Uvalde and why I don’t post thoughts and prayers anymore.

There is a twice-weekly paper in Uvalde.  Its entire front page was black today, except for a date–May 24, 2022– in bold white print just above the fold.  It is the physical embodiment of stunned silence.

That’s what each community feels when one of these shootings happens to them.  Not shocked– we are all too aware that these shootings happen, and with frequency, to pretend to be shocked– communities are stunned because no one ever thinks it will happen in their town/neighborhood/school.

I have chosen silence over the last few days because I ran out of good platitudes a long time ago.  Of course, our prayers are with the families of Uvalde.  We pray for God’s comfort in their grief and healing for their trauma.  But if those are the only prayers, if they are contained neatly in moments of silence and understanding nods; if they end when the shock wears off, then they are just empty wind.

God does not desire prayers alone, but contrite hearts and change lives.  Again and again, the prophets remind us that a heart devoted to God leads to care for the poor and vulnerable; especially widows and children, and immigrants.  The prophets also warn us what happens to peoples who claim the name of God but turn away from the commands for compassion and justice.

So, I am sorry, I have given up wasting words offering wafer-thin sympathy.  We as individuals may be moved by these moments, our single hearts may go out to these grieving families.  But it is clear that we as a people do not care.  It has been 10 years since Sandyhook; more than 20 since Columbine.  Nothing has changed because we do not care enough to change it.

The only substantial changes to gun legislation in the last two decades have been to make weapons more widely available.  No, gun legislation alone will not solve the problem.  Is this a mental health issue, yes; we have not improved care or access to psychiatric services in two decades.  Is this a problem with parents, yes; be we have not invested in systems and resources to strengthen families and protect children in two decades.  Is the problem of, not just mass shootings, but gun violence in general, complicated, yes.  But to even begin finding a solution we must, at our core, care more about the life and safety of other people than we do about our own comfort and sense of security. 

Our culture does not encourage such empathy and selflessness.  To believe that we can call ourselves a Christian nation without it is a delusion.  This is why I no longer comment on these tragedies.  I am not interested in enabling fantasy.  I do not have a pastor’s soothing aphorisms.  I have only the prophet’s anger…and weariness.

I wish no other mother or father ever had to weep over a child lost to gun violence. I pray that God will redeem us and show us the path to life and happiness. Yet I know that such a path will come with repentance. With changed hearts leading to changed actions and changed systems. God can do it, but it will be done through us and so long as we are too stiffnecked to look for another way nothing is going to change. There will be another Buffalo and another Uvalde until our hard hearts are so broken we are willing to let God do something new with them.

I know that does not sound like a word of hope. That’s why I don’t comment anymore. But my anger is not hopeless. I know that God has changed hearts before. God has led stiffnecked people to new life before. I believe that we as people and as a people are nowhere near powerful enough to stand in the way of God’s mercy and justice forever. My silence is only partly resignation. It is also the silence of patiently longing for God’s will to finally be done.

Thank you for the time away

Greetings friends,

I hope you are warm, well, and dry after last week. It was certainly an interesting way to come back from leave. Now that things are settling a little bit, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to SPRC for their support of me taking this crucial time and to all the staff and volunteers who made the rest possible. Lauren did an excellent job of managing, but she could not have done it with out the contributions of the whole congregation.

The rest was good for my soul. It offered me time to tend to my family, to rest, and to spend concentrated time in prayer and devotional work. I am confident the fruits of that will play out at DPUMC for some time. One of the books I read while I was away was Margaret Wheatley’s book Who Do We Choose to Be? It is an insightful work and an excellent read for anyone seeking to understand our present cultural moment and how we might be community and whole humans within it.

I look forward to sharing other resources and learning from my leave with you over the next few months. For now, I simply wanted to say thank you for the space and your patience.

Who Do We Choose to Be? by Margaret Wheatley

Practicing Sabbath

Life is intended to have a rhythm. Scripture call us to keep a holy rhythm or work and rest. In order to be our best, pastors are encouraged to keep a rhythm of work and rest. In addition to sabbath days off and continuing education, every four years we are offered time away for spiritual renewal. I will be taking that time over the next four weeks.

