Oak Hill Hikers – Something New From Something Old

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Oak Hill Hikers went on a hike this past Saturday. We hiked at Mount Mitchell State Park on the Commissary Trail.  We had 8 people and hiked 4 1/2 miles. Our devotion is below. Feel free to use this as you like. Remember to follow the Creative Commons Copyright guidelines listed below.


Something Old From Something New

Materials Needed: Index cards or small pieces of paper, crayons or pencils, Bible

The Commissary Trail runs along a on old logging railroad from the early 1900s. Once logging was banned, it became a railroad to bring tourists into the mountains. Following the removal of the railroad, it became part of the trail system at Mt. Mitchell.

When one purpose for this trail became was done, it transformed into something else, and again. It grew from logging, to tourist transport, to hiking and biking in the beautiful mountains. Its purpose and form changed.

In our life we know there are always things to changed, transformed, and made new. I think of my grandfather who too old used railroad ties to create his cow pasture or my dad taking tin from a fallen barn to rebuild a shed.

Scripture often speaks of old things becoming new:

Wedding at Cana

John Chapter 2

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” 11 This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

-www.biblegateway.com

The water transformed into wine for the glory of God. It is good and abundant wine for the wedding celebration. God’s glory is working within this transformation. This glory is often connected to the Kingdom of God in the parables:

Growth of God’s kingdom

Luke 13:20-21

20 Again he said, “To what can I compare God’s kingdom? 21  It’s like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through the whole.”

-www.biblegateway.com

The woman’s working of yeast into the leaven is what does the transformation. I can play with flour all day and it not turn into bread, it needs the transforming power of God’s glory to change it into something. The thing is, the amount of bread the woman makes is so much that it could feed the whole community. God’s glory made that into a gift for the community.

We all have things in our lives that can change. I want us to take some time to think of things that we can change to celebrate God’s glory and God’s gifts to us. It may be that you have physical items that you can use to celebrate God by changing them or doing something new with them. You may have a gift or talent you have that when shared and combined with God’s love can spread to the community. It may be how you spend your time or money and how that can grow or change.

Allow 5-7 minutes for reflection

Sharing (Allow people who are willing to share, not everyone has to share)

Close in Prayer

 

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A Sunday School Class Struggles with #Charlottesville

IMG_20170813_125853Today, the day after the acts of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia in which white nationalists staged a protest which turned very violent, my Sunday school class met, because it’s Sunday. It is a class of people mainly in there 60s and older (I am the one lone 31 year old). There are often over forty of us. Different people in the class take turns teaching (I teach once about every three months). We use the United Methodist Adult Bible Studies quarterly which follows the Uniform Series.

Today, the lesson title was “Called to Break Down Barriers.” The scripture was from Acts: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. At the beginning of the class a lady spoke up that we need to pray for what is going on in Virginia. The teacher did a good job providing background, and then the discussion of marginalized populations began. It eventually led to the discussion of Charlottesville.

Everyone agreed these sort of violent acts were wrong. Especially Klan, Nazi, and White Nationalist activities. Many of these people were growing up during World War II and were young adults raising kids during the Civil Rights movement. They know the things that occurred. The horrors and acts of evil which people faced and fought against.

They struggled with the fact that young people could be so filled with hate. They did regret the loss of history and historic monuments, they are southerners and this is still part of their heritage. However, they were honest that these are often become symbols and vessels of hate and violence and completely denounced any violence and hate. There was some comments on the #BlackLivesMatter protests needing not to be violent either — but they did acknowledge that it was not all the people in the movement who were violent, and that they had a right to protest. Still, there was struggle and discomfort. A desire to heritage preserved but a solemn acknowledgement that these are symbols of hate and oppression.

As we moved toward the end of class, one person shared that they had recently been approached by a white supremacist offering her literature, when she realized what it was she gave it back and adamantly assured the man that his not what she was about or believed. She then shared that she hoped we could all have the courage to stand up against this sort of hate.

These people are imperfect but want to understand and really do want to change. However, they need teachers, curricula, space, and time to discuss and explore appropriate responses. Can our churches, pastors, and leadership provide such space? This is my hope.

