DO NO HARM.

"Little children were being brought to [Jesus] in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."  ~ Matthew 19: 13-14

Throughout the pandemic, I was led by John Wesley’s (founder of the 1700’s Methodist Movement) spiritual life pattern that some of us know as the “Three Simple Rules.”

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com
  1. Do No Harm.
  2. Do Good.
  3. Stay in Love with God.

I have appreciated these simple rules of life as long as I have known them. In ministry, I have shared; taught; discussed; and pursued them.  But during the COVID-19 pandemic, these “simple rules” took on an entirely new meaning. They became a deeply ingrained spiritual life pattern.  I worked hard to follow the rules daily as I led the church, and as I parented two school-aged children.

This Thanksgiving season, I am drawn to them again because they pinpoint for me why I am called to lift my voice in support of the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons, especially for the littles ones.

It’s as simple as Wesley’s simple rules. As I follow Jesus and as I minister to a community that remains daily still under threat of this awful virus, I must do my part and support others to:

  1. Do No Harm.
  2. Do Good.
  3. Stay in Love with God.

And in this very moment? This work … these simple rules look like speaking up and speaking out to say that the faith community supports the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons. 

Because right now? The faith narrative being shared … or the one being heard? says otherwise.  Sadly, the faith community voice that is the loudest … the most present … the most reported and the most heard … that voice …. presents itself as anti-vaccine, and anti-mask.  And this loudly present, reported, and heard voice often comes across more as a political power player than it does as a spiritual framework to the most precious gift of all: life itself.

Across the United States and up and down the state of California, we are seeing a heightened and vitriolic politicization of public health and preventative measures in school districts, and in the media.  But the reality is … that  …. nearly one million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of this school year. The now-approved vaccines for children age 5-12 will finally bring relief to many schools and families, communities everywhere, but only if school boards and other officials, faith communities and neighborhoods stand up to the peddlers of misinformation who are angrily seeking to block mask use and vaccine access.

So, I must speak out and speak up; we must speak out and speak up. The broad, diverse and grounded faith community must speak OUT and speak UP in favor of the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons. We must speak out and speak up first and foremost for the youngest, most vulnerable among us … the children.

The Little Ones.

We must together endeavor to speak clearly and broadly that we support the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons who are medically approved for it.  That we support masks and public health guidance to fight this horrific illness and bring our communities — one and all — to a place of health and wellness.  

We must together speak up for all persons, especially those who can’t speak up right now … so that someday – together — ALL of us will live in a world … FREE of COVID-19.

For the Little Ones.

We must.

#TheseLittleOnes

A Prayer for Election Day 2020

I came across this prayer from one of my go-to resources. I’ve shared it already on the Instagram account for followers of the “Being the Church Movement, Long Beach.” But, it is so needed, so here it is on my blog as well. We all need this prayer. We all need a whole lotta prayer right now.

Gracious God, our holy and life-giving Spirit, today on this Election Day 2020 and the close of this election season, we pray that you would move upon every human heart of this nation to remove barriers that divide us, that walls of separation and suspicions may disappear, and all hatred and prejudice, which blocks us from the light of your love, would cease.

O God, we confess that this election season in our history has not brought out the best in so many of us. Forgive us when we were less than truthful with one another, and forgive us when we were less than loving toward our neighbors.

O loving God, we pray for your healing hand upon our divisions, such that we may seek your peace and reconciliation that is tied to a greater commitment to justice and truth. We pray against every evil spirit and force that would seek to intimidate and suppress voters or instigate violence against any citizen seeking to exercise their precious and sacred right to vote.

We pray that your hedge of protection will cover every poll worker, every election official, and every voter.

Help our elected leaders, O God, to promote love, and not fear, to act out of mercy, and not malice, to work for justice, rather than partiality and privilege. Help us all, Lord, to truly walk alongside and show care and solidarity to our neighbors through our vote in this season.

Almighty God, guide us as a country to guard the rights of one another, to protect the integrity of the election, and to fulfill your purposes for our lives, as we truly strive “to form a more perfect union”; and to together build a more radically just and loving nation. 

Through Jesus Christ, our loving Lord and reigning Redeemer.

Amen.

“Prayer, Please: This Way to Prayer on Election Day and Beyond” — Click to see this prayer and a bevy of online Christian and interfaith prayer vigils across our country happening today and throughout the week here:

The Role of the Church

7B36873A-8F20-4080-A345-E32B28ABF9C7.jpeg

There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask myself:  

is this really all worth it?  

And similarly, I ask: is there a better way to be the people of God than the church today?  For me, as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, these questions are intertwined, enmeshed, forever fused.  For most folks, these are two different questions.  But for me, these thoughts will never be untangled, and every day, I ask them quietly, to myself:

  1. Is this work, my leadership in the human-institution called the church … worth it?; and 
  2. Is there a better way to be the people of God than the church today?

Well, obviously … yes and yes … are the answers to both of those questions.   Every day. Every single day.

I do need to share that framing my answers is the reality that every human institution is fraught with a history somewhere of evil and abuse.  Every human institution has some past or present story of deep pain, poor choice, dysfunction or corruption.  And?  The church is no innocent in this.  No, even worse, the church enacts such abuse in the very name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  So, I think to myself again and again and again:  why am I part of this work, this mess of an institution called the church?  why?

But, each day I ask these questions, the same answer arises in my heart: these are the people of God, Melinda.  The church is human (institutionally formed or no).  And we humans (make no mistake that I own my own flawed, broken part in the church), we are broken and wounded and hurting.  And we often (consciously and unconsciously both) act from that terrified small space of woundedness — and — of brokenness.

We form the church + We are broken = The church is formed by, of and with God’s broken people.  … ergo … we act from that place of broken …

So, if the church … if this human gathering of the wounded is marred from the outset, if we are destined to get it wrong, to injure one another and those we will never know, if we inherit a far too long and far too painful history of harm, then why bother … because there must be a better way.

Well, of course, there is a better way.  But, here we find ourselves in the conundrum of the ages: the better way is the way of Christ, and we gather as the church to be about the way of Christ.  The way of Christ is the way that bears the “fruits of the Spirit” that we learn about in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Gal. 5:22-23)

The better way is to be the church and follow Christ together.  It is as simple and complex, as clear and difficult as that.  But, this is the work that we must be about; we must be the church and follow Christ together even, despite and IN our brokenness.  We must be the church — in the COVID-19 pandemic — in the ever-growing secularization of our cultures — in the deepening political polarity of our country — in our racist, anti-black structures — in our ageist and ableist ways —

And still, yet, ever more … yearn to follow Christ together on his path.

There is an endless list (now that I have started it) to why we should not be the church, to why we should walk away or just go seek God in the sunset and leave it all at that.  But all of those reasons and that sunset won’t stop the hurt or the pain being inflicted now or to come.  In the name of anyone’s Lord or Savior.

The church today.  This is the work that we must be about; we must be the church and follow Christ together even, despite and IN our brokenness.

Because Church:  we have been given a clear mission from God.  And I learned this all. over.again.this.summer.  There is nothing like running a church daycamp in a global pandemic to teach me this lesson … again and again.

At our best?  We are the world’s best tool for community.  The church.

At our best?  We are the healthy way to bring people together. The church.

At our best?  We teach the tools of compassion, empathy, patience.  The church.

At our best?  We teach grace, and we live grace.  We teach and we live and we practice forgiveness.

At our best?  We live in joy and hope.

We teach, preach and put into daily practice: every soul has its worth.

EE10C607-8764-4B87-94B4-80CD55F751C7

At our best?  We bring people together (or at least we should be), and we teach both the value of and the tools to …. build community.

And that? This?  This building up of community; the teaching of how to do it and the valuing of it? … It is this … healthy community … that changes the world because it is in this coming together, this forming the heart of God, as God’s people that hearts are changed, that lives are transformed.

We must be about this work.  We are born to it, and called to it.

Join me, please.  Teach me about you.  Allow me to make a mistake in your presence, and give me the change to ask for your grace.  Together, let us walk a path of less pain and hurt than our ancestors of the faith.

Let us be about the work of Christ – let us be the church and be the beloved community.

