Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holy Night

Christmas eve is one of my favorite nights. The lights, the music, the gathering of family and friends, worship with candles and communion. Tonight we had only one service because of the weather. The trip to church was not too bad, but coming home the snow was drifting and blowing and snow packed.

Somehow, on this night, I have this anticipation of something wonderful. In the dark and cold of winter, I look for the promise of light and warmth. In a chaotic and hateful world, I long for the peace and love promised in Emmanuel, God with us.

Tonight, I will pray again for peace on earth and good will for all people. I will ask for God to be born again in my heart and life. I will ask that my life and words and actions will be a window for others to see the love and grace of God.

Merry Christmas!

I am always Graced to Serve,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Challenging myself to listen

I had the great joy of watching two of my grandsons last week while their mommy and daddy were having baby brother. Not only was a good time had by all, but grandma and grandpa were exhausted by the end of the two days. A three year old and fifteen month old certainly have an amazing amount of energy and they need a great deal of care.

The weather was lovely and my three year old carrot top grandson was tossing a small football around. The kind of small football that are given out at Friday night high school football games. He said, "Grandma, let's play FOOTBALL." So we tossed the little football back and forth a few times and he looked at me and said, "Grandma, we have to crash."

That had me curious. "Crash?" I asked. "Yes," he said, " you put your helmet on" (and he proceeded to put on a pretend helmet, "and pull it down", then he pulled on the imaginary face guard, and then you CRASHHHHHHH! At this point he can running toward me as fast as his little three year old legs would carry him and pushed me until I went down to the ground.

Crashing was his way to talking about tackling. So, for the next hour, either he or I would toss the football to the other one, and we would race toward each other and "crash" until we were down on the ground. I am not sure what a real football player feels like after a game, but this grandma is still sore. from getting up and down from the ground.

Fast forward to last night. I watched a little Monday night football with my husband. I don't often watch football, but it was nice to have some time with him. As I watched the game I kept thinking about how my grandson and I played on Friday. We tossed the ball, but we didn't "move it down the field." We played catch and then "crashed". We weren't trying to win or play as a team, we were just having a wonderful time.

At one point it occurred to me that a great deal of what I observe in terms of politics, church and even relationships these days is more about "crashing" than actually working together to accomplish something or work toward a common goal or for the common good. Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, young and old, you name what ever group come running toward each other and push and push until they fall down to the ground. It's "our way or the highway" using that old saying. Somehow we will bulldoze our way through or knock down our opponent, our enemy or those who are different from us.

I wouldn't take a moment away from playing with my grandson, but that game is no way to live life. Human beings disagree, we have deeply held beliefs that others may not share. The problem always arises when we are unwilling or unable to listen to the other side even if we won't ever agree with it. The worst part is that we demonize and dehumanize the "other" so that we do not have to even see them as human, let alone, like "us".

I am utterly convinced that we must find a way to communicate with those who are not "like" us. We have to find a way to hear and listen to the other side. We need to quit using terms like "take back our...whatever", we "will crush you", we are "watching" and labeling people who disagree with us as "traitors" or "idiots" or any other words that hurt.

I know, that for myself, it is easy sometimes to dismiss anyone who doesn't think like me or believe like me or just trust that "I know best." I am sure it is easy for others to dismiss me as well. I intend to try and listen a little more, find a way to question or to disagree in ways that are less insulting and more affirming. If I can accomplish that even once in a while, then I will truly be

Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Who comes to the table?

On Sunday, my husband and I was invited to an open house in a sukkah, for the festival of Sukkot. In the Jewish calender it is harvest festival often called the Festival of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles. I had read about this festival, but never had the privilege of being invited to the celebration.

It took place in a "sukkah", a booth or temporary shelter built in my friends back yard. All kinds of wonderful food was placed on the table to share with family and friends who came by. Traditionally all meals are eaten there during the holiday and often people sleep in their sukkah. During our time there, the traditional blessing was given with the four species (date palm, myrtle and willow branch and a citron) were shaken in four directions.

What struck me was when Reb Moti said, "there is a belief that someday all nations will come to Jerusalem and feast together." Sukkot is a holiday that celebrates the harvest now, but also the in-gathering of the time to come when all people and all nations will gather at the table together.

That morning, at West Heights we had celebrated World Communion Sunday. It began a little over 80 years ago as a way for Christians to focus on the time to come when Jesus' prayer would be fufilled "that we may all be one." Our denominational differences would be laid aside and all would be gathered at the table.

Last evening, the Reverend Adam Hamilton introduced us to a man named Vincent who has Tourettes Syndrome. He came to Church of the Resurrection and sat at the back and would shout out the kinds of words someone with that syndrome would say. It was uncomfortable for many, but still they made a place for Vincent. Vincent is a gifted singer and became part of the congregation because "they were kind and caring and helped me know God. They made a place for me."

My mind is focusing on who comes to the table? Who is welcome, who is invited? What will it look like when all people will gather, from all nations, from all places, regardless of age or gender or orientation, or cultural background, or they way the look or dress or political affiliation. The image is not of a table filled with people that look alike, talk alike, act alike or believe alike, but for all people from everywhere experiencing the fullness of the Divine's grace.

I would like to believe I could live out that inclusivity, but I am absolutely sure I do not. So I am living with the reality of what is, and in hope of what will be in the time to come. With that hope, I am Graced to serve.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts on this first day of Fall

Last year at this time I was reading the fall issue of Midwest Living, a magazine that focuses on life in the mid-west. What struck me about this issue, was not the recipes, although I love to cook, not the trips or the festivals but the opening piece by the editor. He had asked people why they loved the fall. The responses varied, but tended toward "it's cooler, it's football weather, the leaves are lovely and my routine is back after the long days of summer."

I was looking for something else. I love autumn. I, too, love the cooler weather, the leaves that change colors, the opportunity to jump in a pile of just raked leaves, the mums that burst forth as the last color before winter. I love the smell of the wood fires and the sight of bright stars on a cool crisp night.

For me, autumn is my time to reassess my life. I know for our dominant culture we make "resolutions" on January 1. I, however, look over my goals, check out my calender and try to prioritize what is truly important in the fall.

