Ladybugs in Worship

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One Sunday this November while sitting in worship, I noticed a ladybug crawling along the cushion of my pew. It’s getting colder out and the last of the Asian variety of Ladybugs are migrating indoors to overwinter. Our church is an old building with many easy points of access for ladybugs.

I grew up in a church where ladybugs gathered for the winter. Often by the hundreds. It was all at once whimsical and annoying. I was the church janitor in an old rural church. We were an often warm building on the edge of an open field and small stand of trees. It was neat to see a lady bug crawling on the pews during worship, but also tedious to be the janitor who had to vacuum the dead ones up EVERY WEEK.

In my recent experience, it was whimsy and joy. I allowed the creature to crawl onto my finger and let it crawl around on my hand for several minutes while something was happening in worship. Pretty sure it was announcements or prayers, or maybe a sermon. Something more somber than energized. This made me think of worshiping in and with creation. This creature was probably on its last leg of life, and will soon die. Yet, it taught me, and reminded my of our shared space in this place, even in what we might say is our space.

It also reminds me that in rural communities our lives and the life of the creation which surrounds us are integrally connected. Insects such as lady bugs help control the aphids which often destroy crops. They also serve as a primary food source for other animals. The speckled shiny little creatures. Furthermore, according to Ladybuglady.com, they are named in honor of the Virgin Mary. When insects where destroying crops in Europe in the late middle ages, many people prayed to the Virgin Mary to rescue them from this plight. The ladybugs came and ate the crop destroying insects, and the farmers began calling the saving insects, “Beetles of Our Lady.” Eventually they became ladybeetles or ladybugs. Rural communities should embrace and celebrate the value of beneficial insects, even so much as welcoming them into their worship space, even if they can get annoying.

I’m thinking of writing up a series of lesson plans around insects, trees, etc. Hopefully publishable or shareable (at least).

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Grace as Scaffolding

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My previous post explores the need for churches to create space for children to exist outside of behavioral expectations and standardization. I find grace as a powerful tool for this. John Wesley, in his Lessons for Children defines grace as: “The Power of the Holy Ghost, enabling us to believe, and love, and serve God. Grace becomes the force which pulls people closer to God.

By closer to God, I don’t want to speak of an otherworldly being or powerful king. Instead, I think of the open horizon of new possibilities of new futures. These new futures are not elsewhere, but in the present time and space. For these children in rural communities, the new future can simply be having fun and learning without evaluations and restrictive rules. The space to imagine and grow can exist, with the scaffolding of grace.

Plain white paper becomes a scaffolding. Instead of expecting kids to produce or replicate an expected piece of art or writing, the paper allows freedom to create. Instead of programmed activities for hours, 45 minutes of free play with multiple options allows children to make choices. Teaching prayer practices becomes scaffolding. Instead of simply having students memorize spoken prayers, prayer practices provide imaginative ways for children to engage with God and the world, whether body prayers, music, art, or other ways of exploring. Finally, allowing children to share with us their lives is important. You will hear stories of pain, joy, sorrow, anger, and more as children give words (and sometimes images through art) to their experiences.

While, yes, I agree formal faith formation is necessary, and I will write more about that in the future, the simple act of providing the free space in an environment filled with love, freedom, and community becomes a means of grace, or a way of experiencing God’s love and the possibilities of the future. A future in their rural world, where often, futures are in short supply.

Being With Children

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So much of the work of rural ministry is providing a space to be. A rural public school system, while in many ways a wonderful place to educate children, often is underfunded, overextended, and struggling with the political and socio-economic forces promoting a one best way. 

The gifted children, the wealthy children, and the children which can pass as either, receive the positive attention. This attention is generally toward furthering education for college and leaving the community. This is all often implicit curricula which slowly invades the space over time. The teachers never teach: Abandon your home, family, and culture for economic and social prosperity. But do they teach the value of family, community, and connection? I do not wish to blame the local school teachers and administration, which is beholden to larger local, state, and federal forces which are often oblivious to the actual needs of the community.

The “problem” children academically or behaviorally are often placed in holding patterns and alternative tracks, as teachers and staff have little time, resources, and space for alternative learning plans and restructuring for particular needs. The thing is, the teachers know the struggle of the kids and the worlds they often live, but they are within the parameters of a school which can only do so much based on regulations an funding. These kids, the “local losers” which also include the average but economically or socially disadvantaged children, are often simply pushed through the system, given only the attention they earn because of behavior or family crisis.

