Abundant Life, Agricultural Community, Social Justice, Southwest Iowa, The Great Commission, Whole Community

MUMMs the Word

MUMM logoI’ve had a hard time sleeping this week.  It started on Monday after a long drive from North Central Iowa to Southwest Iowa and 3 hours of Vacation Bible School in the Coin United Methodist Church. I was spending a couple of days with Cherie Miner, the new director of MUMMS (Mobile United Methodist Missionaries), and my sleeplessness started with the excitement and passion which Cherie brings to her position.

She brims and bubbles with love for the rural churches MUMMs serves. One of the things she and her Senior Summer Assistant, Alison Engel, do is bring Vacation Bible School supplies, curriculum and support to churches in the three southern United Methodist Districts of Iowa. The VBS in Coin was a joint venture of a seven-point charge under the pastoral leadership of James Buckhahn, or Pastor Buck as he is known in the Iowa Annual Conference.

Using Cokesbury curriculum and providing the supplies for arts, crafts, service, and creative learning projects allows MUMMs to help jumpstart Vacation Bible School, after school meals and activities and other programmatic outreach to the sparsely populated towns and counties it serves.

Another way in which these Mobile United Methodists are in Mission is to supply and coordinate volunteers for “hammer and nails” projects for churches across the region. Especially as hail, floods, and storms have taken their toll on these counties, this mobilization of United Methodist resources is particularly needed. Cherie is looking for someone with both passion and expertise to help design, implement and manage work projects throughout the three Districts. If you sense this may be a niche you are called to fill, you should drop Cherie an email.

Yet, the work  MUMMs is doing is not really what kept me jazzed up for the few days I got to spend in Elliot, Coin, Clarinda, Corning, and Grant dodging road construction and learning songs in the Workshop of Wonders. It was the white hot energy of Cherie Miner, passionately describing all the directions in which MUMMS outreach can grow. It was the no-nonsense assessment of church longevity and mission potential given by the kitchen volunteers and the lay leaders who showed up to support VBS. It was the power that School for Lay Ministry has to stoke a fire in people. It was the humble gratitude of a pastor whose call was finally recognized by the United Methodist Church, a gratitude which gives thanks for part-time employment and three churches who were willing, for a time, to join as one in worship to give her the time she needed to heal.

United Methodist mission is mighty in this Southwest corner of Iowa. Age, gender, population, distance, and local affiliation play no role in peoples’ willingness to serve-to be available to serve-whether as musicians, cooks, chauffeurs, preachers, knitters or visiting messengers of peace and good will. Connection is flourishing-as people roll up their sleeves and step up to the challenges of dwindling populations, physical limitations, and resource scarcity; as people decide they are the ones who have to do a thing if it is to get done.

So, I had a hard time sleeping this week because I was so energized by the people I met, the places I saw, the possibilities laid out before us, and the absolutely monstrous amount of work it is going to take to get it done; the hope we will need to reach out to the people in our communities who are not us; the faith it will require of us to believe in ourselves and the good will we have to share; the call that is upon us United Methodist Christians to not only serve, but to transform; and the deep concern I carry that economics drives more of our decisions than it should.

 

Agricultural Community, Mission, Remembrance, Social Action, Social Justice, Solidarity, Transforming the World, Women

From the Voice of a Devastated Earth

A friend challenged me to write this week about Mother’s Day. In my search for a liturgy on which to hang some mission and social justice ministries or movements, I came across this Mother’s Day Proclamation from 1870. In this time of escalating violence, of sabre-rattling nations, of famine, kidnapping, war, and slavery-catastrophes borne on the bodies of women and the children of women-I think its call still rings true:

Mother’s Day Proclamation-1870 by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then … women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God —
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

If you would answer this call-here are some “congress[es] of women without limit of nationality” which are promoting peace:

Healthy Families Healthy Planet

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

BringBackOurGirls

Half the Sky

Polaris Project

UN Women for Peace

Farming First

Women and Peace Organizations wiki

Saving the World’s Women-an interview with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Agricultural Community, Climate, Compassion, Creation, Economy, Mission, Poverty, Social Action, Social Justice, Solidarity

Climate Justice

-Isaiah 58:6-12

In the Spring of 2009, a friend and I walked into the Federal Building in Des Moines, IA with two copies of a petition urging our Senators to support comprehensive energy reform related to carbon emissions at the the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen which was scheduled for later in the year.

