Category Archives: Pastor’s Blog

Pastor Richenda offers wisdom, love, and insight with her monthly-and-more blog.

What Shoes, Lord?

At our last meeting of the Strategic Board, we spent some time reflecting on what it means to journey with God. We as children of God sometimes walk our path together, sometimes a part. Regardless if we are new to faith, or have been members of the church for a lifetime, we find  we diverge at times, come together at other times, and always take it one step at a time along the way.

The Path Less Traveled by Ben Flickr 2009 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Path Less Traveled by Ben Flickr 2009 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Part of our task that day at the Board meeting was to connect with the shoes we needed to ‘walk the walk’ in our own spiritual lives.  There were a lot of shoes to choose from including dressy shoes,  clown shoes, and roller skates, and even, no shoes at all, just the bare feet God had given us. We wondered, what did we need if we were to truly walk with God?  Once shoes were chosen, answers as to why included ‘Be yourself,’ be ‘ready,’ be ‘bold,’ and ‘no fear.’

The Board was also asked to think about what shoes we needed to all walk together as a church. As we looked at the pairs of shoes again from this new perspective, conversation turned to one of outreach and empathy.

We realized that those we were reaching out to through things like Project Transformation, probably wore different shoes than we did. Those who were from different generations and were genders than we were, they too may wear shoes different than our own.

At the end of the exercise, the board chose several pairs of shoes that reflected what we thought we most needed as a church to walk with God. The top candidates were a pair of blue baby booties and a pair of sneakers with wings. The rational in part for the booties was that to walk with God you have to be willing to be a child, humble and ready to learn. We are also God’s precious children, babies in faith. As rational for the winged shoes was the aspiration element, that in following God our hopes and hearts soar to the heavens. We hope for a world held aloft by the Holy Spirit.

Over the last few weeks this exercise has been available in part for the congregation to interact with in the narthex. A few brave God-walkers contributed their own thoughts and pairs of shoes.  One of my favorites of these was a pair of sneakers with the words “Flexible! Ready for anything.”

IMG_20170602_171017

I imagine that there are followers of Jesus across time and place who well understand these words when it comes to the reality of walking with God. God is a God of power and change, and God works in unexpected ways through unexpected (and unexpecting!) people. ‘Be ready for anything’ is a pretty good way to set out on the path of faith.

Over the last 4 years I have been so blessed to share my walk with God with the beloved people of the Camas church. It has been a blessed and fruitful journey. Our paths converged for a while, and we got to be disciples together. Our paths now diverge, but my feet, my heart, and my soul will remember and treasure this time, and all of you, as my walk continues in a new place.

Camas UMC will share its path with a new pastor, Rev. Don Shipley, as of July 1st.  I pray every blessing and have every hope for your journey to come.  Until then, be well, be faithful, and God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again, 
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.
Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet,
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.
–J.E.Rankin

Blessings be to each of you and all of you,

Pastor Richenda

 

 

May Flowers

Never has the saying ‘April showers bring May flowers’ been so true!

Rainfall records across the Pacific Northwest are being smashed with record precipitation. Rain—with its fresh water to feed the earth and swell the rivers—has long been essential to our natural world. Water as a source of life shows up in Genesis where four great rivers flowed from Eden across the Levant, making life possible for God’s beloved children far and wide. And the waters of the river of Life in Revelation flows through the new Jerusalem feeding again the twelve tribes which are depicted now as fertile healthy trees full of fruit! Water is life.

Raindrops by Babbage Cabbage 2008 Flickr CC BY 2.0
Raindrops by Babbage Cabbage 2008 Flickr CC BY 2.0

Water is life, but water can also be inconvenient and the current unstoppable deluge of rain has, for some, been less of a blessing than we might wish. It is hard to feel grateful for rain when so much of it causes flooding and landslides and disruption to freeway and rail travel. Not to mention I have been wanting to paint my deck for six weeks and all I need to do that is three dry days in a row—which hasn’t happened yet!

Yet, this still being the Easter season, I am determined to resurrect my gratitude for rain. I remember still with wonder the loving and sacred Water Ceremony at the Standing Rock Prayer and Protector Camp, how the clean, herb infused water poured over my palm and how good it tasted. In the spirit of this awe and with gratitude, I turn to the psalms to reflect on the rainy wet blessings of April and stir my heart in my joy for the blooms of May.