Children need a program which is not beholden to a socio-political educational structure which is based on metrics and standardization. Instead, they need some space where they can just exist. In theory churches can do this well. That is, if they reduce their own political and economic agenda of souls saved and checks cashed. Instead of this, the creation of a space for  children to exist with time for unrestricted play, fellowship, and feast provides a resting space for the weight of living. Of course, organized instructional and community time is welcome, but alongside this open ended experiences.

Three requirements for a church to offer space:

1. The leaders involved must be okay with less schooling model structure and education.

2. The space must be welcoming and open. It does not have to be shiny, new, and state of the art, but it must simply be a space where children are comfortable existing.

3. The structure in place, and there must be structure, must be so that the kids feel safe, know the basic rules, and are given freedom to explore and engage without excessive intervention.

These are not the only things necessary, but they are my beginning thoughts. Any time these things break down, I notice the goals of the space not being met. Straight lines, over organized free time, space which is unwelcoming with items “we don’t touch,” and the expectation of constant silence all collapse the space with expectations and norms.

The school system places value in achievement and right behavior, whereas the church should place value in the inherent value of the Image of God on every child, not on their ability to perform or standardize. Grace and open possibilities are key.

More to come!

#PYM18: A brief intro to my seminar

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I’ll be presenting at this conference in March. My seminar will be on creating the space for rural youth to explore the possibilities for their futures within their rural contexts. This includes helping youth understand where their value arises and providing ways to dream and build a future for their communities and themselves.

Many rural youth are fed two to three primary sets of beliefs. The first set of beliefs is that the best way to live is in an (sub)urban space with a middle class job living a middle class life, which means they should abandon their rural life and go to a college far away.
The second set of beliefs is that rural life is backward, dying, and a hindrance to true American ways of life (consumerism and global capitalism). Finally, the third set of beliefs is often that the rural way of life is the only way of life that is of any merit, but this rural way of life is the way of life from the “golden” days of rural life, where people took care of each other and everyone knew each other. Of course, these “golden” days never really existed, and are littered with sexism, racism, and xenophobia.

The sources of these beliefs vary, but they usually involve the public school system, the media, and often our churches. We can have some impact on all of these, and my seminar will provide some of the possibilities for how we can do this.

I’ll be providing some more snippets as we go along as well as beginning to create a resource page on my blog. Register for the conference here: http://progressiveyouthministry.org/

 

 

Oak Hill Hikers – Detours

As the blog keeps rolling, thankfully, I can now share the October Oak Hill Hikers event. We visited Julian Price Lake, hiking around the lake, but taking a detour. When I first toured the lake, there was detour leading the trail across the Blue Ridge Parkway and then through the campground nearby before returning to the parking where we began. The detour was not there this time, but we still did this devotion. It is brief, but sparked a lot of conversation for us in terms of life, college, children, jobs, and more.

Detours

Materials: Bible

We took a detour on our hike today which brings us to this picnic table. We could have continued around the lake and finished but, but instead we crossed the parkway and made it up to this area. Detours in life happen quite a bit, and often they are spirit led. Scripture tells us about detours and different ways.

Coming of the magi

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born.They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.[a]

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12, Bible Gateway

Within this scripture and many others, the Spirit leads people in ways which were not their original intent, and yet these are the ways God wants. Think about times in your life where you took a detour, intended or unintended. Find something in the nature around us which reminds you of that detour.

Discussion and Sharing.

Close in Prayer.

Feel Free to use this lesson, according to the Creative Commons Guidelines.

Stumble Upon a #RuralUMC: Lee’s Chapel

I don’t know a whole lot about Lee’s Chapel UMC. I cannot find it on the Western North Carolina Find-A-Church or the District listings. I’ll have to inquire into. The very small, very old looking church (with two outhouses out back) sits on the line between Rutherford and Cleveland County on Highway 226. I pass it regularly on my way to my parents’ house. It is where cellphone service usually returns on my way to their house (it goes out near Golden Valley UMC).

I stopped this day to take pictures because I was on my way back home after helping my mom care for my Aunt and Uncle and I was tired and felt like stretching my legs. My mom was working hard to take care of her sister without power. My aunt is on oxygen, a diabetic, and has trouble standing and walking. A neighbor brought a generator and my sister and I took turns helping my mom. I brought a corded phone, got the phone working again after a weird interaction with AT&T and brought a heater. I also got them several meals, brought ice to keep the insulin and drinks cold, and brought my mom an air mattress to sleep on.

They have power now, things are fine, but it was a weird few days back in October.

I plan to research this little church more, and find out more information. Will update you.

