Thursday, August 1, 2013

The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada happens every other year.  This year, the Disciples gathered in Orlando, FL.  Tim and I, along with my father, Traverce Harrison were there from First Christian Church of Ames.  It was a week of worship, prayer, singing, hearing about the work and challenges of our denomination, and considering the business of the church.
We heard reports from Higher Education and Leadership Ministries, the Council on Christian Unity, Division of Overseas Ministries, Disciples Historical Society, Disciples Home Missions, and many more.  We passed resolutions on such topics as Clergy Parental Leave, Continuing our commitment to starting New Churches, Open Meetings Policy, Removing Racist Language from our Governing Documents, Encouraging People to Work for Equal Access to Voting for All, and many more.

One resolution passed by a large majority was on “Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All.”  Disciples have always professed an open table where all are welcome.  This “all are welcome” can be difficult to really live out at times when you have people with differing points of view.  That’s why we always say it is Christ who unites us, not our thoughts or opinions or even specific beliefs.  At the table we all gather in the love and grace of God.  So the question has arisen whether we really mean all are welcome.  This resolution seeks to say, “Yes!”  From the resolution:

the General Assembly meeting in Orlando, Florida, July 13-17, 2013, calls upon the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to recognize itself as striving to become a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children though differing in race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective…”

Also in this issue of The Call, you can read a pastoral letter from Disciples General Minister and President, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins expounding on this topic further.  First Christian Church in Ames has been and will continue to be a “people of grace and welcome to all.”  Our tag line is, “Come as you are, you belong!”  And we add, “And we mean it!”  We do not have to agree to gather around the table and share the bread and cup of Christ.  And, as a matter of fact, we are better people because we dare to meet people “as they are” and offer welcome and hospitality and to treat each person as part of God’s family, our family, and trust that we all grow deeper in relation to one another and God when we don’t limit our interactions to people with whom we agree.  So this resolution, passed by the General Assembly, simply states what we already practice.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a commitment to being a “pro-reconciling/anti-racist” church.  We have a historic and living commitment to building bridges between black and white people in this country.  While we were meeting in Orlando, the verdict of not-guilty in the George Zimmerman – Treyvon Martin case was announced.  That was a solemn moment to be gathered as church across racial lines and to see and feel and hear the experiences of African American brothers and sisters in Christ.  One of our African American Ministers shared that his son asked if what happened to Treyvon Martin would happen to him.  It was a sobering moment.  Whatever the “facts” of the case, the verdict has put a people in touch with how much reconciling work we have yet to do as a nation.  As Christians, and as Disciples, may we do what we can to be “pro-reconciling/anti-racist” in our language and our actions.  May we truly be a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” as our identity statement proclaims.

If you’d like to read more about the business of the General Assembly, you can go to:

Mark your calendar!  
The next General Assembly will be held July 18-22, 2015 in Columbus, OH. 

                                                                                                    Pastor Mary Jane

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Language of Love in a Time of Terror
The title of my sermon for the joint Maundy Thursday Worship with First United Methodist Church and Church of Christ – Congregational was, “The Language of Love.”  On the eve of Jesus’ execution, he ate with his closest followers and told them, “I give you a new commandment… to love as I have loved.”  By this love others will know we are Jesus’ disciples.  In my sermon I quoted a line from the hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”:  “What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest Friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?  O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, O, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”  The language Jesus desires is the language of love.  Even in the midst of his own suffering, execution and death, Jesus spoke the language of love.  And by our love - that deep abiding, long-suffering, unconditional love that we have received and offer to the world - Christ lives on and brings healing and hope to a broken and hurting world.
This week brought with it another tragedy of violence and suffering and death, this time in Boston, but also in places around the world that we are unaware.  All of us feel shaken by the senseless bombing.  Fear and emotions are high.  And it is precisely in times like these that we need to call upon our faith as we add our words and actions to the vast array of words and actions in response or reaction to the tragedy.  Times like these we are at a loss.  We, like the hymn writer, may ask, “What language shall I borrow?”  Our faith tells us the answer:  the language of love.  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”  Love is what we proclaim in faith is stronger than hatred and violence.  Love casts out fear.  Love is what heals and saves and brings “wholeness in a fragmented world.”  And, as the writer of I John says, “love casts out fear.”
There is another line from a hymn that we can draw on in a time such as this.  “With the vision in our minds of how the world could be, and the fullness of our hearts from the suffering we see; when we make all that we are and have part of God’s destiny, we can fill the world with love.”  “Let us hesitate no longer in our doubt and our dismay; there’s a pow’r at work within us that has promised a new day.  And the time will surely come, it will not be long delayed when God fills the world with love.”  So as people of faith, how can we fill the world with love in such a time as this?  How can we be conduits of God’s healing, saving love in the midst of brokenness, doubt, violence and pain?  How does the light of God’s love shine through us? 
Next to the hymn I just quoted, “Fill the World with Love” (Chalice Hymnal #467) is the prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