Our petitions were made out of plywood and were about 3 feet square. They were cutout in the shape of the logo for 350.org, a global, grassroots organizing effort started by Bill McKibben. From their own website:

The number 350 means climate safety: to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.

On those plywood cutouts, we had collected signatures from concerned people in our community, people who, like us, believed that not only individual conservation, but also significant political and economic will needed to be marshaled to respond to increasing climate crisis across the world.

First, let me say that if you have never hand-delivered a petition or letter to one of your elected representatives, you should definitely do so.  Taking the time to deliver our petitions and sit down with aids of both Senator Harkin and Senator Grassley was a profoundly empowering experience.  To know that we, as citizens, have such easy access to our elected officials is amazing.  To walk two 3-ft. plywood petitions past security guards, step on an elevator, walk down a hall, and sit down in the offices of those we have entrusted with political power, to exercise our own rights and responsibilities as voting Americans is amazing.

The petitions were not the beginning of our action, however, but rather its culmination.  My friend, after seeing McKibben at a Christian Educator’s Fellowship event in Albuquerque, NM, was on fire to push for change. She came back to Ames, IA and started organizing a climate awareness event. She pulled together interested people and we met to make signs, engage public speakers, plan intergenerational activities, and offer people the opportunity to voice their opinion about climate change, fossil fuel emissions, energy policy and our global commitment to the poorest and least industrialized nations of the world. Together, a small group of people planned a half-day of activity, learning and action set for a Saturday in late May.

I wish I could say we had an overwhelming turnout. I wish I could say that our United Methodist Church members swarmed to add their names to the petition. I wish I could say that the Bishop’s Call to Action titled God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action had motivated many of our United Methodist connections to offer to help host, fund, or simply participate in the event. I wish I could say that our relationship connections were strong enough that our UM friends and colleagues simply showed up because we asked them to.

If you follow the news on climate change, you will know that the UN Climate Summit did not make any substantial change in the ways in which carbon emissions are regulated. The decision was made to “wait until 2015” instead.

In November of 2013, members of the Philippine delegation, along with members from 132 other nations walked out of the Warsaw climate change conference after discussion about “loss and damage” stalled.  Naderev Saño, lead negotiator of the Philippine delegation, went on a voluntary fast , declaring,

“In solidarity with Filipinos who are now scrounging for food back home, and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect Mr. President, I will now commence a voluntary fasting and I will refuse to eat food here during this COP, until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

This conference was held a mere 13 days after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines.  Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest typhoon ever to have made landfall. [*] United Methodist Committee on Relief, of course was there. Is there. American United Methodist donations of goods, energy, time, and dollars, the “loss and damage” recovery side of mission, are there.  We are people who care.  We respond.

But . . . .

Why don’t we speak up more here at home?  Why aren’t we advocating, legislating, organizing, boycotting, fasting, resisting, educating, and changing the conversation as it relates to climate change? As it pertains to environmental degradation? Why is it so much easier to spend the dollars of pity, than it is to invest in the bonds of kinship?  Why, when it comes to signing petitions, talking with our elected leaders, or discussing the latest crop prices, aren’t we more aware of the importance of thinking not first of ourselves and what we may have to lose, but rather of those whose homes, livelihoods, lives, and very existence are being lost as you read this?

As we celebrate Human Relations Sunday and lift up the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to echo his sentiments that social action is a moral imperative, that

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”[*]

When our brothers and sisters in island nations, such as the Philippines and the Republic of the Maldives say, “We need change,” why can’t we take them at their word?  When our brothers and sisters in North and South Sudan are pushed to war because of the growing band of desert across the Northern part of the African continent, why do we insist that climate change isn’t real?   When the acres of arable land are no longer sufficient to feed the people of the planet, how do we entertain notions that it is OK to plant sugar cane for fuel or to ignore the voices of farmers who, through proprietary technology and corporate patents, are no longer allowed to save seeds?

I hear you saying, “Wait.”  I hear you saying, “Now is not the time.”  I hear you saying, “I’m just not convinced.”  I hear you saying, “‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.'”[*] Yet, as I look at all the photographs from the Philippines in 2013, from the East Coast in 2012, from Joplin in 2011, from Iowa in 2008, and from Louisiana in 2005, I feel compelled to commend these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. to you: 

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . .

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” [*]

Agricultural Community, Central Iowa, Conversations, Correctional Facility, North Central Iowa, Poverty, Schools, Social Justice

Flowers Blooming in the Desert

I visited with Pastor Anita Bane in the office of the Rockwell City United Methodist Church. It was a blustery, yet beautiful day to drive West of I-35 on Hwy. 20.  The sky was robin’s egg blue, and there was still a little bit of green in the gold of harvested fields.

Coming in to Rockwell City, I saw grain elevators against the horizon, and I noticed a sign for the North Central Correctional Facility. I passed the Rockwell City welcome sign and the St. Francis Cemetery. Almost immediately, I turned south to get to the Rockwell City church.

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The Rockwell City UMC is a modern church.  There are no steps to navigate to get in the front door, and there is a wide and well-lit walkway which leads directly to a large foyer and lobby area with tile and carpet.  The bathrooms are set up to conserve energy and water resources, as well as being well-lit and family and wheelchair or walker friendly.  Right across the street from the church is a newer elementary school. I stopped to take a couple of pictures.  I could not capture both the cross and flame and the bell in a single frame.  I imagine that these two pieces of sculpture are ties to the church’s history.

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A small agribusiness community with people employed by the Iowa State Correctional System as well as the families of both prison employees and those incarcerated, I get a sense that Rockwell City has a long memory and a changing demographic structure.  It seems like it could be a town where identity is a bit dislocated: those whose families are rooted here, and those who are new to town; long-held traditions of governance and behavior encountering new rhythms of life and community activity.

Pastor Bane serves two churches: the Rockwell City UMC and Jolley UMC, which is a country church.   She sees poverty as the biggest mission and justice issue in Calhoun County.

She shares stories from the Jolley UMC where the people, according to Pastor Bane, take Jesus seriously when he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).  She says that the church has decided that they are going to love one another and this is evidenced by the fact that they include one another across stereotypes.

-A young, single mother finds aunts, uncles, moms, dads and cousins there who are willing to overlook a checkered past and current economic difficulties.

-A musician, losing her way in a hymn, receives encouragement and applause.

-When Pastor Bane lifts up Imagine No Malaria after Annual Conference and suggests “a hundred” [dollars] as a modest offering the church could make, they misunderstand her to mean “a hundred nets,” and give $1000 to the campaign.

Pastor Bane says she just sits back and watches this church go.  Both she and her office assistant describe the Jolley UMC as a little blooming flower.   Both their spirits visibly rise at the simple mention of that church.   They light up a little as though reflecting the love, joy, peace, faithfulness and hope clearly present there.

Though both Jolley and Rockwell City act to meet direct needs through food and clothing drives, Pastor Bane would like to see her churches respond with something more.  As we talked, I kept getting a sense that time and relationship are the greatest barriers to that deeper engagement with issues related to poverty.

The circles of relationship in local churches can be closed at times.  Differences in socio-economic class are highlighted by worship language and structures that presume an upper middle-class background.  Invisible barriers are erected out of fear that the problems people see in the community may invade the church.  Church becomes something scheduled on a calendar, and people simply show up, rather than living Christ.

Pastor Bane sees in both the local church and in the wider Annual Conference an exhaustion born of doing.  She wonders what it might mean if we started sitting down with one another to ask, “How did you get to believe what you believe?”

What if each of us were to spend more time sharing ourselves with those we meet?

What if we invite the children in the elementary school across the street to tell us their story?

What if our goal in getting to know the people whose lives are entwined with the local correctional facility were ultimately to get to a place of identity and honoring our differences?

Would we be able to forge better alliances for facing the chaos we fear?

Would we be able to move past our stances of defense and open the circle of our embrace to those we distrust?

Would we, in fact, stop drowning in a sea of needs and start encountering greater gifts than we imagined possible?

I think these are great questions.  I know Pastor Bane is not alone in wondering these things.  I know she is not alone in wondering how to help her churches make the shift.  If you have stories or would like to connect with Pastor Bane in order to share ideas that work, please leave a comment or share resources here.  You can also reach out to Pastor Anita Bane via her profile at iaumc.org.