Mountains to Sea Trail

img_20170731_143027.jpgFollowing a conference I attended a few weeks back in Nashville, I stopped on my way home in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While there, I visited Clingman’s Dome, which is also the beginning of the Mountains to Sea Trail, a 1000 mile trail stretching across North Carolina, and ending at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

I only completed roughly one mile of the trail, but it was a symbolic start to an adventure I hope to engage over my life. Hiking continues to become my favorite hobby, and teaches me a great deal about nature and who I am. It is rare that I go hiking and do not learn about a new native plant or animal in the area. I learn about the history of the area as well as the local culture. It brings me closer to the people I hike with and closer to God through spiritual exploration.

I hope to hike on this trail for the next several years and probably decades (with 1200 miles, this will take a while), with many people and on occasion, on my own. Hiking furthers my understanding of myself, others, and life in general, and focusing on a trail that traverses the state I call home, particularly the rural areas of the state, allows me to engage and reflect on my academic and ministerial pursuits.

Stumbling upon a #RuralUMC

A new irregular series is starting because of a car battery dying. A week or so ago I got a call from my wife that her car battery died. I jumped her car off and then she went on about her business in my car while I drove her car around to charge the battery up. It didn’t work and I got a new car battery for it the next day. However, I did get the chance to find a rural UMC I had not been to yet in our community. Arneys Fairview UMC:

I know a little about this church. Their current pastor worked to form this church from Arney’s Chapel UMC and Fairview UMC in rural Burke County. It is currently growing and looking at it’s options for increasing parking. It still has the old outhouses outside the church. They are presumably not in use at this moment. They still own their other building and were interested in offering it as a space for a Latinx congregation.

Whenever I see a little random #RuralUMC and have time, I will stop and take a few pictures to share!

Church Collaborative Feeding – What comes next!

carrots and sprouts

This is the third and final evaluative post on the collaborative feeding project our local churches worked on together. None of the pictures are of the actual food we served. This week we served smoky peanut butter chicken tacos, corn on the cob, cherries, and grapes. For my previous two posts scroll down!

I chose the picture of the slow cooker with veggies, because this process is slow and takes time, but we also know something delicious will be at the end. People were already talking about what we could do next, whether it is a through the year program with a once a month meal for the community, cooking classes, or even simply expanding this for next summer. All of these sound amazing. This is what I hoped for when I took this on, imagination.

We worked together, talked, spent time getting to know each other, and now we can dream together. New ideas bubble to the surface. We will meet next week for a fuller evaluation, but that people want to do more is a success for me!

In ministry, I feel like success is felt when the Holy Spirit is present not just throughout, but in the reflection, pushing and pulling us to move further into this ministry. What that looks like, I do not know. The future is for the group to decide under the Spirit’s guidance.

 

Church Collaborative Feeding – Collaborative Work

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This is my second evaluative piece on the Church Collaborative Feeding, scroll down a few for my first.

This week we made stir fry with multiple vegetables. A portion of my adult VBS group helped along with people from three of the four churches in our collaborative. We de-boned chicken breast, cut up veggies, made huge pots of rice, and sauteed everything. It was a good time. People worked together, and yet everyone kept turning to me to see if this is enough of that, or if the chicken was done enough, or what to do with the scraps. It all worked out, but it was a little overwhelming. I don’t mind being in charge of things, but I don’t fancy myself the best of all cooks or kitchen organizers. However, it did work out, and I was able to taste and see what was done and what was not.

My frustration with these sorts of efforts is not the people who think they know what to do or what to is the best way. Granted, we didn’t have any of those, plus I am easily persuaded. My frustration is balancing of what people offer as donations and honoring those donations while being realistic. But we balanced, we worked, and we collaborated.

Collaborate is a good word. Cooperative sounds less good for this sort of event. It seems to point toward the creation of something together. The creation of a meal and the experience (see last post on this topic). The thing about leading a collaborative is that you have to let the creative nature of each individual and group work out. When prepping a meal, it isn’t too difficult, especially when I get to plan the menu. However, on a larger scale, simply determining our projects can become a nightmare if one person or church dominates the planning. To alleviate this, we are meeting in different churches for our meetings and allowing different people to lead different projects. Our church, and my wife, are sort of the catalysts to make this work. However, her goal is that it becomes its own entity as a true collaborative effort.