You showered down abundant rain, God; when the Earth grew parched and dry, you restored it yourself, and your creatures settled in it. In your goodness, God, you provided for the poor.
Psalm 68:9-10 (CEB) (VOICE)

Open your mouths with thanks! Strum the harp in unending praise to our God, who blankets the heavens with clouds, sends rain to water the thirsty earth, and makes the mountains sprout green grass. God’s open hand feeds all the animals and scatters seed to nestlings when they cry. Psalm 147:7-9 (CEB)(VOICE)

May the people fear you for as long as the sun shines, and as long as the moon rises in the night sky, throughout the generations. May the king be like the refreshing rains, which fall upon fields of freshly mown grass—like showers that cool and nourish the earth.
Psalm 72:5-6 (VOICE)

Wildflowers by Daniel J Towsey 2009 Flickr CC BY 2.0 sm
Wildflowers by Daniel J Towsey 2009 Flickr CC BY 2.0 sm

Those who are devoted to God will flourish like budding date-palm trees; they will grow strong and tall like cedars in Lebanon. Those planted in the house of the Eternal will thrive in the courts of our God. They will bear fruit into old age; even in winter, they will be green and full of sap.
Psalm 92:12-14 (VOICE)

You visit the earth and make it abundant, enriching it greatly by God’s stream, full of water. You are the gentle equalizer: soaking the furrows, smoothing soil’s ridges, Softening sun-baked earth with generous showers, blessing the fruit of the ground. You crown the year with a fruitful harvest; the paths are worn down by carts overflowing and dripping with unstoppable growth.
Psalm 65:9-11 (CEB)(VOICE)

I hope you will take some time this month to reflect on the psalms as they provide words to describe the blessings of this good Earth and its good rain. The rain may at times seem tedious, yet it comes from heaven above to soak the soil, fill the rivers, and bring Life to all creation.

Praise God! For inside and outside, in our homes, our hearts and in our church, the soil is being nourished. Good things are growing. Amen.

Blessings to each and all of you,
Pastor Richenda

Stepping New into the Garden

Flowers in a suitcase by Andre Glechikoff 2013 Flickr CC BY-SA 2
Flowers in a suitcase by Andre Glechikoff 2013 Flickr CC BY-SA 2

I have moved a lot in my life. My parents not only moved towns, they moved continents. When I was a child we moved from England to Canada to the US and before I started high school I had lived Heswall, Ottawa, Toronto, San Diego, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

I remember only small instances of these moves. I remember driving long stretches of road from Ottawa through Maine. I remember running through the arched doorways of the homes for sale we toured in Phoenix, Az., and I remember the home we purchased had a gigantic saguaro cactus in the front! I remember the summers on the patio by the pool in San Diego. And I remember the first time I laid eyes on Los Angeles. It was just a brown smog bubble ahead of us on the freeway, and I remember thinking, ‘We’re going to live in that?’

I have moved less since then. In the 30 years my husband and I have been married, we have moved only twice. And I have lived in beautiful Camas over 20 years, far longer than I have lived anywhere else.

Saguaros by Kevin Schraer Flickr 2014 CC BY-NC 2.0
Saguaros by Kevin Schraer Flickr 2014 CC BY-NC 2.0

I am going to miss it. I will miss the blue spruces that push new needles out towards the sun when it finally decides to shine. I will miss the rhododendrons! When God made rhodies I know they were made especially for this place where bloom after bloom rises with the elevation every year in every color and in every size.

Each move when reflected on during the season of Easter makes me think of the rising and falling cycles of life. Even Jesus lived according to these cycles, being born in his time, growing from an infant to a boy to a man, then claiming his place in the world, and living into his call—even to the cross. He traveled from place to place first as a man and then by the Spirit that the world may know God.

Each move holds such a cycle to for reflection. From the newness of a place, to its realization, to at last the step away to leave it empty. But. As in the case of Eastertime, when Jesus steps from the tomb, he steps not into nothingness but into the new garden. There, he comforts Mary who is weeping and offers her a brand new way of seeing God.

In every change there is this cycle, of letting in, of letting live, of letting go. Thank you for letting me in to your lives, your homes, your dreams, and your hearts. Thank you for our path together. We did the work that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of this good church! And, blessings to you now during this time of letting go. We will both soon step into new gardens, where new things are being born by the Spirit for the hope of all.

At The House Across The Street by KaCey97078 Flickr 2013 CC BY-NC 2.0
At The House Across The Street by KaCey97078 Flickr 2013 CC BY-NC 2.0

I will miss our home here with the creeks and rivers and evergreens. I will miss our darling downtown and the optimism that is infectious here. And I will miss with all my heart our beloved and courageous Camas United Methodist Church. It was my great honor to serve at the Camas church for these almost four years. In that time we have done so much, we have worked in earnest and in great hope paving the path of our Camas future.