The work of being your pastor is both rewarding and challenging. Together we have weathered several crises over the last four years.  We have endured a hurricane, an industrial accident, and both public and private staff struggles.  The timing is not as strange as it might seem. The church is in good hands. We have an incredibly talented Associate Pastor who will be leaving in July for seminary.  The rest is deeply needed and now, is the best moment to take it, before diving into the challenges of post-Covid ministry.

Over this time I will focus on seven crucial types of rest: physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, and spiritual.  During the first week, I will take care of some family business, begin a reading plan, and establish routines for the leave.  During the second week, I will take part in an online retreat focused on sustainable ministry.  In the third week, I will continue reading and cementing routines.  The fourth week will be dedicated to translating learnings to future action.

I am deeply grateful for the support of our staff and SPRC. I also hope you appreciate the four guest preachers who will grace our worship beginning on the 24th. I covet your prayers while away and look forward to returning to practice Lent with you.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Kate

Revelation Remix

Sunday’s sermon at DPUMC included a paraphrase of the Revelation to John. Here is the text of that letter with scripture references.

“The Revelation was not written without tears; neither without tears will it be understood.”

John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament

Dear Church,

(Chapter 1: Greeting)

Don’t give up.  I know things are difficult but do not be afraid. All of this present moment, all that ever was, and all that will be is held in God’s hands. So be a light in the darkness and look to Jesus as your guide.

(Chapter 2 & 3: Letters to 7 churches)

Do not fear death even when it seems the world is trying to kill you. It is the way of the world to destroy what it does not understand. And cannot control.  But Christ died and is now alive.  And Christ holds the keys to death and the grave. Don’t give up, for we who follow Christ will not only survive but have the glory of abundant life; Life now and for eternity.

I know it’s hard. To those who are uncertain, do not waiver. Remain firm in the commitment you made at your baptism. Confess Jesus as you lord and recognize no other. Resist evil, injustice, and oppression, wherever you find them. This is the way that leads to life.

To those who are firm in the faith, blessings to you; continue in this hope, for it will give you the strength to endure any challenges.  I know some of you are deeply challenged because you will not bow to the empire around you.  You know that even if you die,  you will still be greatly rewarded.

Do not trust in earthly leaders or wealth. Pray for those who do, and pray for those who persecute you. For Christ is king, and when he returns, he will bring justice. He will set right all that is broken.

(Chapter 7: The People of God gathered)

When Christ returns, he will gather all God’s children. From every corner of the world, he will gather us. Not just a tribe or a generation but an innumerable multitude. He calls us out of hardship even now to the waters of baptism. Our Good Shepherd leads us to life-giving water.

(Chapter 8:6-9:21: The seven trumpets)

Church, we need the shepherd and the water of life for the world is a broken place, and brokenness leads to death. Fires often rage and destroy. Volcanoes create but also kill. Sea creatures and ships are harmed by storms and pollution.  Mosquitoes, roaches, rats, scorpions, and all manner of pests plague people around the world. And when these things happen, people do not turn to God. They put their trust in idols; in gold and silver, bronze, stone, and wood. In pseudoscience, and violence, drugs and pleasure, and hoarding treasure.

(Chapter 10: The scroll of prophecy)

But God’s promises remain true. God’s grace that has flowed from Creation, from the times of Eden and Noah rolls across time and space. In every age, God sends servants to proclaim the good news. And the good of God shall come to each of us. The Good News is both sweet and hard to swallow. And it is ours to proclaim.

Proclaim everywhere the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord; that no trial or tribulation can separate people from his love. Proclaim that God who created the world, is setting it right. 

(Chapter 11: The fate of prophets)

Proclaim it. And be fully aware of what it may cost you. When you tell the truth to Emperors and governors, to Queens and lords, to barons and power brokers, presidents and moguls, they will not thank you for it. They will come against you. They will mock and kill true prophets.

But even death cannot silence the word of God, and the spirit of God will keep raising us up again and again.

(Chapter 12: The woman and the dragon)

For the church has a spirit of life. Each of her generations gives birth to the next. When violence and chaos rage, they cannot harm her, for God prepares a refuge for her. When the church is in the wilderness, she is not lost.  The wilderness is where God cares for her: The wilderness is where she gives birth to new things.

