Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted March 21st, 2019

For this Musings I refer to the latest contribution by Wendy McFadden in the eBrethren Messenger of March 13, 2019.  In her thoughtful article she speaks about “letting go”.  In the season of Lent we often think about “giving up something” to deepen our spiritual journey and sacrifice leading to Holy Week and Easter asking one another “What is it you are giving up for Lent?”  In the article McFadden uses language of “letting go”.  The language of “letting go” is my choice of language for this season rather than “giving up”.  While this may seem to be mere semantics and word gymnastics, I believe there is a fundamental difference in the language we choose to use.  This being one of those times.

The practice of “letting go” is a discipline of the spirit.  Letting go suggests to me intent, discernment, thought, being present in the moment whatever the moment might be.  Letting go connotates a sense of empowerment suggesting an element of choice rather than a resigned or negative attitude of giving up.  This not only applies to the season of Lent but in my work as Chaplain, I believe, it is relevant to matters of end of life.  Often, I hear family members say their loved one just “gave up” as they took their last breath.   Perhaps so, but what if we viewed the experience of last breath not as resignation but that of letting go?  Of release?  Of freedom?  I quote from the referenced article, “There are people who give something up for Lent, but this month I’m thinking more about letting go.  These are different, but not completely.  Giving something up is about sacrifice; letting go is about freedom.  Both clear space for what matters.  Both can provide spiritual focus.”

For me, “giving up” feels as if it is a downfall or failure.  As if there is no other recourse and all is hopeless and powerless.  “Letting go” on the other hand, suggests choice and restores some sense of control, and power AND by gaining this sense of power and control we then have the choice to let go of it.  It becomes both / and.   With “letting go” hope seems to be restored with a sense of freedom and “lightness of spirit”.

In the gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus say at the last, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”, Luke 23:46.  This was a moment of letting go; this was a moment of release; this was a moment of freedom; this was a moment of giving rather than giving up.  The horizon of meaning in Greek for the word commend includes present (as in I give, I present), put forth (deposit as a trust or for protection), set before, commit.  Jesus did not just “give up” (his spirit) closed fisted with a sense of hopelessness and resignation, but rather with a sense of open-handed giving, as in a sense of trust, a sense of presenting and putting forth – a sense of intention.   Jesus held within himself the power and choice to let go – as do we.

Last breath moments are not always met with a sense of letting go.  Some are tragic and unforgiving.  Some are unexpected and unforeseen.  Some last breath moments are met with fight, struggle, and resistance and in the end, some will say their loved one just gave up not fighting hard enough in denying death.  But what if somewhere deep inside the dying loved one’s heart and soul, where we can never go in those moments, they found that place of release, that place of presenting, that place of trust, that place where hopelessness turns into hope and the freedom to let go of their spirit was realized.   For me, the capacity to let go leads to resurrection, to newness, to a clearer path forward over and above resigned giving up which can lead us to resentment, regret, disappointment, even self-loathing.

When all seems lost and hopeless, “letting go” creates the possibility to lead us to hope when we have an open way to change what it is we hope for.

This topic of “letting go” vs. “giving up” is not done with me yet.  I offer it here for thought and dialogue.  If you care to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.

Chris Whitacre; Minister of Pastoral Care

(Excerpt from eBrethren Messenger and Wendy McFadden used with permission.)

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted February 21st, 2019

Dear Church Family,

I had the privilege of going to Great Bend on Tuesday and being a part of the Western Plains District Leadership/Pastoral Training, and it was eye opening.  Gimbiya Kettering and Dennis Webb led the sessions, and I want to say that our district is in amazing hands as I sat with sisters and brothers reflecting on our congregations.  I was in awe of the vulnerability that flowed from our sisters and brothers.  Kettering and Webb were amazing navigators of this journey, and they made us all uncomfortable to God’s glory.

I don’t have enough time or space, in this newsletter, to highlight all that they shared and brought to light, so I invite any who want to hear more to get a hold of me and lets chat.  Over coffee.  Over lunch.  Around the table.  Listening. Engaging. Learning.  But I wanted to highlight my brief trip, because what time I spent inspired me and challenged me, and I want to invite any and all to join me at the table.

This is supposed to be a spring letter.  A chance to remind us that though we are buried under a bit of snow and the cold wind still bites our noses, spring is coming.  Color and life will emerge from a long winter slumber.  We could find ourselves playing outside, enjoying the Creation’s invitation to be together, in our backyards, in the mountains, or wherever God’s meets us and greets us.   That was supposed to be the purpose of this month’s newsletter but the training on Tuesday changed the trajectory of my thinking and writing.