Autumn drives me in a way no other season does. I feel compelled to check my pantry, to can up produce and freeze produce for the winter. I feel pushed by time as the days grow shorter and colder.

Without being maudlin, autumn reminds me that I will not live forever. My days on earth have a beginning and have an end. I am not promised forever, only the moments I am given. As the days wane, I am deeply aware that my life also wanes. In the springtime all is new and exciting and wonderful and young. I look for the tulips and the daffodils and iris to spring forth in all their glory. In the fields I can see the young calves and the lambs and the colts. I can hear the "cheep cheep" of the young birds in the nest.

Summertime is for long sun-filled days, full of energy. When the crops begin to grow green and tall and begin to produce the sought after harvest. Summer is a gathering in of family and friends and an enjoyment of time that seems to stand still.

Then suddenly, the days grow shorter, a cool breeze creeps in from the north. soon leaves begin to turn color until they are a riot of orange and coral and amber and red. The wind grows stronger and they begin to fall until the branches of the trees are barren and the grass has turned brown and the nights are much longer than the days.

Autumn is our seasonal reminder to "pay attention" if you will to the life we have been given. To say "I love you" to the people that matter the most. To, in the words of the Psalmist "to count our days that we may gain a wise heart." There will come a time when I enter the winter of my life, when like the autumn leaves, I will have spent all that have and will lie down to rise no more.

I want to honor the days of my life that I am given. I want to love well, to truly let those people I love know how much I have loved them and appreciated their love. I want to use my gifts and abilities in a way that leaves this world a better place. And at the last, I want to say a prayer of thanks to God for the times and the seasons I have been given.

I am

Graced to Serve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Remembering

I ran across this quote on Twitter, "that best portion of a good man's life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. The author is William Wordsworth. Seemed appropriate I should read this quote after I had been with the Reverend Terry Murray. He died yesterday, after a short illness, and he died too young. Sixty three years old and he had so much yet to do and to live for.

Terry was a man of deep faith and commitment. I haven't begun to hear all the stories of his ministry in the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church or his many years as a chaplain with the National Guard. His "nameless acts of kindness" will be remembered by all those who were touched by his life and ministry. I only know I didn't have enough time with him this last year as he began retirement to be with his beloved wife Ann, to travel and to be part of the congregation I serve at West Heights.

This week I was struck again by how fragile life is. I attended a funeral for a neighbor, Mark Scheuerman. He was only fifty-five and touched so many lives through his laughter and his love. Two days later, I was in the hospital saying goodbye to Terry.

Both men leave behinds a multitude of family and friends. Both, made a difference in the lives of their co-workers and neighbors. Both were unique and unrepeatable and I will miss them.

I have to admit, it is often easy for me to take for granted that people around me. Tomorrow is soon enough to schedule that cup of coffee, or stop by for a chat. Weeks like this remind me there are no guarantees. Life is short and it is precious. I am not promised tomorrow, only today and these moments. I need to be reminded. I need to get out of my rut in order to truly drink in the presence of those I love the most. I need to be reminded to pay attention, because I do not know when or if I will see them again.

So I give thanks this night for lives well lived and for the blessing I have received from them. I will attempt again to pay attention to the moments and the relationships I have. So that, in all times and in all my relationships I remain

Graced to Serve.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sermon - July 19th, 2009

video

Joy In Discipleship: Pressing Forward
By Student Pastor - Christopher Eshelman

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sermon - July 12th, 2009



video


Joy In Discipleship: The Mind of Christ


By Student Pastor - Christopher Eshelman

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sermon -July 5th, 2009

video

Joy In Discipleship: The Present Circumstances
by Student Pastor - Christopher Eshelman

Finding Joy and Meaning

I posted a question today on Facebook.com and Twitter.com. The question, "what makes a life meaningful if all the things that brings a person joy are taken away?" has provoked some deep and thoughtful replies. I posted it in a slightly different way than it was asked of me. The question has had me deeply pondering my reply.

I have certainly been asked that question in different ways before. Someone in a long term care facility who is in a wheelchair, or lost their sight or unable to live alone any more have asked that question to me. It often comes out, "What good am I?" "I don't want to live like this anymore."

This question was given to me by someone who is not in that position. It was asked by someone with health concerns, certainly. This person listed the things that had always given life joy, which were now unavailable. Then the response, "I am sure that God has a plan." This was not said as a cynical aside or a trite comment, but with conviction and faith and hope. Yet even with that response, the question was posted and a "comma" was added to our conversation. It is certainly not over.

When I was a much more inexperienced pastor, I often had a quicker response. In a care facility I might have said, "you can pray, for me, for the church, for the world, for your family and friends and neighbors." That would be a true statement. Certainly our world needs people who pray, not for a certain outcome, but just pray that the Spirit might surround and encourage and challenge people to be the best they can be and for nations and governments and institutions to do what is right and good and just.

Perhaps, I am at an age when the above response is not enough. I do not know what it is like to lose the things that give my life joy. I have not had things systematically denied to me. I am hypoglycemic, I have to watch my sugar intake. No medicine is involved, but too much sugar is like a drug and causes me to fly high, then hit a low. I, sometimes am not as "good" as I ought to be, and I pay for it in terms of how I might feel for several days if I "binge". So I gave up "real" soda, and most desserts unless they are shared.

So what! There are worse things. Without my glasses, I am officially "blind as a bat", but glasses make it possible for me to do everything I want. I do not know what it is like to lose my hearing or my sight or my mobility or my ability to do most of what I want to do. It is some what easy for me to say to someone a simplistic answer about how faith sees us through, or that the things that give our lives meaning or pleasure are "temporal".

I love to cook. The ability to taste and smell make it possible for me to create dishes that bring pleasure and joy to others. My sense of smell and taste are keen enough that I can often tell what spices and ingredients are used in a particular dish. It's not perfect, but it is keen. I can not imagine what it would be like for me to not taste and smell and experience the joy that cooking and serving and feasting with others brings to me. I am sure others would tell me food is not that important, that good food and drink are a waste. Yet, when people gather around my table and eat and drink and know that God is good and life is good, it is enough for me.

