Rural Opioid Crisis and a Church Response

The National Rural Health Association provides excellent infographics on the tragedy in Rural America.

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The also provide excellent information:

From the National Rural Health Association (NRHA):

According to the CDC, the combination of living in a #ruralhealth area and having a low income is proven to increase your risk of prescription #opioid abuse and overdose: http://bit.ly/2zXCkqF

Some restrictions on telehealth services are being loosened after Trump declared the #opioidepidemic a public health emergency, but plenty more is needed to adequately address the crisis: http://read.bi/2hzL3HS

Add your voice to help shape telehealth and opioid epidemic policy with NRHA at the largest rural advocacy event in the country Feb. 6-8 in DC:http://bit.ly/2yiX9Jr

The first link in this quote block is to an article which outlines ways in which people are addressing the crisis in constructive ways, such as advocacy, pill disposal, training for health care providers, and providing a caring community. What I do not see, which is often a staple in religious communities, is the response of the church.

The church can become involved in all of the above suggested constructive ways of addressing the crisis. The church can also help families heal, communities heal, and provide safe spaces for community formation. Some churches already sponsor AA groups, other recovery groups, and provide support. Education and advocacy are in the blood of many denominations, and the personal connections many rural people have with drugs and addiction as well as a deep connection to the community is important.

Furthermore, the church also has the ability to draw on the rural and Christian heritage which intermingle throughout the life of the church to provide new ideas for a rural future which addresses theses issues in life giving and community oriented ways. Easy ways to begin are to educate your congregation about opioid addiction using story and statistics, people need both. Then educate them in advocacy. John Wesley would definitely see advocacy and education around drug issues as a prudential means of grace.

Pretty sure this will be a practical theology paper in the future.

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Stumble Upon a #RuralUMC: Rehobeth UMC

I found this rural United Methodist Church while helping my mother care for my aunt and uncle. My uncle wanted barbecue from this church’s annual barbecue. He informed me that while his Baptist church quit using wood in their cooker and switched to charcoal, this church continued to use hickory wood in cook their pork.

The barbecue was good. The fries needed salt. The dessert was wonderful.

I believe I met a member of this church years back in high school when I was going through Local Church Lay Speaker training, as I explored my calling to ministry. Pretty sure he as a nice guy. The building is mall, but they appeared to have a lot of people out and about working for their fundraiser.

It sits on Rehobeth Church Road, which runs from Highway 226 between Shelby and Polkville all the way past my Aunt and Uncle’s road. The church is between my Aunt and Uncle’s and 226.

Rural Resource Highlight: Rural Matters Podcast

RuralMatters

Several people have asked me to begin compiling a list of rural resources, So I wanted to get started on that. I am in no way the expert on rural studies and I am slowly gathering new information, books, and resources. However, I want to start with a podcast instead of a book, mainly because I have a few books I want to review and a pile to work with, and the podcast is an easy start.

Rural Matters Podcast with John White

I stumbled upon this podcast a few weeks back while looking for something to listen to when I was driving around running errands but that was related to my work. They are only a few episodes in and there is already some excellent content. I’ve listened to several episodes, and the one that stands out to me is currently: Mental Health Best Practices with Kari Owen. The episode speaks to the nuances of mental health in rural schools and communities. Lack of resources and staff become a major issues, and school mental health providers must improvise through such activities as conflict resolution education for staff and students. What it does is push beyond the traditional school psychologist model of diagnosing one student at a time to training teachers and students in how to deal with issues. Mental health in rural communities is greatly lacking, and this opens up some interesting ideas, and may even lead to new possibilities.

Churches partnering with schools to promote mental health, show community support, and even provide the space and time to engage in education around conflict, community, respect, and awareness could also greatly help.

Each episode makes me think! I recommend this podcast! Once I have a few recommendations, I’ll start a page on the blog to help!

Find the podcast on Stitcher, Itunes, YouTube, and here: http://ruralmatters.libsyn.com/

Follow them on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/RuralMattersPod

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).

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.

32

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.