May that be our prayer as we seek to live as people of faith, as disciples of Christ, in light of resurrection.  May we speak the language of love especially in such a time as this.

                                                                                                                Pastor Mary Jane

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Story of the Other Wise Man

In anticipation of Epiphany Sunday and the story of the Magi, read this from Darla Ewalt:

January 6 is Epiphany – the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem.  The biblical story only tells of the gifts that they brought – gold frankincense, and myrrh.  Tradition says there were three and named them Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar.  Published in 1895, The Story of the Other Wise Man written by Henry Van Dyke is the story of another Magi who intended to travel with his friends to see the newborn king.

Artaban, sells all that he owns to purchase a sapphire, a ruby, and a "pearl of great price”. He gathers his family and friends to his home and tells them that he will be going on a pilgrimage with his friends, Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar, to find the king who has been foretold by the prophets.  Some think him a fool and some give their blessings.  He starts off on his journey to meet his friends on his beloved horse, Vasda.

On the way to their predetermined meeting place, Artaban comes upon a dying Hebrew exile.  He struggles and prays about what he should do – stay and help the man or continue his journey.  He decides to stay and help the man.  In return for his help the Hebrew man tells him that the Prophets say that the King of the Jews will be born in Bethlehem.  The delay causes him to miss his friends but they have left a note for him.  He sells his sapphire in order to buy supplies so he can cross the desert.

Artaban arrives in Bethlehem but the streets are deserted. He locates a young mother caring for her baby.  She tells him about the strangers from the Far East who arrived but they have left and the Nazarene took his wife and the babe and fled to Egypt.  As they were talking, a loud noise of confusion and uproar comes from the streets.  The mother and her child hide in the dark corner and Artaban blocks the entryway with his body.  He tells the soldiers that he is alone and he will give the blood red ruby to the captain who leaves him in peace.  Artaban prays for forgiveness for telling a lie and now two of his gifts are gone.  But the mother blesses him for saving her child.

Artaban travels to Egypt looking for the newborn King.  First he looks in the palaces but a rabbi in Alexandria tells him that the King will not be in palaces but among the people. So he searches among the common people.

Artaban has been searching for the King for 33 years and he is tired and ready to die when he returns to Jerusalem.  It is the time of the Passover.  A crowd has gathered and Artaban is told that everyone is headed to Golgotha because two robbers and a man named Jesus of Nazareth called King of the Jews are to be crucified.  Artaban joins the crowd – is this man the King that he has been seeking?  Suddenly he comes upon a young woman who is being dragged by Macedonian soldiers. Upon seeing Artaban she breaks free and falls at his feet.  Her father has died and owes money. She is to be sold into slavery. In compassion, he gives the girl his last gift, the pearl of great price, as her ransom.  The earth shakes and a stone hits Artaban in the head.  As she cradles his head in her lap, the young woman hears a soft gentle voice speaking to Artaban.  “Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou has done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou has done it unto me.” His gifts have been accepted and he has found the King.  His journey has ended.