I can see, I can hear, I can walk, I can talk, I have my mind. I can show love in all the ways that matter to the ones I love the most. If I lost it all tomorrow, what would I have? Who would I be? What would make my life meaningful and hopeful and faithful and joyful?

One of the responses to the question I posed was "love", "I stick with love." To that I would add grace. I know and I tell folks all that time that our worth is not dependent on what we do, or what we accomplish or how we succeed. Our worth is based in the gift of grace and love in our lives. Certainly all of us want to make a difference, but the real worth is in how we love...one another, ourselves and however we understand God. We all fail, we make mistakes, we fall short of our abilities and do not make use of every opportunity we are given, but in spite of all these things, we are loved and in the words of Paul Tillich, we are accepted.

When I am not driven by my own need to be productive, to succeed, to work hard, I know this. I believe it. In the end, all there is ...is love and grace and God's Spirit that sees us through the good, the bad, the ups and the downs, life is all its experiences.

It may sound trite, but I believe it, I know it in the depth of my being. And if and when the time should come that I do lose some or all of those things that give me joy and help me find meaning, I will lean into that knowledge that life is good, God is good, that in the end all of us are loved and that grace will see me home.

With that, I am Graced to Serve.




Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lessons from the Road

My husband and I have returned from our vacation. It has been a long time since we had a "real" vacation where we left town. We visited family in Toledo and Chicago and had a wonderful time. We played, we saw "stuff" and we enjoyed time with those we love.

Leaving town, we drove as fast as the speed limit allowed to get to our destination. Coming home, however, we decided to take our time. We had several days to travel and chose to do just that.

Part of our journey was along Route 66. As my older brother said, "it's takes a Boomer to know what that is." I would add or anyone older!

Route 66 is the "mother road". It was the first attempt to connect this country by particular highways for automobiles. The oldest route was 1926-1930. Some of that original road is still in existence. And it is very narrow. Just enough room for a couple of Model A's to pass each other going in different directions. No shoulders, curves every which way and still being used as county or sometimes access roads along US and State highways. The next stage of Route 66 was from 1930-1940 and finally from 1940-1977. The route became straighter with each incarnation. Some of it is the same, of course, but many times adjustments were made to in order to take less time to get from one place to another.

In Illinois, much of the oldest route takes you through the early coal mining country. These little towns are filled with the relics of that day and age when the world of the worker and the company raged against one another. The late 1800's and early 1900's are filled with clashes between the owners of the mines and the ones who worked them.

The United Mine Worker's Union of America began in 1890 to fight unfair wages and the company stores. Now, I certainly had read about this part of our nation's history in school, but being in some of those places made the truth of those times more real. The early miners had to buy their supplies at the company stores. Those stores often were more expensive than retail. The miners, however, were not paid in cash, but in scrip that was only good at those stores. Their homes were owned by the company and they had to provide their own tools for work, bought of course, at the company store. It makes the song, "I owe my soul to the company store" more sad and somehow more real.

The clashes began as mine workers struggled to find a way to bargain for fair wages and working conditions. The risk was that they could lose everything since the companies owned everything. To make a complicated story simple, what agreements were made were not agreed to by everyone. Strike workers were brought in and in 1898 in Virden, Illinois violence erupted. What would become known as the Virden massacre left seven miners and five guards dead.

The Virden community refused to allow the miners to buried within in the city. So the union bought a one acre site in Mount Olive, Illinois, forty miles away and created the Union Miners Cemetery. Of course you know,that both Virden and Mount Olive are on Route 66.

There are certainly more stories of violence around the issue of fair wages, but I want to focus on the Mount Olive cemetery. The Mount Olive cemetery laid more miners to rest there. In 1930, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was buried there to be "with her boys." In 1936 a monument was created to remember all miners and Mother Jones.

Of course we stopped. We walked the cemetery. We paused by the huge monument at the base of which Mother Jones is laid to rest. She was a woman of deep convictions and fiery temperament. She was considered one of the nations most "dangerous" women for her ability to stir up protest among miners, among women and among the children. She was arrested, yet she stayed the course for a just wage and working conditions for miners.

I paused to remember not only those miners, or Mother Jones, but all who have been willing to stand again injustice throughout the ages. I am challenged again to remember as a United Methodist it is part of my heritage to stand for what is good and right and just. In 1908, the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted their first social creed. It was the first of its kind and many other denominations and even the early roots of the National Council of Churches and the United Nations based their social statements on this early statement. It was a call to faithfulness and that early statement included standing for a living wage as a minimum standard, the right of workers to organize, opposition to child labor and many other standards for health care and housing we now take for granted.

My road trip, reminded me of why I am grateful for my call as a pastor and for the particular denomination I serve. I am not perfect, the United Methodist Church is not all it can be or will be, but the roots of standing up for the poor, the homeless, the victims of injustice are part of my heritage. I am glad we "took" the time to take the slow road, for it gave me an opportunity to visit some places and some important markers in our history.

Back to work, I am more committed to living a life that in the words of the Prophet Micah states, "What does God require of you? But to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God."

And with those lessons and reflections I remain

Graced to Serve.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vacation

I am really not good at taking time off. Over the years, I have gotten very good at taking my "day" off, but really investing time in vacation, in sabbath is not my strong suit. But later this afternoon, after a Board of Directors meeting for Interfaith Ministries, my dear husband and I are heading out.

He encourages me to take time off. He encourages me to slow down. I am driven however. I grew up with the whole idea of time off was to get things done....around the yard, around the house, you know...idle hands and all. So even on my days off, I tend to "get things done".

What I miss, but my incessant need to be doing, is the chance to truly relax. I love to read, but take very little time to really enjoy reading. I love to do hand work, but haven't had a needle out for a long time. I love to work in clay, again, haven't take the time. I cook, which gives me some creative outlet, because it is relatively easy to justify...after all we have to eat!

So, for the first time in a long time my husband and I are heading out. Taking a road trip to spend time with my twin, with my brother and his wife and to visit a daughter and husband. We intend to play, to sleep, to visit and to hang loose.