Peace,

Pastor Melinda

Pastor of Community & Connection

Being the Church Movement, Long Beach

E: Melinda@BeingtheChurchLB.org

 

It is me. It is you. It is us.

Want to be a part of lasting and real change?

— Read about and consider a real contribution to this local initiative —

Fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries

 

And now?  Allow me to introduce myself.

I am the Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge.  I use the pronouns she/her/hers.  I am white, cis-gendered, and I was born into a rebellious, anti-institutional group called Generation X.  My mom taught me three important things (among many):

  1. to question almost everything;
  2. to not waste your time memorizing anything that you could just look up; and
  3. that – if I was ever bored?  that was on me.  Our world is far from boring.

But my mom?  She didn’t teach me to be racist or anti-black.

I was born into and I am a product of white privilege and a systemically racist culture that has infiltrated and impacted my world, my schooling, my housing, my choices, my life.   I was born white and I have inherited a privilege in this country like none other. Anti-blackness and racism are woven throughout us all in the U.S.

And that includes me and my life.

It is me.  It is you.  It is us.

Anti-blackness and systemic racism is so insidiously interwoven into who and how we are and who and how we become that most whites  (including myself) do not have an awareness of its existence in the vast majority of our hours on Earth.

What a privilege that is, in and of itself.

Our nation’s inherent anti-blackness and our broad systemic racism is something that I have been aware of since my college years.  But awareness and action are far from the same.  I will confess that a deep feeling of hopelessness to affect real change has had me in its grips for years.  And?  My very own privilege and complacency has stopped me from acting as fully as I could or I should.

But?  As an ordained elder in the church, as a leader of younger generations and a a few suburban Southern California churches, I trust that this era that we are in — is different.  I want to – and I need to – trust that the Holy Spirit … she is moving amongst us all right now and change is here.

IMG_7443.jpeg

Earlier in June,  I had a particularly impactful week that further deepened my own awareness of systemic racism and its all-too-human impact on life itself.  On Monday, June 8, the morning of George Floyd’s memorial service in his hometown of Houston, Texas, I participated in an organized, multi-pronged funeral procession that covered all points of Los Angeles County.  Our procession began at CSULB, where we prepared our vehicles, and then symbolically processed into DTLA, meeting up with the other three processions.  Then, together, the 1000’s of us converged upon downtown Los Angeles to hear from Los Angeles Black Lives Matters leaders and speakers who had organized us all.

White clergy were asked to stand in the back, and hold the line with the LA County Sheriffs patrol … who was there for reasons unknown.  So, I stood in the back, toe to toe with other white clergy; I stayed for a number of hours in the hot sun (mask included/safely distanced), holding the line with the Sheriff’s force.  Holding the line while listening to stories of deeply personal, painfully raw interactions with LAPD.  Holding the line while listening to persons tell of brutal abuse and killings at the hands of the very people – that we entrust to protect us.  Holding the line with some of those very people that I was hearing were agents in a diabolical, anti-black system that perpetuates the abuse of black lives and has since its inception.

IMG_3706.jpeg

But then, four days later, on Friday, June 12,  I was invited into a zoom conversation with Long Beach Police Chief, Robert Luna.  Here, I found myself toeing a very different line.  This was a line of listening to narratives of officers who have dedicated their lives and hearts to protecting our city and streets.  I heard narratives of persons who are feel immense shame for the actions of others who “wear the badge,” and many of whom are fearful everyday on the job.  I heard from officers who are asked to/expected to do far, far too much in a system that has (again and again) underfunded, under-resourced deeper needs of our communities.  Indeed, I heard tales of a massive system that underfunds the need, and then leaves the aftermath to the police to manage.  (houselessness, mental illness, gangs, addiction, domestic abuse, child abandonment, human trafficking, hunger … to name a few)

IMG_3702

I cannot claim to know the intricacies of police work, training and funding nor the abuses of these servants that has happened and continues to occur throughout our nation and communities.

I cannot claim to know the centuries of demeaning and abuse and generations of lives gone underfulfilled of our black brothers and sisters nor their pain, loss, despondency, or despair.

I cannot claim to know what it is to not have my experience of being born white in an anti-black nation.

But, I can claim an awareness.  And I must.  I can and I must claim an awareness of my own implicit bias, and that I sit in a place of white privilege that I was born into and as a child of God in the United States.

Even more than that?

I must claim to be a disciple of Christ who knows with her entire heart and soul that this is not the kingdom for which Jesus lived and died so that we would know a better way.

I must claim a way that professes my awareness of the world in which we live as well as  the narratives, the his- and her- and their-stories of persons that have far different experiences than I do.  I must claim a way that opens my own ears and heart and eyes to that which must be told and heard and I must make way (as best I can and should) for  new paths that must be forged and opened before us all.

It is this that I have been praying over.   I have been praying for the knowledge, the steps and the courage to participate in meaningful, respectful, effective systemic change that will contribute to the dismantling of anti-blackness, racism and white privilege in our homes, communities, institutions, nations and world.

One step that I have taken is to engage in conversation with other parents about “raising race conscious children.”  I am practicing this work, and I highly recommend it to you and yours.

Raising Race Conscious Children

 

And I have been collaborating with other faith and community leaders in Long Beach on an initiative to fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries.  This is the fund that I mention earlier in this post.

Click here to learn more!

Continuing a walk with Christ and with you, I remain your sister in Christ,

Pastor Melinda

 

 

Beginning with a question. For justice.

The work of the church that seeks justice, the work of a single disciple of Christ who seeks to be about the works of justice … begins with two things: a humble question + an open heart.

The question: how do your dreams become mine also?

pink clouds
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

It is asking this one question and in seeking its answer, we begin to know the other.  We begin to see, hear, feel, sense another person’s inner world, their passion, their inspiration;  we begin to understand what makes someone other than ourselves … “tick.”

Most of the time, we won’t ever get to the place of knowing another’s dream.  Most of the time, we have the learnings and abuses of life that stop us from asking this one question or sharing our answer when someone asks us.  We rarely get the invitation to enter into another’s dream, or get asked to share ours.

But?

The rarity of the desired experience doesn’t stop the disciple from the journey.  I think of the early disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus, who sought to know God’s dream for all God’s people of grace, love, healing, peace … of justice … for all of God’s people.  I’m pretty sure that the journey was not at all what they were expecting or hoping for — at all.  I’m not even sure if they ever felt that they had truly engaged in Christ’s dream for them and us … but I do know that they were deep, abiding, transformed disciples who experience a love and grace that knew no bounds.  And they were about the work of justice.  Again and again.  Justice for the leper.  Justice for the tax collector.  Justice for the child.  Justice for the poor widow.  Justice for the hungry.  Justice for the immigrant.  Justice for the houseless.

As we engage with those around us today, as we seek to know people’s longings, as we inquire about their dreams, as we live life and grow to understand their dreams, and maybe … as we share our dreams, and maybe as we walk side-by-side to live into another person’s dreams for themselves … we might become more like Christ.

We might become more like Christ as we work to hear other’s people dreams, to bring those dreams into our hearts, and to seek a world that would engender their dreams as reality.

That takes heart.

That takes commitment to enacting (often) systemic change and works of justice.

Because maybe a small child dreams of a full belly, or a parent dreams of a having a full pantry for family meals?  These dreams?  They take systemic change in Los Angeles County where the California Housing Partnership Corporation found that L.A. County rents have increased by nearly one-third (32 percent) since 2000:

“Families have to make very difficult choices about whether to pay for food or the rent,” says Cynthia Harding, interim director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “These are hard and awful decisions.”

So, first the question: how do your dreams become mine also?  remembering …. 

  • We don’t attempt to change anyone’s dreams, or to place our dreams atop or onto or in place of anyone else’s.
  • We don’t assume that we know anything of another’s experience in the world.
  • We do ask from a place of humility.
  • We do listen with open hearts.
  • And then we do listen some more.

But, first the question: how do your dreams become mine also?

Blessings,

Pastor Melinda

A prayer for this day.

the pain is so immense.  so deep.  so rooted.  so ingrained in the fabric, the DNA of our existence as a people, a culture, a city, a community, a system, a nation … that it seems to be (for some of us) tearing us apart from the very inside of ourselves.  for others of us, this pain is simply being brought forth, out into the open … and in that … there is a freedom to its expression, a liberation to its sounding, and a relief to its airing out that i cannot speak to from my experience.

but i do feel the pain; i hear the cries; i see the wounds.

all i have this day is a prayer.  tomorrow, perhaps, i will have something else.

but, now, i offer this prayer for this day.