(Chapter 13:1-14:13: Those of the beasts and those of God)

Chaos and brokenness will take many forms. From land and sea, from every corner, they come in every era and raise up systems, empires, and nations. Every time they seem powerful, monstrously great.

Beware where you put your allegiance Church. You can only serve one master. You can only worship one Lord. What you follow, you things you put your trust in, it marks you. It marks your words, your actions, your very being. Do not be marked by greed or hate or any of the ways of this world, for they bring suffering. Instead, let faithful endurance be the seal on your life.

(Chapters 14:14-16:21: Two Harvests)

A heart for god yields a harvest of glory. But when we sow violence and vice, we reap suffering and death. Chaos carries the seed of its own destruction. Selfishness festers like a disease. Greed leads to waste and sickness. Anger ignites wrath, and hatred. False prophets incite idolatry and war. Together they stir up plagues that shake the foundations of everything humans build.

(Chapters 17 & 18: fall of Babylon)

This is how empires full. They consume themselves with vice, and when they are gone, they leave behind desolation.  But the powers of this world won’t last forever. Yet the steadfast love (hessed) of God endures. God works salvation. God holds all true power and glory. Christ will always show up to restore the people and banish the doubt and chaos that threaten them. 

(Chapters 19-22: Vision of Restoration)

Don’t give up Church. In the end, all shall be well. So if things are unwell in these times, it is not the end. God is with us now. God desires to dwell with us fully. To dry our eyes and heal our hurts. To set aside forever mourning and pain and sorrow.

In the end, it will be like the beginning. The gates will be thrown open to all. The city and the garden will be one. The fruit of life will nourish all, and the river of life will flow everywhere. And then all that will be left is to worship.

Live that life of worship now. Christ is coming very soon. And Christ is already here. The Spirit of the Lord is with us now. Don’t give up. Yes, right now is difficult. You don’t have to pretend that here and now is perfect. It isn’t. But here and now looks very different when seen through the lens of eternity. Through darkness and chaos threaten, Christ has the final authority.  Jesus will not fail you and will not let you fall. These words have been trustworthy and true from the beginning of time till now. They will be true until the end. Don’t give up.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be will all.

Sources and further reading

Ritual for marking a lost year

A friend of mine recently asked, “Has anyone else thought about just starting a new planner because they’ve had to cross so many things out?”. It was half a joke. Half. The last few weeks have not been what anyone planned, and it is unclear how much more will be disrupted by this new normal. Schools in our state were officially closed for the rest of the academic year.  

As I watched that press conference, I thought about my friend’s planner. The greatest struggle right now isn’t that lots of things are canceled or postponed or rearranged. The more significant issue is that we all need to grieve things that are canceled, postponed, or rearranged. What if our now inaccurate planners offer an opportunity to process our emotions and re-imagine what was to be?

This week, try this. Go through your planner or calendar and identify all the things that were canceled or postponed. If you don’t usually keep a planner or written calendar, make a list of these events. (Here’s a PDF chart that might help). Look back a month and ahead a month or two. 

I liked using post-it notes for this next step, but make in a list on a separate sheet of paper or using a new planner works well too. For each event, write down:

  • What were you most looking forward to about this? (moment/ event/ detail)
  • Why was it important to you? (feeling/ desire)
  • What markers of the event are still possible?

Looking at those answers, make a plan for how you will mark that day now. This is not a replacement, but a way to honor what is lost. For instance, if you have a child finishing kindergarten, it might go:

  • What were you most looking forward to about this? Taking pictures of them standing on the stage.
  • Why was it important to you? They’ve worked really hard, and I want to celebrate them becoming a “big kid.”
  • What markers of that event are still possible?  Taking pictures, family cheering as their name is announced, making a memory box of their kindergarten stuff, wearing a graduation cap, having a special meal, etc.

Maybe on the day they should have graduated, you’ll get dressed up, do a “red carpet” photo-shoot in your living room, and then look at pictures of things they did in school this year.