In United Methodism, pastoral elders pledge to be itinerant. This means they recognize themselves as just one small part of the many things that God has set in motion all around them. At my ordination I pledged serve where the Bishop and Cabinet were in need of me. And for a while, that place was Camas.

As of July first, I will begin a new appointment serving the people and community of Ashland United Methodist Church in Ashland, Oregon. I have been to see the Ashland church and to meet some of her good folks. I have seen and heard about the real and good ministry they are doing there. What a blessing they are. It will be an honor to serve there.

Over these remaining weeks, as we wrap up our time together and say our goodbyes, I hope you will forgive me for all the ways and times I have come up short. Know that I love and forgive all of you, in turn. I hold only hope and care within my heart for each of you. I do not carry regrets or disappointments. If those exist I will lay them in the tomb for resurrection. I hope you, in turn, will do the same. As we all step new into the garden, I pray every blessing on the future ministry of this good place.

Blessings to each of you and all of you,

Pastor Richenda

Unbind Him: Reflection for Lent

 

Matthew 18:18
Matthew 18:18

There is a story I often seen connected to Lent that I love very much. It hits at the heart of my own Lenten reflection this year. It is the story of Lazarus (John 11). In the story, Lazarus becomes sick and his sisters, in a panic and worried for him, send for their friend Jesus. Jesus was well known by this part of the story and traveling across the Judean countryside healing and teaching. Lazarus’s family knew that Jesus was a holy man with the power to heal their brother.

Though Jesus gets the call to come and help Lazarus, he delays. Jesus seems unconcerned. This lack of concern worries others, doesn’t Jesus know that Lazarus may die?

PrayerMat by VividLime 2011 CC BY 2.0
PrayerMat by VividLime 2011 CC BY 2.0

And that is exactly what happens. Jesus waits to respond to the call for help, and word comes that Lazarus has died. Here is where we learn that for this particular story, Jesus is up to more than simply healing. Jesus says, “Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”

That Lazarus has died seems to be just fine—even the desired outcome—to Jesus. For everybody else, this outcome seems awful. Lazarus was a friend, surely an honorable helper comes when someone is in danger and does not delay. Why, then, did Jesus delay? If he knew this would happen, why didn’t that make Jesus hurry all the more to help?

Jesus seems to saunter back to where Lazarus lives so that by the time he arrives, Lazarus is not only dead, but he’s been dead for a few days. The timing could not be worse. There is no chance now that Lazarus might simply be in a coma or on the edge of death and ready to be resuscitated. He is dead, dead, dead.

Jesus finds himself surrounded by grief and even the accusatory words and actions of Lazarus’s friends and family. Lazarus’s sisters both lay it out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Their neighbors likewise mumble, “Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” It is as if the family doctor has dawdled to play golf and in the delay allowed a dear, longtime patient to ail and pass away. The betrayal and confusion adds to the family’s grief.

Jesus grieves, too, but not for the same reasons. The story tells us “Jesus began to cry,” and that he was “deeply disturbed.” We wonder as we read the story, is he angry with himself for delaying? Does he regret letting the family down? Did he not take Lazarus’s illness seriously enough so that now he mourns Lazarus, like everyone else?

Clues in the text, however, help us see that Jesus does not grieve Lazarus’s death. Jesus instead seems to weep because of the pain of the others—they believe Jesus has allowed Lazarus to die for nothing—or worse, out of lack of care or laziness. They do not understand either Jesus’s power or the work Jesus must demonstrate that must be done. We learn, however, from the words and actions of Jesus that Jesus’s sorrow and frustration are not because he is grieving Lazarus or regretting his delay. He grieves because Lazarus’s family does not believe.

Knot by dcJohn Flickr 2007 CC BY-NC 2.0
Knot by dcJohn Flickr 2007 CC BY-NC 2.0

Jesus says, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?”  And to the mourners gathered around the tomb, Jesus give more orders, he says, “Remove the stone!”

Over the objections and disbelief of the family, the crowd moves the stone to open the tomb. ‘The stench!” Lazarus’s sister cries in fear. But Jesus proceeds. Once the tomb is open, he calls out again, this time to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” In response to what would seem both ludicrous and impossible to those nearby, something amazing happens next.  The dead man comes out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth.

This story takes every opportunity to remind us that Lazarus is dead. Dead. He died days ago. His body was anointed and wrapped for burial and he was laid in the tomb to decompose. He was starting to stink. The story does not mince words, Lazarus was a “dead man.”

