Oh, Crud, Am I a Spud?

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We are blessed to have many different personalities in our congregation and on our staff at KPUMC, mostly just garden variety Christians. I recently read about the Tater family and am amazed at how much they resemble our church family. Let me introduce them to you:

Dick Tater He’s the self-appointed potentate who feels everything should be done his way.  He never serves or works; he just bosses others.

Emmy Tater She’s the member of the family who follows all the latest fads.  She’s never really discovered her own identity because she’s always busy trying to be like someone else.

Hezy Tater When Hezy is asked to help at church, he knows he should, but he always puts it off.  He’s sure he’ll get around to serving God someday.

Carmen Tater Carmen has an opinion about everything, and you never need to ask what she thinks because she’s the first one to tell you. 

Speck Tater Speck’s favorite phrase is: "I love work; I can watch others do it for hours."  He doesn’t get involved, but he’s a great observer.

Agi Tater When Agi was in school, she got poor marks on "plays well with others."  Agi is continually in conflict with others, and always seems to be involved in strife and division.  No matter what the Pastor or church does, it’s never good enough in Agi’s eyes.

Sweet Tater This is the only cordial and cooperative member of the Tater family.  Sweet Tater is the ideal member of the church.  She has a great attitude, is faithful, committed, supportive, and involved.  She doesn’t dictate, imitate, hesitate, commentate, spectate, or agitate!

Every member of the Tater family is a minister; as Christians we’re all in ministry. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church puts it this way:

“This ministry of all Christians in Christ’s name and spirit is both a gift and a task. The gift is God’s unmerited grace; the task is unstinting service”…. “There is but one ministry in Christ, but there are diverse gifts and evidences of God’s grace in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4-16). The ministry of all Christians is complementary. No ministry is subservient to another. All United Methodists are summoned and sent by Christ to live and work together in mutual interdependence and to be guided by the Spirit into the truth that frees and the love that reconciles.”

As ministers, we’re always in search of facilitators who are looking for rehabilitators to find resuscitators to breathe new life into our church. As Christians, we know where new life originates. Are we a (com)passionate, Christ centered, congregation or just mashed taters, bland and leaving others searching for something more substantial?

Where do you fit as a minister to God’s people? What gifts do you have to share with God’s children? 

I’ll close with excerpts from 2 prayers written by Carol Penner, a Mennoite Pastor and member of the faculty at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, teaching Practical Theology. 

“Help our churches to be communities where we live in peace,

not the peace of differences pushed under the rug,

but the peace of discussion and dialogue and mutual respect.

Shape us into people of prayer, whose first thought in the morning is praise,

whose watchword is kindness, and whose last thought at night is peace,

the deep peace of God.”

 

“Help our congregation to be an incubator of hope,

a blessing in our community, and in our city.

We want to join with you in your kingdom work,

as your hope grows,

pregnant with possibility,

ripe with promise.

In the name of the resurrected Jesus we pray,

Amen”

Other U2 Songs You Should Know

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On Sunday, I had the joy of talking about my favorite song of all time, U2’s 1987 hit, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and how it relates to I John 3:2. But it’s certainly not the only song by the band that touches upon faith matters. In fact, here’s a (too) short list of some other U2 songs that are worth listening to and reflecting upon:

“Gloria”: U2’s second album, “October,” released in 1981, is the band’s most overt evangelical Christian album. The biggest hit on the album was “Gloria,” which is not about a woman named Gloria, but rather a song of praise in Latin. In the chorus, Bono sings, “Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate / Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all / I’d give it to you.”

“40”: The last song on the 1983 album, “War,” is simply Psalm 40 put to music, with the haunting refrain,“How long to sing this song?” This song became the tune that U2 closed most of its concerts with for many years, typically by leaving the stage one at a time until only drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was left, keeping the rhythm. On the live album, “Under a Blood Red Sky,” when Mullen departs, the crowd continues to sing the plaintive refrain until finally fading to silence.

“Drowning Man”: Also appearing on the album, “War,” this song sounds like something the Psalmist would have written. If I were drowning in the ocean, these are the words and tune I’d want to have in my ears: “Hold on, and hold on tightly / Rise up, rise up with wings like eagles / You run, you run / You run and not grow weary.”

“Grace”: This beautiful song is found on 2000’s comeback album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” These lines are priceless: “What once was hurt / What once was friction / What left a mark / No longer stings / Because Grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things.”