The plans don’t have to be elaborate. What is important is that they are intentional. Don’t merely let special days slide by or spend them wishing for what cannot be. You can put the post-it with the plan over the original date in your calendar, or write the plan in a new calendar, or post your list where you will see it and follow through on the plans. As you cover the original, or write out the new one, say a prayer of thanks for all the work that went into your first plan and for what is possible with this new one.

You don’t have to tackle the whole calendar at once. Pick a few things at a time. Create a many missed event rituals as you need. This is a simple way to acknowledge things we can’t do and work through our feelings of loss. It also encourages us to create memories of joy and purpose rather than absence. I hope it helps.

What other ways are coping with pandemic life right now? Put your ideas and brainstorms in the comments.

MidWeek Check In

Thank you, Church, for all the ways you are showing up during this crisis. Thank you for the donations you are making to keep the church functioning. Thank you for the gifts you have offered to care for one another and to serve our neighbors. Thank you for the supplies you have brought for the food pantry and blessing box. Thank you for your patience when tech is squirrely or things are different than we’re used to. Thank You.

You are proving that the church is the people, whether they have a building in which to gather or not. I know that we are eager to again see one another face to face. In the meantime God is still moving, and sustaining, and doing great things in and through us.

Thanks to your generosity we are doing better financially. This week we received over $8,000 dollars and our expenses for this week an next are roughly $13,000 so we are in a more normal pattern. Our operating cash remains above $50,000. Thank you for your support.

The blessing box is being used regularly. We had a huge glut of food the first week. It’s now settled into a good rhythm of input and output. It warms my heart to see those who need supplies getting care.

If you or someone you know is in need of care, physically, mentally, or spiritually, please reach out to the office or send a message to (832)-304-1403.

Tomorrow begins the Tridium– Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil. These three experiences are really one service that tells the story of Christ’s passion. I hope you’ll join us Thursday and Friday evening at 6:30pm and at 7:00 am on Sunday morning for the Sunrise Service.

Why I’m choosing palms

Notice we have turned to ritual. The world turned upside down, and suddenly my Facebook feed is full of Morning check-ins and calls for door decorations. It shouldn’t be surprising; ritual has long been the way that we create rhythm and mark meaning in life. It is a visible expression of the faith we hold, the faith we need in our hardest times.

But in life before corona virus, few of us lived lives steeped in ritual. So now we are cobbling together whatever we can from memories, inspirations, and leftover craft supplies.  We are looking to proclaim comfort and hope.  Yet we need to be aware that rituals form as much as they express.  It is good to look for things that will embody faith, but as we create them we should be conscious of the deeper meanings we might be embedding

My digital ecosystem offered me several options for what to do with my door this week. Two seemed to gain the most traction. Hanging palm branches or marking the door frame with red. There are palm branches on my door.

We reach for ritual when we need something. Right now, we desperately want this quarantine to be over, for our friends and family to be safe, and to know that there is hope beyond the present moment. Some Christians have noted that the Jewish festival of Passover runs from April 8th through 16th. They recognize that we are all hungry for deliverance and are marking their doors with red cloth or ribbon. This is not the ritual we’re looking for.

First of all, Passover is a sacred Jewish celebration steeped in ritual and tradition.  Traditions which those of us outside the faith do not fully understand and should be hesitant to co-opt for our own needs.

Second, Exodus is a story of God’s deliverance. But the Passover comes at the cost of Egyptian children.  That is not a small detail. I firmly believe God does not require a blood sacrifice for anyone’s salvation. I’m uncomfortable with the implication that I would like God to pass over my house, but I have little concern for this disease and death that could be visited on others. I don’t think anyone intends such a statement, but rituals carry layers of meaning often beyond our conscious intentions.

Third, if we are looking to enact a great story of death and resurrection, we don’t have to search outside the Christian tradition. It is Holy Week. It is the moment when we tell our most important story. The Church has 2000 years of ritual tradition to offer us in this season. We should avail ourselves of it.

There are poms on my door because on Sunday my King rode into Jerusalem on a donkey promising a new Kingdom not ruled by violence and fear. On Thursday, I will practice washing as a holy act to remember what it is to serve and to prepare. On Friday, I will mourn for all those who die by no fault of their own, and I will face my mortality. So that on Easter, I will truly understand the glory of the resurrection.