The story would simply be another healing story if Lazarus hadn’t died. Because he did, the story takes on the aspect of the amazing. And because Jesus orchestrated the whole thing as a demonstration of the power of faith in God, it is more amazing still.

To read this story in the context of Lent is to seek the center of its power. Jesus will soon be arrested, flogged, and crucified. He will die and be wrapped and anointed and buried in a tomb. The impossible will soon happen to Christ himself, revealing to all what God is doing. By restoring Lazarus to life Jesus gives a foretaste of what will happen on that first Easter. We see the first inferences that the power of God is so unimaginable and that so much more than healing is possible. Much more.

Lazarus arises and stumbles into the daylight wrapped in the bindings of burial. Jesus gives one last instruction, “untie him and let him go.”

Two important things have happened. First, we have been given an event that previews Jesus’s resurrection that will come at Easter. Jesus has demonstrated that in the power of God death does not get the last word about anything. Second, we have been given a lesson that basically throws the saying ‘you can’t take it with you’ into reverse. Apparently, there are some things you actually do take with you. All those bindings are yours to keep.

IMG_20170302_193016

Lazarus arises in a foreshadowing not only of Jesus’s defeat of death at Easter, but of the resurrection of the body in the final days to come. We humans will someday die and be ‘born’ into heaven, resurrected in some new bodily way to live in a world where things are ‘on earth as they are in heaven.’

Lazarus’s state on rising gives us a warning with that preview. Lazarus rises, but his bindings remain intact. They do not fall away when he rolls over, crawls out of the niche, stretches, stands, and walks out of the tomb. His bindings are all still with him, even the cloth over his face.

In looking at Lazarus’s state of resurrection, then, perhaps we can imagine a foretaste of our own.

In reflecting on those bindings, I hear the words of Matthew, “What you bind to on Earth you will be bound to in heaven; What you unbind on Earth you will be freed from in heaven.”

This Lent I invite you to think about what binds you. What will rise with you on that last day? What hurts and wounds, resentments, stubbornnesses, anger have you bound to yourself? What have others used to bind you?

This Lent I invite you to ‘Untie it and let go.’ Put down the stones of sullen resentment, jealousy, and hard-heartedness. Untie judgement, rage, and gossip. Unbind that chip from your shoulder. Remove the blindfold from your face so you can see clearly what is ahead of you. And, I guarantee that if you do, you will see the same things Lazarus saw on his own resurrection day: the daylight, his loved ones, Jesus, and life renewed.

Blessings each and all of you,

Pastor Richenda

From the Inside Out: Holiness as the path of God

I was born into a Christian family and baptized in an Anglican church. I went to church on Sunday, sang during worship, attended Sunday School and was confirmed in the UCC church. But although I learned the basics of the walk of people of faith, I didn’t really walk as a person of faith until my freshman year in college. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I was truly ‘baptized in the Spirit’ and turned my life toward the Christian faith.

John Wesley’s teachings around how we move into a faithful life are fairly in line with my own experiences. Although at 18 I gave myself to the call of Christ, I had absolutely no idea how to proceed after that. I had a vague sense that I needed to be ‘good’—sometimes I even achieved that a little bit. But certainly, I felt the sure, steady, and unrelenting tug within me, that no matter which ways I turned—and I turned a lot—always, tiny step by tiny step, I drew closer to God.

Wesley would say these tiny steps were steps along the path of growing more and more holy—even with the backsliding. And it is certain that with every measure of Grace God poured out, I grew in love. I have a long way to go, still. But already I am so deeply grateful. I could never, ever repay or explain how deeply this walk of mine has mattered to me.

For Wesley, ‘holiness’ is not some goody-two-shoes effort to be holier-than-thou. It is not a ceremonial show of righteousness. For Wesley, holiness is the inward welcome the human offers to the divine. Holiness is what happens when within us we put our willfulness aside and trust our brokenness fully and completely to the transformative work of God.

Who is your neighbor? God calls us to reach out in love to people who are hurting. Shame is deeply wounding and destructive not just to those who suffer but to the whole community. We are the Good News. Our actions demonstrate our faith in a loving God. Photo: Shame by Lee Carson 2011 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Who is your neighbor? God calls us to reach out in love to people who are hurting. Shame is deeply wounding and destructive not just to those who suffer but to the whole community. We are the Good News. Our actions demonstrate our faith in a loving God. Photo: Shame by Lee Carson 2011 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Whatever I do on the outside of me—prayers, service, the work of social justice—these external outcomes come out from within the holiness that God nurtures at the center of who I am. Our ‘righteousness’ (meaning our behaviors that reflect the good love and justice and will of God) come not by simply behaving according to some rule about how we are ‘supposed to’ behave. Our righteousness is a direct outflowing from the holiness within us. Its source is the Spirit within us, not the World outside us.

