Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Beginning Experience

Beginning Experience is a great resource that I wish I had used sooner.

After my divorce, I thought that I should be able to work through my loss on my own.  I read some books, did some journalling and thought that should be it - I just need to move on.

Many years later a friend asked me to fill in for her at this retreat that needed a pastor to come pray with people.  It was the Beginning Experience retreat.  I really didn't know much about it, but I came for the Saturday evening time and prayed with people.

It was an awesome experience just praying with these folks.  I could see that they were in the middle of a great transformation - people were really being healed and working through their stuff.  As I was leaving the evening, the leader walked me to my car.  He asked me about myself, and I revealed that I was divorced too.  He invited me to come to the next retreat and I resolved to do so.

On my retreat weekend I came with a very healthy bit of skepticism.  I thought I would just go through it so that I could help lead the next time, I didn't really need to be there, I was ok.  But after our first couple sessions a lot of anger came out of me all of a sudden.  Issues that I had stuffed deep down inside came bursting out.   I was shocked, the other people on the retreat were shocked, but they accepted my feelings and helped me work through them.

At the end of the retreat I felt such relief.  I felt freer and more myself than I had been in a long time. By putting the past to rest, present day issues in my life became clearer.

I'm really grateful for the Beginning Experience program, and I encourage anyone who has gone through a divorce or has been widowed to go on the retreat.  It is a life-changing retreat.

Check out our website for more info on how to get signed up.  Our next retreats are Nov 4-6 and then in March

Monday, October 10, 2016


Wow.  Its hard to believe that the new church is now built, dedicated and a regular part of our everyday lives.  I keep saying it over and over -- WOW.

I'm so grateful to each and every person who gave their time, talents, gifts and service to see this building built.  It truly was all of us together, led and guided by God.   Every minute given, every penny given, has been a blessing.  We could not do it without everyone -- thank you!

Thank you to all of our contractors.  They are used to having one person, or a couple, to answer to and here were 200 owners trying to tell them what to do -- I am grateful for their patience in putting up with us!!

I am so grateful to my family, especially my children, who have borne the cost of this project by giving up time with their mother.   I am sorry for every concert and game missed, bedtime and homework time done on your own because of meetings - Thank you my darlings for understanding and forgiving me.  And I am grateful to have a special friend who helped me laugh and relax these past 6 months - thank you for supporting me and walking with me on this last leg of the journey.

8 years this building has been the focus of our lives, not the only thing we have done, but the main thing we have talked about and worked towards.  The dedication service was so wonderful, and yet so surreal to me.  All this time boiled down to this celebration.  It felt like a wedding and Christmas in one.  I am so grateful to everyone who pitched in to help make it an extra-special day.  Bishop Haller did such a wonderful job and I know that we will often think about wading in the water when we think of where God is leading us next -- thank you Bishop!

And now its all done and over.  We have celebrated and opened the presents and even cleaned up the wrapping paper.  It feels to me a lot like the week after Christmas.  Or the week after the honeymoon.   The focused planning is all done, the celebration over and now we just live with each other.  Now we figure out how to be together in this new space.  Let us enjoy our new normal, rest a bit.   Then lets turn our eyes to where God is leading us and again stick our toes in the water.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Clown Camp Part 2

Its Friday morning at Mooseburger Clown Camp - and I am tired!
Yesterday was a loooooong day with lots more to learn than I could ever absorb in just a week.

It has been a lot of fun and I've met so many kinds of people from all over the USA (and Canada!)   I met a retired lady from Hawaii who has clowned for 30+ years, retired from clowning but still comes to camp because she loves it.  I met a stomach doctor who clowns as a scientist teaching kids about conduction and electricity.  I met clowns who do this full time in the circus, and clowns who do this full-time doing birthday parties and events as well as clowns who just do this as a fun little hobby.  Many, many Shriner's clowns are here - they do parades, their own circus and events purely to raise money for the Shriner's hospital to treat kids.  Amazing generous spirits!!!  

So you may wonder what kinds of things does a clown learn at clown camp?  Well, I've learned:

How to trip, how to run into a door or wall
How to do make up and take it off
How to juggle and make your own juggling balls -- I'm still working on the skill but I know how!
How to use puppets
How to sit on an invisible bench
Storytelling and music, and dancing

Things I haven't had time to learn but people are doing it here:

Slapstick - getting hit by boards or get slapped and not get hurt
Balloons -- Oh you should see the awesome balloon sculptures people are making!
Face painting -- not just simple stuff that teens do at the Amusement Park but professional face painters who work on cruise ships are teaching fancy stuff
Masks and Stilts and so much more!