This is a story we need to tell right now, and even though we are distant from our church buildings, it is a story we can enact in ritual in our home And embedded in our hearts. Join me on the journey this week. Put palms on your door, wash your hands, set aside space to grieve. And next Sunday, add some Flowers some ribbon some color to those leaves on your door as we mark Easter resurrection.

Midweek Check-in for DPUMC

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43: 16, 19

When people are in exile, God makes a way. When people are confused and losing hope, God makes a way. When people do not know how long they can cope with the present moment, God makes a way. Next week is Holy Week; I hope it will remind us all that there is nothing–not even death–that is stronger than our God.

As the full impact of this virus and the necessary social distancing plays out, we will not lose hope. We will not give up. We know that God is at work even in the midst of this and when we return to a more normal routine, we will return as a wiser, more faithful people because we have seen what God can do.

We know God is making a way through this. I firmly believe part of that way is the church leading people to make choices that protect them and the most vulnerable.

Social Distancing the Johnny Karate Way.

Humans are social creatures. Deprived of connection, we can become anxious and depressed. And of course, there is the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic. Plus disruption to some (or all) of your regular routine.
So, once a day, ask yourself:

  • Am I sleeping way more or way less than usual? (or way weirder)
  • Is my temper shorter than normal?
  • Do I feel on edge (you do), and how am I dealing with it?
  • Am I obsessing over the news?
  • Have I prepped like the world as we know it will be eaten by zombies tonight? (count the rolls of toilet paper)
  • Am I having difficulty focusing? (even when the kids aren’t melting down) Do I not enjoy things I usually love?

If you start getting a lot of yeses, chances are the isolation and stress are having an effect on your mental health. Incidentally, if you have already painted a hand on a volleyball and given it a name, you can disregard the questions. Go directly to counseling, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

I am not a mental health professional. I see a couple of those; they are great; if you are overwhelmed or struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please make an appointment with one. But for those who get a bit down or stir crazy from isolation, I can offer a little guidance from my own journey with anxiety and depression.

Fight back like Johnny Karate

(Johnny Karate is the kids’ performer alter-ego of Andy Dwyer (Christ Pratt) from later seasons of Parks and Recreation. His show is featured in a BRILLIANT episode in the last season. If you do nothing else, watch that, it will make you smile)

Johnny teaches us that we should do 5 things every day:

Make something

Cook a meal, create a photo collage, decorate your window, find a creative outlet. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or ever seen by other people. Crafting things with our hands grounds us in our body and helps us focus on something other than anxiety.

Learn something

Give your brain a chance to play. Watching one more news story or reading one more post won’t make you feel better. Instead, take advantage of the great free courses and museum tours online. Read a book about a topic you love or have always found fascinating. Seek wisdom, truth, and beauty. Your mind and soul need them.

Karate chop something

For kids (or super frustrated grown-ups), this could be literal; but stick to pillows and punching bags, please. However, it can mean get something accomplished. Finish a project, especially one that’s been hanging around. Got a closet that attacks every time you open it? Karate chop with organization. Flower beds looking like weed farms? Karate chop yard work. Finishing stuff releases dopamine, and dopamine is awesome.

Try something new

Working and playing and everythinging at home can make your world feel like its shrinking. Open up some horizons by trying new recipes, picking up a hobby, or intentionally learning something new. Turn dinner into Chopped, rearrange furniture, learn tik tok. Anything to break routine.
Anxious energy could become a beloved new hobby.

Be nice to someone

We all need some extra kindness right now. We all need a positive connection right now. Set aside time every day to reach out and say something encouraging, supportive, and caring to another human. And then just listen; kindness can unlock many places in the heart.

The Johnny Karate method sounds simple and a little silly. That’s the point. If you are not overloaded right now, someone around you is. We’re all swimming through mud. We don’t know for how long. Give anxiety, grief, and sadness space in your day, but also look for light and hope. So embrace the simple and the silly. Those are usually the places God shows up. Take a break every day because you need it.

Stay healthy, friends. Trust Jesus. And wash your hands.