My Uganda Journal 2014, Part II

 

IMG_0251PART II

Along with 26 other pilgrims I went to Uganda July 15-29, 2014. One of them is my good friend, J-Jeff Reither who invited me to join his congregation: The Church of St. Anne’s in Hamel, MN on this very special mission trip.

These were my daily reflections:

19 July – Don’t Get Hurt!

When I left for Uganda Tammie gave me very specific directions.

  1. Have fun.
  2. Don’t get hurt.

Today I got hurt.

19July-EggBag (8)We got started early at work today – up, dressed and ready to go in our dining area to start making “American Breakfast” for all 500 girls at St. Kizito and 250 for the kids at Our Lady of Guadalupe. We made omelet in a bag – two eggs, chopped peppers, diced tomatoes and salt. We put together two assembly lines, with zip lock bag holders, egg crackers, onion and tomato scoopers, salters and mixers (the mixers squished everything together, pushed the air out of the bags and zip locked them shut.)  Another group took the bags outside to a large kettle on a fire to cook.  I had a load of fun as an egg cracker. To make it interesting every once and a while I attempted to crack an egg and get it into the bag one handed. By the end of the assembly time my record was doing this successfully thirty-six times in a row. The sticky floor reflected that effort!

19July-EggBag (43)Once the food was cooked we formed another assembly line outside where we handed out the bags for the girls to take and eat. Unlike the giveaway of two days ago, this effort was calm and orderly.     After it appeared that everyone in line had gone through, several of us walked around looking for those who had yet to eat. I handed one girl a breakfast bag, she responded, “Thanks Mzungu.”

J-Jeff and I got a real kick out of that.

The ditch and my arm (taken the next day)

The ditch and my arm (taken the next day)

It was nearing 11:30, and we still had yet to deliver the breakfast bags to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  As we had done on our walks over to the other school thus far, J-Jeff and I pulled up the rear of our group. While walking and talking, I suddenly slipped on some loose gravel on a downgrade and fell. HARD. I lost my balance and the fall happened so quickly that I could regain balance and then rolled down part of the hill until I hit the ditch. J-Jeff and I laughed hard about it. I got up and we started walking, but I wasn’t walking it off as I hoped.

My right arm hurt. Uh oh.

IMG_0269I tried to participate in the activities planned that afternoon to get ready for the Library dedication tomorrow, but it was getting worse. When I told Sister Salome about it she sent me and one of the students named Malfred, who would accompany me to the dispensary – a small health center at the bottom of the hill behind St. Kizito.  I had fun talking with Malfred and getting to know him, he did a nice job of distracting my thoughts away from my arm. When I got checked out at the dispensary the nurse gave me an ace bandage. I had the feeling that whether I had sprained my elbow or had a compound fracture, the treatment would be the same: an ace bandage. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a little (OK, maybe more than a little) injury prone. Typically I get hurt by taking some unnecessary risk.  What frustrated me about this injury was that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I simply couldn’t walk straight without falling. Urgh.

What were Tammie’s directions again?

  1. Have fun.
  2. Don’t get hurt.

One out of two isn’t that bad. Hmm. Maybe Tammie will grade on a curve.

IMG_4595Sister Cecilia was very concerned for me. She took me aside after dinner and massaged my arm with an herbal ointment. She was able to get my arm to straighten out and I began to feel that maybe I was not as hurt as I thought, but I’m still concerned about what happens the rest of our time here and how I will negotiate this injury. She taught me something.

“Webele”

“Webele” is the Uganda word for “thank you.”  (I want to remember this one!)  Hurting myself has given way to gratitude; which might be a good thing. Throughout the evening when the girls at St. Kizito have seen me, they ask, “G-Geoff, how is your arm?” That’s a long way from, “Thanks Mzungu” I heard this morning. There is a lesson in being cared for by the people you came to help.  Sister Cecilia taught me that too. :)

19 July (evening) Choir Practice

If I didn’t mention it yet, the girls here at St. Kizito have amazing singing voices. Worship is wonderful as 500 voices lift harmonies and rhythms that seem angelic.  I have never heard anything quite like it.