Holy and living God,

  • In you “we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28)
  • In you we find our shelter and strength,
  • In you our hearts are being filled with joy each morning, 
  • In you we sing praises with a new song,
  • In you we trust that your promises are the way.

grayscale photo of a cluster of bell flowers with scratched surface
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people:

    • We wait with hope for you are the source of every hope,
    • We wait with patience for your timing is always perfect,
    • We wait with prayer for you are listening intently,
    • We wait with praise for you take all our anxieties as we cast them on you.

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people, we lift to you:

    • Those who graduating with uncertainty hindering their future, 
    • Those who lost their jobs and are finding ways to meet their financial needs,
    • Those who lost their loved ones, and their funeral services are limited or postponed,
    • Those who are fighting against addiction and are unable to meet with their recovery groups,
    • Those who feel fear as hate crimes and incidents rise forth from the very ground.

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people:

    • We mourn for the loss of “normal” while we hear the cries and the anger and the pain that what was normal was unjust, hurtful, and murderous to so many of your flock.
    • We pray forgiveness for our own sin of racism, our racist ways, our racist system.
    • We pray for relief from pain and for the safe space to cry — whether silent or aloud in the streets.  
    • We pray for your people, your children — one and all — because as followers of Christ, we know that we are to see all your people as people we too love, because you first loved us. 

During this time, O God,

  • Enter into our sorrows, worries, addictions, financial burdens, fears, and injustices, 
  • Fill us with your grace, hope, and joy abundantly, 
  • Turn each home into a place of peace, unity, and love for each other,
  • Renew our hearts and minds to seek the knowledge of your mercy and love,
  • Help our souls to be united in incessant prayer.

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people:

Let us also receive this prayer of Apostle Paul:

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make us intelligent and discerning in knowing [God] personally, our eyes focused and clear, so that we can see exactly what it is [God] is calling us to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life [God] has for [us], oh, the utter extravagance of [God’s] work in us who trust [the Lord]—endless energy, boundless strength!”

Let it be so. Amen.

By Rev. Taesung Kang, MSG Translation, edited by the Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge.  

Hope in the form of a text message or two…

My family has an almost daily practice of sharing highs and lows around the dinner table.  Sometimes, it’s more just a rote thing that we do, the benefit being more in the consistency of doing it than in the deep reflections shared.  LOL.

But, then there are those times when something surprising arises.  

This past Tuesday night, I surprised even myself when I didn’t share that my day’s joy was good health.  These days, good health is an increasing and ongoing joy.  Surrounded by startling statistics of the spread and death rate of COVID-19 around the world and locally both, my joy often is good health.  It is a joy.  Now and evermore.

However, the other night, my articulated joy was something different.  I’ve been working on the plans for our summer day camp.  As with many summer events, we aren’t sure what, if, how or when camp will happen.  There are so many, many more questions than answers.  There is so much to sift through, to think over, to read, learn, consider and communicate.

  • Will we be able to hold camp?
    • If so, how?  Will we do some portions virtually?
    • What will group sizes be?
  • How might we manage lunch?
  • What is the best sanitizer and where do we get it?
  • What can we possibly do for recreation??
  • Jeez … the questions never end!

However, in sorting through the bog of questions, it came to me that I needn’t try to answer them all on my own.  I had already assembled a strong staff and volunteer team before the pandemic reared its ugly head.  So, my next step was to have the hard conversation with each of these good folks about whether they wished to continue on staff this summer — given all the unknowns of camp.

And?  Each one of our camp staff confirmed their participation.  But, their confirmations went much further than that.  Each of them wants to do the hard work of helping to make camp happen.  In whatever way or ways that we can.

5AFB7643-5E4D-43DF-91AA-D291940C0E39.jpeg

I heard things like:

  • “We just have to have camp.  Our campers love it so much, and we ALL need this.”
  • “I am thrilled to hear that you want to continue with camp. I would definitely still be interested!”
  • “Whatever we need to do, I’m in!”
  • “Well, I can tell you right now whatever you decide?  I’m 100% on board with. I think the kids deserve a great summer now more than ever and I want to help make that happen (:”

I felt hope in listening to the passion of our camp staff and volunteers to make Groundlings Camp happen.  And this hope? these messages? reminded me of why God gave us the gift of church and why gathering is so intrinsic to the Christian tradition.

We gather hope from one another.  We gain insight and wisdom; we offer and receive, grace from one another.  What we cannot do alone?  we can often do with the help of others.

These conversations and replies and “we can do this!” spirit kept coming through via texts throughout the day.  As I thought about these replies, I started to understand a different portrait of church in these times … one that is ancient and new … spoken of in the Book of Acts (conveniently enough just read this past Sunday in our lectionary cycle!)

FF661D0A-AD19-49F2-8171-963EAD280A41.jpeg

46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  ~ Acts 2:46-47

While we cannot meet together in person, we can still be and still are … God’s church.  The hope we have in the new day, the resurrection — this hope remains very much intact, and very much alive.

So my joy around the dinner table that evening was “the hope I received in text messages all day about Groundlings Camp this summer!”

The Holy Spirit coming through in those messages continue to give me hope this day.

Blessings and peace to you,

Pastor Melinda

Good Shepherd, indeed!

Young+Shepherd.jpg

“Young Shepherd”

By Ed Brambley from Cambridge, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This week, I have been preparing to lead our church’s Sunday morning “worship dialogue” virtually on Zoom.*  In some ways, it’s difficult to believe that less than two months ago, most of us had never heard of online gathering tools such as Zoom.  And now?  I am using it multiple times daily, and as you know, I do find it tedious as some days I’m zooming for hours on end!

But, I am also deeply thankful for the technology that will allow us to gather in dialogue on Sunday as the church of God.  Thanks be to God.  We will hear live music from Derek Gordon and Dr. Josh Palkki.  We will pray together.  And, we will read and discuss two scriptural texts from the morning’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 2: 42-47

Now, I am going to be honest with you.  When I first saw the readings, I wasn’t sure what to do!  I mean …  Psalm 23:  what more can possibly be shared about these particular verses in our tradition?  What more could we possibly learn, discern, or discuss?

But then, as I thought some more and pushed back on my initial reaction (I’ve learned!), I thought: this is the perfect Psalm to read and discuss right now.  It is so deeply meaningful to so many.  It brings memories, images, comfort, and peace.  It recalls ages and stages of life, people, times — to each of us — recent and long-time followers of Christ.  So, I look forward to hearing and sharing together this beautiful song of David.

As you prepare to join me, please take a few minutes to review Psalm 23 with these questions in mind:

  • What does this Psalm mean to you?  What is one memory that you could share about Psalm 23?
  • If you were to share Psalm 23 with someone who had never heard it before, how would you introduce it?

We will also be taking a look at Luke’s depiction of the early church in the Book of Acts 2:42-47. Personally, in my church leadership practice, I have been led by these exact verses for many years.  I have returned to them again and again.  They are as meaningful to me as Psalm 23.   And?  I’ve been utterly stymied by them, too.  I’ve been brought to frustrated tears by them, wondering: where have we fallen short as the church of Christ?  Why aren’t our churches today reflective of this idyllic, early church in the Book of Acts?  If these disciples could do it: why do we fall so short?

But, reading these verses again — through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic — I’ve begun to see this early church not as a litmus test for our successes or failures … but as a vision to live into; as the Rev. Robb McCoy reflects on the Pulpit Fiction podcast:

“These verses depict what it looks like when it all works, when we are all listening to the shepherd’s voice.”

Here’s another pro-tip!

Looking so much to seeing and being church with you all,

Pastor Melinda

  • If you would like to join this Sunday, contact Pastor Mark to receive the Zoom Call login information.  Things start at 10am!
  • E: MSturgess@LosAltosUMC.org

Pandemic Psalm

I share this beautiful Psalm by Sharon Seyfarth Garner. 

image

A few summers ago, Sharon and I met at a ministry retreat in the beautiful Estes Park, Colorado.  She introduced me to  her prayerful work with mandalas which inspired me to lead an Advent “Coloring with Mandalas” series based on her work.

