did follow some clues and I think I figured out where all they went as they raced through camp.

Life is kinda like that.  We have mountain top experiences that get us on fire for Christ and in response we join every Bible Study or small group we can find, we read the Bible daily even, but after a while the storms of life have a tendency to wash away the path that seemed so clear just days/weeks/months earlier.  If we aren't intentional (or disciplined about it) we can easily get off track, lose our way, and give up...doubting that what we experienced was really real in the first place.

That's why it's so important not to go it alone.  Our faith journey isn't our private excursion (or walk in the woods to push the metaphor even further), we are one part of God's great story...from creation to today and into the future - God was, is and will always be!  We are beloved and beautiful and special but we are also small and part of a greater whole.  To find our place in the Kingdom we have to seek His face and the best way to do this is to join with others.  

Nature Trail - Pictured Rocks Camp
After hiking down the trail we took last night to the Windy Hill Campfire site, I decided to take the nature trail.  ahhhh, I soon realized the nature trail was different...while the path to Windy Hill was what one would expect from a walk in the woods, the nature trail had been recently smoothed out to make it safer for the runners.  I found I didn't need the chalk lines at all, I just had to look for the smooth path and I knew exactly where the Triathletes had run.

As followers of Christ, the Risen One, we don't need chalk lines...but we do need to be faithful and we need companions along the prayer focus these next few weeks is about how the church I serve can be a faithful companion for folks who are journeying this exciting, and yes sometimes wild, trail of life.  We have to make room for people to explore who God made them to be and at the same time share in the joys as well as challenges of life.  

I sure don't have all the answers - so any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

in Christ, together,

Friday, July 22, 2011

the lasting effects of chiggers...

Yesterday as I was getting ready for work I mentally ran down my schedule -Bible Study at noon,  the director of music at 1, committee meeting at 7 with regular administrative stuff in between.

I then started thinking about my time at the Wild Goose Festival.  Exactly one month ago I was in the hill country of North Carolina with my son Justin and a good friend, Barbara, and about 1700 other folks for a weekend that centered around music, spirituality, the arts and justice.  It was a tremendous experience and one that I don’t want to forget about in the midst of the busyness of day to day living.

Interestingly, the one thing about that experience that is still hard to forget is my encounter with chiggers…you know those microscopic arachnids that leave one feeling all itchy for days and days?    Believe it or not – I still have marks on my skin from the dozens (yes dozens) of chigger bites.   Oh my!

I kinda wish that instead of chigger bites I could visibly see the marks left on my heart and mind from participating in the Wild Goose Festival, or Iowa Annual Conference earlier in June or Sunday worship with my Trinity United Methodist Church family!  All of these experiences have, in recent weeks, impacted me as a person of faith in ways big and small.

I would like to hope that anyone who has a spiritual experience would say something similar.  I know what happened, and how I have been affected, but it’s often hard to tell others about my personal experiences with the Holy One.  It's also a bit scary...truth be told. 

Regardless, it really is so, SO important share with others how our lives are touched and transformed by God’s love and presence.  If we keep these God moments bottled up inside we aren’t being salt and light to the world, one of the most important things that Christ-followers are supposed to do according to Jesus;

“let me tell you why you are here.  You’re here to be salt seasoning that brings out the God flavors of this earth….You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this!”   (see Matthew 5:13-16  The Message)

Whether you start out small sharing with your family and moving toward sharing your experiences with friends, I believe you will be richly blessed by telling others about your experiences of and with God.  For starters, just answer these 2 questions:  where have I seen Christ/God in action this day/week?  And who am I going to tell about it?

To God be the Glory!
In Christ, together

Sunday, July 17, 2011

it's a marathon? really???

You know the old is a marathon, not a sprint.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately and I don't think this is fact, I think such platitudes are downright harmful to one's soul.

This past week - no let's really be honest - these past several years I feel as if I've been running in a series of back to back to back to back marathons, and some days, ok many days, I am just plain worn out.  A quick scan of Runner's World (the worldwide authority for training and racing for over 40 years) reveals that marathons are serious business...for just $29 you can get a whole host of methods, plans and regimes to get you ready for the big day.  Hmmm sounds like great fun (especially if you enjoy running - not so much for the rest of us).

I wonder though, if we choose to live our faith life like it's a marathon if we're ever really doing much more than training for the Big know, the day we meet Jesus face to face.  That's what its all about, right?

