It is almost Friday, and still I am struggling to find words to express my thoughts and feelings around the Special Called Session of General Conference held in St. Louis last weekend.
As you have likely heard, the One Church Plan, that had been recommended by 2/3 of our United Methodist Bishops as our way forward in unity, did not make it out of committee and onto the floor for vote. Instead, the Traditional Plan was put forth from legislative committee to the plenary session. It narrowly passed even though parts of it are likely unconstitutional.
This Traditional Plan is now to be reviewed for its constitutionality by the Judicial Council, our United Methodist version of the Supreme Court. The Council meets again in April.
So it will take some time before we know how things will unfold from here.
I wasn’t in St. Louis myself, but through Facebook posts on Monday and catching the livestream most of Tuesday, I find that I have experienced the gamut of emotions. Pride in the giftedness of our Great Plains delegation. Hurt. Anger. Disappointment. Anguish. Sadness. Grief.
I’m not concerned so much for myself and how I will get through this as I am for our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ … friends, family, church family, and clergy … who have once again heard from our denomination that they are “incompatible” and felt the doors of supposed welcome close conditionally in their faces.
And I guess what I’ve come to realize is this … we will get through this as we have in the past … together. I will still be a pastor who preaches that God loves you just as you are, who welcomes all people to experience Christ at his communion table, and who believes in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring grace and understanding to us all.
And together, we will continue to share and show the love of Jesus to all God’s dear ones … in the ways God has ably gifted each of us to do. Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed: Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see
all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.
I love this song. I first became aware of it when Pastor Rod Lyon began serving Pleasant Dale, Denton, Malcolm and Raymond UMCs. He introduced it to us as a song during worship to prepare our hearts and still our souls for listening and sharing with God. Every Sunday we would sing these words, from the first of three verses. And I came to love it! So much so that I have continued to have us sing it on Sunday mornings all these years.
It serves as an anchoring reminder to stop all that we are doing, for some moments at least, in order to center ourselves. In God’s presence. In the universe. In order to focus on that which matters most. In order to be at peace in the world. In order to be.
Listening to the news for any length of time can add to our chaos and clutter. President Trump is planning to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un again, this time in Vietnam. What outcome might we expect this time? We learn that an actor has allegedly staged his own mugging. For what purpose? We hear that the Mueller investigation may be completed soon. Can we believe it?
God, help us to clear this and other chaos and clutter from the crowded lives we lead. Gun violence. Poverty. Mental illness. Abuse that is physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual. Addiction of drugs, alcohol, sex, food, work. Neglect of children, aging parents and elders, animals, natural resources. Lack of empathy. Lack of understanding. Overindulgence. Self-centeredness. Bitterness.
As sisters and brothers in Christ gather in St. Louis this weekend from The United Methodist Church around the world, I pray that the Spirit moves through the General Conference in a mighty way and assists them in listening to and hearing one another, in speaking truth in love, in discerning God’s voice among the human. And, in voting, I pray for the delegation to be able to focus on those things that really matter.Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
Earlier this week I declared a day of Sabbath rest for myself. A day to move at a little slower pace perhaps, renew my spirit, and restore a bit of order in my discombobulated life. The weather helped with my decision. Another day to stay in my jammy pants.
I made my tea, sorted and started 5 loads of laundry, then settled in at the kitchen table to read a week’s worth of newspapers and sort out the crosswords. I know I’m old school, but there’s something about thumbing through the pages to find my favorite columns … and supporting the neighbor girls’ college funds … that I like.
While reading one of Cindy Lange-Kubick’s articles featuring the first African American to open a barber shop in Lincoln, I heard a thud. Having heard this kind of thud before, I looked outside. There on our deck, lay a baby bird, still as could be, beginning to be blanketed by snowflakes. (Just to be clear, I refer to many little ones as “babies” even though they may be fully grown.)
I quickly finished reading about Mr. Otha Wade, then scooped up the baby who had tried flying through our patio door. I blew the snow off and kept this little one warm in my hands for ten minutes before realizing I was getting cold myself. I placed him/her on the ledge, close to the house and out of the still falling snow. I checked on my baby every few minutes, making note of progress. Feathers puffed out for warmth. Rocking while breathing. Left eye beginning to open. After 30 minutes, baby was on her feet. Still rocking. I snapped a photo, moved in closer for a less blurry shot, and little bird decided she/he was strong enough to fly to the nearest tree for further rehab.