This may become most challenging when we begin to work on things like pedagogy, social action, and other events, but there needs to be a place to allow for creative disagreement without harming others. Perhaps, if the beatitudes teach us something from the last post, meekness or a willingness to embrace and mesh in to others ideas is important.

However, there is also the need to let separate realities and possibilities exist. A collaborative requires a means of allowing for individual futures to be lived in to by different groups, even within the individual churches (as they often do). The struggle is allowing these different trajectories to exist and even conflict without stifling one or all of them.

 

 

 

You CAN teach liberation theology in rural communities!

IMG_20170723_153500We had our church’s annual VBS this week. The theme was Passport to Peru. I volunteered to help lead the adult class. We had a total of 15 participants in the class. I took the theme along with the suggested curriculum of food consumption and production and decided we needed to explore Gustavo Gutiérrez’s work in liberation theology. I also cooked delicious Peruvian food. For some reason, I took no pictures, So have included a picture of the book I used for the majority of my teaching. The God of Life, has a chapter in which the author explores the Beatitudes in Matthew Chapter 5 as an understanding of what it means to be a disciple.

This approach to Liberation theology went well. We looked at what it means to be a disciple in terms of the poor, oppression, poverty, and how the world might look if we changed our ways. What continues to strike me as interesting is how we approached the notion of mourning, in the sense of being willing to both cry with and hope with the mourners. Another person was struck by the notion of purity of heart as not being hypocritical, doing and preaching match up. Finally, I was also pushed by the notion of meekness.

The meek, according to the author, are those who can accept both God and others into themselves, to be vulnerable, to connect, to begin to receive the other. The inheriting of the earth seems both Abrahamic and to point toward the issue of loss of land due to oppression, high taxes, and income inequality. It also makes sense for rural communities in the sense of reclaiming their rural reality from the oppressive consumer capitalistic world which seeks both control and disposability.

People asked: What hasn’t this caught on in the US? It was a good time. We went from this into food production and consumption, and the value and importance of environmental justice, worker and human rights justice, and issues of land and connection. We discussed both production and consumption and brainstormed ways to take action in terms of getting grocery stores to donate food as well as a #FoodIsFree type program.

The third day, we pushed past food for the sake of consumption and nourishment and looked at the transformative power of food for connection to the land, for comfort, for sacrament, for fellowship, and more. We discussed, in a liberation and somewhat postmodern sense, what the Kingdom of God here on earth can and will look like, and then how can food help lead to this.

We discussed moving past handouts and looking to powerful means of using food to connect people to each other, the natural world, and God. We discussed it in terms of serving others beyond the nourishment (particularly funerals), and we looked at ways that it can give people hope. It was lovely.

Thursday we prepared and served a meal for a Kinship Caregivers Group (people raising children who are not their own – aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.). This was an act of community and an act of love. These people were not necessarily needy or poor, materially, but enjoyed the meal and the surprise of bringing home a recipe ready to prepare. ( I plan on evaluating week 2 of that later this week, as well as doing week 3!)

This was a tiny taste of liberation theology, but it worked! People learned, moved, and grew. I hope this is a stepping stone to more work for justice.

Pedagogically, the use of a common story (Beatitudes) and a commonality (food) helped. The place to work out ideas was very helpful. The nurture of these ideas will be crucial. This was not a world rocking, earth shattering, paradigm shifting lesson. However, it is the start of something.

 

Oak Hill Hikers – Unfinished Trail

featherblaze

Oak Hill Hikers had its first hike this past Saturday. We hiked at the unfinished Fonta Flora Trail. We had five people. A sixth grader, a twenty-something, and two people over sixty. We hiked 6.5 miles. The temperature began around 72° F and ended at around 88° F. It was a good time, with a break for some to jump in the lake. When we reached the overlook on the lake, we took time to have a devotion and reflect. Each month, I hope to provide a rough outline of my devotion for the event. This months devotion was focused on the notion of “unfinished trails.”