Think about how this short story speaks to you.  As we move into the new year, remember that we are also on a journey.  Remember the story of Artaban, the other wise man.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Journaling the Journey: Follow Up

Today's post is by Deb Lewis:

I mentioned Janet Conner’s book Writing Down Your Soul in my last blog. These thoughts in the blog over the weeks have been my response to Conner’s suggestions in the book: Show Up, Open Up, Listen Up, and Follow Up. In the book, she has much to say about each of these points.

As I was thinking about the idea of “Follow Up” for today, I reread my journal to see if some of the patterns that are emerging that I mentioned in my last blog were things that should indeed be “followed up”. So far, other than to continue the practice of writing and going more deeply into “listen up”, nothing really seems revealed. The book would tell me to continue to be patient… and just keep on writing.

Since I am new to this practice, I asked Janet Lott, who first recommended Conner’s book to me, if she would share from her much longer experience with spiritual journaling. She sent me the following in response, which I gratefully include here. Janet says:

*      Yes, I have continued to journal. So much of this sounds cliché, but it's my experience and it's what has kept me going back to my writing on a deeper level
*      Let go...write like no one will ever read it (even yourself!)...write a fairy tale about going deep inside yourself. I like to see my insides as an actually place with rooms - I go down to see what's going on. My entrance is in the forest in a place no one can find but me, and I jump down a hole kinda like Alice in Wonderland. It's been very revealing and healing for me
*      Write about or to yourself in third person - a story, a description, a compliment, etc....and be oh, so gentle with yourself.
*      In some seasons I fill a notebook full in two weeks and in other seasons (like this past year) it takes months to go through those 100 pages. I am still in the same notebook that I started months ago.
*      For me, I am journaling all the time and sometimes I actually write it down. What I like most about my little cheap notebooks and my refillable pen is that they don't have legs and walk out on me when I ignore them.
*      They are so patient and willing to write when I am.

*      And mostly . . . listen. Be still and listen. Then just start writing and see what happens. Sometimes I write nonsense words and sometimes I surprise myself with what's on the page afterwards. Sometimes I doodle or draw.

*      Two more resources that have really loosened me up to listening and writing are "The Artist's Rule" by Christine Valters Paintner and "Seven Thousand Ways to Listen" by Mark Nepo.

I plan to try a number of these suggestions myself, becoming more creative in how I approach my journal! If you have also been journaling in this season, whether regularly or not, may Janet’s experiences and suggestions encourage you, too! And if you haven’t been journaling but the idea has caught your interest, perhaps consider making it a (gentle) commitment to at least write when you feel called to do so in the New Year!

Blessings on your journey,
Deb Lewis

Friday, December 21, 2012

Greetings to the Winter Solstice and be Transformed

Today's post is by Darla Ewalt:

Today is December 21, the Winter Solstice, shortest day of the year and the first day of winter.  The winter storm yesterday brought a beautiful blanket of snow that sparkles in the moonlight and sunlight. Last night as I went down to the shed to feed the horses, I marveled at the stillness all around me and the beauty of the bright stars shining in the clear night sky.  Surrounded by the quietness of the night broken only by Thunder’s greeting, I could feel God’s presence.

Quoting Thomas Keating “Silence is the greatest teacher there is.  God’s creative Word is uttered in sheer silence, and it is in our ability to resonate with it that we are transformed.”[1] This is a time of rest for God’s creation. A new cycle of life begins today. Tomorrow the days begin to get longer.  Spend some time today listening to the sounds of the creation.  Mostly you will hear silence.  Begin a new journey of renewal and transformation by communicating with your creator and let God speak to you in the Silence.

[1] Centering Prayer & Resting in God by Thomas Keating. Contemplative Outreach Newsletter, 29(1):1-2; Dec. 2012.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Journaling the Journey: Listen Up

Today's post is by Deb Lewis:

I often have trouble sticking with a task, like exercising or some other new activity that requires a regular, even a daily, practice. “I’m too busy today…,” is my frequent response, then by the next day, the practice is forgotten. But as athletes and other focused people know, continuing a practice develops it into habit. But I am surprised to find that I have been pretty successful at journaling through this Advent season. Is it worth the few minutes of time that I’ve spent each day (having missed only two days since starting)? Definitely! Developing a habit is much easier when the activity is joyful!