Want to learn more about Sharon and the ministries she leads?

Visit —  Belly of the Whale Ministries

Want to learn more about Sharon’s work with praying, coloring and mandalas?

Visit — Praying with Mandalas

Peace be with you all this day,

Pastor Melinda

PS.  Join me for a yoga Thursday nights at 7pm via FB Live (@BendandBrew).  I will read this “Pandemic Psalm” as part of our practice together today (April 23).

>>> Seeking Connection >>>

What is it called when your computer or phone keeps searching and searching to connect to WiFi?  Whatever that is??

That is my inner life everyday in this pandemic.

My extrovert, verbal and physical communicator self is on OVERDRIVE seeking connection in the ways that I am hardwired to do so.

That means … my inner life looks like this:

live_17949

.. while my outer life looks like this:

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 12.12.57 PM

And I’m just going to admit it.  Skype and Zoom and all virtual connectivity is tiring.  I know I’m not alone in this; it’s tiring for all of us in different ways — not just me.

While connecting through these tools are absolutely, no-doubt-about-it, incredibly helpful to continue to work, meet and connect right now, it is tiring, nonetheless.

Some days?  It’s even just utterly exhausting.  I explain it like this.

My body keeps reaching out – sending invisible, subtle signals to communicate with other people … but all the signals go unmet right now.  My signals won’t connect because they can’t.  Zoom can’t replicate our in-person connectivity.  Zoom can’t replicate the subtle nuance to our human communication methods, neither verbal nor non-verbal.

And all of that unmet effort is just plain ole’ exhausting.

So, per Brené Brown (my all-in-#1-gal right now), I am writing myself permission slips.  And I’m writing as many as I need today.  And you bet, I’m going to write as many as I need tomorrow, too.

  • I am granting myself permission to be tired of Zoom’ing.
  • I’m granting myself permission to go outside and run when I should be picking up the disaster that is my house after morning & afternoon online school & in-home play in between.
  • I’m granting myself permission to worry less about the well-planned and well-balanced meal that somehow gets onto the table tonight.
  • I’m granting myself permission to screw up.  Because THAT right there?  is a sure bet.  Today.  Tomorrow.  In the next five minutes …
  • And?  I’m granting myself permission to forget that I’ve granted myself permission.

I invite you to allow yourself the space to be tired.  To be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot “do,” and to embrace that your capacity right now might be  diminished.  If the above practice of granting yourself permission helps – DO IT.  I highly recommend it.  I use sticky notes!

And remember … whatever connection you seek, whatever you succeed or fail at, whatever nap you take or don’t take …

You remain loved by God, and you always have a family in the church of God here at Los Altos UMC.

And as Jesus spoke to his scared, “safer-at-home” disciples after his death (John 20:19-20) …

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked …, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20

Peace be with you.

Peace be with you,

~ Pastor Melinda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is well. With my soul.

It is well with my soul.  I am saying that over and over again in my head and heart.

As I read and re-read Governor Gavin Newsom’s “six goals that must be met to lift California coronavirus order,” in the morning’s LA Times, I found myself breathing deeply.  Again and again.  I was encouraged by the the reporting that “[the state’s] strategy to slow the spread of the virus is working, pointing to relatively low growth in COVID-19 hospitalizations as evidence that staying home and social distancing are preventing a surge of infections.”  But as I kept reading, I found my own suspicions that our “new normal” path is needing to become a prolonged trek of all of us.  What we were forced to throw into place as emergency defense needs to grow into an ongoing strategy for offense against the novel Coronavirus.

Whoa.  Yep.  Long haul with significant and prolonged change lies ahead.  

As I read and breathed, as I took in and began to process what seem to be the inevitable steps ahead, this hymn bubbled up from I know not where.  It just sort of came up and through me, and I started to hum it to myself …

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

As I hummed to myself, certain images also bubbled up:

Images of the Los Altos UM church gathering tonight in a variety of Brady-Bunch style discipleship small groups over Zoom.  Patterned after our Everyone’s Inn small groups (and prior to that … our Wesleyan heritage), age-based and stage of life and reading groups alike will convene and God will do God’s work amongst the church.

Images of the Los Altos UM expanded church who will gather tomorrow night joining in the practice of yoga poses as a discipline of body prayer via FB live from our sanctuary.

Images of the Los Altos UM in Sunday worship dialogue with Pastor Mark.

Images of our Los Altos UMchildren responding to the children’s Sunday YouTube message and writing their cards and notes to our homebound.

FullSizeRender

And how all of these spaces are offering places of discipleship, points of relational connection and formation and enhancement.  These spaces have been convened and led by both laity and clergy, and it is this work, these gatherings, this church that offers me great hope in this time.

I wonder what other spaces and people and images and relationships are yet to bubble forth?

You see, even as our civic life has shifted and will continue to emerge, I have no doubt that Jesus is at work amongst and through us.

And while there is deep uncertainty and many questions in my head, it is well with my soul.

Maundy Thursday Love & Video

YouTube Maundy Thursday Video

(Made for you by yours truly)

Whether we are ready or not, here we are.  I’m feeling pretty sure that the early disciples where just as unprepared and weary as I feel today.  But?  God doesn’t need me or you to be prepared.  God needs us to show up, remember, and love.

maundy_4040c

So here we are: the triuduum of Holy Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  I invite you this day to join me to simply show up and remember.  And, I have collected a few things to help us on this particular Maundy Thursday journey.

(The Maundy Thursday YouTube video includes most of what is listed below.)

 

Let’s pray:

Holy God, source of all love,
on the night of his betrayal,
Jesus gave us a new commandment,
to love one another as he loves us.
Write this commandment in our hearts,
and give us the will to serve others
as he was servant of all,
your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

Let’s read some:  (suggested readings)

  • Exodus 12:1-14  (Scriptural Roots of Passover (preview prior to reading with younger’s)
  • Psalm  116 (Psalm of Comfort in Time of Need)
  • Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (Jesus’ foot washing; New Commandment)
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26  (Eucharist Text)

 

Let’s listen: “Be Still My Soul” played by Derek Gordon

 

Let’s pray some more.  Light a candle if you have one.

 

Prayer of Intercession for All of Us

United with Christians around the globe on this Maundy Thursday, let us pray for the church, the earth, our troubled world, and all in need, responding to each petition with the words, Hear us, holy God. Your mercy is great.

(silence) 

Blessed are you, holy God, for the church.  Strengthen the body of your people even when we cannot assemble for worship. Grant our pastor and church leaders faithfulness and creativity for their ministry in this time. 

(silence)

Hear us, holy God. Your mercy is great.

Blessed are you, holy God, for this good earth and for the flowering of springtime. Save dry lands from destructive droughts. Protect the waters from pollution. Allow in this time the planting of fields for food. Make us into caregivers of your plants and animals. 

(silence) 

Hear us, holy God. Your mercy is great. 

Blessed are you, holy God, for our nation. Inspire all people to live in peace. Grant wisdom and courage to heads of state and to legislators as they face the coronavirus. Lead our elected officials to champion the cause of the needy. 

(silence) 

Hear us, holy God. Your mercy is great. 

Blessed are you, holy God, for you accompany suffering humanity with love. Abide wherever the coronavirus has struck. Visit all who mourn their dead; all who have contracted the virus; those who are quarantined or stranded away from home; those who have lost their employment; those who fear the present and the future. Support physicians, nurses, and home health aides; medical researchers; and the World Health Organization. 

(silence)

Hear us, holy God. Your mercy is great. 

Blessed are you, holy God, for you care for the needy. We beg you to feed the hungry, protect the refugee, embrace the distressed, house the homeless, nurse the sick, and comfort the dying. Especially we pray for those we name before you now. 

(silence)

Hear us, holy God. Your mercy is great.

Receive, merciful God, our prayers, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the host of our meal of life, who died and rose that we might live with you, now and forever.
Amen.

God doesn’t need me or you to be prepared.  God needs us to show up, remember, and love.

Peace,

Pastor Melinda

Not to Easter Sunday. Not yet.

