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Vacation for the Soul: Into the Fire

What a great morning. After being on vacation for my wedding anniversary last week, it was a joy to return to worship at First United Methodist Church. The service was filled with terrific music, as usual we had our Downtown Alive Choir, a beautiful solo by Rebecca Beard AND the Treitsch Memorial United Methodist Church Youth Choir. We were their first stop on their tour this week sharing music and mission.

In our time with children, Mr. Phil Davis shared with us “tools of the trade,” including a plumb line. Many adults as well as the children had never seen one nor understood how they worked. It was a great visual for our Amos reading.

Today’s lectionary readings were hard. I do not think any one would choose both Amos and the death of John the Baptist for fun. Our Vacation Bible School theme is “Daniel, Courage in Captivity.” That theme pairs well with the spiritual discipline of study. In our tense and anxious time, how we experience God’s presence as we live out our faith is important to study. The prophets knew it was never easy and yet they stood firm in their speaking the truth when no one wanted to hear it. You can find the entire worship service with all the music at this link. The study guide this week has us reading the entire book of Amos. Each week, the study guide is uploaded on the church’s website. You can find it in several places but here is this week’s study guide.

For those who watch through television, I didn’t quite get all of my sermon on air. I will publish the manuscript tomorrow. May the prayer/spiritual practice of study this week, help us find our voice in these tense and anxious times.

 

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Vacation for the Soul, Guidance

This week’s Spiritual Practice or Discipline is Guidance. That doesn’t tend to make the top five list of things that are “spiritual.” Guidance doesn’t seem to fall in the same sphere as prayer or meditation or sabbath or worship. Yet, guidance has a long tradition of being important for deepening the spiritual life.

I didn’t mention it in worship, but many people have spiritual directors that help guide them in their Christian walk. Small groups or Sunday School classes can be part of the spiritual practice of guidance.

Today in worship, instead, I focused on being guided by love. Using Paul’s imagery in Colossians and pairing it with the lectionary gospel in Mark, I pondered how being clothed in Christ and in love guides us as it guided Christ.

I mentioned Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God, which is a marvelous book on how we experience and meet God in different ways: through clothing and laughter and fire to name a few. As followers of Jesus we are “fashioned” in the old sense of the word by Christ and by love. We are shaped, molded into the image and likeness of Christ.

It was a good day to being year three at First United Methodist Church. If you would like to watch the service in its entirety you will find the video here.

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Oklahoma Disaster Relief, Day Three

Today was our final day and we wanted to get as much done as possible. So after breakfast once again at Tiffany’s Restaurant we got to the work site an hour earlier than yesterday. We had already packed up everything at the Noble United Methodist Church with a plan to return and shower and then load up.

It was hot, but fortunately we had a wonderful breeze coming in and good fans. We were back at insulation and sheet rock. My job would be finishing mudding one room and do as much taping and mudding in the small bathroom and the room Rusty, Andrew and Dave were finishing up.

Rusty, Dave and Andrew went immediately to work on the room that had been started yesterday. They had to finish insulating the ceiling and then sheet rock the ceiling and the rest of the walls.

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And occasionally they had to use their heads!

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Rusty kept plugging away in tight places!

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Pat began working cleaning up some of the debris! Vacuuming and sweeping.

And me? Well, I am your “mudder”

Around 10:30 Hal came in and said to me, the heat index will hit 110, we are done at noon. I am getting those kids off the roof and you are done as well. So we worked at finishing what we could. All the sheet rock got in (except for the lower pieces in the small bathroom which was still drying. Here is the final piece going in

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I finished the ceiling off the garage, taped some and then mudded in the bathroom, mudded what I could reach where the guys were working. We were finished with what we could do by 11:30. Here is what we finished:

Tired and hot we were toast! We said good bye to Hal, and he invited us back. While there may not be a lot of these projects left, wildfires have hit western Oklahoma and there may be work there. Of course, there may be plenty to do in Eureka as well.

The AmeriCorps workers were there an hour before we were. They have been roofing in Noble for several days and have a lost a day due to rain. Their plan is to finish the roof before they have to leave on July 4. They were good about taking breaks down off the roof and drinking plenty of water. This young man had dumped a load of material that had come down form the roof and took a quick break in the wheel barrel. It was much cooler in the shade!!!

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The roof has been covered with FEMA blue tarps for a very long time. Remember that this is work still being done comes from the storms of 2015. Once they are done, another crew in coming in this weekend to finish up what we did not AND to sheet rock inside the house all the ceilings that have been water damaged. I still can not get my mind around being in a home for three years and because of lack of resources, waiting and waiting for help in recovery from devastating storms. One of the many reasons I support United Methodist Committee on Relief is because they remain after others leave. As Hal’s shirt points out:

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We obviously are not staying until it is “complete” but what a blessing to be part of the recovery and the movement toward completion. This is my second time working with the UM Disaster Response from Oklahoma. I think EVERY annual conference should come and learn from them. Their web site is filled with projects all the the volunteers and supervisors are caring, helpful and make people like me who are not all THAT handy feel like we have something to offer. Their system works and what a gift it would be to the United Methodist Church everywhere if they could learn from these people. A big shout out and thanks to Hal Wright, I would work with him any day of the week, all week long.