One of the things that has struck me  (I was discussing this with a teacher who wants to use clowning in her classroom) is how much of the core of clowning applies to everyday life.  How to observe people and interact with them on their level just to get them to smile and laugh.  Thats what being a clown is - sharing a smile and making the world a little happier.

Every morning I have gone to the Catholic chapel service at 7 AM (eek!!)  but it has been refreshing to receive a little sermon each day and pray with the retreat workers and some of the other clowns.  Each day Calvary people have been in my heart and prayers in that little chapel.

One thing that has struck me about it though -- each morning the priests serve communion and I can't receive the elements because I'm not Catholic.  The first day it didn't bother me much, I just prayed on my own.  But today my mouth watered and I literally longed for bread and juice, to taste God's presence.  It made me so proud to be part of a denomination that believes firmly in an open table where all are welcome no matter what.

Hope everyone is having a fabulous week and getting more sleep than I!!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Clown Camp Day 1

Why are you going to clown camp??

I was asking myself the same question as I walked in – why am I doing this??

Well 22 years ago when I went to UNI, the Wesley Foundation UMC Campus ministry I attended for church had a clown troupe.  I loved the make-up, the costumes, the skits, but I was just to self conscious, too timid as an 18 year old to be a clown. 

So this past January I was contemplating the new year and my 40th birthday and the things I haven’t done and what goals I wanted to set for myself and one thing that came to mind was clown camp.  The joy, the laughter, the silliness seemed just what I needed.  So I signed up and paid a little each month – now I’m here!

Its amazing how God knows what you need and provides it so much better than I could ever have hoped.  I arrived at camp and found that the clown camp is held at a Catholic retreat center.  There is a chapel where there is worship every morning and I’ve already stopped in for some personal reflection.  There is a gorgeous view of a lake and the grounds are full of flowers and meditation places to walk too. 

I had no idea in January where I would be today with the struggles with my family and the church building - but God knew and God knew what I would need in the midst of this.

I’m certain that I came to be a clown, but God knew I also needed some retreat time.  And here I’m getting both – some quiet meditation and prayer combined with a lot of laughter and silliness.   And I’m having to reach out and be with people I’ve never met before from all across America – a great learning lab for me on outreach too!

God is great!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It all starts with Connection

Do you remember that first moment you felt connection with your spouse or SO?  The smile, or laugh or brush of a hand that made your heart race and you knew there was something there  - it feels so good to find a connection with someone.  It feels good because this is what God created us for - connection.

When God created the universe, God took the formless void and divided out the light, the land, the water, plants, animals and finally humankind.  Everything was created from the same mush, by the same hand of God.

God said, "Let us make humankind in our image"  As Christians we see this verse as confirmation that from the very beginning God was a Trinity - both diverse and unified at once.  God - Creator, Savior, Sustainer - is one God and yet at the sometime distinct, different and multiple.

God created us in this image - we are distinct and different but yet we are one human family.

What we see around us with all the problems in our world regarding race, religion and politics is our human tendency to see our differences and assign greater importance to our difference than to our sameness.

It is after the fall, after Adam and Eve eat the apple that division and disconnection enters the world.  All of a sudden they hide from God.  They are disconnected from God.   And they blame and shame each other - they are disconnected in their relationship.  Disconnection is a result of sin and fallen-ness.  Our pointing fingers, blaming and shaming one another is a result of sin.  God created us for connection and relationship without blame and shame and sin.

Every white skinned person has (after a certain age) sun spots.  Those dark spots on your skin prove that you have just as much Melanin as the darkest black person from Africa.  Melanin, the chemical that gives our skin our amount of darkness, is all there in white people - it just isn't switched on.  Sun damage switches it on and viola we have dark spots.  So if blacks, browns, and whites all have the same amount of the same chemical in our skin, why is skin color so important to us?

We've been taught.  We have been taught that skin color is important and associated with all kinds of other traits - thick lips, thick noses, laziness, musicality, sports ability, low intelligence -- all these things are stereotypes that have nothing to do with skin color.  They have nothing to do with each other at all.  Except that we have been taught over generations and generations that they go together with a shade of skin.  It is a result of sin, of disconnection, that we look at our differences and assign blame and shame because of them.