For years, I have been drawn to two particular “days” of our Holy Week calendar:

  • Maundy Thursday
  • Holy Saturday

Not surprisingly, this year, both days take on deeper, extremely different meanings for me than in other years.  And, I was considering that when our church staff meeting discussed Easter this year, and my lead pastor* asked if I would prepare a YouTube meal blessing for Maundy Thursday. (I’m still figuring that out; stay tuned?)

There are lots of conversations about how the Christian tradition will celebrate Holy Week and Easter this week — in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are lots of conversations about how the Jewish tradition will celebrate Passover this week — in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we enter into week four (you BET I’m counting) of our safer-at-home, safe distancing “new-normals,” the honest truth is that now more than ever …  I am grounded, planted, rooted in Holy Saturday.

I’m definitely not to Easter Sunday.  Not yet.

In my heart, I always am.  I’m a follower of the risen Christ.  I am a disciple of the Jesus who committed her life to the hope I find in the resurrected Jesus.  That is a part of me forever and ever — and with that in mind — when I’m able to regain a much larger perspective than what I currently hold —  I will be celebrating with you all in great fashion.

But here’s my truth this day: while I celebrate Easter every.single.day.of.my.life, I’m not yet to Easter Sunday.

And, I may not be for awhile.

I’m not on the bandwagon of Easter MUST be celebrated on this Sunday, April 12 with fanfare and gusto — just like always!

Friends?  Um?  It’s not just like ALWAYS.

This is as different a life right now as anyone of us have gone through.  What I need now is not a huge celebration instructing me that EVERYTHING IS JUST LIKE NORMAL.  Because it’s not.  I DON’T NEED fanfare and egg hunts screaming at me everything is “JUST LIKE ALWAYS.”

Because, it’s not.  It’s just not.  My kids remain longer and longer in their pajamas on a daily basis.  They’ve eaten more sugar cereal and seen more Pokémon in the past three weeks than in their entire lives — combined.  We need to write down the day and date every day to keep track! of just those simple things.  We are now ALL doing KidsBop aerobic activities to just MOVE.  Who knew all of those Step-Aerobic classes would come back to HELP ME at any point?   (And allow me to simply say … no step aerobic class ever looked this good, this in sync, this colorful and perfect … let alone yours truly in said class.)

250326-1600x1067-aerobics.jpg

But, even though I’m not to the Easter Sunday that so many of us have come to expect, I am with you.  I am with you, and everyone else who is waiting in this wild space of Holy Saturday.

In the words of Rev. Allison Lanza (Associate Pastor at Ridglea Christian Church, Fort Worth), The very first Easter was not in a crowded worship space with singing and praising. On the very first Easter, the disciples were locked in their house…Alone in their homes, they dared to believe that hope was possible, that the long night was over and morning had broken.”

Holy Saturday is a time of waiting and unknown and waiting some more.  In our homes, at a distance.  A little or a lot afraid but knowing all the while that Easter Sunday will arrive while we wait as the Easter people we are.  And when that time comes, when it is time for us to come together, we will celebrate in old and new ways with different meaning and purpose and poignancy to our gatherings …. and yet still and always as followers of the risen Christ.

Blessings to you all.

PS.  Now?  Go — try some KidsBop just for fun!

* My lead pastor is the Rev. Mark Sturgess (check out his blog)!

Now more than ever …

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

~ Matthew 21: 9

animal cute donkey nature
Photo by Nilina on Pexels.com

We all make mistakes.

We all get scared.

We all experience loneliness.  And right now?  

Together, we are all undergoing an unprecedented time of mandated isolation; an unheard era of significant transition at lightning speed.

Overnight, our community gatherings have been closed and we have had to adjust.  Our daily routines have been smashed to shreds, and we have had to adjust.  For many, our very means of sustenance (income, food, shelter) have been utterly upended, and we have had to adjust.  

It’s a time of anxiety, loneliness, and fear.

It’s a time of hoarding and grasping to hold onto certainty. 

It’s a time of unknowns and seeking answers to questions that don’t have answers yet.  Or ever.

All of this fast shifting and upheaval has brought to mind conversations that I continue to have with some young people in my life.  There is this thing that I say to my own children when they are concerned that something they have done will “take my love away.”  Or something that they have done will make them somehow “less lovable.”  Or that someone will come into my life — or our lives — that will ”take some love away from them” in order to “give that love” to this new person.

When I first encountered these questions, I didn’t really know what to say except that I would love them no matter what.  Then, we talked some more, and these are the words that started forming in response:

“Love isn’t something that has an end to it.  Love only gets bigger and bigger.”

And this is what I am reminded of — in these times that we are all undergoing, together —- as we read once more the Palm Sunday verses —  love isn’t finite.  I am reminded of this all because right now?  there is a much more prevalent understanding of our love in our lives, in our communities, in our surrounding culture.

It is an understanding that love is something finite.

It is an understanding that there is an end to love, an end of love.

It is an understanding the love is a commodity.

It is an understanding that love can be earned or bought or sold or exchanged.

It is an understanding that love is a human construct that we can control and dole out or take away at will.

But, Jesus entry into Jerusalem teaches us — albeit — in a very large, jubilant way — that love isn’t ours.  We didn’t create love, and we don’t end love.  

God is love.  God brought each one of us into the world out of love.  God will end our human lives with the freedom of death to be resurrected into life eternal.

And on this Palm Sunday, we retell and reaffirm now more than ever that this is who we trust God to be and what we trust love to be.

Jesus doesn’t enter the city on a warhorse in a ticker-tape parade, and with a mighty army in tow.  Rather, he enters Jerusalem on a low-bred donkey, on a path of thrown-down cloaks and last-minute-grabbed-palms.  This is the path of love that Jesus walks.

A path of where the poor and the rich walk together.

A path where the community steps up, stays-at-home, and makes masks.

A path where within days, 1,000’s of schoolteachers learned new ways of teaching and parents learned new ways of working.

A path where children write cards to the homebound and folks step up to deliver groceries.

A path where the very sidewalks are chalked with artwork scribbles proclaiming that we are Stronger Together.

I have this image in my head that if Jesus were to come into Long Beach today, his donkey would walk over rainbow chalk art, and the path would be riddled with our most-prized commodity —  Toilet Paper.

This is love.

This is God at work.

And?  this is not a commodity.  

It’s not something to be bought or sold.

It’s not something finite to be hoarded up, withheld or rationed out.

There’s always enough love to share and there’s always room for our hearts to grow bigger.

To some extent?  Maybe that can be our greatest focus right now.  

(I don’t know about you but I’m truthfully overwhelmed with the options of how productive I could be – the things I could be doing with all of this enforced “free” time … which actually isn’t “free” at all.  I’m still working (in all sort of new ways), making meals, and guiding my children at home while living through global pandemic.  How about you?)

But maybe this is it.  Maybe we need this message more than ever.  Today.  In the midst of a global pandemic.

Because?  Maybe this Palm Sunday, we are called more than ever to speak out, in all the ways that we can, what love is and what love is not.  What love looks like in the midst of a global pandemic.  That Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the events of our ensuing Holy Week negates thoroughly the understanding of love as finite or love as a commodity.

Jesus us shows the very essence of love in today’s verses from Matthew, and the events of Holy Week.  

This past week, Pastor Mark and I learned once again (week two!) how to lead online small groups via Skype and Zoom.  There were definitely bumps, blunders and frustrations along the way.  It is not the same as meeting in person, no doubt!  But?  There was community forming and continuing to walk and grow together.  There was laughter and hope and persistence.  It was clearly evident once again… our very human need to convene and be together.

This is love.

This is God at work.

In the small groups that I lead, as we discussed the verses from Matthew and the ensuing ones describing Holy Week, what came up again and again? was that Jesus knew he was to be betrayed and he stayed.  Jesus knew that the very people closest to him, his “tribe” – the disciples – were going to betray him.  Judas, Peter, the whole lot of them?  They were going to betray and deny Jesus, and in fact, be the key perpetrators of his most brutal death on a cross.

And still?  Jesus stayed.

He walked the path with God that was set before him.

There will be times — right now, every day, maybe every hour when we will make mistakes; when we will express frustration and anger in maybe less than helpful ways; when we are fearful; when we doubt and ask why.  When we experience loneliness and deep, deep fear.

