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

Thursday, June 2, 2011

has it been a year already?

I celebrated the one year anniversary of our arrival in Waverly and my appointment to Trinity at Mayo Clinic/St Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Mn.  This was fitting because pastoral care is an important part of what I do.  We have been blessed to do some exciting, kingdom building things together as a faith community over the past year!

I am so very blessed to be appointed to Trinity and this year has been very rewarding.  I feel like I have been stretched in ways that I had not thought possible - and I am grateful to our loving, Triune God and the people of Trinity for their patience, grace and encouragement these past 12 months.  I know that I am still a work in progress, but it is a beautiful journey we are on, and it is made sweeter by traveling together as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Today I spent a few hours with Kristin Ruyle, the newest member of the Trinity staff.  Kristin came on board yesterday as our Director of Discipleship.  Kristin grew up in Waverly as a member of Trinity.  We are really blessed to have her on the ministry team!  Her main assignment is to get to know folks and to help us finds ways to live into our baptism vows to 'serve as Christ's representatives in the world' and to 'love and nurture one another in faith'.

We both will be leading small groups this summer and into the fall.  We will also begin laying the groundwork for the launch of our mid-week program on Wednesday afternoons - this is in response to the new Waverly Shellrock early out schedule.  (The school board voted this spring to release all of the students at 2pm each Wednesday for teacher in-service training).  Our midweek program is prayerfully going to meet the needs of parents in our community who are looking for a safe and caring place for their children to go Wednesday afternoons AND it will be a great way to get to know and walk alongside the youth of our community!

Tonight (Thursday) I am packing to go to the Iowa Annual Conference.  Each summer representatives from each of the 800 some United Methodist churches across the state of Iowa gather in Des Moines for our annual meeting.  This is happening at Annual Conferences around the globe over the next several weeks - which is pretty amazing when you stop to think about it!

We will meet for four days to worship, ordain new clergy, celebrate our various ministries, hear reports from the various commissions, conduct the business of the conference (pass the budget, etc) and elect lay and clergy delegates to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.  It is a time of hard work but also a wonderful time to reconnect with friends from across the state.

A clergy colleague, Rev. Magrey DeVega,  wrote the following prayer for pastors, and I would like to invite you to join me in praying for all of our brothers and sisters around the globe as we gather as the people called United Methodists:

Gracious God,

We thank you for the call that you have given women and men to serve as ministers in your church. We remember that theirs is a holy calling, grounded in the theological and biblical roles of prophets, priests, and psalmists, for the work of challenging, nurturing and ordering the life of your people. You have composed a rich, diverse, covenantal communion, whose pastors display a wide range of skills and passions, from all walks and seasons of life. In particular, we thank you for those who have or will soon retire, for their long years of service, and for the legacy they leave behind. We thank you for those who are fresh into the tender years of their work, especially those who will soon be licensed, commissioned, and ordained to ministry.

Yet, we acknowledge that the journey is often difficult for those who pursue your call. We pray for those who are dealing with physical, emotional, mental, or financial hardship. Grant them courage for their disabilities, guidance for their difficulties, supportive loved ones to surround them in their darkest days, renewed strength for their moments of fatigue, and the willingness to make necessary changes toward health and wholeness.

We pray for those struggling to find adequate balance between the demands of leadership and their responsibilities to family and self-care. Grant them the ability to discern healthy choices, prioritize what is most important, and to tend to those areas of life that nourish their souls and tend to their relationships.

We pray for those dealing with isolation and loneliness, separated perhaps by distance from close friends and colleagues, or who serve in communities where pastoral boundaries preclude close friendships with parishioners. We pray for a dramatic increase in the numbers of pastors involved in clergy covenant groups, that they may discover the strength of companionship. May these groups afford them the chance to celebrate without seeming boastful, and to mourn without appearing indulgent.

We pray for pastors whose current spiritual state is likened to a dry, parched wilderness. We pray for those whose difficult years in ministry have sapped them of joy, robbed them of creativity, and drained them of a desire to seek your spirit of innovation and imagination. Tend to them as ravens at the Brook Cherith. Restore their energies, and inspire them to new ways of serving your people and the world.

We pray that you will renew within pastors a holy passion for the Scriptures. Open their eyes to new interpretive possibilities, and fill them with new zeal for its preaching, its teaching, and its embodiment through their example. May they see themselves as wordsmiths of the Word, falling in love once again with the beauty of human language, and its power to name, claim, and sustain our commitment to be your people.

We pray for pastors struggling with congregations mired in conflict, who must mediate between people caught in sharp disagreements and taxing arguments. Grant your spirit of peace, and empower a commitment to reason and compromise.

We pray for pastors whose patterns of spiritual discipline have long gone untended. Forgive those whose regular practices of prayer, Bible reading, ministry to the needy, fasting, tithing, meditation, and study have lapsed into inactivity. Call them to flex their atrophied muscles, that they may build up their capacity to serve your church over the long haul.

We pray that you will give pastors a new sense of joy in their ministry. Remind them of the first moments when you whispered your call into their ears. Strip away the layers of painful memories that now muffle the clarity and vitality of those first effusive moments. Instead, buoy their call with hope, fill them with laughter, grant them holy humor, and remind them that "the joy of the Lord is their strength."

We pray for the development of mentoring relationships, for older pastors willing to share a lifetime of lessons learned and mistakes overcome, and for younger pastors willing to exhibit humility and reverence for those who would teach them. Provide each Samuel a willing Eli, an Elijah for every Elisha, and a Naomi for every Ruth.

We pray for the Bishop and the Cabinet, and for the weighty episcopal demands they bear in making and setting pastoral appointments. We pray for your guiding spirit in every stage of the process, and for all parties involved - - departing and arriving pastors, sending and receiving churches, and all spouses and families impacted - - that your Kingdom will be built by the best people serving in the right places.

We pray for the emergence of new people into the ministry. May each local church claim the responsibility of seeking, cultivating, and calling people into this sacred task, and we even pray for an influx of younger pastors to lead the church for generations to come.

We give you thanks, O Lord, for all you have done in and through the faithfulness of your people throughout the years. May we continue to serve as the living expression of your love, put into action for the world to see. May all of us, clergy and laity alike, be led by the one whom you sent for our sake, Jesus the Christ, who is the head of the church, and in whose name we pray,


Thank you for your continued prayers and support.  I look forward to the next year at Trinity!

Peace, love in Christ