I won’t bore you with pictures from our lunch although I will say Kendall’s was excellent! A short three hour drive back to Wichita and we are now all at home. I can not say enough about Dave Glover’s leadership. He made the trip flow smoothly and he always reminded us “patience and flexibility!!!” I am grateful to have spent time with Rusty and Pat Allensworth. As always, I am in awe of Andrew Stover and not just because I am married to him. I am amazed by his knowledge, his ability to problem solve and work with what is at hand and build and repair and fix and measure and cut and work hand in hand with others.

What a blessing it is to be part of such a great team. Tonight, I am sore, tired and happy. God is at work in the world in marvelous and wonderful ways.

 

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Oklahoma Disaster Relief, Day Two

Day two began with breakfast at Tiffany’s…..Literally!

 

The breakfast was fresh and tasty (I had an avocado, bacon and jack cheese omelet). From there we were back to the work site to continue the projects we had started. The AmeriCorps were already on the roof working hard.

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We went right to work on the projects we had left unfinished yesterday. Sheet rocking the main room off the garage and began the demolition in the laundry room.

 

There was also a small bathroom that needed insulation and sheet rock.

Then it was time for lunch! Hal Wright invited us to come to his home and eat lunch outside. It was a lovely break.

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BACK TO WORK!!! More sheet rock. Pat and Rusty worked hard and finished sheet rocking the laundry room.

Andrew and Dave began to sheet rock the small bathroom when there was an “oops.” There was a small water leak around the old water heater. Andrew and Dave were carrying sheetrock when Andrew stepping back knocked the pipe loose. And water went every where, including all over him!

Once the water was cleaned up, they finished sheet rocking what they could until the rest of the floor dried up.

I did some work vacuuming up lots of water, helped with some clean up until Hal got me taping and mudding the sheet rock on the ceiling. Pat began taping and mudding the laundry room.

I was pretty well covered in mud. According to Hal it is just “like one of those mud baths!!!” Not sure that is true as I am VERY sore from climbing up and down the ladder and the drywall bench.

We were so grateful to the Oklahoma UMC Volunteer in Mission Disaster Relief for providing us for a shower trailer. The showers were hot and perfect!

So we showered, relaxed, went out to eat and came back to play one game of Farkle. Rusty won!!! While playing our phones notified us of the tornado in Eureka, Kansas. The e-mail has already gone out for those who are ERT trained to be prepared to go help with clean-up. My prayers are being raised for those in the path of all those storms, and for those already deployed to Eureka.

We know from our work here in Oklahoma that there are opportunities to serve and make a difference in the lives of others. It is a privilege and honor and to be here, to work until we are bone tired and to know that God is here in the midst of the recovery.

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Oklahoma Disaster Relief, Day One

It is hard to believe that there is still work to be done following the 2015 storms in Oklahoma. The last time I was here was in March of 2016 and we were working on homes that had been torn apart in May of 2015. The same supervisory crew is still working with volunteers to fix homes that was damaged three years ago.

This is why I LOVE United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR stays until the work is done. Other agencies are long gone. The homes I have worked on  are those homes that do not have other means in which to repair the devastating damage done by wind and rain and hail.

While it is true that there have been other hurricanes and floods and wildfires and tornadoes and windstorms since 2015, the decision to continue to work when the focus is elsewhere speaks to a strength of faith and commitment that I deeply respect. I am so glad to be working again with Hal Wright as our project manager. Hal is all the right combination of hard work, humor, and hands on instruction.

We started out early this morning. Three are from West Heights UMC: Dave Glover our team leader, Rusty Allensworth and Pat Allensworth. Andrew Stover and I are from First UMC.

36087343_10156756004689274_7775680179329826816_nWe had planned on unloading at the church once we were in Noble, Oklahoma but a communications miscue meant the church wasn’t open yet. So it was off to an early lunch at Rudy’s BBQ.

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Once lunch was done we unloaded at the Noble United Methodist Church

When we got to the home where we would be working, Hal was ready to put us to work. First up was insulation! I had forgotten how gritty, dusty and uncomfortable it can be to work with  particularly on a hot and muggy day.

After beginning to put up the insulation, it didn’t take long for us to think…..MASKS!!!

Once the insulation was up, then came time to begin to put up the sheet rock. Thank God for sheet rock lifts!!!

Works really slick!!! And so much fun cranking it!

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To the hard work or screwing in each piece!