Well, maybe there's more...(actually, I think there's a whole lot more to being a follower of Christ and a part of the kingdom of God).  We HAVE been commanded to love God and love one another, to care for the least and the lost and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ...but, at what cost?

I think there's a great deal of tension between doing and being.  While 'git 'er done' sounds great - I fear it's also making us into a culture that can't sit still and enjoy the simple pleasures of God's good creation.  I believe the scope of God's good creation includes a visit with friends, a walk outside, a Sunday afternoon nap, a home cooked meal (from scratch), time curled up on the couch with a loved doing nothing at all.  Trust me, I'm just as guilty as the next person...I'm just writing this to remind myself that perhaps, just perhaps it's time to slow things down and decide what really is important to God, to my family and to me.

Frankly, I am not into marathons OR sprints.  And I'm not advocating couch potato status either.  There IS plenty to do, I may just need to rethink how I set priorities and how to leave some things undone (gasp).

So, how about a nice walk...or come on by and let's sit on the porch and enjoy a glass of sweet tea.  I think its time for this gal to start to slow down and just be for a while.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Its all about Covenant...

Trinity UMC - Waverly, IA
Being a fine brick and mortar church with a nice long aisle, we get phone calls from time to time from brides wanting to get married at Trinity UMC.  By now our Administrative Assistant, Mary, has it down to a science: "Pastor Deborah would be happy to talk with you about our wedding policies after worship some Sunday, when should I tell her to expect you?"  Half the time they never come.  And that's ok with me.  

It gets trickier when an out of town child or grandchild of a member calls to have their baby baptized the next family reunion weekend or holiday they are in town.  Even worse if its Grandma who calls to ask when they can get the baptism done.

In the United Methodist church we don't do private baptisms.  Baptism is a sacrament , a Holy Covenant between the parents, the Church and God.  The last thing I want to do is cause the congregation to perjure themselves because they can't live into the covenantal language that is integral to the service.  The congregation is asked: "Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?"  and the congregation then responds:
With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.  We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others.  We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.
Eucharist at Trinity UMC
If a child is going to live outside of the community how can we live into this covenant?  Let alone the implications of turning the very Holy Spirit of God loose on a family that is not part of a worshiping community - that is if we believe that God is real, almighty and powerful...hmmmm.

Likewise, Holy Communion is a sacrament - and in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup we celebrate the New Covenant that is made through the mystery of faith; Christ has died, Christ has Risen, Christ will rise again!

I tend to agree with Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence, that we are in the midst of a huge shift in religion and religious institutions around the globe. I would encourage you to read her book and consider that this is a pattern that has been repeating for thousands of years.  Essentially, and I say this with fear and trembling, every 500 years there is an upheaval that occurs as we try to sort out to what/whom do we give authority.  The last such upheaval was around 1500.  So, here we are - surprise!

Luther helped us sort through the last upheaval, known as The Reformation.  When the dust settled the Church identified that our authority comes from Scripture.  Over the past 200 years or so  Solo Scriptura has been undermined and eroded by the Enlightenment and modernity - by science, psychology, the end of slavery, women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, divorce and now the LGBT debate.   At the Wild Goose Festival (as well as at other various speaking engagements) Tickle suggests that if we follow the normal pattern of change it will take us about 40-80 years to finally work through the three major questions facing this Great Emergence:  to what/whom do we give authority, what was/is the atonement all about and what is a person and personhood (when does personhood start - to help deal with issues surrounding biology and the medical field).  She mentioned another thing:  how essential it will be for us to reclaim an understanding of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the divine dance that is inherent in their unity and communion with one another.

I have been thinking about this for a while, and I think that our authority must be grounded once again in Covenant.  I believe we need to reclaim the meaning and the importance of covenental language.  We pastors are good about throwing this word around, but I am not sure that we have 'unpacked' the meaning of Covenant very well.  A Covenant is more than a contract - because it is between God and God's people.  It is so important that at any big event, God (or God's prophet) runs through a whole list of things that God has done (which may seem redundant, but this is how Covenant works) for God's people, in God's people and through God's people to lay the framework for any shift or new way of looking at how God is working in and through God's people.  This reminder lays the ground work for how God's people are to live into the Covenant (or live up to their side of the bargain).