Instead, I want us to think about icebergs.  Yeah I know it’s still winter, and we just moved the snow from our driveways and sidewalks, and we anticipate another bout of winter weather this weekend.  Yes, I know an iceberg only reminds us of the season we feel buried in.  Nonetheless, I want us to imagine an iceberg.  A huge one.  The kind of one that invites us to stand on and marvel at the majesty of it all, an iceberg that is inspiring. Beautiful.  Divine.

As marvelous as this iceberg appears, most know that what we see and enjoy is simply the tip.  There is more to this mountain of ice than meets the eye.  There are buried levels, beyond our ability to see or understand.  We love the peak, because it seems perfect.  Flawless.  Powerful.  Held together in such a way that all can ooh and awe at it as the masterpiece it is.  However, we do so at the risk of missing what lies hidden.

Churches can be beautiful icebergs: amazing, gorgeous, masterpieces, and they can have hidden layers.  It is the layers lurking beneath the surface of the waters that have the ability to anchor us deeply into the mystery of God or have the ability to shipwreck us and get us off course.  I am inviting us to check out what lies beneath the surface of our iceberg.

Let’s go diving.

Inspired by Sister Kettering and Brother Webb, I bid us to dive beneath the surface and examine our iceberg.  I want us to go into this adventure, together.  Bound to each other.  Listening to one another.  Letting God’s love tie us together, so that even if we discover that things are a little off, we can and will work through them.  Ensuring that we will be stronger and healthier and holier once we do.  We might get uncomfortable, and we might feel a little anxious, but if in the end we find God in each other, and if we come away whole, then hasn’t the journey been worth it?  Hasn’t the expedition beneath the waters proven to be Divine?

Spring is coming, what a wonderful time to look at ourselves and seek the new life that spring promises.  We could enter the Season of Lent, ready to reflect on ourselves and prepare ourselves for new life and new beginnings.   The leadership training helped me see my own stuff beneath the surface, and I realized, as I drove home, that I want to explore that stuff with you: my sisters and brothers.  My family.  My fellow pilgrims.  Because this mission only gets better if we have each other.

So may we all welcome the dawn of warmer temperatures that promise colorful days and singing birds, but may we also welcome the search for lies beneath our ice berg, so that together we can be whole.  To the glory of God and for our neighbor’s good.  Amen.

Pastor Jerry

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted January 24th, 2019

The tools we use to communicate are changing almost more rapidly than we can keep pace. Some of us used phones affixed to the wall with crank handles and ‘party’ lines (the old hoot-n-holler). Some of us used ‘rotary’ dials with numbers containing only four digits. Some of us celebrated the freedom found in ‘cordless’ phones that resided in a ‘base’ for recharging. Who knew we would all be ditching our ‘land-lines’ because our ‘cell’ phone is ‘smarter’ and from it – we can communicate in almost any way necessary. Churches traditionally ‘change’ at a turtle’s pace. And yet, in this fast-paced reality we live within, churches probably need to be on the forefront of the revolution in communication. A recent quote I ran across read, “WE don’t build a church, we build people – and then people – build the church”. Not exactly ‘rocket science’ – nor something we did not already know. Jesus showed us through every interaction and encounter that he knew God’s work was all about ‘building people’. And we know that ‘building people’ requires being in communication. Over the next year we are going to try some new communication concepts. We hope they will be more environmentally friendly. We hope they will help us communicate more frequently and effectively. We know this journey will include trial and error. We rely on your patience and your constructive feedback. Schooling and shoaling is a kind of collective animal behavior by fish. Fish that stay together for social reasons are ‘shoaling’ AND if the shoal is swimming in the same direction together, it is ‘schooling’. Perhaps over this next year – as we try new ways of communication – we will find ourselves behaving less like a turtle and more like a shoal of schooling fish – building people – who will build the church – to do God’s work. – Pastor Kathryn

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted November 29th, 2018

Some thoughts to ponder if your Christmas is a bit “Blue”  — Pastor Kathryn

The following is a lightly adapted ‘Blue Christmas’ worship meditation and ritual created by Rex A. E. Hunt who is a ‘grass roots’ religious naturalist, progressive liturgist, and social ecologist.  He lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Forty-six years ordained, first as a Presbyterian (1972), he is today a retired minister of the Uniting Church in Australia (formed in 1977).