God teaches us that we come from the same family, the same Creator, and that our sameness is more important than our differences.  Our differences are meant to help us complement and teach each other different perspectives.  But our sameness is meant to hold us in unity as one family of God.  We are created for connectedness and unity, while complementing each other with our individuality.

Its not easy.  Our political views get us arguing with each other and soon we are dismissing each other.  I struggle with this.  I have a friend that I really like, but some of the things he posts on Facebook make my blood boil.  I was ready to unfriend him this past week, but after a day of cooling down I decided to take another tactic - I decided to go on a prayer campaign, praying for him as often as I can.  I'm putting post-it notes around my house to remind me.  I'm not praying he changes, I'm praying God blesses him and loves him and that he finds peace and joy everyday.

It is not easy, because we live in a fallen world where sin and shame are all around us.  We are taught to look at our differences and assign greater meaning to them.  But we can also unlearn this.  We can learn to look more to our sameness and our unity as people of one family, created by one God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Learning to Love

How do we learn about love?
We learn first from our families, our parents and siblings and the people closest to us.  But then we learn from Disney movies about naïve, helpless princesses and heroic princes and happily ever after which ironically always ends immediately after the wedding.  We learn from soap operas where love is always a game of possession, lies, and traps.  We learn from sitcoms where one parent is the responsible adult and the other is a big kid who makes everyone laugh.  Is it no wonder we struggle to have healthy strong relationships in this modern age of media? 

As people of faith our learning about love comes first from looking at how God loves.  God’s love for us and humanity is the pattern for our loving.  How Jesus loved, caring for the hurting, the poor, the rejected, the sinners and accepting all as precious is our example of love.  And our first place to practice this love is in the church.  How wonderful would it be for parents to bring their kids to church expecting them to learn about love from watching church members?

When Paul writes what is called “The Love Chapter”  1 Corinthians 13, he isn’t writing for a couple of lovers.  He doesn’t write it for romantic love at all.  In fact Paul doesn’t really thing romantic love is all that great – his preference is for Christians to stay single and celibate and focus their lives on God and on service.  (this standard continued for another 1,300 years, Christian churches/pastors weren’t involved  in weddings at all until that time)

Paul writes The Love Chapter for the church.  Specifically a group of house churches, at this time there were no church buildings, who were quarreling with each other comparing and trying to one-up each other all the time.  Paul first writes chapter 12 – how we are all given a gift from the Holy Spirit and we need each other like a body needs both hands and feet, eyes and ears.  We are the body of Jesus and we need each other to work together. 

Then Paul switches on us with Chapter 13 – but even though we may have these gifts, they are nothing without love.  We can have talents and skills but if we don’t use them with love its pointless.  The quality of how we interact with each other matters.  And the first quality should be loving. 
Then Paul fleshes out what loving looks like.    Patience, kindness, not keeping score or wrongs, not flying off the handle, not being self-centered, forgiving, hoping for better, believing, trusting.
It’s a long list.  It’s a list that when I read it at weddings, I feel bad because it’s a tall order for two people mad about each other.  It’s a really tall order when we realize this is how we are supposed to love the people we sit in church with and sometimes kinda like.  It’s a tall order when we are supposed to love the people at the church down the street with this love.  When we are supposed to treat every person we meet with this love.

This week we have seen a lot of un-loving actions in the world.  And what are we supposed to do?  It may seem naïve, silly, pointless, even stupid, but Jesus says we are supposed to meet persecution with love, rejection with love, hurt with love, we are supposed to respond to hate with love. Because God loves us that way.

Its not easy.  Its not supposed to be easy.  But God calls us beyond what our society, our culture and our human guts say (all those things would let us focus on revenge and getting even)  God calls us to a higher standard, Love.  What does look like this week, of all weeks?  Like this:

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Sermon Series: Summer of Love

"All you need is Love" -- The Beatles

Summer 2016 is going down as a summer of bombings, shootings, racism, terrorism and a whole lot of social media fighting.   What is Jesus' answer to all of these problems? 

It may sound naive, simplistic and maybe downright dumb yet the answer Jesus gave us over and over was this:  Love one another.

How can we as individuals and as a church in Arnolds Park, Iowa help change the world?  By striving to love one another all the more.  So this summer lets talk about love.  Platonic love, Agape/Godly love, Philo/brotherly love and yes romantic love as well.  We'll go to all parts of the Bible and talk about many aspects of love and how we can act more loving. And in loving we change the world.