So, I won't be posting for a few days. I will be attempting to focus my energy on relaxing and enjoying the people I love. I will re-embrace the sacred sabbath as a way of reconnecting and refilling myself with the Divine Presence. It will be a gift of grace, so that I remain;

Graced to Serve.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pondering my youth and what's really important

Earlier today, it was noted that Farrah Fawcett had lost her battle with cancer. As a someone who graduated in 1976 from high school, Farrah Fawcett became the icon of sexiness. She seemed to be the all "natural" girl. In the television hit "Charlie's Angels", she and Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson brought on a new age of what being a woman was all about. Angelina Jolie owes part of her success to this cheesy 1970's show.

I almost hate to admit I loved that show. These woman were smart and strong and sexy. In an era where I was still being told I couldn't do this or that because "You're a girl" was proved wrong. In an era I was encouraged NOT to go into ministry, in spite of a deep and abiding calling, "Charlie's Angels" was about breaking stereotypes. It was not great television, but for some of us, it was a reminder that when we went against societies expectations, we could succeed.

By late afternoon, Farrah Fawcett was knocked off the front page with death of Michael Jackson, "the King of Pop". I remember Michael Jackson when he was just a kid with the Jackson Five. He was my age. I have to admit, I was not a big fan. I liked his music okay, he did some amazing things in the early days of music videos, however his descent into the bizarre made me turn away from any interest I might have in his music.

Having said all that, I am pondering all the energy and focus on a has-been pop star and has-been TV actress and pin-up girl. Certainly both of these persons are part and parcel of the memories of my youth. Each added to the pop culture in their own ways via television, movies, videos and music. Both are "unique and unrepeatable."

However, there are countless persons who have given far more, done more to make the world a better place, whose names will never be known. Their hair might not be as fabulous as Farrah's, their music may not be as cutting edge as Michael's, they may never make a million dollars, but they live, they love, they share and they make sacrifices in countless ways every day.

In the next few days we will see through CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, and all sorts of media outlets the outpouring of love for these two people who many have never met. Money will be spent on flowers to lay outside homes and besides the stars on the sidewalk in Hollywood. And I will be left to ponder once again how we pour out our love and affection for celebrities and some how miss the marvelous people around us everyday. It is not that I don't appreciate what was offered, and what I gained and what I enjoyed of the arts they shared. It's just that I do not understand offering that kind of adoration for rock stars, sports figures, actors and actresses who do what we over pay them to do. What have they done to deserve such praise and such adulation?

I am probably over analyzing. I just do not get it. Considering the other more pressing issues in our world, the death of these two starts is sad, but not any more tragic than any other person who dies from cancer or dies early from heart failure. When hundreds are being wounded and killed in Iran for protesting, or in Iraq from car bombings, or people are struggling to pay their bills after they have been layed-off, or trying to survive the heat without air conditioning, our focus on these two deaths seem shallow.

At fifty, it is becoming more commonplace to say goodbye to those things of my youth. So, I say goodbye to Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. I do hope their family and friends find peace and comfort in the days ahead. I choose not to focus or "gawk" at the media circus that follows. I will continue to give thanks for those persons day in and day out who give of themselves to make the world a better place.

As I say adieu to one more part of my childhood and youth, I continue to be

Graced to Serve.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers and Those who Mentor

Father's Day has never been an easy for me. I have very few memories of my father. In fact, I am hard pressed to remember anything other than absence. Oh, I have some vague shadowy sorts of memories, but I don't even remember what he looks like unless I look for a picture, of which there are very few.

My mother and father were divorced in the mid-sixties. Long before single parent households were normative. My grandparents drove to Minnesota and loaded my mother and my siblings and I into a station wagon and drove us to Wichita, Kansas. Wichita became my new home. My grandparents were amazing human beings. They had one child, my mother and when they were seventy they brought her and her four children into their three bedroom ranch home. So much for "quiet and relaxed" retirement. We would live with them for the next five years.

The move from Minnesota and was abrupt and most everything was lost: pictures, keep sakes, almost all our toys and dishes and clothes. We moved what we could fit into that station wagon with the seven of us. I have a few things from those years, my Barbies and a small candy box my father gave from one of his trips as a salesman.

My father, for whatever reason, could not adjust. While my twin sister and younger brother and I would wait for a phone or promised visit, he didn't show. I remember him coming to see us only once and by that time a couple of years had passed and the visit was awkward and uncomfortable. He spoke to us by phone once or maybe twice and that was all.

I relate this story not for sympathy, but to share what a profound impact fathers have on their children. In spite of the fact it has been more forty years, there are still tender places around my heart. As an adult and as a pastor, I am aware that my father was obviously flawed and unable to deal with the pain of separation and divorce. Perhaps he just didn't care, but whatever the reason, his choice to be totally absent certainly affected me and if I am honest in some ways continues to affect me.

In our culture where it seems so easy to mock "dear old dad" and make fathers the butt of every joke, I am driven to say, "Fathers, don't you believe it! You are important, you make a difference and your love and your presence and your ability to be there is basic to raising a child." Father's are NOT disposable, they are NOT unimportant. Their blessing and their love and their care makes all the difference in the world.

On Father's Day, I take time to remember those men who stepped up in the absence of my father. My grandfather, my stepfather "Pep", ministers, teachers, professors who fathered and mentored me. The older I get, the more I believe we need a variety of people surrounding us and helping us become all that we were created to be. When fathers or mothers are unavailable then it is up to others to step in and help create a sacred and safe place for children to grow, to learn and become. I will forever be grateful to the community of faith, the men and the women who encouraged me and helped me along the way.

Because of them and their love and care I am

Graced to Serve,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Final Thoughts on Caravan 2009

I had every good intention of blogging once we were back to Wichita. Somehow fatigue and the to do lists took priority. Five days after we returned, I am finally getting around to blog about the experience of caravan.

West Heights United Methodist Church has been "doing" caravan for twenty four years. It started with Rev. Sam Muyskens and have continued with various senior and associate pastors and youth directors making sure the tradition continued. The youth plan, write, and implement a worship service they have created and they "take it on the road."