Unfinished Trails
I think it’s rather neat that for our first hike as a group we begin with an unfinished trail. This trail won’t be finished for years. Parts of the trail we walked on today are not blazed. We aren’t sitting on benches because they haven’t been installed yet, but you can see when they will sit.

The whole of scripture seems to be about unfinishedness. Books end with stories unfinished. New commissions and commands are given in the last verses. Even when all seems lost, visions of the future are offered. At the end of each gospel, Jesus gives some sort of assignment or promise. In Matthew, he instructs the disciples go and Baptize the whole world. In the end of Mark, the angel tells the women to go and tell the disciples about Jesus’s return (while they don’t go and tell, we know the story continues). Jesus promises to send “the helper” at the End of Luke. He instructs Peter to feed his sheep as John is wrapping up.

One of my favorite stories of unfinished comes at the resurrection in the gospel of John:

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus says to not “hold on to me.” He’s not finished. He doesn’t want Mary to hold on to what was, expecting everything to stay the same, for history to stop. Instead, Jesus is letting her know that there is more to come.

Just like on these trails, there is more to come. This trail isn’t finished. As Christians, and as Methodists, we believe our trails are unfinished. We continue to journey further into God’s love from birth. Throughout our life, into salvation, and beyond we continue to journey. Wesley even believed that we continue to journey deeper into our faith into our next life.

As we think about the unfinished nature of our lives, take time to think and reflect on what is next on the trail of your life. Share as you are able.

Close in prayer. I used “A Hiking Prayer” from here.

Feel free to use this as you like. Remember to follow the Creative Commons Copyright guidelines listed below.

Church Collaborative Feeding – Offering an Experience

Quiche

Yesterday our church collaborative (currently one each of AME, Episcopal, PC(USA), and UMC congregations) served its first meal. We prepped and provided ham a cheese quiche (the one pictured above has kale – which we did not serve) along with roast broccoli and cut up watermelon and cantaloupe. It was a well received meal. There were some hiccups with the weather, but we made  it work. We also provided a meal box with the ingredients for the quiche, a steamer bag of broccoli, and a box of cherries. In each box we also put a recipe card for the quiche, a collection of conversation starters, and a dinner prayer.

I feel like this steps beyond the simple meal or food box program. We are hoping to provide a repeatable experience. This allows for not only feeding but the ability to at least reproduce the meal. My hope is that it gives them the tools to create a meal and time with their family. I know it isn’t much, but I think its a move in the right direction. Part of my “remembering” process is providing the space and tools for allowing people to imagine and create new experiences. When people take time to imagine and create, they often thrive more. This can be as simple as cooking creatively, knitting, crocheting, and simple art. I know a recipe card and some eggs are not earth shattering, but I hope it provides some glimpses of hope.

My thought process is that this might serve as the beginning of a craft discipleship pedagogy, such as the one Tex Sample suggests. The craft traditions involves a theology which is practical and creative. Through creation, people and communities develop new ways of being and interacting with the world.

More to come.

 

A Parabled Rethinking of Rural Housing

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An excellent piece from The Center for Rural Affairs on the need for a new approach to rural housing made me think of an abstract I submitted on rural housing and homelessness to a conference (but was rejected). My focus was on rethinking rural housing in terms of the parables of Jesus and the potential for new ways of understanding communal life in general. This post looks to hash this out a little bit.

I particularly engage the “Parable of the Friend at Night”:

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. -Luke 11:5-8

William R. Herzog II’s interpretation is particularly moving. He points to the needs of rural peasants in the first century to resist and create their own social code to move beyond the external rules of society being afflicted on them in a dehumanizing way. In many ways rural communities face a dehumanizing system of valuation from global capitalism and society. Current society teaches the “one best way” of acquiring a middle class (sub)urban life with all its attachments. This includes home ownership, a manicured lawn, the nice schools, the membership in the right clubs, and a salary which keeps adding zeroes.

Rural populations, both then and now, face the dehumanizing forces telling them they are failures for not wanting or attaining the lifestyle of consumption or honor (interchangeable really). Instead, according to Herzog, Jesus is pointing to a subverting of expectations and an action of justice in the providing of bread for a person in need. This sort of justice is outside the bounds of consumption and honor. A community member in need, late a night, risking security and food, offering bread for a visitor. There is no return paid. (One note: Herzog and many others believe the following versus which spiritualize this into a parable about prayer where added later, and that this is a much more physical needs based parable.)