As a result, the ‘rules’ of righteousness change. Any missionary can give you practical examples of how this works. What is considered right, correct, and fair in one culture, is not necessarily going to be considered right, correct, and fair everywhere. Love expresses itself in the material and human world according to what is loving to God. God’s love is not material at its source but is made into the material of the world when we act on it. A hug becomes an act of comfort because we offer it from a place of love.

In times of deep despair, we respond to each other with actions of love and comfort. In the United States and other places, a hug is a powerful expression of caring and community unity. The ‘right way’ to show love is different in different times and places, but always carry with it the power and presence of God. Photo: Hugs by Brittany Randolph 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In times of deep despair, we respond to each other with actions of love and comfort. In the United States and other places, a hug is a powerful expression of caring and community unity. The ‘right way’ to show love is different in different times and places, but always carry with it the power and presence of God. Photo: Hugs by Brittany Randolph 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of every ‘rule’ that existed in his world because the love within him was fully God’s. Therefore everything he did was ‘right’ even when he broke all the rules. From the perspective of the rule-makers of his time, Jesus was a scandal! The sermons and stories and miraculous actions he undertook were such a surprise to the rule-based religious folks around him that they plotted against him. They plotted to take down the very son of the very God they claimed to worship!

Jesus had a lot to say about the right way to behave, and our Gospels are a remarkable testament to that. Jesus often directly chastised those who tried to use rules and borders to harm instead of heal others. Jesus called out the ‘rulers’ of his day who would not heal on the Sabbath and love their neighbor. He decried those who would not help and welcome strangers. And he explained that the oppressive and harmful laws imposed during his day and used against the poor and others, reflected not the love of God at all, but the hard heartedness of the people who enforced them.

Does that mean there are no rules? Hardly. There are real consequences—harm, shame, brokenness, and destruction—when we do not act according to the loving will of God.

Jesus called us to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus calls us to ‘heal the sick, release the prisoner, welcome the stranger, and love your enemy.’ Jesus decried the violence of nation states. Jesus’s actions demonstrated a radical welcome. He shared the love of God with sinners, tax collectors, assassins, high priests, foreigners, children, women, the spiritually possessed and mentally ill, those disfigured by disease, the beggar, the blind, the elderly, the soldier, the merchant…

Wesley taught us that holiness on the inside is what leads us to do the right thing in the world. Perfect love drives out fear. The apostles taught this and Jesus showed us this with his own life. In Jesus we see how inward holiness becomes the outward expression of faithfulness to God. In Jesus and those that followed him, we see that all that we do arises first from a ‘holiness of heart.’

Silver Thaw

The New Year has arrived bringing with it yet more icy wind and snow. This may be the year of the icicle and the ice storm and so here and now let us pledge to keep each other in our prayers, especially those who have to commute to work or go out in the snow.

icestorm-by-paulthompson-2007-flickr-cc-by-nc-nd-2-0
Ice Storm by Paul Thompson 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I did local history work I learned that the old fashioned word for ‘ice storm’ was ‘silver thaw.’ What a beautiful description! What a perfect way to talk about a storm that wraps layer on layer of glistening silvery ice around all it touches. When it comes to beauty, the flawless crystal sculptures of God’s marvelous creation is unparalleled.

It is enrapturing—but also freezing cold and treacherous. The power of the storm itself leaves us humbled. We may be dazzled, but we dare not move. We stay inside, pressing our faces to the window as God’s good world gets wrapped in crystal. And even as we marvel, we wish very much that it would melt.

Please stay warm this new January of 2017 during what the Farmer’s Almanac has promised will be a very cold winter. Through the cold days, find ways to spread the warmth, love and light of Christ.

To help keep your Spirit warm, here is the story of  John Wesley’s New Year moving from 1738-1739. In 1738, John Wesley returned from a missionary journey to the Americas & had the experience of his heart strangely warmed, an experience he linked with an assurance of salvation.

He and other young clergy from Oxford were meeting regularly at Fetter Lane and they were filled with a hope for their revival movement as it was gaining traction all around them. They were in high spirits and spent New Year’s Eve and early morning in prayer and conversation together.

John Wesley wrote about the events that New Year’s: “About three in the morning, as we were continuing constant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his majesty we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.'”