Forty youth and twelve adults traveled for ten days sleeping on church floors, eating WAY too much fast food, visiting a few sites and figuring out how we will share the worship in very different spaces and very different congregations.

Our congregations varied from a Retirement Center with very active seniors, to a Rehab Center where many slept through the service to a on site living facility for displaced teenagers, to an urban core church, suburban church and a rural church. Each facility had it's own challenges as to how we would set up, sound issues and if we could maneuver all the instruments and have no one fall over cords.

We learned to live together. In one church, where we stayed for two nights there was only one shower......for ALL of us. Another church had no showers, but we were ferried by congregants to their homes. The floor space was often cramped and there were limited electrical outlets and mirrors. However, the hospitality we received was gracious and wonderful.

The theme "Back to Basics" was well received wherever we went. What is basic for us? In this day and age, finding out what is important and good and just and right offers a balance to much of the craziness that is offered. I believe in the words to the song, Back to Basics, "We need to get back to the basics of life. A heart that is pure and a love that is blind. A hope that endures for all times. These are the basics of life."

Learning to love without judgment, having hope that lifts me up when all else is lost, having faith in the God who calls and claims us, that is basic as it gets. I am grateful to have spent the time with these fabulous youth and incredible adults. My hat is off to Kris Meckenstock, our youth director for his incredible organization and leadership.

Graced to Serve,

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Caravan day 3 and 4

I have always questioned the need for “Twitter” when it first came out. I avoided jumping on the bandwagon. A few days before caravan, I signed up as an experiment. I though, well, maybe I can keep folks updated.

It’s worked! I can send short updates from my phone and parents and congregation members and friends can follow us on caravan and know what we are doing in “real” time. My phone doesn’t have enough “power” to do facebook, or at least to do it well. Many of the links on twitter, I can’t open. I can, however, send out messages and have people think about us and pray for us. Since internet access has been sketchy....Twitter has been great to keep track of what is happening each day.

Saturday was a “no service” day. We played in Memphis and had a wonderful time. We went to Beale Street and ate at the Hard Rock CafĂ©. A big hit with the kids, it meant however, no Memphis BBQ. How can I ever do an accurate critique with Kansas City BBQ if I don’t eat BBQ in Memphis? Alas, it must wait for another trip.

We took a tour, with a young man named Jake who is a university student here in Memphis. He sang and talked us around Memphis. We went to Sun Records,and drove by Stax Records, by the WC Handy’s house, Elvis’s apartment and Johnny Cash’s apartment. We learned about BB King and many of the music greats of Memphis. We drove past and stopped outside the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. It was a sobering end to an entertaining tour. It reminded me of what often lies in the heart of any city….true greatness and and deep despair.

We then went to Mud Island Park and walked and played and finished the afternoon with a River Boat Tour on the “Old Man River.” Then to the church to unload and prepare for Sunday.
We set up all the equipment we need in order to share in worship.

After the work is done, each evening we gather as a large group and run down the the bed times and the morning times. There are several wake up calls and a time for breakfast to begin and end. Since the service was not until 11:00 we actually got to "sleep in". Following announcements, Kris Meckenstock leads the evening devotions. Then, everyone breaks up into family groups. There are two adult sponsors (usually a mom and dad, but not always) and ten kids. They gather to work through some questions about the devotions and "rags and brags".

Then it is time to settle down, get quiet and lights out. And it works! We have fallen asleep in good time...but we never have enough time to sleep. I guess that is what early morning bus rides are for...to catch up on sleep.

The Sunday morning service went well. The Arlington Advent Presbyterian church is awesome! Their hospitality is a gift to us.

The day ended with a trip to Graceland and some laser tag. Now to settle down and for another night. Tomorrow we are off to Jacksonville.

As I look around and see these amazing kids, I am grateful to be

Graced to Serve.

Day 2 of Caravan

Today began bright and early. In fact, we were on the bus on time without a hitch. Seven a.m. in the morning and we were “all together” in one place. We headed to Arkansas.

One of the caravan traditions is quiet time first thing in the morning. For the first hour or so, all is quiet, no noise, and no pranks to allow for some extra sleep. Then we watched a movie until it was time for lunch.

While on the bus, we had what is called “story time”. Everyone has an opportunity to share a story from the day before or something we might have done that day. We heard all about the “hammerhead sharks, the rip tides, the killer turtles” that were encountered on Thursday at Turner Falls State Park in Oklahoma. Who knew such ferocious creatures lurked there. Our caravaners, of course, carried on bravely and were able to exit the Falls victoriously.

Today we went diamond hunting at…. Youth Dude, Kris, found seven diamonds that they registered at the crater. The rest of us didn’t find anything. Then it was on to Hot Springs for our second service at the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church. We did a full service and it went well. It was wonderful for people to come out on a Friday evening to worship.

Then it was off to fast food, where I had a lovely char broiled Whopper Jr. We landed at the First United Methodist Church, which is a beautiful facility. The gymnasium has a walking track above. It is set up for a contemporary worship service. Their traditional services are in the sanctuary.

This building we are staying in has the gym, a kitchen, a Children’s learning center, youth workout room, hangout room and classrooms for children and youth. It is a welcoming and delightful place.

Tomorrow, I will post about the evening rituals as we settle down for the night.

Graced to Serve.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Day of Caravan

This morning we began the first day of worship caravan. At West Heights, this is a MAJOR tradition for our youth. Since January, they have been retreating, working together to come up with a theme, with biblical texts, music and prayers and dramas to portray the biblical stories.

This year's theme: Back to the Basics. They are using words like Rejoice, Reveal, Renew, Rethink, Remind, Recreate and others to focus on what is important. The dramas are based on Daniel in the Lion's Den, David and Goliath and Moses and the burning bush. The focus is on God providing and being there in all adversity.