I checked on him/her every 15 minutes or so as I continued the laundry and brought order to various living spaces. Ninety minutes she sat on the same branch of the plum tree. And then, gone! Straight to Mr. Pat’s closest bird feeder, gathering seeds in order to carry on through whatever might come along.
Lord of the Sabbath, you have created us and all of creation to need rest, for our renewal and restoration. Help us to claim Sabbath for ourselves. May we see you at work in the lives of your creatures and in creation. Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
I’ll be honest, music is important to me. Music has always been important to me, it seems. Certain songs remind me of particular times in my life. Like those songs from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that I identify as “swimming pool songs” because that’s what was on the radio and blared over the loudspeaker when I was a pre-teen and young teenager at the pool.
Of course, there were the “high school romance songs” played at school dances or in the car on dates. Back in the day, music on cassette or 8-track tapes could really set the mood.
Crossover pop and country music has been with me for much of my life. I remember us kids crooning with Dad in the pickup to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon and Willy, among others. “Dad’s babysitting songs” you might call them, since we were with Dad on Saturdays and summer days when Mom was working at the beauty shop. After I was married, country music provided my own “Saturday work songs” for cleaning house, washing clothes, or outside projects.
Worship music has been with me for much of my life, too. I must admit that worship music is extremely important to me. Traditional hymns, contemporary praise music, and less contemporary praise music. Probably, I spend more time than I should selecting music for our worship services. Oh, well!
The three chosen for today are a case in point. “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” is one I vividly remember singing as a young girl at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Davenport. Communion Sunday with the sanctuary filled … full pipe organ … what a beautiful sound!
“Would you come and follow me if I but call your name?” When I played and sang for the first time these words of “The Summons,” I burst into tears. I had been discerning my call, listening for God, when I came to these words in a new worship book called The Faith We Sing. Through my tears and this song, God spoke loudly and clearly.
And “Grace Alone” … what can I say? Every promise, prayer, step of faith, mountain, ray of hope, soul, heart, loving word, tear, everything … is only by God’s grace. Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
Yay, Yay, Yay! After ten days or so, I seem to be over my sickies! And even though Mr. Pat managed to catch whatever it was that I had, he seems to be getting over his crud as well. Wonderful!
While I am no longer blowing my nose every five minutes nor coughing non-stop, I seem to be scrambling this week to feel caught up with my work. It could have something to do with those pesky statistical tables that were due by January 31. Sometimes the number compilations go pretty smoothly. Other times, not so much.
At any rate, I am experiencing scattered thoughts again this week, and so I will ponder only a little while. And spare you some suffering!
Healer God, thank you for healing our bodies. Protector God, thank you for creating our bodies in such a way that we are shielded from most germs and infections that would attempt to bring us down. Help us to set apart some time each day to be alone with you. To un-scramble. To un-scatter. To de-stress.
Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
Ohmygoodness! I do not like the cold! I don’t like having to put on another layer of clothing if I’m going to be outside for any length of time. I don’t like the arctic blast that sneaks its way inside the house any time a door is opened, even for a short time. And I don’t like that my car sits in the driveway instead of in a garage, waiting for me to scrape the ice and/or snow off the windows before I drive anywhere. I really don’t like the cold!
Maybe it’s because I was born in the heat of summer. Or maybe it’s because the first six months of my life we lived in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Or maybe I’m just a wimp.
Whatever the reason, when it is cold like this, all I want to do is stay inside, lounge in my warm and comfy jammy pants, and drink hot chocolate or tea all day.
And if you are sick, like I have been much of this week, you can get away with staying in your pajamas for the day. Still, our four-legged babies need to be fed. As do the birds. And the squirrels.
And you might get to stay inside if you have a deadline to meet that prevents you from helping clear the new-fallen snow from the driveway. Or the back deck. Or even the front steps to the house.
So I have truly come to appreciate those dear ones who run snowblowers to clear their own snow and their neighbors’. And the dear ones who plow open driveways and parking lots, streets and roads. And dear ones who tend to their critters in all sorts of weather. And dear ones whose livelihood depends on their braving the elements, day in and day out.
Driving home after an evening of church activities, I glanced out the window. I dared not look for too long, lest I hit a slick patch in the road. Still, I found myself diverting my attention again and again. Covered in a blanket of snow, the field glistened and sparkled like a myriad of cut diamonds in the winter moonlight of a near-full moon.
