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

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.

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.

What does the Protocol mean for DPUMC?

UPDATE: UMCNews has added this chart that outlines the major plans coming to General Conference and links to primary sources.

You may have seen the UMC denomination in the headlines over the weekend. A plan called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was released Friday and captured the attention of many people both inside and outside the UMC. Since then I have and several questions and conversations about what this will mean for Deer Park UMC.

The shortest answer is, it means nothing until General Conference meets in May. The UMC has been having a long conversation about polity and human sexuality. That conversation has been particularly intense over the last 18 months. At a Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019 the denomination adopted part of what was called the Traditionalist Plan. It maintained prohibitions on performing same-sex weddings and ordinations, and restructured the process for dealing with complaints and punishments for violation of those prohibitions. That legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Caucus groups across the denomination met over the year and several have submitted plans or legislation for General Conference 2020. Notable among them are The Bard-Jones Plan, The UMC-Forward Plan, The UMNext Plan, and the Indianapolis Plan. All provide for some form of separation from the UMC denomination or breaking the UMC into multiple denominations. The Protocol is like these in that responds to GC2019 and proposes a path forward via multiple expressions of Methodism; all will require debate and adoption by GC2020 to become a reality.

What is different?

  • The Protocol was worked out by leaders from a wide spectrum of caucus groups with the help of a professional mediator and is being supported by 8 Bishops.
  • The Protocol does not yet have legislation for its implementation. When that legislation is ready, it will need to come to the GC2020 either through a Special Session of an Annual Conference (our AC is Texas Annual Conference) or by permission of the General Conference organizing committee because the deadline for legislation is long passed.
  • The signers of the Protocol have expressed a desire for the plan’s legislation to come to the floor for debate and vote as a whole (inseparable) package. The Indianapolis plan also has an inseparability provision, and the validity of that has been challenged.
  • The way the Protocol was crafted and released gained far more media attention than any similar legislation.

UMNews has done an excellent job of summarizing the specific provision of the Protocol and had provided an extensive FAQ.

The Protocol is ultimately one plan among many coming to GC2020. I will not speculate here on its likelihood of adoption and we will not have a firm answer on this plan or any other until May. It is worth noting that the Protocol, like several other plans provides for votes by Annual Conferences and/or local churches. Our bishop, Bishop Jones, has already announced that all actions stemming from GC2020 will be taken up at a Special Session of the Annual Conference in August. This is because our normal session occurs only 9 days after the close of GC2020, and that is not enough time for meaningful conversation or considered decisions.

The leadership of DPUMC was already considering when to hold information sessions and town-halls ahead of GC2020. Those will likely be scheduled in the March-April time frame. While possibilities and contingencies will be discussed all year, no decisions can be finalized or actions taken until we know what the General Conference does in May and the Annual Conference does in August.

In the meantime, I ask you to do 3 things:

  • Be in prayer for our church, our leadership, our denomination and its world wide leadership.
  • Check any information you see in or on a major media outlet. The UMC is a large denomination, movements are going to make headlines from time to time, but they often fail to do the background research necessary to understand our polity or the wider implications of a single action. umnews.org is a great source for accurate information.
  • Be in conversation with one another. In times of anxiety or conflict it can be tempting to seek peace through silence. We have reached a point where that is not viable. We need to listen to each other, seek to understand each other, and hold each other accountable for understanding the options on the table.

Called to Rise [Beyond Sunday]

In Acts 11, Peter is called to step out of his comfort zone to meet a need. The Holy Spirit pushes him to move beyond previous restrictions to expand the Kingdom of God.

Trace the movement of the Spirit through the New Testament. Are there  other people who were held outside the Jewish community and later welcomed into the Church?

Can you recall a time when God used something you’d planned in an unexpected way?

Who might be the Gentiles, those who need the gospel but are outside our comfort zone, in our community?

What might our church need to do to welcome them?

Small steps:

  • Start a conversation with a stranger
  • Invite someone to worship or Sunday School
  • Ask someone of a different age, race, income level what they need from God

Long Strides:

  • Begin learning a new language
  • Volunteer to teach or serve people of a different age or with different needs
  • Suggest to leaders ways we might reach people in our community 

Renovation Update

I hope you’ve seen the growing donation total in the Gathering Area. We continue to progress toward our 3 year goal and projects are underway.

The Food Pantry has a new permenant wall and door thanks to Rick Sullivan, Junior and Penny McBride, Tim Camp and other willing volunteers. It looks terrific and provides the Pantry with more storage space and a clean, welcoming look.