I think we must reclaim a sense of the importance of Covenant, which is based on scripture!  See Genesis when Noah and the critters survive the flood or when Abram is called by God, or when Abram is renamed Abraham, or when Moses brings down the 10 Commandments, or when Joshua takes over after Moses' death....the Old Testament covenant begins with; "I am the Lord your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob..."  And when Jesus shares his last meal with his disciples, he re-wrote the script for the Passover meal saying; "this is the New Covenant in my blood...."

As I think about these important questions I am reminded of how difficult it is to live into a Covenant, which is why Jesus came in the first place, to teach us how to live into being God's people.  And the amazing thing is that it didn't matter to Jesus if you were a sinner or a saint, a Jew or a Gentile or even a Roman soldier each and every person was created in God's own image and so a person of great value and worth to the Kingdom of Heaven.  What mattered was faith and a willingness to love God and love one another, to enter into relationship or covenant with God.

As a United Methodist we acknowledge two sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist and then there are other means of grace that use covenant language as well:  Marriage, Ordination and Confirmation, anointing with oil/healing.  What if we were to call the church back to covenant language?  First we would have to acknowledge that words have meaning.  In this current climate of noise and words and information coming at us from every side, this would mean an intentionality and sensibility that may just be refreshing.  

Our Triune God has given us Covenant language for a reason.  I think our future demands a more careful look at our past and how God has worked in and through God's people and His good creation through Covenant.  God's postmodern prophets are starting to call us back to the basic, fundamentals of the faith.  Of course, we know what happens to many prophets...I fear it is not going to be pretty these next few decades as we sort things out.

Here is one way that the rubber meets the road for me.  If I am going to take Covenant seriously, I think its time that the church stop being an arm of the civil government when it comes to marriage.  I am all for blessing marriages in an appropriate worship service, but why should the church act as an agent for the civil government?  I, for one, am ready to get out of the wedding business, and get back to the work of building a relationship based on Covenant, the couple and the congregation that they worship with should be entering into this call to love and uphold one another in good times and in bad.  I think we'd have fewer marriages in trouble if we were truly vested and invested in lifting each other up.  But then again, that's just me.

Regardless, I pray that Covenant begins to have meaning again, that its not just ritual or pomp and circumstance, or something that gets done, but that by being drawn into the Covenant we are able to tap into the depth and breadth of God's love for his Good Creation and our proper response to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength and to love one another as we love ourselves.  

I wish I had thought of this while I was at the Wild Goose Festival.  I would love to hear some thoughts from others who were there - does this perhaps mesh with some of the conversations that were going on?

in Christ, together,

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I got issues

my surprise birthday cake -
thanks Trinity UMC family!
We all got 'em - trust me, to be human is to have issues.  For the past year or so one of mine was turning 50.  Gasp!  One of the reasons I went to the Wild Goose Festival was to be away from home on my 50th birthday (Friday, June 24th).  I figured I could be inconspicuous, and let the day slip away, 50 is just a number - right?

In the hills of North Carolina we were far removed from the news of the day.  Cell phone service was sketchy at best, and WiFi was not very reliable.  It was nice to be away from it all - tho I missed my daily routine of browsing a variety of websites and blogs this was actually a good thing.  We all need a hiatus from things from time to time.

One of the challenges of living in this age of instant information is the heightened awareness of what's going on around the globe.  Whether its a tsunami or famine, war or tornadoes, a child with a serious illness or sex slavery and human trafficking, as part of the human race and especially as people of faith we often find ourselves on compassion overload with too much information about very real needs which leads us all wanting to DO something in response.

Our desire to DO something, and then the relentless reminder that the needs are great not only around the world but down the block can lead to fatigue.  I know that here in Iowa many of us are just plain tired of floods and flooding.  The emotional toll has been great, so the thought of going and doing something is overwhelming and can make us kinda numb.  So, often we just write a check and try to forget about it.

One of the critiques of the Wild Goose Festival was the atmosphere of political activism. I have a variety of thoughts about this that I would like to share.  First, puhlease!   Speaking to Mark Tooley, a brother in the United Methodist Church, let us remember that since the days of John Wesley we have always been about BOTH Piety AND Social Justice!  When people of faith are together, we are called to love God and love one another.  How can we look into the eyes of another and not recognize each other as one of God's own beloved children.  IF we see God in the person next to us, then we must acknowledge not only their humanity, but their needs as well.  This is how the Body of Christ works.