Our first service this morning was at 8:15 a.m. at the Georgetown Center. It was a great experience for the kids and the folks that lived there. It was a beautiful day to play and swim and hang out at Turner Falls State Park. We are spending the night at First United Methodist Church, Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Tonight we had a rehearsal to work out some rough spots in the music. Nothing major, just some polish here and there. The kids have had a ball! Those who have been on caravan before say, "this is the best day one ever!" Perhaps because we were not so rushed to get some where...or spend too many hours on the bus at one time. There has been some sleeping, some movie watching, some swimming, some reading, some "tweeting" and some great bonding.

The underlying theme of trust and faith is a wonderful one to take on the road. The world is changing, bad things happen, but God has been there throughout the ages to support and lift our the people of God.

Some of us are "tweeting" or "twittering" throughout the day. If you want to know some of what is happening in real time....go to twitter.com. You do not need to be a member. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and type #whcaravan in the search box. It will bring up Chris Brown, myself, Deb Wiens and some responses from West Heights folks. It's a new way to stay in touch and know what is happening on the road.

I will continue to blog as I have Internet access and "tweet" when I can. Continue to lift us in your prayers.

Honored to be with these awesome youth and
Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Some thoughts before Caravan

For twenty four years, West Heights United Methodist church youth have gone on caravan. The youth prepare the worship service, write the scripts, learn the music and have a one hour worship service that can be adapted to a thirty minute or forty-five minute service depending on their opportunity to share it.

Tonight was "dress rehearsal" before we leave tomorrow morning bright and early and return on Saturday, June 13. This is my third caravan and I am privileged to be asked to go along. The trip is long, exhausting, exhilarating and exciting.

It is always difficult to leave, to put things in order, to pack and to try and get my head around the trip. I love going and it is fun to have this time with our youth. This year it may be a bit more difficult.

Wichita is still reeling and in turmoil over the murder of Dr. George Tiller in his church. The community has rallied together. I did not know Dr. Tiller, so I had no intention of going to his service. Attendance at his memorial service is for his family and friend and co-workers and neighbors and church community.

However, because of what occurred there is an Interfaith Service on Friday. My colleagues are setting it up. It is being c0-sponsored by Interfaith Ministries and my good friend, Rabbi Moti Rieber and the Mid Kansas Jewish Federation, among others.

It has come to the attention of many that the church and pastor, whose names I will not post, from Topeka will be protesting on Saturday at College Hill United Methodist Church, Reformation Lutheran Church, Hebrew Congregation and Congregation Emanu-El. This nameless group of hate-mongers will bring their vile signs to my brothers and sisters at their house of worship. This group of persons will attempt to disrupt Shabbat services, and a memorial service. While I would not attend the memorial service, I would attend Shabbat services at Congregation Emanu-El to show my love, my support and my care for that faith community.

Since I can not be there, I will be lifting these persons on the wings prayer. That the God of Grace and Love and Peace might surround these faith communities with comfort and strength. I will continue to lift up Dr. Tiller's family and friends as they walk this "valley of the shadow of death."

This disturbing event will not be forgotten. There will be much healing and much work for people to do. We must not let hatred and violence rule. We are called to be a people working toward reconciliation and safe haven for those who need it.

As I leave, I know that there are many already doing this work. Certainly there will be much to do on my return. I go, knowing my place is with our forty youth and ten adults. I am grateful to be part of West Heights, but also to be part of greater community of faith, of Christian and Jews and Muslims and other spiritual traditions who are working toward what is good and true.

I continue to be,
Graced to Serve.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Power of Words

When I was a child we used to chant, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I most often chanted that when someone was calling me a name. Somehow in some way, if I used those "magic words" whatever hurtful, insulting or hateful things people were saying wouldn't matter.

Truth be told, it never worked. The names hurt, the words were painful for all that I attempted to be strong. Those persons who called me names or laughed at me or mocked me, knew the power they held.

As a preacher for 27 years, I know the power of the word. Words can comfort a grieving soul, words can inspire people to do great things. Words have the power to give voice to deep held emotions and beliefs. Words can share the depth of love and of faith.

Words also have the capacity to wound, to destroy and to incite persons to acts of hatred and violence. In that way, words are not neutral. What we say as human beings matter and matters deeply.

Not all persons are Christians, but followers of Christ have an interesting understanding of the power of words and the Word. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took the commandments from the Hebrew Scriptures and said paraphrased, "You shall not kill, but any one angry with their brother or sister or insults them or calls them 'fool' is liable." Jesus goes on to say in the fifth chapter of Matthew that what we do in our hearts and minds is just the same as if we physically acted out those thoughts.

When we say hateful, violent words, when we wish ill or death or violence on another human being it is the same as if we actually lived out the action. I believe in a very real way, those who have posted on web sites, opinion lines, those who have passed out flyer's and leaflets, and gone on radio and television spewing hatred, spewing prejudice and encouraging violence have a responsibility when their words are taken seriously and acted upon.

For years, certain groups have said horrible things about Dr. George Tiller. They have stalked clinic workers, Dr. Tiller and his family, they have passed out leaflets in neighborhoods where workers lived. Those leaflets have been filled with ugly language, hateful language and included pictures and names and addresses. Web sites have called Dr. Tiller horrible names and spewed vitriol that I would not begin to repeat.

The past two days comments on cnn, msnbc, fox, Wichita Eagle and Kansas television stations have been filled with a vileness that stunned and sickened me. In the online world where anonymity rules, some people really believe they can say anything they want and it does not matter. The more shocking, the more hateful, the more likely a reaction will occur. After a few glances, I have made a conscious choice not to read any more.

For people who claim the name Christian, words matter. We are held responsible for the actions that occur because of what we say and do. We are called to a higher way of being, one of love, one of peace and one of grace We can deeply disagree about our faith and how we live that out, but that does not leave any room for name calling, the hurling of insults or anonymous posts.