IMG_4558Tonight as others were getting ready for bed J-Jeff and I went out for a walk around the campus and were drawn into the chapel by the singing echoing out the open doors.  We decided to go inside and sit in the back pew of their choir practice. We came to learn that each grade takes a week to be the choir and lead the singing. It was after 10 PM when we left. The time and dedication devoted to this art is truly inspiring.

It reminded me of a non-biblical proverb I heard long ago:

The afterlife is spent in the worship and devotion to God. To believers it is pure heaven.    To unbelievers it is pure hell.

To be with these girls in their voices of faith-filled beauty, I wondered how anyone  be among them and go on unbelieving.

This is a special community.

20 July – Dedication Day

IMG_0277Today is the day of dedicating the new library at Our Lady of Guadalupe. After a nice breakfast and yet another arm massage from Sister Cecilia, we were on our way by 9:00.  J-Jeff and I got to the part of the road where I fell yesterday, we stopped and took a picture (featured above), and shared yet another Worship was at 10:00. Father Woody had worked with Father Cyril the last several days so he could lead mass in Uganda.

Father Cyril translated The homily for him, and work with him on his delivery. He did a wonderful job. I’m hoping to keep a copy of the homily (we had a copy of it in English in order to follow along as he preached it).

IMG_0274Three large tents sat on the hill to accommodate the people that had gathered for the dedication.  Over 1000 guests participated. Two large tents were set up parallel to one another with a large open space in the middle, and the smaller tent was set up on the end of that open space serving as a place for the altar pulpit and chairs behind it. We sat on the side.

 

IMG_0278When it was time for the offering all of us were invited to bring things to carry up to the altar where they would be received by Father Cyril, Father Woody and Father Belden. The offering procession was led by traditional dancers. Two of our number (Kevin and Emily), were invited to dance along with them to the delight of everyone gathered. I carried a pineapple. Other gifts brought forward were live chickens, baskets of food, and a large branch full of bananas!

IMG_0279After worship was over we walked down to the school for ribbon-cutting at the library and photos with each of the classes of students, their parents, and the staff. To our surprise, the plaque that was unveiled on the building named each of the people in our group as participants in the day – what an unexpected and humbling honor!

 

IMG_0293There I was, etched among my fellow pilgrims:

Pastor Geoff Sinibaldo.

The afternoon turned into a great party with dancing singing and a dance off between the young people from each of the classes.

IMG_0295Lunch was my low point of the day as our group was sequestered to another room for a “special meal.”  On Saturday local men had slaughtered a cow that was to be used for the lunch today. I was looking forward to using that time to interact with others, but we were stuck in our own room during that meal. The sisters served us a local delicacy which was chicken, rice, potato and broth, wrapped and sealed in banana leaves and boiled.

IMG_0286After lunch our delegation started off the disco with a lively rendition of the chicken dance. Is this what Ugandans think American dancing is? If so, we were amazing! Even if it is, they were much better than us!

After the dancing got going, we split into two groups as the younger people stayed at the disco and the rest of us went to dedicate a nearby well.  An earlier group had brought a television crew to chronicle the construction of this well in a mixed Catholic/Muslim Village, so our role was not only to give thanks to God for the well (which we did) but also to chronicle it working on video.

IMG_0298The video footage taken would later be sent to the PBS station in La Crosse, WI so they could complete the documentary they had started while in Uganda. It was a small but great celebration. We learned that some people walk over 5 miles to come get freshwater from this well. We also saw the mucky puddle in which they used to get their water.

We take water for granted. We let it run freely from faucets, we take showers for too long, and we throw half-filled bottles of water away.  We forget how precious it is, and how central it is to life.

Maybe we would take baptism and our faith more seriously if we made the connection that without water we would die, and without clean water we would be sick. Yet at the font a promise is given in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that both claims us into new life and makes us clean. Jesus promised,

“I will give you living water.” (John 4).