In those times, I would like to ask you to remember the following:

Jesus entered Jerusalem to the laudatory shouts of the crowd.  Jesus walked the path – celebrating the Seder with his close circle – and continued onward.  Together with the very people who would hurt him to the death.

God loves us in our fear.  God loves us in our loneliness.  God loves us in our betrayals and denials of God’s goodness in this world.

This is an unending love.  This is a love that only grows bigger and bigger.  A love that grows so big that it is well beyond our comprehension.

Jesus entered humbly, peacefully, into Jerusalem, knowing that he was entering into the final days of his life with us all.   

Jesus stayed.

He walked the path with God that was set before him.

He stuck with it until the very end, and showed us how this is done.

None of us — except a few of our elder most elders — have walked through a global pandemic before.  

God has.  And God will.

This is love.

This is God at work.

Now more than ever, this is our time to lean into and lift up — this exact message.  The message alone won’t provide the COVID-19 vaccine that we desperately need … but it will bring the human science to the forefront and invite the willingness, cooperation and collaboration of the science industry to the forefront to get the job done.  It will empower the child chalk art and the folks at their mask-making sewing machines and the front-line doctors, nurses, technicians, and their families.  It will offer messages of much needed gratitude to our community leaders and ”thinking of you” notes to those who might be a little lonely.

This is love.

This is God at work.

Amen.

Post your Palms!

This Sunday, April 5 is Palm Sunday.  It is!  Whether we celebrate together in one place as Christian community, or whether we celebrate together all over and throughout our communities, it is Palm Sunday this Sunday.

This is an opportunity to lift up our living Savior in the midst of such deep unsettledness and uprooting.  This is a time to speak empathy, compassion, servanthood and thankfulness for our God and Savior, Jesus the Christ, and his message for us today of eternal love and freedom.

Even in times such as these.  

Especially in times such as these.

I wish I could gather with you.  I wish that I could see your faces and laugh with you and our guest donkeys (ok, ok, “MINI-HORSES”).  I wish that I could have a pancake with you and hear our choirs and see our children and elders celebrating Jesus’ peaceful journey into Jerusalem.  But that is not our path, not this year.

We have another path to walk.  But we will still walk it together.  We will be the Christian community together — in the “new normal” way.   Here’s how:

palm_20214bc-2

  1.  Get a palm of some kind.
    1. You can get a palm from your yard, street – wherever
    2. Or?  just cut one out from a piece of paper and write PALM on it!
  2. Attach your palm to your front door.
  3. Take a photo of your palm on the door, post it to your social media account and tag us!  
    1. Facebook:  @losaltosumc
    2. Instagram:  @laumc_lbc

I can hardly wait to see the palms of peace throughout our community this Sunday morning.   If you don’t have social media, send your photo to the us via email:  office@losaltosumc.org

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

~ Matthew 21:6-11

Peace be upon you and yours this day,

Pastor Melinda

My Go-To prayer

For an extreme extrovert who is also a strong verbal thinker and communicator, the “safer-at-home” order takes on a whole new dimension.  And by whole new dimension, what I’m really saying is … being cooped up for hours on end with the same 3 other people … is … rough.

adorable blur breed close up
Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

And it’s week three – with all indications – that we have more yet ahead.

As a whole, our collective, crisis-driven-high-adrenaline response is naturally slowing, and the reality of the long haul of this … is settling upon us all.

And with that in mind, I share with you my “go-to-prayer” for this time and every time –   because it’s not only the fear and unknown of the Coronavirus pandemic upheaval that drives us to prayer!  We are a praying people!

This particular prayer was shared with me by a dear disciple sister on the journey, Athena, many moons ago.  It is taken from Isaiah 43:1-4 & 49:15-16.  I share it now with you dear disciples and fellow sojourners.

(You simply insert your name where it reads my name.)

Thus says the Lord

… who created you, O Melinda

… who formed you, O Melinda

Do not fear,

for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by name, Melinda

you are mine.

When you shall pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and through the rivers,

they shall not overwhelm you.

When you walk through the fire

you shall not get burned,

and the flame

shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord you God,

the Holy One of Israel,

your Savior, Melinda.

You are precious in my sight

and honored and I love you, Melinda.

Can a woman forget her nursing child

or show no compassion

for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet, I will not forget you.

See, I have inscribed, Melinda,

on the palm of my hands.

Amen.

If you are seeking connection and community, please do join an online Zoom group led by Pastor Mark, or the Facebook live yoga session.  Also subscribe to our YouTube channel for beautiful music offered by our church musicians, and more to come in the days ahead.  You will not want to miss this!

You can learn more about these and other ways we are responding as an entire church by visiting:

Church Website:  http://www.losaltosumc.org

Facebook page:  @LosAltosUMC

Facebook (Bend and Brew):  @BendandBrew

Instagram page:  @laumc_lbc

YouTube:  Los Altos UMC YouTube

Peace be upon you this day.

I am praying on my knees next to you … at my safe, social distance.  😉

Pastor Melinda

 

 

 

 

 

this one’s for YOU. and me, too.

I’m learning, Jesus.  I’m learning.

This “safer-at-home” practice is giving me time (an undeniable precious commodity, no doubt) to rediscover the gift of fresh air and exercise.  For real.

Because?  I am a woman who needs to see the daylight, the sky, the trees.

Because?  I am a woman who needs to experience vitality — regularly.

And, well, maybe those things just make me human?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that if I don’t get out of  the house every single day, and if I don’t do some form of physical exertion every single day,  I am just not a pretty site.  I’ll just end that there for everyone’s sake.

Prior to the coronavirus distancing efforts, I could fake it.  I admit it.  I could lie to myself about only needing to “exercise” a few times per week, or trick my body into believing that (for me?) a 20-minute walk around the block would do for the day.  I had been keeping up my yoga practices which kept me together, but now … it’s become utterly clear that I must-must- get outside and exert myself for an extended period of time.  Every single day.

What it comes down to?  I have to prioritize self-care.

And so do you, friends. 

So, now hear this:

  1. It’s not selfish.
  2. It does take effort.
  3. It takes YOU prioritizing YOU.

And yeah … dang-it … I know that I’ve heard it a billion times.  I know to do this.  But there are SO.MANY.OTHER.PEOPLE.THINGS.QUESTIONS to help, care for, answer, address.  But right now, more than ever … all of that … is not going away.

  1. We are in this “safer-at-home” for the long haul.  We need you — God needs you – to take care so that we together are truly strong.
  2. Find some form of some way to do some thing to get outside and get fresh air.  Exert some energy – a walk, a run, jumping rope, dancing – something to help you move (at a distance).  😉  What is it that you need to do for you to care for you?  (that’s a LOT of you’s …!!)
  3. Feel your heart beating, and know that this is good.  ❤

Yeah, this one’s for you.  And me, too.

man in black jacket wearing black headphones
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

We are better together, but only if we are doing the work to take care of us.

~ Melinda

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for This Day

While every day, sometimes every hour, there seems to appear a new cause for worry, a new disheartening statistic, there is also much for which we can offer thanks.  In so doing, we defy the power of worry and speak as a people of the risen Christ, a people of hope.

thank you heart text
Photo by Řaj Vaishnaw on Pexels.com

We thank You for all Your gifts, loving God;

source of every good thing.

We praise You for Your mercies,

new every morning, and renewed in the evening.

We thank You, God, for inspiring us through Your Spirit;

giving us ears to hear the words of the prophets,

and voices to carry the message of Your continuing presence with us.

We thank You for people around us,

caring, inspiring, and challenging;

may we rejoice in their example and follow You more closely.

For Your love;

Your persistent reminder that You will not let us go; 

Your people, flesh and bone, the body of Christ,

we praise You and give You thanks.

We remember and give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us in the faith,

those who have spoken Your word

and lived Your love, that we may know You;

those we have known personally, our family and friends, no longer present on earth but in Your closer company,

those we have not known

whose lives and words inspire us even now.

On this day, in particular, we lift up the multitude of your people on the COVID-19 pandemic front lines working and working — to keep your world healthy and safe from harm.  Keep them healthy and safe, O God.

In gratitude we offer this and all our prayers, in, and through, Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN

Used with permission from — https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk

Happy Birthday! And? This just feels weird.

This morning, it hit me — this wave of loss.  Tears popped up; I choked them back.  Tears popped up again (like they do), and this time, I let them roll a little bit.