For Wesley and others, the ecstatic joy was a sign of the great work that God was making possible. The experience was so powerful that some met again just a few days later for more prayer and conversation as they asked questions and worked to discern what the Spirit was calling from them next.

George Whitefield, who was part of the group, wrote of this second meeting: “What we were in doubt about, after prayer, we determined by lot, and everything else was carried on with great love, meekness, and devotion. We continued in fasting and prayer till three o’clock, and then parted, with a full conviction that God was going to do great things among us.”

In 1739 George Whitefield and both John and Charles Wesley turned to the greater parish. Barred from preaching in many Anglican churches, they stepped out into the coal fields and the streets. In so doing they found a parallel energy to that of the early church, for many disciples and apostles had been themselves barred from ‘respectable’ places of worship and as a result had also reached instead into the “highways and hedges” to share their zeal.

May this zeal, then, in 2017, warm and inspire you when the ice and snow bring cold, stormy weather this winter. In prayer and by the inner fire of the Spirit, may your heart be fully, if strangely, warmed.

Blessings to each and all of you,

Pastor Richenda

Photo: Ice Storm by Paul Thompson 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Quotes from John Wesley the Methodist.

Stories for Christmas

storybook-christmas-banner

I learned to read early. I wasn’t athletic, couldn’t see very well, and tended to be fussy. But reading I could do. I loved to read. I loved to be transported to an entirely different world where I could learn or experience something utterly new, or wholly different from myself. I loved the world of A Wrinkle In Time, the wonder of the universe and the fantastic possibilities that seemed—in that book at least—open to a girl protagonist.

Christians have from the beginning had a tradition filled with stories. In our New Testament we begin our journey of Christian faith not with the instructive letters of Paul or Peter but with the wide rolling landscape of Matthew’s birth story of Jesus.

Matthew’s story of Jesus’s birth introduces us to Jesus by folding him into layers of story, after story, after story. Matthew’s is not just the story of one boy. His is a story of Abraham, Isaac, Judah & Tamar, Boaz & Ruth, David & Bathsheba, Jehoshaphat, Amos, Joseph & Mary. Jesus landed in the stable as if he had been tossed onto five thousand folds of blanket, each layer, each fold, a story to cradle him.

Welcome to our earth, little one.

All our babies are born this way. We are all born into stories. Some of us have stories that are better known than others, but God knows each of them in all their folds, tucks, tears and complexities. And God loves us.

No wonder we are a storytelling people.

Something about stories and telling stories must be essential to how we are created. Somehow the structures of our brains need this mix of reality and imagination, facts and creativity, in order to shape our present and potential being. Matthew knows this, too. He weaves story after story together, speaking of Mary out of the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, two people across gender, time, and geographic distance and yet deeply embedded together in this one story of God.

Luke as well begins his Gospel with the story of children born. First Luke promises an “carefully ordered account,” and then we discover that Luke’s idea of accounting is far from charts and quantitative facts, but instead a story, the story of a man in the temple who had a vision of a baby but could not speak of it. This baby, this first baby, was not Jesus at all, yet, but first comes John the Baptist. And so again, in the telling of our Christ child’s birth, we find him wrapped in layer after layer of stories of “accounting.”

Our stories move us and help us figure out who we are. Storytelling helps us process grief, wonder, loss, joy, trauma…all the big things of life. Our stories are shared. We share the events and then we share together in the telling and re-telling, over dinner tables, at the fire, during hunting trips, at the bedside of the dying. We are all a storytelling people.

I learned to read early and I have always love stories. I remember my favorite books, including Billy and Blaze, Nancy Drew, Where the Red Fern Grows, Little Women. I remember my children’s love of stories. My oldest son loved I Can Read  with My Eyes Shut, my daughter loved Go Dog, Go! while my youngest son’s favorite was Rumples and Tumbles Go to the Country.  I read those books with them over and over and over again. I miss it.

Reading was a big part of our family life. Our home was and is still filled with books. But that is not how it is for everyone. There are many families who do not have extra to buy books, move too often to keep them, or simply do not have the time to read. There are many reasons, but those of us with access to books can help.

We chose the theme of Storybook Christmas this year because we believe every child benefits from the stories of their family, homeland, and culture. We believe there is something deeply healing and whole about sitting down with a child to read. It is a path that will enfold them in the layers of all that is possible in their lives.