Were there some politically charged issues brought up?  Sure.  War, poverty, prisons, clean water, and the one that seems to draw the most attention in this season - the LGBT-Q (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual - queer) issues to name a few.  But why shouldn't we be talking about these things as people of faith?  Again, BOTH a biblical grounding in faith, prayer, worship, etc (what Wesleyan's call the Means of Grace) AND faith in action.

During opening worship on Thursday we were invited to turn to someone near us and share our hopes and our hang ups that we brought with us.  I turned to my right and there was Matt from New Jersey, wearing a bright pink t-shirt with the phrase "legalize trans*" across the front.  When I shared that my hang up was my 50th birthday the next day he broke out into a huge smile, gave me a high 5 and said joyously "mazel tov!"

Moments later, as we remembered our baptism, it was Matt who was first in line to celebrate the great things that have been done by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.  Through the sacrament of Baptism, and more importantly by virtue of being a child of God, Matt and Mark are both my brothers, just as is the starving child from India whose picture is flashed all over TV in the Save the Children ads.

While the organizers publicized that prison reform and restorative justice would be the bigger issues, we did seem to talk about sex and sexuality a good deal too.  But each of these conversations covered both the LGBT-Q as well as the heterosexual issues and challenges that we all face with our sexuality.  The conversations were civil, open and engaged a number of things that I deal with on a weekly basis as a pastor.  

As Phyllis Tickle said; 'The question is not about gay verses straight, this is the last fingerhold of the battle over Sola Scriptura.  I am sorry that you got caught in the middle of it, its not about LGBT - its not...Over the past 200+ years the authority of scripture has been challenged by science, psychology, women's suffrage, civil rights, etc...we are in the last battle over the one question 'to what do we give authority,' (this is a paraphrase of Mrs Tickle's comments)  As Phyllis said, it will take us decades to sort this out.  (I will post later with my thoughts about this one)

While some present at Wild Goose accused Jim Wallis of caving on the issue of gay marriage...I think Wallis has modeled a truth that we need to learn.  We can not do it all.  We can not go to every flood, every tornado, every tsunami.  We can't write a check to every victim of domestic abuse or rescue every child from war zones.  But we can not and should not just sit back and wring our hands either.

The Wild Goose Festival helped me to clarify these thoughts.  With displays and information from a wide variety of very important groups, I realized that just like I pick and choose when I go through the produce section of the grocery, I must pick and choose, with fear and trembling and lots of prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, which causes I am going to support with my time, talents and treasures.

Rather than use the scatter approach, we must become more focused.  Otherwise, we will give only half hearted attempts and get nothing accomplished.  My passions center around sustainable agriculture and walking along side veterans of war.  This is more than enough for one person to be passionate about.  

So, while there are many good things, for me these are the things that will get my energy.  I think what Wallis, McLaren, Dear and others were asking is -what is it that you are passionate about?  What can you give yourself to?  Who is your brother or sister?  How can you honor your love of God and your care and compassion for the least and the lost in this fast paced society we live in?

I think these are very important questions that all of us with issues need to prayerfully consider.  And these kinds of conversations are best done in an open and loving environment.  This is another thing I found at the Wild Goose Festival - room to listen, talk and share in a safe place for all of God's children.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Goose chasing

Let's be this day and age we don't take much time to get to know one another.  There are lots of things that draw us away from meaningful dialogue about faith let alone deep Christian friendships.  Family, work, technology, exhaustion all take their toll and cause us to skim the surface and avoid getting too close.  That's a shame, because I don't think we can practice one of the chief maxims of Wesley's General Rules, "watching over one another in Christian love," without the kind of vulnerability that comes from knowing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we are unable to speak about the deepest longings of our heart or express our doubts and fears we are not truly in community (or communion) with one another.
by the coffee barn - at the Wild Goose Festival 2011

Often times, to expedite the initial pleasantries of getting to know someone we label ourselves as a means of introduction.  I am a single (read that divorced) mom of 4, a Christian, Trinitarian, Wesleyan and borderline contemplative.  I am also an Evangelical who leans toward the Emergence Church movement.  The problem with labels is that they come with baggage.  Once we proclaim ourselves as something or someone that is loaded with politically charged images we invite all sorts of scrutiny and scorn - shutting down the avenue to open dialogue and authentic sharing - geesh!