I’ve been basically holding it together, going through the needed day-by-day transitions.  I’ve worked to rearrange our daily lives and adjust to the “new” normal (or whatever this is).  And?  every time, I’ve wandered to the place of worry about tomorrow … or any time except the present … I’ve recalled my heart and mind back to the present.  It’s all I have right now, and where God is calling me to be.

But, this morning, this wave of loss just rolled over and through me and down my cheeks.

photo of pineapple wearing black aviator style sunglasses and party hat
Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Pexels.com

It’s my husband’s birthday.  In the Dutch family life that I married into … birthday’s are everything.  And this year, his sister and family were all going to be here to celebrate.  Cards, gifts, special dinner, cake – these festivities and more – they go on and on.  It’s a wonderful celebration of life in the Dutch home.

But this year – it feels very different.  It feels lonely and quiet.  His sister and kids weren’t able to get on the plane.  His parents are sheltering-in-place safely in their home.  Earlier this week, the kids and I weren’t able to go shopping for gifts and a few cards.  If it wasn’t for my Dutch MIL sharing the importance of “birthday’s” with my older daughter, I’m not sure that I would have gotten it together to even make a card!  My daughter really rallied to the cause, and helped me get the job done!

Because?  It all just feels so different and weird.  

In the midst of the “new normal,” the different, the weird, here’s what I am relying on:

  • Brené Brown’s new podcast “Unlocking Us” which is SO SO SO good.  Check it out here:  “Unlocking Us” podcast
    • And?  If you have listened already…
      • ALL I’M SAYING IS FFT — FFT —  PEOPLE.
      • “I DON’T THINK ANY OF US HAVE GONE THROUGH A WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC BEFORE.”  that quote alone will carry me through at least another few days.
  • Daily yoga & a new walking/running routine with my kids
  • Taking to God in prayer this question again and again: how are you calling me to be present this day?  How can I be of use?
  • Blogging, hosting discipleship Zoom small groups & trying out FB livestream yoga
  • Baking, sewing, being present with my kiddos
  • Texting friends 🙂
  • Listening to the community.  Praying some more.
    • This is the verse for my day and everyday from Philippians 4:7:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • Updating myself on current news (from only one trusted source) as I need to – working to be the aware citizen and community leader … then taking needed breaks from it.
  • Checking social media only periodically, and carefully at that.

This is me just saying life isn’t normal and we all (likely) need to allow loss to have its time, to allow a few tears to roll.

Because?  It all just feels so different and weird.  

Together in peace,

Melinda

The Feast You Spread Before Us

assorted color opened umbrella hangs on display

Photo by Enrique Hoyos on Pexels.com

With permission, I am sharing this beautiful piece, “The Feast You Spread Before Us.”  It struck me that, even now, when things (answers, masks, paper products…) seem scarce, we are called to be a people of extravagant grace.  We are called to be a a people who envision and share a feast — in and amidst — the seeming scarcity all around us.  It is, in fact, the practice of extravagant grace which might be the thing that binds us together through it all.  

The author is the Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson who serves as the Senior Minister of First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara. The Rev. Richardson was my district mentor in my call to ministry process, and simply is … an overall wonderful human being.  🙂  I hope you will enjoy this piece as much as I have.

The Feast You Spread Before Us

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
~ Psalm 23:5 

This is the feast you spread before us, O God,
a sumptuous celebration of freedom in Christ,
sitting down at table not only with those we love,
and with all those who love us in return,
but with the very ones who trouble us.

This is the feast of Eucharist –
profound gratefulness for earth, bread, and breath,
as we dance with joy before the mystery of God,
the One who speaks hope into our troubled hearts,
the One who alone is able to soothe our weary souls.

This is the feast of holy love –
first tasted in a Gethsemane garden
then poured out on Calvary’s hill,
an inexhaustible love that knows no fear
and is undeterred by hate or malice.

This is the feast of surrender –
releasing the anxieties that plague us,
the resentments we nurse over time,
giving us hearts of gladness instead,
hallowing our lives in the sweetness of grace.

This is the gospel feast –
overflowing the small containers of our lives,
bathing us in the font of baptismal blessing,
anointing us with Holy Spirit wind and fire,
bidding us to live forgiven, loved and free.

This is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet –
where lion and lamb lie down together in peace,
where foes watch their bitterness melt away,
where there is neither weeping nor pain nor fear,
rather the sounds of love’s creation praising their God.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

Visit the Rev. Richardson’s blog for more:  https://dreamprayact.com

I may not know what day it is?

I’m going to just admit:  I may not know what day it is.  While I would like to say that it’s because of the sudden and significant change in my/our daily life rhythms: it isn’t.  I am seriously date challenged.  At any given moment, at any time of the year, I’m not confident that I know what day it is, or the date itself.  And?  If I send an invitation … I always tell my friends and colleagues to check it twice — because I just might have sent the incorrect date (even though I checked it twice before sending …).

I wish I could say otherwise.  It is why you might see me, at any given time, with three different calendars and a daily list.

I wish that I could tell you that I’m supremely organized by nature.  But, I’m not.  I only get to where I should be with a lot of effort, those three calendars and the daily list.

So, yeah, I may not know what day it is.

But?  I do know this … God is life-giving.  

shallow focus photography of white daisy
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

That is not day, time, rhythm dependent.  God is life-giving even in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.  God is life-giving when the schools have closed; the freeways are eerily wide open; and when we are being asked to sew-at-home masks for medical workers.

God is life-giving.  

This deeply-theological-yet-everyday understanding of God has come up a number of times recently.  And it’s really helping me frame life right now.  To be honest?  This little phrase (my current mantra, if you will …) it’s giving me the hope of Christ.

Because even though it feels like everything is changing?  I keep coming back to this:

God is life-giving.  

People are scared.  People are anxious.  Some are angry.  Some are just numb – still processing and wondering how this all happened so fast.  And?  The one thing that I know how to do in times such as these is to bring people together just as Jesus did.  Jesus’ number one go-to method of healing and nurture; of teaching about God;  was to … GATHER PEOPLE TOGETHER … and we are banned from doing that very thing.  HA!

God is life-giving.  

Because? yeah, we may not be able to gather in the ways that we have been, but it’s not stopping the life-giving God in each of us from connecting or longing to connect.

My text feed is onfire!  I’ve FaceTimed more than I ever have; and I actually meant to (it wasn’t just a misdial on my phone!).  Social media platforms are being used in so many new ways by folks who prior to this? never even had a profile.  Families are eating meals together more than once a week.  Neighbors are chatting — at safe social distances.

God is life-giving.  

Our God-crafted, inborn need to commune with others; over a meal; in worship; in the classroom or at work; in the local park or playground or gym or class … may be stymied right now.  But everywhere, God’s life-giving longing is sprouting forth.

Take a look around you.  Seek to witness this fundamental, deeply-theological-yet-everyday understanding of God.

God is life-giving.  

And, may you be renewed by our life-giving God.

~ pastor melinda

From a distance –

astronomy cosmic cosmos dark
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This prayer is shared with permission from a wonderful resource ,“World in Prayer.”  

http://worldinprayer.org

 

From a distance the world looks blue and green 

And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance the ocean meets the stream 

And the eagle takes to flight* 

Holy One, during this time of social distancing and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remind us that we are still connected to one another. We pray for those impacted by travel bans, those unable to connect with loved ones, those who have insurance, those who do not, those who are getting treatment, and all those who cannot get a hospital bed. 

From a distance there is harmony 

And it echoes through the land It’s the voice of hope

It’s the voice of peace 

It’s the voice of every man 

Help us to be the Body of Christ that you call us to be in this moment. 

May we be your hands and feet right now, in neighborhoods, farms and small towns, hospitals and clinics, tribes and large cities as we work to safely feed each other, heal each other, look out for each other, and act as your instruments in this ailing world. 

Be with the very young, the school-age children as they watch this world around them. 

Guide the healers on each continent, in each country, in each city around the globe, and be with them and each of us as we struggle to navigate new things in new ways. Sustain the researchers, virologists, laboratories and medical transport teams. 