When we travel, we often focus so much on the fun we’ll have at the end that we miss what we’re passing by on the journey itself. In her blog, Pastor Mary Jane wrote about how her parents would try to distract the kids when they were traveling when she was young so they would quit asking, “Are we there yet?” The “find the letters of the alphabet” game, or how many different state license plates can you find, or other such games were fun when we were children, but as adults, we often weary of the trip, maybe even feel the aches in our bodies from sitting too long, and feel that anxiousness to arrive at our destination. “Enjoy the journey itself” is advice given so frequently that it has become almost trite. But as I look back through what I’ve written, I see that it really does focus my thoughts and senses to pay attention and appreciate each day of this Advent journey. For all of us, mixed among the joys of anticipation of Christmas and the pleasure of gatherings with friends around tables of food (like last Sunday’s fellowship dinner) as is so common in this season, we’ve experienced the horror and grief of the tragedies in a number of places over the past week, especially in Newtown, Connecticut. Obviously, my reactions get recorded in the journal, along with the more mundane events and thoughts closer to home.

As I go back and read through the journal, “listening” for what I’ve written, patterns are emerging. For one, each of my journal entries ends with a prayer. I’m not very good at consistently praying, especially from my heart, but there on the page are prayers that start my day. Other patterns are too personal to share here, but they are also good to note.

One general pattern that I notice is that I have written lots of questions – difficult, deep ones – and these are often repeated over the pages of several days. So far, these have not been answered, but I’m writing with a deeper hope that they will be. I am rereading “Writing Down Your Soul” by Janet Conner, and in the book, she says that “listening” – rereading and paying attention – to what has been written and what is flowing from your pen – is fairly easy to do. This has been my experience. But she writes about the patience that is required to dig deeper, and for truly getting to “the story behind the story” as one writes from the soul. This writing from as deep a place as you can reach, from the “source” within, takes weeks and months of writing to fully experience. I’m not there yet, but enjoying the journey!

Deb Lewis

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Journey

I remember when I was a child and my parents would pack us kids in the Impala and head out on a trip.  It wouldn't be very long before one of us would ask, "How much farther?" or "Are we there, yet?"  My parents got very creative about keeping us entertained, especially since some of those trips were from Iowa to California to visit my grandma.  We'd sing songs and play the "alphabet" game which always lasted longer than you think because it was always hard to find "Q" and "Z" on billboards we passed, unless we were in the Ozarks with many Antique shops.  Yes, my parents were masterful at finding ways to keep us "occupied" or maybe "distracted" so we wouldn't be so aware of the long road ahead.  And, of course, I've done the same with my children.

As Christians, however, there is a sense that goes all the way back, that we need seasons of waiting and anticipation and reflection in order to go deeper in our faith journey and in order to connect to the Source of our life.  Surface encounters, while nice for the short-term, are not enough to keep us going.  Occupying ourselves with "things to do" is okay sometimes, but will not build up our strength as Christians.  Distractions may be necessary at times and even inevitable, but not as a way of life.  And so the Christian tradition developed seasons of the Christian year to encourage and nudge us to be still and quiet and go deeper and sit with our questions and our doubts and our desire for that which has not yet come in order to develop our strength of character and faith.

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating and being aware of the darkness in which we know the light will shine.  It is easy in this day and age to allow ourselves to be pre-"occupied" with all the preparations - decorating and cooking and gifts - or to be "distracted" by the lights and glitter and parties and sales.  But the focus of Advent was meant to be waiting, watching, hoping, praying, going deeper that Christ might find room at the inn of our hearts and lives.

So, what can we do in this season to allow ourselves to be present to the journey we are on and not just occupied, passing time and distracted until we can shout "Christ is born!"?  What can we do to sit and be aware of our deepest thoughts and desires for our lives and for the world?  What can we do to become more aware of the dark places of our souls that need the light of Christ to shine?

Those are the questions of Advent.  May we be aware of the journey and use this time to connect to the "one in whom we live and move and have our being."