As we at Camas celebrate this Advent and await Christmas, I encourage you to get into the ‘Storybook Spirit’ with your child, your nieces, nephews, neighbors. Buy them a book! Or, Participate in our book drive. And as you sit at the foot of the tree this Christmas, help them imagine what it might have been like for a tiny baby laid in  a manger so many  years ago.

Blessings to each  and all of you for a  Merry Christmas.

Pastor Richenda

 

Thanksgiving

The holidays (holy days!) are upon us and for many of us the ‘busy’ part of our lives is now compounded by the many obligations, tasks, and errands of the Thanksgiving and Christmas Season.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, but for us in the States, our November turkey leftovers are barely finished and turned into soup before there is another turkey to buy, stuff, cook, carve, serve, and…serve  and serve again.

I think the Canadians are on to something.

Leaf Wreath by AmyG 2008 Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Leaf Wreath by AmyG 2008 Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

The truth is that for many of us, the business of talking turkey for the next two months loads stress and anxiety into our already—for too many of us—overloaded lives.

Last month we celebrated ‘Four Weeks of Gratitude.’ These full October weeks now seem peace-filled by comparison.

Yet, maybe we can think of it this way: Perhaps October was a warm-up, a beginning, a chance to stretch our gratitude legs in order to begin a deeper reflection on thankfulness as we move into November.

Gratitude is a ‘practice.’ At its heart gratitude is not something you are born good at. Think of all the babies you have seen pout! Babies are far too small to understand our grown up ideas of being thankful. At just months old, we tiny humans can be anything but grateful. Our infant emotions lead us to wrinkle our noses, jut out our lower lips, and bawl loudly about naptime and all the other injustices of the world.

As adults, thankfulness can seem just as far away. For instance, I am fully an adult, but I am also a Class A whiner more often than I am proud of.

All the better, then, that October’s celebration of gratitude has given me some practice—and a bit of a running start—at the thankfulness I hope to experience more of in November.

Practice makes almost perfect. Practice give us a chance to fail regularly at something. As we learn what it feels like not to be grateful, so we are also learning the reverse —ah! So that’s what gratitude feels like! Practice helps us recognize where we are. By practicing thankfulness, somehow being thankful begins to feel a little more possible.

I want to experience thankfulness this Thanksgiving. I want to make real time and space for thankfulness to be a regular and practiced part of my holy days. Regardless of all the good reasons I have for pouting, I want to find that place—that holy place—within my soul and just be truly thankful once in a while.

I am sure that if I just keep practicing, I can make that happen. And if I can do it, you can, too.

Have a very blessed Thanksgiving,

Pastor Richenda

 

Gratitude and Godliness

Gratitude means ‘thankful’ but even more than that, the word ‘gratitude’ can be traced back through the languages of French and Latin to discover it shares the same origin as the word ‘Grace.’

pumpkin by stinamarie27 Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0 q
pumpkin by stinamarie27 Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0 q

Is it any wonder, then, that simply closing ones’ eyes and experiencing thankfulness makes us feel good? How lovely it is to think about something we are grateful for—for just thinking about it makes us feel better, calmer, and more at peace.

This inner peacefulness we feel when we experience gratitude is not all in our head (though it may be in our heart!). Scientists who study the effects of gratitude can show in concrete terms how gratefulness helps our wellbeing in many ways. It helps us feel better, sleep better, and perform better in our jobs. Gratitude also improves our relationships, eases depression & pain, and boosts our immune systems.

Is it any wonder then that the words ‘Grace’ and ‘Gratitude’ are related! Gratitude and thankfulness, then, are a way to experience Grace.

For our fall Stewardship Drive our theme is ‘Four Weeks of Gratitude.’ During October, we will be invited to simply be grateful as we reflect with thankfulness on all our many blessings. We have been given so much by God’s Grace! In the rush of daily living, we too often miss the moments when we can simply be glad for what we have and be at peace.

happiness-by-ivan-2015-flickr-cc-by-nc-2-0
Happiness by Ivan 2015 Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Gratitude can be practiced, like prayer. For four weeks, we will invite gratitude into our lives by practicing it. This will be an opportunity not only to deepen our own connection to God’s gifts in our lives, but such practice is also very Methodist–Gratitude helps us move on to Perfection! When we feel peace and gratefulness for something, we are simultaneously experiencing the power of God’s Grace. Every blessing, every hope, every happiness, every Good thing comes from God. Experiencing Grace and practicing Gratitude literally brings us closer to God, closer to Godliness, and closer to a shared peace.

Perfection, wrote Wesley, “is `perfect love.’ (1 John 4:18.) This is the essence of it…rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks. (1 Thess. 5:16.)”  What, I ask you, can we be more grateful for than this?