From a distance we all have enough

And no one is in need

And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease 

No hungry mouths to feed 

All economies around the world have been terribly affected over these past months. We pray for each of the ways it is impacting the small business owners, investors, our elderly, our homeless, the middle class, all of us in vastly varied ways. May we rebuild together without rank of who is worthiest, but, instead, guided by your light and filled with your love, stronger than we can imagine. 

From a distance we are instruments 

Marching in a common band Playing songs of hope

Playing songs of peace 

They are the songs of every man 

May we hear your songs of hope ringing from the balconies of Italy. May we hear your songs of a common band like the Lummi Nation in the US Pacific Northwest as they have planned for months to protect their members.  May we hear your songs of peace in the “caremongers” of Canada who out of kindness, not fear, have created online groups searching out need (#iso) and/or providing help (#offer). 

May we know that these are the songs of all of us, your beloved children. 

God is watching us

God is watching us

God is watching us from a distance

May God watch over us, and may we watch over one another, from a distance. 

Amen.

*Excerpts taken from the song, From a Distance (written by Julie Gold, sung by Bette Midler) 

A Humble Heart of Praise

What does the Lord require of you?  Is it different today than it was yesterday?

Or, the real question for me right now:  is it different during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Logistically, yes.  My clergy colleagues, church administrative staff all across the UMC connection … we are all trying to suss out:

  • what do our churches and local communities need?
  • how we do respond to this need?

There has not been one day, (hardly an hour tbh), when we haven’t been discussing the ubiquitous LIVESTREAM worship options or ZOOM or phone trees.  There hasn’t been one day when we haven’t had ideas about food and caring provisions.  There are number of needs, a ka-zillion options already and my head is spinning, I think.  So many options!

And as much as I appreciate all the options?  It’s a joy to see folks helping each other, offering ideas and plans!  I also just have to admit: I get overwhelmed by it all, too.  Because right now? my people-pleasing – my need to serve in my various roles and life – those instincts are on OVERDRIVE.  When that OVERDRIVE kicks in, it can be stymy me-us altogether.  It can stagnate the best of our abilities that would otherwise be helpful, nurturing, and just what is needed – this hour, this day.

So right now, I am turning to the prophet Micah’s ancient wisdom to answer the question, “what does the Lord require of you?”  which is:

“To do justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” 

For me this morning, that looked like:

  • Sitting down at the table eating breakfast with my kiddos.  Lighting a candle.
  • Reading a chapter in the book of Matthew.  Lighting another candle.  Getting to my yoga mat and practicing.
  • Helping kiddos with schoolwork, including detestable things like working through word problems.
  • Walking the dog and getting us all outside to get needed exercise and for me?  I just need to SEE and FEEL the outside world.

In the hours ahead, I will continue to work through how I can best serve the church and community and my family.  I will continue to sort through options.  But, for today, I am going to cut and paste these verses somewhere so I can return to them.

“To do justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” 

And I’m going to praise God with this yoga pose that helps me to get out of my head.

IMG_2162

Urdjva Hastana (Upward Salute): a pose that teaches extension from the ground up, lengthens the side waist, strengthens arms and shoulders.

1. Stand with feet about hip distance apart.  Ground down throughout your feet.  Inhale and exhale deeply into your entire legs from the waist down, energizing your lower limbs.

2. Tilt your pelvis down toward the heels, and move the tops of the buttocks down.

3. Inhale and extend your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, lifting them overhead.  Exhale and gently release tension in your shoulders, drawing your shoulder blades back and down, toward your spine.  Open your chest.

4. Continue in this upward arm positions for about 8 breaths, remembering:

  • Root down through your feet.
  • Keep your gaze at the horizon, neck/chin soft, throat open.
  • Inhale: lengthen the sides of your waist and reach up through the crown of your head.
  • Exhale: Gently send strength to your extended arms and be gentle to your shoulders.

5.  On your final exhale, release your arms slowly to the sides.

 

This is real, friends.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.  ~ Proverbs 3:5-6a (The Message)

These are difficult and delicate times that we are walking through together.  And? oddly enough, it’s not for the reasons that one would suspect, I think.  While the cancellations are disappointing; while the COVID-19 threat seems scary; while my patience is wearing thin of everyone AT HOME (and its ONLY DAY 3!); it’s really none of these that makes the hours tough.  It’s really none of these that are giving me trouble sleeping at night or some bouts of slight vertigo by day.

It’s the unknown.  

It’s the prevalent comments from our leaders … those supposedly IN the know (?) … that seem to always end with  “… from what we know thus far.”  Or start with “So far, from what we know about the virus …”

It’s the unknown.

mountains nature arrow guide
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

And I just want to – we all just want to – know.  We are used to knowing.  We are so very, very capable of knowing.  If we don’t know an answer, one of us will seek it out, ask, work on it … until we have answer.  I mean, hello?  WIKIPEDIA.

In my daily practice of this thing called life, I work to turn to my trust over to my higher power, O God do you hear me?, and to take it step-by-ever-loving-step.  I work to follow Jesus (when I remember to stop losing my patience and just breathe), and be comfortable in all this unknown.  Make no mistake, though, it remains WORK for me.

In addition to the Proverbs verses above, I have verse three of the hymn “Just As I Am,” running through my head:

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

This is real, friends.

And right now?  we are being called to two primary things, I trust:

  1. Sitting in the unknown.  Working through our discomfort toward some form of peace in that space of the unknown.  Or let’s be honest?  Maybe we might not get to peace in the unknown … so, maybe we can just acknowledge that it’s hard.  And just allowing that to be where we are.
  2. Helping others in safe, respectful ways to also just sit in the unknown space.  That might look like immediate help with food provisions, or sending a card, or calling someone on that awkward, outdated live phone line.  It might mean being a little more patient with yourself and your loved ones … today, tomorrow …

I am going to work on that first verse from Proverbs: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.”  

I am going to work at the patience part.

I am going to work on being comfortable for this day, this hour … ok for just this moment – not knowing.

And I’ll get back to you on the next moment.

Because, yeah, this is real and this is work.

~ Pastor M.

St. Patrick’s Prayer. Again and Again.

top view photo of clover leaves
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, also known as The Deer’s Cry or The Lorica, is a traditional Celtic morning prayer of peace, protection, and power.  It is attributed to St. Patrick around the year 377, though exact authorship and date is unknown. It is “written as a hymn calling on Christ to surround the supplicant in all bodily directions and invokes God for protection against [all forms of evil.]”  A few verses of the longer, entire prayer are quite familiar to us today:

Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.  

There is something powerful to repetition, friends.  In some traditions, its power might be expressed in a mantra.  Or, its power could be felt in a sung repetitions such a Gregorian or Hindu chant.  The power in repeating the Lord’s name in this prayer helps me quite a lot.

Prayerful repetition is calming, soothing, reassuring. 

And right now?  We could all use a little calm, a little reassurance.

Do you have just ONE minute?  Try this:

    • Read the St. Patrick’s prayer excerpt.  Once, twice, three times.  Whatever you got.  Just do it:
      • Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.  
    • Got one minute more?  Print it out, and put it by your bathroom mirror or sink, or bedside table.

 

Do you have FIVE minutes?  Try this:

 

Do you have 15 minutes?  Try this:

    • Do #2 above and then …  🙂
    • Try this simple, powerful asana: Tedasana: Mountain Pose. 
    • Remove your shoes.  Grab a mat or not.  Maybe light a candle.

Begin at the front of a mat/rug/whatever with feet together, or hip distant apart.  (Feet parallel to the sides of the mat)

Starting at the base of your body, think of yourself as a strong, steady mountain.  You are grounded into the earth through your feet and strong legs as you are ever lifting toward the sky through your sternum and rib cage.

Now, work to:

— Tuck your tail bone under and pelvic bone up

— Strengthen your thighs

— Place your shoulders down and wide, and your sternum up and out to the sky

— Bring your chin parallel to the earth and lower your ribs down.

As you ease into tadasana, continue to calmly check in with your pose, working from your base (grounded feet) up through your legs and thighs; your tail bone and pelvic bowl; your shoulders and ribs; your sternum and your chin.  Slowly and  gently continue check in with your tedasana — ever more, ever gently grounding yourself into the earth below and expanding yourself into the sky above.

Blessings.  I’m breathing, repeating and praying with you.

Peace –

Pastor M.