As a preacher, because I know the power of words, I find myself "filtering" rather than saying things that will had fuel to the fire, and promote more hatred and violence in the world. Words are somtimes "too easy" and I must be careful. A turn of phrase, a cutting edge to my voice, a slightly veiled insult does not promote what I believe is good and true. So, I continue to attempt to use my words to bring peace, love, justice and grace into the world. I know that words will break hearts and spirits. I will not use my words to incite anger and violence. I will lift up Dr. Tiller's family, his co-workers, his church family in my prayers as they walk through this difficult time of grief.
Publish Post


Graced to serve.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stunned by another Church Shooting

This afternoon, I am stunned by the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller at his church Reformation Lutheran here in Wichita. As a "preacher" I am supposed to have a "word" on everything. As a "pastor" I am supposed to know the right actions, the right ways to deal with whatever might occur. In this moment, I have no words, no actions.

I am shocked, horrified and saddened more than I can articulate. I did not know Dr. Tiller. I, know, he was a doctor that performed abortions in the city of Wichita. I know he has been harassed, belittled and vilified by many who disagree with the premise that abortion needs to be safe and available. As a pastor, I have listened to women who have been in untenable situations. I have held them as they wept and I have prayed with them as they struggled to make the right decision in the midst of pain and confusion. There are times when there are no good decisions, only difficult ones. For many women, Dr. Tiller walked with them through some of the most deepest and darkest valleys of their lives and provided hope and a place of compassion.

Regardless of where one stands on this controversial issue, walking into a church and shooting someone at point blank as he ushered for the morning worship service is beyond comprehension. It is immoral and it is evil. The violation of that sacred space will take a long time to heal. That congregation has stood up to the forces of hate and bigotry before. Now, they walk through grief and pain and shock and a sense that no place is secure.

My prayers are with Dr. Tiller's family, friends, patients, co-workers and with the Reformation Lutheran Church. I pray God's strength and comfort on the pastors at Reformation Lutheran, Rev. Lowell Michelson and Rev. Kristin Neitzel as they embody God's grace for their congregation. Mostly, I pray for a stand against senseless violence. I believe we need to find better ways to disagree on difficult topics. People of faith can and do often disagree on issues. Killing each other doesn't make things any better. In fact, it makes them worse. Learning to disagree deeply and faithfully does not include name calling, belittling, harassing or vilifying.

I am sure I will ponder and post more later.

In the meantime...

I remain

Graced to Serve

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On having a Root Canal

You know the sayings....when we don't want to do something we say, "I'd rather have a root canal"...or this meeting or situation is worse than a "root canal". Not a very nice thing to say about those dentists or endodontists do the work to prepare and actually perform a root canal.

I had my first many years ago, maybe 25 years ago. As a child, I had had horrific experiences at the dentist. I won't go into it more than to say that we were on a medical card because we were poor and my grandfather had an old dentist friend who didn't believe in deadening anything unless absolutely necessary. By the time I was in high school, they had to sedate me to have any procedures done.

Once I grew up...wanting to be an adult, I attempt to be as calm as I can be. I will admit, I still sometimes have nervous shakes in the dentist chair. It's not something I am proud of, but I do my best to remain calm and take deep breaths.

Anyway, I have been in excruiting pain for over two week. I had a tooth break, my dentist put a crown on it...and about four days later the pain began in earnest. I returned to the dentist, who says, it is going to need a root canal, not exactly what I wanted to hear. Of course, I couldn't get into the endodontist until June 2. High doses of antibotics and pain killers are supposed to help. And they did, for less than a week. The pain returned and I wondered how I was going to function. I laid off the narcotics in order to work...but Advil and Tylenol only knocked it back to a dull roar.

On Thursday, my phone rang early. Dr. Turner, the endodonist had an immediate opening. I took it! Who could imagine that having a root canal could be so exciting. When my face hurt from behind my eye down to to my collar bone...whatever it took to make it stop was a miracle to me.

Dr. Turner's hands were gentle and even with my occasional shakes, he did what he needed to do in an awkward position (it was the farthest back tooth in the upper part of my mouth.) He was efficient and the difference in the pain level was immediately apparent. Sure, there is some soreness from the injections and the position my mouth was in...but not the incredible throbbing pain I had been in.

Having a root canal, was truly a gift. Who would have thought that such a procedure would make such a difference. Not so long ago, or very far away, my tooth would have been pulled. And the instruments that were used were much different than the last root canal I had.

I believe there are many miracles in the world...not the least of which are the ongoing medical procedures that make our lives more comfortable. I forget how often I take things for granted. NOT being in pain is one of them. When I list the things I would rather not do....I do not believe a root canal will be one of them.

Grateful for a good dentist and endodontist...

I am

Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

lunch with Richard Cizik

I had an opportunity today to have a lunch at Interfaith Ministries with Reverend Richard Cizik. It was sponsored by Kansas Interfaith Power and Light. You may be familiar with the name Richard Cizik. He "is the former vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and its 30 million members. In that role, he had primary responsibility for shaping and articulating the organization's policy on major social issues and lobbying the White House and Congress on the association's behalf." (quote taken from the biographical information sent out by Interfaith Power and Light) You might also remember that he resigned in December of 2008 over remarks made on NPR on civil unions.

In 2002, in his own words, he had a conversion on global warming and climate change. He began working with scientists and evangelicals on the issues around climate change. It was not a popular issue with that constituency.

Richard is now working non stop with "young evangelicals" and others on what he believes is THE issue for Christians. While with the NAE he began working with churches on Creation Care. Citing Genesis 2:15, Richard claims that creation care is different than environmentalism because it rooted in scripture, not on politics or particular agendas.

All told, there were 12 of us around the table including Rev. Cizik. He is passionate about this subject and encouraged us to find places "at the table" for people to buy in at whatever level they will. If it means looking at lower utility costs instead of mentioning climate change...do it.

Having attended a Cool Congregations training with Nancy Wilhite and Jane Criser, I agree with what he said. Whatever we can do to encourage people to look at what it means to use less energy, we leave a better and cleaner world for our children. Young people are passionate about this issues regardless of their religious affiliation or lack there of. They believe we need to be about the work of lowering our "carbon footprint" and creating sustainable energy.

Finding ways to proceed that crosses ideological lines, religious lines, political lines is the key. Perhaps Rev. Cizik is right, the young people will do it. They believe deeply that this is THE issue above all others. I am convinced that this issue is part of a bigger picture of justice, of peace and of living equitably with all.