IMG_0275Today was an exhausting day. Today was a good day.  As I tuck in my mosquito net around my mattress, and rub my aching arm, I hope to fall asleep giving thanks to God for what is happening in this community, and for the opportunity to be here as it happens. Webele.

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My Uganda Journal 2014, Part I

12Along with 26 other pilgrims I went to Uganda July 15-29, 2014. These were my daily reflections:

15 July – Anxiety, Airplanes and Arrival

The last week or so has been interesting: time in both Banff National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana, family camp at Luther Crest Bible Camp in Alexandria, Minnesota and getting ready for my trip to Uganda.

I left Luther Crest Sunday morning in order to make it to church at St. Anne’s in Hamel (our friends J-Jeff and Laura Reither’s parish that is running this trip). J-Jeff is the organizer and primary leader of our trip. He’s also one of my closest friends over the last 20 years, and I am happy to be experiencing this adventure with him.  Another of my closest friends – Brian Scott, went on this trip in 2012; and he was kind enough to drive me to Hamel on his way back home to Red Wing. I’m glad we had that drive in the car together as we talked about what was to come. Once we arrived, Brian stayed at St. Anne’s for worship with me too. When I get back in two weeks, Tammie is going to pick me up at the airport, and we’ll go back to Brian and Larissa’s house to debrief and spend the night.

It is a good thing to have good friends.

7Since Sunday (yesterday), I have been observing the anxiety in the group as twenty-seven of us come together. For some, that anxiety is manifest by the constant talking and chatter about “what if” questions that pervade conversations. For others it is the reverse – a pulling back, coy kind aloofness that gives every appearance of remaining cool under pressure, but quite obviously is anything but calm and collected.  I have noticed fidgety behavior by another set of travelers, constantly checking passports, boarding passes, and other items in carry-on luggage. I am sure I’ve embodied all of these “types” at some point already, but I think the way I have handled the unknowns of this trip so far has been to ignore the details.   I am still not that familiar with the itinerary; perhaps because I didn’t make any of the planning meetings other than hearing about them afterwards from J-Jeff, but I think it is more than that. Another excuse could be the business of an already full schedule this summer, but again – I can more than handle logistics like that. Maybe I wasn’t sure it was really going to happen, or since I knew J-Jeff was leading this trip I didn’t have to worry. Maybe since I’m the only non-Catholic along I am already embracing a role as an outsider to the group. Perhaps some greater reflection will happen as time goes on; but what has helped me get engaged and cast my own anxiety aside is jumping into camp-counselor mode. J-Jeff has assigned us into four small groups, both he and I, along with the two priests: Father Woody Pace and Father Corey Belden will serve as the small group leaders. Once the group was assembled I turned that leadership role on – not taking into account the things or behavior in others that might annoy me normally. My role as a leader on this trip is to keep things positive, make sure people are included or don’t pull back, and yes, familiarize myself with what we are doing, when and why. Once we get there I’m sure I’ll feel better…

IMG_0182…The flights were L-O-N-G !!!  Holy buckets – we traveled for over twenty-six hours to get here. I’m not sure if it is Monday or Tuesday anymore.  I am however, grateful to be at the Ulrika Mother House of the nuns who will be our hosts at the two schools these coming weeks. I am fortunate enough to have a single room – which is great for winding down after those long flights. (I’m tucked under my mosquito net as I write.)

14I helped some of the others get through customs once we landed in Entebbe. Camp counselor mode is actively running! Sister Salome met us once we got through customs. “You are most welcome” she told each of us we were greeted with a warm hug. We each received a sign the girls at St. Kizito made for us, with our names, and that same message, “You are most welcome to Uganda.” I like that phrase.  It is extreme hospitality all the way.  We have arrived. Thanks be to God!

16- July – Mzungus on the loose!

IMG_0190We arrived at Bethany and St. Kizito to a warm welcome of the whole school assembled on the lawn. Traditional dancers escorted us in alongside cheers. We each introduced ourselves to the group.