Michael Corbett writes of rural virtues or values, one of which is “making do as one sees fit on known land and sea.” A value of rural people is “making do” as you can. However, deeper into this text one might read a sense of justice and transformation. If “making do” is not simply a getting by but a creative rethinking of a situation, then it provides glimpses into the same Kingdom of God Jesus continue to talk about. Rural communities have the values latent in their work to begin rethinking housing in their communities. It will not look like $200K+ homes on estates, but it will look like shared housing, new forms of living, creative reclaiming of buildings, and rethinking of homelessness and housing in general. If we work hard, and we see a neighbor in need, we look past ourselves and creatively engage the needs of this neighbor. Churches in rural communities often have a great deal of empty space which could be used for housing temporary or communal. The idea of the boarding house might also be useful.

There are many possibilities, but the key is, the answer must come from within rural communities. A rural reality must be embedded in a creative community not in external expectations. Housing solutions must come from within the rethinking of spaces  in the community and providing for the needs of the people in a way which continues to reveal the Kingdom of God. The article I link at the beginning begins to do this and offers good ideas and starters, but each community, with knowledge of its place, its sense of stewardship, and its understanding of “making-do” can look at a means of creating new housing opportunities. This is not simply solving a problem, it is resisting and restoring justice.

Looking for Book Suggestions for #UMC history and doctrine

Methodist

I am teaching United Methodist History and United Methodist Doctrine in the fall, and find my current syllabus lacking in some of the topics I list below. If you have suggestions for books or articles (print or online) which would help with these topics, please let me know:
-The History and Doctrine regarding Deacons, Deaconnesses/Home Missioners, and Diakonia in the UMC and its predecessors
-The history of the formation of Central Conferences as well as autonomous affiliate conferences, particularly in the 21st Century
-The history of the denomination’s relations with people of color and indigenous people both in the US and abroad.
-LGBTQ/Queer history and theology of a Wesleyan/Methodist bent.
-Something which covers Methodist history after 1938, and particularly the last half of the 20th and into the 21st century.
-A history of the general boards and agencies of the UMC

-A  history of the UMC’s ecumenical history (Sunday School Movement, World and National Council of Churches, World Methodist Council, etc.)

Thank you in advance!

Getting Lost and Exploring in Rural Places

Driving Up The MountainWhen I got my driver’s license, I would always take the “long way” wherever I had to go. If I had to get bread, drop something at the post office, or head to my job as church custodian. My best friend and I would drive around for hours, spending little to no money but having a great time. Even now, I often take a different way to and from a place to explore Burke County.

The value of getting lost or exploring the rural community is the chance to see your community in a new way. I often simply find new places and new experiences. Even when I know that I am looking for a particular thing, I often turn different and go down different roads before or after finding the thing for which I was looking.

In terms of pedagogy and rural life, it allows for seeing things differently, but this seems the easy answer. Of course finding new things and coming at things from a new perspective is great. However, I think beyond this, it unsettles us and causes us to pay attention. In getting lost on purpose or exploring new places, it gives us a chance to simply wander in the unknown. Sure, our GPS or Smart Phones can get us home, but perhaps that isn’t the point.

A Christian rural pedagogy which involves wandering and exploring is one which points to us seeking out what it means to be in our rural place. To look at it differently means to look for the unfamiliar. It means to see the things that don’t fit and don’t want to fit. It means to learn from those places. From there, discernment can come. However, it appears really important begin looking at the place and space you call home a little differently.

This practice can be put in place by simply driving around. You can do it yourself. You can instruct others to do it. You can take a group, give them notepads, and flip coins for left and right turns to see where you end up. Then you might discuss your findings at the location at which you arrive. Discuss what you saw that was familiar. Discuss what you saw that was different, even simply different from what you’ve always seen. Discuss how you see Kingdom of God being revealed. This can be both in general and for you personally. There is much information to garner from simply driving around and observing with fresh eyes.