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I’m 32 today (November 8th). I am hopefully climbing Table Rock and then spending time with kids at church. It’s an interesting age. I forgot how old I was going to be, and that’s a thing I do now.

This parenthesis of PhD work is about to draw to a close and I have no idea what is next. I am hopeful. I know whatever it is, I can embrace it. I am willing to push past myself into a new future.

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Me at 31.

Stumble Upon a #RuralUMC Jonas Ridge UMC

On my way back from hiking at Price Lake one day I decided to follow the sign to Jonas Ridge United Methodist Church. Jonas Ridge is a small town in the northern part of our county. It is so far north that the kids in Jonas Ridge go to Avery County’s school calendar (we live in Burke County).

When I turned off of NC 181 following the sign for Jonas Ridge UMC, you take a short curvy road past the fire station to the church. The church is a small building right a across the street from Jonas Ridge Baptist Church. The two churches share a cemetery and play ground as the Jonas Ridge Community Cemetery (maintained by Jonas Ridge UMC – says a sign). The church has as small sanctuary. According to the Annual Conference website (WNCCUMC) they are on a charge with Altamont UMC. The worship around thirty every Sunday.

Jonas Ridge is a popular place because of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Christmas Tree Farm, and Linville Falls nearby.

Find them on Facebook

This is part of an ongoing series spotlighting rural United Methodist Churches I stumble upon in my journeys. Stay tuned for Rehobeth UMC and Lee’s Chapel UMC in the next few weeks.

Oak Hill Hikers – Changing Perspectives

Finally catching up with this writing, I wanted to provide another Oak Hill Hikers Devotion for you all to use should you like. Remember – Follow the Creative Commons Licensing rules if you do!

On Saturday September 16th, the Oak Hill Hikers traveled to Shelby, North Carolina to explore the First Broad River Trail, which is part of the Carolina Thread Trail system. An easy 3 mile round trip hike which ventures under old bridges, highway overpasses, and along the First Broad River, this hike is great for beginners. There is even a 120 Foot Suspension bridge!

Now, for the devotion: Changing Perspectives

Materials: Bible, strips of paper for a paper chain, tape or stapler, pens.

I began with the fact that I remember, all throughout my childhood, we drove over the Highway 74 bridge. At least twice a month, to visit a relative, head toward Forest City, or the Drive-In Movie (which is still there!). Then, last spring I hiked this trail with my sister and we passed under Highway 74. It was not a major thing, but it was still surreal to look at this highway from the bottom. It was a new perspective. In scripture, we get a lot of new perspectives.

Scripture:

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.[a] The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord![b] Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

-Matthew 21:1-11, www.biblegateway.com

The people of Israel were expecting a King, a warrior, to be riding on a white horse with a parade of soldiers and celebrations of victory of the oppressor. The get a man, from Nazareth, riding on a Donkey and/or a colt depending on the Gospel.

This new perspective changed how we should view the Messiah. The scriptures are full these new perspectives, particularly around the Kingdom of God. When it is like a woman who folds leaven into a lot of bread, or a merchant who sells all he has to find the most precious thing, or the man who buys the field and all the land around it for the one treasure hidden in it. This is how we see the Kingdom of God.

(Hand out papers and pens): Now, I want you to take the time to think about when you received a new perspective through an experience or event which happened in your life. Write it on the paper. (Allow time and then allow time for sharing).

As each persons shares, we will create a link, and connect them together. Each time we are given a new perspective, we draw closer to God’s Kingdom and our role in it. As our chains grow, we can include other new perspectives, sharing them, and growing in God’s Kingdom. Both hiking and our lives will give us new perspectives, and as we respond to them we live into God’s Kingdom.

Close in prayer.

November

IMG_20171021_094706.jpgWell, I’ve been absent since about September. But, I’m back. November is going to be a productive month and there will be more blog posts. I have three “Oak Hill Hikers” reviews, and am working on a book review, and an Advent Litany for Wine-Advent which I’ve done the past several years.

The dissertation is heading toward #phDone. I’ll defend in the Spring. Looking for jobs.

I also plan to begin an end of year purge, in which I donate quite a bit of my belongings (and sell some books). Each day I plan to donate either food, clothes, or other belonging I do not need but is of quality high enough that someone else could use it.

My end of 2017 Goals:
-Finish the dissertation
-Donate 60+ Items
-Hit 200 NC Hiking Miles
-Read and write regularly
-A blog post every day (even if they are not posted every day)
-Getting my health in order (Eating less junk, exercising more)
-Post at least 3 Rural Church Posts

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

 

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.