This is why recent post from more traditional conservative evangelical groups about the recent Wild Goose Festival are problematic.  I attended the Wild Goose Festival last week.  I did not go as a United Methodist, or even as a pastor, but as someone who is part of the Christian faith.  I first heard of the Wild Goose Festival from Brian McLaren during a conversation with our Eastern Iowa Emergent Cohort.  Brian invited us to come to North Carolina and be part of something new and exciting coming to the United States.

Modeled after the UK's Greenbelt Festival, the Wild Goose Festival was a 4 day event in the hills of north central North Carolina.  Nationally known speakers were on hand to interact in an open air venue that allowed for some interesting, and frankly exciting dialogue.  There were also a number of bands, great food, camping (for those who were up for camping in the 90 degree temperatures) and times of daily prayer and praise.

Mark Tooley, a fellow United Methodist who is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote: “Much of what ‘Wild Goose’ features is not new or novel but old-fashioned liberal causes, freshly repackaged for young evangelicals. Most Religious Left groups that advocated leftist policies in past generations are now in severe decline, and their activists are now targeting evangelical youth  Influenced by gnostic beliefs that Christianity has repeatedly rejected, many ‘Wild Goose’ voices flatter themselves with fanciful dreams of sophistication and praise from secular elites. Their 1960s-style hoopla is supposedly updated for the 21st century. But ultimately this featherless old Wild Goose won’t fly.”

I was there for all 4 days and that's not what I experienced.  I don't think Tooley really attended Wild Goose for himself, and frankly, unless he was willing to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit, I am not sure he would have gotten much out of it.  What I did find is a group of folks who love God and deeply care about God's beloved children, so much so that there was room to work things out in the words of John Wesley, "in fear and trembling."

What I saw was an exciting and varied list of speakers from all sorts of backgrounds and denominations fully accessible to those who attended.  Never was dialogue censored, nor questions shot down.  What I saw was people sharing ideas and ideals, dreaming big dreams and casting a vision for the future, a vision that may appear idealistic, yet living into orthodox Christian faith based on scripture.   If old fashioned liberal causes include balm for our broken and hurting world, encouragement for life's journey and a call to living intentionally as people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and provide cold water to the thirsty (see Matthew 25:31-46), well then - I guess that's what I saw.

Were some of my more conservative sensibilities challenged, of course they were.  But we only stretch and grow when we enter into open and intentional dialogue with folks, not lurk around on the fringes or come to a place such as the Wild Goose Festival with an agenda that is inflexible or full of fear and anger.

I will post later about some of the ways that I was stretched...let it suffice to say that the Wild Goose Festival gave me nourishment for the journey so that I may live more authentically into the call that our Triune God has placed on my life - to share the love of God with others and walk alongside my sisters and brothers so that we may be a part of the solution to some of the challenges our world is facing.  If this means that I am a liberal or progressive, so be it...but I think it means I am just a beloved child of God working things out in fear and trembling, just like everyone else.

Peace, love in Christ,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I think I'm falling in love...

Our love affair started with some innocent flirting while I was in college nearly 30 years ago.  Then 10 years ago we dove into a more serious relationship.  We did break things off for a bit, but today as I was driving to Oskaloosa it hit me.  I think I am falling in love with Iowa.

I was a student at the University of Tennessee at Martin when my family left me and my sister behind and moved to Iowa of all places.  Back then I knew Iowa only during holidays - Thanksgiving and Christmas to be exact.  Not the best times of year to visit the Midwest, especially if you learned to drive in the southeast.  One Christmas Eve I remember driving through a real live blizzard with my dad to pick up some provisions to last our family through Christmas day.  I'm glad he was behind the wheel and not me!

After college I moved to Memphis for a couple of years and then on to Atlanta, Georgia.  Once married I didn't make the holiday trips any more.  About once a year or so we'd trek up north for a visit to show off the kids, play with the cousins and head back home.  After a few days we were happy to be back to the hustle and bustle of Hotlanta.  Atlanta in the 90's was the place to be, especially if you were young and had some money to spend.  Braves baseball games, great restaurants and a business that kept us busy - and 4 young children too, Iowa was the furthest thing from my mind.

The big family vacations were spent in Florida or in the mountains.  One summer we took 2 weeks to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I never imagined spending that much time in Iowa of all places!  Iowa was where the folks lived.  Iowa = obligatory family gatherings, weddings, and so forth.  Or so it seemed.