We didn’t get the whole ceiling done. Hal called it a day at 4:00 p.m. He said he didn’t want to wear us out, plus the AmeriCorps workers would be there at 7:00 a.m. to begin roofing. So it was back to the Noble UMC for showers and out to dinner. They have a”nifty” shower trailer, I’ll post pictures tomorrow.

We ended the evening with a little competitive game of Five Crowns.

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Andrew beat us all badly on the first round. I squeaked by on the second. Now it is off to sleep before we begin again tomorrow. What an honor it is to serve and work alongside these great people!

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Vacation for the Soul: Confession

We continue in our sermon series, “Vacation for the Soul.”

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The last couple of weeks have been incredibly full. Last week, I was grateful to assist in worship and listen to Leslie Coates preach. Leslie is a talented preacher and I am always blessed to hear him deliver the word. That week had been filled with the Great Plains Annual Conference. Even though it was in Wichita, I think I am more tired than if I had traveled to a different city.

This last week was spent catching up, presiding at a funeral, (with two more funerals in our church). Too many meetings and honestly, trying to stay away from social media and the news. The reports of children being separated from their parents who crossed the border looking for safety was more than my heart could take.

Instead of filling my social media posts with pictures or articles or memes (which I do not believe changes one persons mind or makes a difference) I have been uncharacteristically quiet. I would not want my silence in public places to be seen as approval. It is not. I feel like I have no voice to change policies that paint refugees fleeing from horrible violence as criminal, as other, as less than human. I still do not have any words to give voice to my grief and pain over this unjust and inhuman policy. By the end of the week, a bit had changed as now children won’t be taken from their parents, but it is still unclear what that will do to the over 2000 children that are in facilities across this country.

Today in worship I spoke of confession as that spiritual/prayer practice that helps deepen our relationship with God. It reminds me, it reminds us all that God is God and that our traditional prayer of confession says it all:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can find the full worship service here.

Here is my confession: I confess I feel powerless in the midst of the storm of hate and bigotry I see in so many places. I confess I feel voiceless in all the loud clamoring and shouting between the opposite points of view. I confess I do not know how to affect real change in local, state and national governmental policies. I confess I feel like a very small boat in a very big sea filled with giant waves and gale force winds. I confess that it is sometimes easier for me to just do what is in front of me rather than do what needs to be done for justice, for righteousness and for the kingdom of God that is promised in Christ.

Tish Harrison Warren in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary writes: “Repantence is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ.” So I confess and repent and know that is part and parcel of a life in Jesus.

When I was growing up there were two women I read everything I could get my hands on in the library. One was Harriet Tubman and the other was Sojourner Truth. I was in awe of their strength, their willingness to do whatever it took to work against the institution of slavery and later for full rights for women.

Sojourner Truth, particularly had a “way with words.” She worked long and hard for the abolition of slavery. Often she was heckled as an illiterate African American woman. None of this stopped her. In fact, as one story goes, a proslavery Northerner asked her what did she think she would accomplish being a black woman calling for the end of slavery. He said something like, “I don’t care any more of your talk, than I do for the bite of a flea.” “Perhaps not,” she replied, “but the good Lord willing I will keep you scratching.”

So, I guess, I keep writing. I keep speaking. I have not the presence or perhaps even the same amount of strength and faith of Sojourner Truth. I have the same God. I have the same Christ who is still calling me to confess and to do what I can do to work for what is good, what is right and what is just.

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Vacation for the Soul: Prayer

There are thousands of books on prayer. Millions of references and chapters in books as well as printed prayers that have covered thousands of years. And still, I struggle, I believe we all struggle with prayer.

Sometimes my prayers and my time with God seems simple and grace-filled. God feels so near to me. Other times, my prayer life is dry, God seems distant. Or, if I am honest, I am just not very happy with God or just plain angry. I am deeply grateful that God doesn’t seem to mind. Going back to last Sunday’s sermon, God longs to be in a deep relationship with me and with you and is inviting us to come home in both our joys and sorrows, our highs and lows, our angry and our grief.

This was a sermon I fought all week. I don’t know if it didn’t want to be written or if the pain of the world or the juxtaposition of lectionary texts with the celebrity deaths made this particular articulation of the Word more difficult.

Of course the sermon was preached, but preachers everywhere know some sermons are more of struggle to write and preach than others. What is odd to me, is that I never know what week it will hit or which sermon I am going to have to wrestle out of my heart and spirit.

Here is what I do know. It is an incredible privilege to preach the Word each week. I am in awe after all these years, that the fire within the bones (as Ezekiel describes it) still burns. Wrestling with text, struggling with how it relates now in this time and place, and meandering through the highs and lows of life itself is a gift. Prayer is what makes it real, what weaves the pondering and questions and the fear, the bits and dabs of faith together. The whole of today’s worship service can be found here.

My prayer is that this week you might have a vacation for the soul and find the time and space to reconnect to the God who loves you.

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