We are also starting work on the roof over the Choir Hall. The Sanctuary is progressing. HOwever we hit a snag with Church Interiors. The Trustees are now pursuing additional bids. They want to do such a large project well, but we hope to have the funds raised by the time a bid is finalized.

DPUMC continues to grow in being a welcoming place and your gifts are making possible for our buiding to reflect our Spirit. If you have not yet set up a regular gift ot the renovation fund, you can contact Susan Greer in the office to do so.

Giving Thanks

Every day we draw breath should be a day of gratitude.  However, in this season, we are more keenly aware of all God’s blessings.  I am thankful to gather with my family this week.  I am grateful to serve a loving energetic church, and for the work we are doing to refocus on discipleship.  I feel blessed to have bills paid, secure housing, enough means for a lavish meal.

I hope in the midst of your festivities this week, you take time to pause and be grateful for the blessings large and small that contribute to your life.  I also pray that we allow our gratitude motivate us to become blessings to others.  In the midst of this season of busy, may we be a place of peace.  In a season of buying and selling, may we be a people of generous hearts.  In a season of family and friends, may we have eyes for those who feel lonely, or lost.

I am grateful to be a part of the Deer Park UMC family and hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I look forward to celebrating the whole holiday season together.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Pastor Kate

If your kids and youth have questions this week…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all yourstrength, and with all your mind; and your neighboras yourself.”

Luke 10:27

This week we didn’t have a traditional sermon at DPUMC.  We tied up our series on difficult questions of faith by answering questions from the congregation.  So it wasn’t possible to write my usual Tuesday follow up blog.  Instead, I thought I’d offer some information to help parents and grandparents answer some difficult questions they may be asked this week.

The testimonies of Dr. Blasey Ford and Hon. Kavanuagh continue to dominate the news.  The ongoing nomination process has sparked a national conversation about consent, assault, men and women’s experiences and rights.  These subjects are as important as they are sensitive. Children and teens need to have their questions honored and feel safe talking to the adults around them.   If the young people in your life have questions, it is because they are seeking your wisdom about the person they should become.

Many parents will want to shield young children from the explicit details.  But children are capable of grasping consent and how they should treat others in an age-appropriate way.  They can be reminded Jesus loves them and everyone.  Because we love Jesus, we also love other people and treat them nicely.  We only hug or touch others if they say its okay.  And people should only hug or touch them if they say its okay.

With older children, you might emphasize that God has created each person and that all are equal in Christ.  You can read together Psalm 139 or 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 and along with the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27).  Discuss what it means to love others as ourselves.

With pre-teens that might also include a conversation about substances, like alcohol and drugs, that inhibit our ability to make good decisions and can even put us in dangerous situations.  You might find the UMC’s Social Principles a helpful guide.  From the section on Women and Men:

We affirm with Scripture the common humanity of male and female, both having equal worth in the eyes of God. We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, that one gender must strive against another, and that members of one gender may receive love, power, and esteem only at the expense of another. We especially reject the idea that God made individuals as incomplete fragments, made whole only in union with another. We call upon women and men alike to share power and control, to learn to give freely and to receive freely, to be complete and to respect the wholeness of others. We seek for every individual opportunities and freedom to love and be loved, to seek and receive justice, and to practice ethical self-determination. We understand our gender diversity to be a gift from God, intended to add to the rich variety of human experience and perspective; and we guard against attitudes and traditions that would use this good gift to leave members of one sex more vulnerable in relationships than members of another.

UMC Social Prinicples ¶161

Teens, especially, may be wrestling right now because Ford and Kavanaugh were themselves teenagers on the night under discussion.  Your teen may know a friend who abuses alcohol or drugs, or who has been the victim of sexual assault.  Try asking for and listening to their opinion first.  If they have questions, remind them that sex is a good gift from good, but meant to be a gift between married people. Help your teen understand that loving others, means respecting their boundaries; loving yourself means being careful about the people you spend time with and the situations you put yourself.

Be an adult they can come too.  Even if they or their friends find themselves at a party, on a date, or in a situation they’re uncomfortable with, let them know you are someone they can call with no questions asked until the morning.

For a deeper family study, you might read 2 Samuel 13-15 or Judges 19-20.  Be aware that both these stories contain difficult content including sexual violence.  In both, the assault and subsequent injustice have devastating effects for the Israelites.

Whatever questions your kids have, remind them that they are loved and that you are a safe place to bring their fears and anxieties.

Prayers for you this week parents.