We celebrated the dawn of the millennium in Colorado, and after a year and a half working for a TV station in 'the Springs' I had the opportunity to transfer to a sister station in Iowa.

Why Iowa?  It was time to live closer to family, I yearned for a slower pace, better schools for the kids, it all seemed to make sense.  We bought an acreage near the town of Wellsburg, a lovely little midwestern town with a German heritage (many Iowa towns were founded by immigrants from Sweden, Norway, Holland, Ireland, Germany, England, etc and retain some of the charm of their mother country).  Wellsburg had a community pool, 9 hole golf course and nice neat homes on nice neat lots.  The kids loved the pond at the end of the lane, I fell in love with the soil - a soil so rich and soft and fertile - if you have a green thumb, or a desire to grow just about anything - Iowa is the place to be, it was a far cry from the red dirt of Georgia!

From Sept 2001-June 2003 I worked for KWWL - Iowa's News Channel 7 - in Eastern Iowa.  Along the line God called me to the ministry, so we up and moved again - this time to northwestern Illinois so that I could go to seminary.  But we always planned to return to Iowa.  My call to ministry was birthed out of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

My first appointment was clear on the other side of the state - in the Northwest Iowa community of Spirit Lake.  I almost wept as we drove there because the land was so very flat, until you got to the lakes.  Three beautiful clear water lakes surrounded by trees and homes of all shapes and sizes.  The lakes; West Okoboji, East Okoboji and Big Spirit are a true resort community that swells with visitors May through August.  As a local we quickly learned how to navigate tourist season and shared in the fun in the sun lifestyle with our Spirit Lake neighbors.

A year ago, I was appointed back to the 'east coast' of Iowa.  To a community on the Cedar River called Waverly.  Waverly is a lovely German midwestern town.  Nice neat homes on nice neat lots lined with flower beds and a wide variety of trees.  Nothing fancy or showy.  They have a wonderful library, swimming pool, great schools, a college (Wartburg College) a thriving down town area, 2 golf get the idea.  Waverly is home now.

But truth be told, my 20+ years in the south, the southern forests that I explored and fell in love with in my high school and college years, the food and culture, the Smokey Mountains continue to call me...and I always thought that someday, some day, I would wind up in Eastern Tennessee, North Carolina or North Georgia.  And I may still - some day.

In the meanwhile Iowa continues to woo me.  Today's drive to Oskaloosa along Highway 63 showed off her very best.  Everything is so green and alive - the fields of corn and soybeans are starting to take off.  Tree lines along the numerous creeks and rivers rise and fall along the rolling hillsides beckoning to be explored.  It is all so beautiful and even, dare I say, sensuous.

It's as if God is saying to me - stop yearning for somewhere else, look at what I have created all around you...

True confession time:  I have not felt as if I had a place to call home/home since I was about 12 - that's when my family moved from our family's farm in Pennsylvania.  Over the past 38 years I have lived in 8 states (2 of them twice) and about 18-20 houses...I frankly have lost count.  Sure, home is where your family is - but without a sense of rootedness or groundedness - well, home can sometimes seem to be out there - somewhere - yet to be found.

But Iowa, oh Iowa.  Despite your OCD like efficiency (there are roads going north/south and east/west each and every mile out in the countryside - and the naming system is down right diabolical in its efficiency), your crazy extremes in weather (its Iowa - it will change in the next few hours - and it does), despite the wind that never stops blowing (it howls in the winter but it's a breeze and very desirable in the summer) and sharing said roads with farm implements of every size and shape imaginable,  and the crazy schedule of athletics for our kids (baseball and softball season begins after school gets out for the summer which means only a 2 week window for any sort of family summer vacation).  What can I say?  I think I am hooked...

I sure do love Iowa's sunrises and sunsets.  The sheer openness of the land allows for a 360 degree view of God's handiwork.  I admire your diversity, we have every size, shape and color of folk you could imagine, many immigrants in the past 40 years were sponsored by churches here in Iowa.  I love how by 6 in the evening on a hot summer day the temperature and humidity starts to fall to a comfort level that allows one to throw open the windows and enjoy the fresh night air.  And I especially love how accepting you are of folk - even vagabonds such as myself.

Sigh....yes, I think I'm falling in love with Iowa - and it feels pretty good to me.

peace, hope, love and joy, wherever you call home