Had I not ventured out in the cold I would not have seen the God-crafted beauty to behold. Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
Mr. Pat and I were thankfully able to miss the snowstorms, both here and in Ohio, as we traveled to Cleveland on January 9 and flew back home a week later. We had gone for medical reasons and stayed a few days longer in order to spend some time with his family there.
Driving a rental car is always a grand experience. What better way to recognize that your vehicles back home have fewer bells and whistles or are older than you think?!? Aside from missing several turns and paying tolls twice because we had to backtrack, we made it to Pat’s sister’s home in time for a late lunch. Again, thankfully we had ample time that afternoon and evening to relax, check the weather, and plan for our trip into Cleveland the next morning.
Because … a commute in rush hour traffic with snow coming down is not a whole lot of fun. This time, thankfully, we had no missed turns. Found the parking garage without a hitch. Easily found the skywalk which took us straight to where we were headed. And there were bathrooms everywhere we turned around, it seemed!
We had good visits with medical specialists that day. We had great visits with family all week. We looked through items his mother had saved through the years. School records, artwork, and 4-H ribbons. We made photocopies for genealogy purposes. Family photos, saved funeral folders, and newspaper clippings. And we reminded ourselves of common family traits.
We had a most delightful flight from Cleveland to St. Louis. Within a few minutes, we learned that Doris, sharing our side of the aisle, had been a nurse and volunteered for the Red Cross, had gone back to school for her masters in nursing when she was 40-something, had worked at Cleveland Clinic during that time, then taught classes related to caregiving for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Mr. Pat had also been a Red Cross instructor. I had gone back to school for my masters when I was 40. She has been the organist and choir director for their Lutheran church for 50+ years. And then Pat shared with her why we had come to Ohio. To hear good news.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Doris sat with us on that flight. Thanks, God, for all goodness. Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
In this season of Epiphany, after Christmas, may we hear in a new way the words of the late Howard Thurman. Thurman was a mystical, prophetic preacher, active in the civil rights movement and a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thurman studied with Rufus Jones, a and joined the Wider Quaker Fellowship in the 1960s.
Thurman was also dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University of Washington, DC, and later, dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He was an African-American theologian, educator, and a prolific author. His poem, “The Work of Christmas,” appears with the writings of others in the book Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights. The poem, in this slightly different form below, is from Howard Thurman’s book The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, published by Friends United Press.
The Work of Christmas
by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.
Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
I don’t know how it is at your house, but we have the tradition here of leaving our Christmas decorations out (and up?) through the twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany on January 6.
And why is that? Well, I could say that “it’s always been that way,” but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. It is “this way” for us for a variety of reasons, which have come to us over time, and all of which made perfect sense at the time a reason was revealed.
We have to put the Christmas dishes away first after hosting Christmas dinner. This was an early reason, but we haven’t hosted Christmas dinner in forever. Still, there are tables and counters to clear because we had whipped up a cheese ball or baked pies last minute, or stayed up late wrapping Christmas presents. So first things first.
Thank you notes for Christmas gifts received must be written, and what provides impetus better than seeing those gifts still under the tree? My rule: once the thank-you is written, THEN you can enjoy the gift!
A related reason is that sometimes, make that oftentimes, I am in the process of sending Christmas cards and/or letters, and being visually reminded by the lighted Christmas tree and the nativity atop the piano helps keep me in the holiday spirit until the project is complete.
But the real reason we have learned to wait to “un-decorate” is because we celebrate for twelve days, not just one, the birth of Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s promise to save the world from sin. Then on Epiphany we celebrate the visit of the Wise Ones to the Christ child. A visit made possible because they followed the star. In faith that led them to the Light. The Light that shines for all the world and into the lives of all people.
As people of the Light, may our light so shine.
Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
The year of 2018 is winding down and the new year of 2019 is just around the corner. But as I write this today (there is no time for pondering on Christmas Eve, at least not until after worship tonight), there are still gifts to be purchased, homemade gifts to be finished, and more.
Even Arapahoe and Xian, who have been begging to help with our Christmas letter, will just have to wait. It won’t be the first time we’ve sent an Epiphany letter.
But I promise that I WILL take time to ponder again one of these days. After Christmas. And before the New Year arrives.
In the meantime, hug your family, kiss your babies, love on your fur babies too, and reach out to a friend who may be lonely during this time of year. Be the Light in someone’s darkness. Celebrate all that is good in the world.
Grace and peace … --Pastor Pat
Pastor Pat Norris
Something to Ponder is by Pastor Pat and is printed on the back of the bulletin each week.