Blessings,

Pastor Richenda

 

What’s in your backpack?

Each of us carries with us precious and not so precious items. We pack these items into our pockets and pouches and all this paraphernalia often says a lot about who we are.

Wall-eBackpack by Morgan 2009 Flickr CC BY 2.0

If you carry a big diaper bag full of wipes and extra sets of tiny clothes, you might be a mom or dad. If you carry a bus pass, a laptop, a padded backpack, and wear earbuds, you might be a millennial. If you have to have an iphone and keep the ringer turned up loud so as to never miss a call, you might be a grandparent who shares hugs and kisses with their grandkids via facetime. If you have a Starbucks card—or a few—you probably need at least one dose of comfort and caffeine to get you through most days.

What you carry has a lot to do with who you are and what you do every day. There are not a lot of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ things to carry, it just depends on the things you really need—or think you do. Yes, if you carry 25 shades of lipstick at a time, or, if you can’t drive to work Whats in my bag by Do8y 2014 Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0without a complete set of both metric and conventional allen wrenches carefully polished, sorted, and stored in your car, well, someone is going to tease you about that. But mostly the stuff we all carry is pretty similar. And, for most of us, there is often a lot of it.

With school upon us, it is a great opportunity to think about what it is we are carrying around and why. Take a minute to think about what you grab each morning as you head out of the house. Is there a poptart in your hand? Or a triple kale smoothie with wheatberries? Do you, like me, carry phone, keys, laptop. I also carry handfuls of pens, and there is usually at least three books in my possession at any given time, one in my briefcase, a few in my purse, one or two in my hands.

So take a moment to think. What are you taking with you? What do you have stashed in the car?  What is in your ‘rucksack.’

I have been a student much of my life. I went to school, then finished college over a number of years as my children grew. Finally, I went to seminary. I got good at packing school backpacks.

As I got older, carrying extra things became harder. Backpacks are heavy! I sought out lighter and lighter loads. But there were things that I couldn’t compromise on. Internet access. A laptop. A cellphone. A water bottle. A latte. And some sort of healthy ‘brain food’ snack that would keep me from raiding the nearest vending machine in a desperate attempt to find that extra bit of energy I needed to finish the last pages of the paper I had to write that day.

I am pretty sure you could call that snack a ‘comfort object.’ Ditto for the small crosses I often carried. When you don’t get a lot of sleep you need a lot of comforting. Sometimes I would think wistfully of the blanket I carried with me when I was in kindergarten. I remember the little stuffed doggy my son carried in his backpack as a preschooler. Comfort is good for all ages. And for my son when he started school, it was a lot easier to be away from mom and dad when ‘doggy’ was around.

First Day Of School by Brittney Bush Bollay 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

But the best part of every day in Seminary was when I could stash my backpack at the back of the chapel and be without it. I loved to be freed of all the ‘stuff’ I lugged around. The best part of the day was when I just got to be ‘me’ surrounded by friends, music, singing, and the Spirit.

This coming Sunday, September 11th, during worship, we will be blessing backpacks as our kids and some of us grownups head back to school. School starts on September 6th for Camas and 7th for Washougal, so by the time we do our blessing, those backpacks will be full of all the things we need and probably some homework, too. Those packs will probably also include some sort of comfort object, or  a bit of ‘flair,’ as well.

I encourage us all to bring our backpacks, the whole thing. Come and bring the whole kit and caboodle before God.

Bedroom West Wall by Sarah Marriage Flickr 2006 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we prepare for the ‘Blessing of the Backpacks’ this is an opportunity to reflect on the fact that there is no perfect way to prepare for a blessing and no perfect set of supplies for any endeavor. We pick and choose from what we want, what we need, and what we can get. In addition to the practical stuff, we choose and include small items that help us get through our ‘every day’ days—pictures, pins, doggies, buttons, and snacks.

God sees our backpacks in all the truth of what they are—just as God sees us. And God blesses us, as we will bless those packs, exactly as they are.

Come on Sunday with your backpack freshly packed, or already a fresh mess. Come early for breakfast—biscuits and gravy—at 9am to celebrate the kickoff of a new school year. Come knowing that we show up with what we have just the way God made us. Come and be blessed. Come, be loved for who you are.

Pastor Richenda

Photos: First Day Of School by Brittney Bush Bollay 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Bedroom West Wall by Sarah Marriage Flickr 2006 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Wall-eBackpack by Morgan 2009 Flickr CC BY 2.0; Whats in my bag by Do8y 2014 Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0