Christmas is a time for memories and remembering. For some, the memories are of loved family members who have died, and the holiday season makes the pain of these losses ever more real. For others, the memories are of happier times than we now know; felt as the anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity around employment, the anxiety of illness or poor health, or the emptiness of loss after a bushfire. We sometimes can feel very alone in the midst of all the celebrating of the season, the singing, and the constant proclamation of “Joy, joy, joy!” As we enter this season it is good to remember, we are in the presence of God’s comforting love. It is good to remember that with God, we are safe to feel what we feel: to acknowledge our sadness, to share our concern, to release our anger, to face our emptiness, and still to know that God by whatever name – cares. In the community that is ‘church’, we are in a safe place – a place of comfort and support – a place where we are not alone in our life experiences. When we lose, we grieve. Grief is normal. Grief is universal. At the same time grief is extremely personal. May we and others not forget or deny our journey of grief. We enter the season of Christmas; bringing our needs AND the needs of the world, with our faith AND with our doubts, with our hopes AND our fears. We come as we are, because it is God who invites us to come. And God has promised never to turn us away.

Rather than hiding your reality of a “Blue Christmas”, you are encouraged to name it and ritualize it by lighting a candle each week of Advent and speaking, praying or reading the following words:

The first candle is lit to remember those whom we have loved and lost. We pause to remember their name, their face, their voice, the memory that binds them to us in this season. The second candle is lit to mend the pain of loss. The loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health, the loss of home. We pause to gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God, asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace. The third candle is lit to remember ourselves this Christmas time. We pause and remember the past weeks and months and years: the disbelief, the anger, the down times, the poignancy of reminiscing, the hugs and handshakes of family and friends, all those who stood with us. The fourth candle is lit to remember the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us. We remember that God is our companion, who shares our life, blessing us, and filling us with longing and with courage. In this season of Advent and Christmas, let us remember: God’s care that – surrounds us, leads us into the future, defeats the darkness with dawn and holds us in Love.

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted October 25th, 2018

Greetings Family,

On Monday I traveled to Great Bend and spent part of the day with others from the Western Plains District talking about what inspires us. For those that were there, I understand that is an oversimplification of the amazing conversations we had, but for the time I was there, I sensed the discussions anchored around what inspires us. Or maybe put differently, what about our communities of faith impact us in such a positive way, that we hunger for more? Spiritually. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

I left Great Bend with the words that were shared around our table of worship, and one thought that stuck with me was this: at the core of who we are, as a tribe and as individuals, is a deep desire for connections. We need each other. We need our sisters and brothers walking beside us, breaking bread with us, and serving the world together.

We need people to listen to us when we are hurting. We need folks who can hear our stories, even the darkest elements, and still love and welcome us. We need sisters and brothers who can openly, and honestly, challenge us and hold us accountable. We need spaces to disagree with one another, safely, without fear of losing a friend. We need to be able to sing, to pray, to give of ourselves, to unpack scripture, and we need to do it together, as the body of Christ.

Around our holy table, on Monday, we embodied what the author of Ephesians called the church to be: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and (Creator *changes by Jerry) of all, who is over all and through all and in all.…” Away from the table, we all could have been as different as apples and oranges, but to quote the well-known movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” at that table, “we are all fruit.”

As I drove home and reflected on my sisters and brothers around the table, I smiled and laughed and felt hope. Because the rhetoric of the world, especially in our politically charged climate, seems to push us against each other. But around that table, in that holy space, what might have divided us outside disappeared into the abyss. What walls that the world constructed to separate us, God tore down and helped us create a beautiful tapestry of humanity. Around the table were my fellow pilgrims, my sisters and brothers, who long to experience God in so many ways, and to see the church respond to God’s call to be the church.

Sure, if we were all pressed a little more, we might have strong opinions on how or why the church needs to be the church. I heard my sisters and brothers share that to be the church we must honor each other. That we need each other. That we must protect each other. That we work hard to listen to one another. That we sing songs and plant gardens and laugh and cry and build each other up. What I heard that day, and what spoke to me as I drove home, was that to be the church, we have to be there for one another.

We have to take the chance to be vulnerable for each other. We have to trust each other. We have to believe that the other, in our midst, wants what we want. The world might thrive on creating the us versus them dichotomy, but not so the church. The church creates spaces where we can turn our verbal swords and shields into pruning hooks and plowshares. Around all of the holy tables, we create, we can commune with God and one another, and honor the charge of the author Ephesians, who wrote “…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” To the glory of God and for our neighbors good. Amen.

_______________________

¹ Ephesians 4: 4-6 all scriptures come from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

— Jerry Bowen