Graced to Serve,
Cindy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nominations, rejections and such

This morning, as I was driving to work, I flipped from KMUW to B98FM....on the morning show, Brett Harris and Tracy Cassidy were bantering about the Wichita man who was "booted off" the Bachelorette last night. A young man, who graduated from Andover high school was one of the Bachelors up for winning the affection of the current "Bachelorette".

Now you need to know that I automatically am offended by these shows. Who in their right mind sells themselves on national television. I could say, prostitute themselves, but am trying to be nice! Any way, this particular man was listening online for L.A. and heard whatever it was that Tracy said and will be on the radio station tomorrow.

Having heard all I wanted in about two minutes, I switched back to NPR on KMUW and President Obama was getting ready to nominate his choice for the Supreme Court. I had already heard earlier the name of Sonia Sotomayor. President Obama nominated the first Hispanic to the court. According to President Obama's speech, she comes with an impressive resume.

I sat in the parking lot at West Heights and pondered what I had heard in just a few minutes. Which would I rather have my name associated with? A reality show, that in my opinion, is nothing more than a national meat market, where men and women (depending on the show) are humiliated or rewarded on national television, or would I rather be considered for a higher calling.

Regardless of what the Senate does with the nomination of Judge Sotomayor, she has dedicated her life to a higher calling of law and justice. Regardless of where one may stand on any one of her opinions, out of a humble life in the Bronx, she pursued education and a way of making the world a better place. I am not sure that contestants on the Bachelorette, or the Bachelor, or Survivor or any number of reality shows can say the same.

Call me old, call me old fashioned, a stick in the mud, or just a preacher, but I want to live in way that means more than fifteen minutes of fame. Somehow, when I come to the end of my life, I want know in the words of Emerson, "that one life has breathed easier", that for a moment or a day, I made a real difference in the world. I want to live deeply and faithfully. The older I get, the less I care about whether I am remembered ten years after I am gone, if somehow in someway I find a way to change a life here, speak a word of grace there and know that some how in some way, my life has mattered.

I would rather be nominated for something truly great, and in the end not succeed than be rejected for some superficial reason. Life is too short and I think we sell ourselves too cheaply for things that do not matter.

I am content to be,

Graced to Serve,

Cindy

Friday, May 22, 2009

Home

I am home from Annual Conference. Tired, grateful and praying for a blessing as I begin my fourth year at West Heights.

The discussion around the constitutional amendments was tense, but civil. As always, it seems to me we get distracted by things that are part of the whole, but usually are minimally important. Which of course means, the deeper meanings of what is going on gets overlooked.

Each year, I know more and more of the names read of those who have died. I mourn some great pastors and saints. I also give a prayer of thanks for lives well lived.

I am glad that Bishop Jones has brought back the "reading" of the appointments. It affirms the ministry of the individual as well as the ministry of the local church. Each year as my name is read I am excited for next year and challenged to be the best pastor I can be in the place I am called to serve.

I will probably do some more reflections when my mind is not so befuddled with business and fatigue.

Pastor Christopher's Commissioning

The highlight of yesterday's annual conference was Christopher's commissioning. Bishop Robert Schnase was powerful and challenging. Bishop Jone's state of the conference address asked us to reach for excellence. The highlight of every annual conference, every year, for me is the ordination and commissioning service.

Thirty five years ago, at annual conference in Sam's Chapel at Kansas Wesleyan University I received my call. Each year, where ever ordination is held, I go and celebrate and remember. It was a delight to stand with Christopher and his family as a sponsor as he was commissioned as a provisional member of the conference. It was an honor to watch as the bishop blessed him and others as they continued the journey to full membership and ordination.

In his sermon, the bishop charged us as followers of Christ to bring people from darkness into light. To leave to the darkness our fears, our prejudices and those hateful violent impulses that we might live in love, in faith and in hope. Christopher and the other ordinands and commissioned were challenged to be bearers of the good news to all people.

We are challenged as well. We are invited to continue to lift Christopher up in prayer as he continues the journey. We are challenged to find others whom God is calling and we are called to also be the ones to invite others into a life changing relationship with God.

I am grateful to remember my call, but more importantly to live it out and to share with Christopher and others.

Will post more highlights from conference in the next day or two.

I am....

Graced to Serve.
Cindy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FIrst Day of Annual Conference

Last night, the clergy session met to do the business surrounding the clergy of the annual conference. In that session, our student pastor, Christopher Eshelman was officially voted as a provisional/probationary member of the annual conference. We honored our retiring members and remembered those pastors who had died in the last year. In the midst of the business, we are really dealing with human beings and their call and their ministry and their lives.

Today began the official business of the Kansas West Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Reverend Amy Lippoldt, the pastor of Woodland United Methodist Church preached on “the HIP crowd.” HIP stands for the Hospitality Industry Personnel. These are the persons who wait on us in restaurants, in stores, at hotels and any person working in customer service. And yet, is not the church the original hospitality industry? She invited us to look at why we are hospitable. “Is it only to get more people in the pews or more money in the plate? If it is, our hospitality is a cheap charade. We should be the ones the world thinks of when they hear the word hospitality.”

As a person who believes that hospitality is at the heart of ministry and theology, I was challenged to ponder what it would look like if I lived a more hospitable life. What if I looked upon each person I meet as Christ. In the words of a grandmother, to say in my heart, “The Christ in me greets the Christ in thee.” From those powerful words, we moved to the sacrament of Holy Communion.

We finished the morning with some business. Particularly we looked at the new campaign, “RETHINK CHURCH”. I think this will be a wonderful tool for us at West Heights as we plan to reach out to our neighborhood and invite persons to experience God’s love and grace.

Annual Conference is always part worship, part education, part reports and business agenda, resolutions and family reunion. I have seen people from every church I have ever served and caught up with old friends and new ones. Tomorrow will be full with evening worship being ordination and commissioning. I look forward seeing some of you here to celebrate with Christopher as he is commissioned as a provisional member of the annual conference.

As always I am,
Graced to Serve.

Cindy