“Yahweh”: On 2004’s “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” this closing song acts as a kind of one-word answer to the question posed by the album title. It’s also a prayer to Yahweh (the Hebrew name for God), who is asked to “Take this soul / Stranded in some skin and bones … And make it sing.”

“13 (There Is a Light)”: Last December, U2 released “Songs of Experience,” a kind of companion album to “Songs of Innocence,” which came out in 2014. The band meant to release this album earlier, but Bono had a serious motorcycle accident, as well as another separate health scare. These two events put him in a melancholy mood, reexamining his mortality and relationship with God. He wrote brand-new songs for the album, and the result is a  God-drenched collection of songs. The last song is “13” (literally the 13th track on the album), and contains a hard-earned hope and trust: “There is a light you can’t always see / If there is a world we can’t always be / If there is a dark that we shouldn’t doubt / And there is a light don’t let it go out.” Light is a major theme on the album, and Bono sounds like John the Gospel-writer as he urges the listener to believe that the light will not be overcome by the darkness: “I know the world is dumb / But you don’t have to be / I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves / Are you tough enough to be kind?  Do you know your heart has it’s own mind? / Darkness gathers around the light / Hold on, hold on.”

Truth be told, every single one of U2’s songs are informed by a deep, questioning, challenging faith. In case you’re interested in exploring some of these songs, I’ve put together an Apple playlist here.

 

Love Letters

By Rev. Kay Ash

To be confessional, sometimes the Monday after I share a sermon I wonder “what in the world do we do now?”  Just reading through the news in the morning is enough to make us question whether we will make it to lunchtime, right?  The focused upon scripture from last Sunday came from 1 John 1:1-2:2.  As I mentioned, this information was written to the early church as it began to define the boundaries around what they believed and how they should function as a church.  Unfortunately, the early church was at the point of schism – exactly where our beloved church stands today.  Just a week ago, 2 churches in Mississippi voted to remove themselves from our connected denomination.  Lord, in your mercy, here our prayers.

    So, as we stand at an impasse with two immovable, inflexible points of view, “what in the world do we do now?”  The book I mentioned “The Anatomy of Peace” offers several well-tested suggestions; but, are those strategies rigorous enough to hold up in our contentious world?  Firstly, can we acknowledge that our go-to strategies of discipline and correction have not been successful over time?  Our prison system is more than enough of an example.  So, if we do not spend our energy correcting what is wrong in our world, what do we spend our energy on?

    Although it may seem deeply counter-cultural, spending our time energizing what is right in the world seems to fall in line with our calling, individually and as a church.  Even though doing so might seem foolish or vulnerable in today’s culture of criticism, in truth, all of us are sacred and holy because our essence comes from God.  Therefore, we are called to recognize the holy in everyone before we offer an opinion or viewpoint.  Impossible as it may seem, imagine for a moment that it works.

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    Decades ago, I was a member of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist in New York City.  Located on the Upper West Side at 86th Street, our beautiful but crumbly 100 year old building was and continues to be an oasis of peacefulness in a chaotic location.  I remember one morning in particular when our congregation learned that the roof of a near-by synagogue had caved in during the night.  Thankfully, no one was injured.  However, a vibrant group of our nearby Jewish brothers and sisters suddenly had no home.  It was clear from the very beginning, we knew what to do.  We removed all of the Christian symbols from our sanctuary and placed our Bibles and hymnals on rolling carts.  Then we cleaned and polished, scrubbed and shined our crumbly old worship space.  In the meantime, our Pastor called the Rabbi of B’nai Jeshurun and invited them to share our space.  It is impossible for words to describe the love shared between the two congregations, one Jewish and one Christian.  The roof collapsed in 1991, the synagogue was fully repaired several years later, but the two congregations are still together!  

    With that history in mind, just last year the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist was vandalized.  In specific, someone drew a swastika underneath their “Hate Has No Place Hear” sign which hangs the large wooden doors that lead into the sanctuary.  So, what did they do that next morning when they found a symbol of hate on their building?  They remembered that everyone is sacred and then they offered their opinion - by writing a letter of love and taping it to the door.  Then, they placed a card table outside on the sidewalk with paper and markers.  In no time at all the symbol of hate was covered with love letters from the community.

    As impossible as it may seem in this time of immovable, inflexible viewpoints, God is still at work in us and through us.  Our hope is real.  Don’t believe it?  We’ve got some paper and markers around here, let’s write some love letters!