For years when Jeff and I are together – he is J-Jeff and I am G-Geoff. Our kids only know us by those names. He’s a natural at thanking everyone for their hospitality and sharing our excitement to be among them – which was received well.  After we got settled a little bit – we have two large dormitories – one for men and one for women (the priests will each have their own room!); we took our first walk to the other school where we will both dedicate the library and help build the science lab:  Our Lady of Guadalupe.

IMG_4446Children filled our walk. When one would see us they started shouting, “Mzungu! Mzungu! Mzungu!” which as far as I can tell doesn’t just mean “white person,” it also seems to be  a term of endearment; because often when Mzungus come, they bring treats! We had tootsie rolls and other trinkets to give away. They were received well, but I started to wonder what it means that the “Mzungu” come to bring stuff. We are doing that –       we brought supplies, clothes, candy, money, even ourselves to help this community. It will be an interesting discovery over  the next couple of weeks to see if we are perceived as partners or as saviors. It will also be interesting to see how we perceive ourselves. I hope we can be partners, equals, each contributing for the greater good, rather than getting caught in the classic power dynamics of privilege. I remember Randy Nelson at Luther Seminary telling our group as we travelled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, “leave behind your backpack of privilege.” I hope to do that. I’ll share that with my small group tonight too. We are here to learn as much as teach, receive as much as give, listen as much as we speak,. Perhaps “Mzungu” can mean that too. I hope so.  When the kids come running shouting that term, it does bring a smile to your face.

17 July – Giving and Seeing

IMG_2261Today was a hard day’s work at Our Lady of Guadalupe. The science lab is already outlined by a brick wall at knee height.  The building will be built into a hill so that both the upper and lower floors will walk out at ground level.  At the lower floor side were piles of bricks. Three large rooms will fill the lower level. The center of each room contained a large dirt pile, about my height at its peak, and below the bricks in the corners.

IMG_0220Our job would be to move the bricks to the back of the lower level into the hill’s retaining wall. e lined up in teams and started throwing bricks. The last person on the line stacked them neatly for the bricklayer crew.

Once we completed the brick tossing/restacking task (which took a couple of hours) our next job was to level the dirt in rooms. Garden hoes  were our only tool to complete this task and it was long and arduous in the hot sun.  We stopped around 1:30, and then we played with some of the school kids until we ate at 2:00. As a group we were both hungry and tired.

After lunch came the big giveaway. As part of our luggage each of us brought a large plastic container called a tote, containing items we would donate. Some of them would be used to bring medical supplies to a health clinic later on, the rest contained clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, etc. for the giveaway that would take place that afternoon. Sister Salome told the local villagers that we had brought items to give to them. Already by our lunch break, they began to fill the fill the hillside.

IMG_5948

 

The porch of the new library was divided into several areas – t-shirts for boys, dresses for girls, shoes, toothbrushes and a few other items. The school also runs a program that gives away five-hundred hard-boiled eggs twice a week to the local kids to make sure they are getting protein in their diet. Sister Salome decided there would be an egg station as part of the giveaway as well.  I ran the toothbrush line along with some of our high school boys.

IMG_5943It didn’t take me long to figure out there were not enough items to give to the people there – especially shoes. Soon enough we were out of everything. I watched how people in our group took it emotionally as they too discovered that reality. J-Jeff later told me the giveaway is always the best day and the worst day; since people would have to cope with not having enough. I figured it out soon enough that I realized we could have brought ten times as many things and we still wouldn’t have enough for everybody, which was both sobering and in a weird way – reassuring. We didn’t pack or plan poorly – the needs were just that great. But the people there didn’t seem to mind. They were happy to see us, saying, “webele” (“thank you”) with large smiles.

With my small group we talked about our day and about the abundance we are so used to experiencing. We also talked through the difference between relief and development – the idea that relief is necessary, because the needs were great; but development was needed to change the situation that made relief so necessary. My observation so far is that the people we have encountered in Uganda are hard-working, grateful, and realistic about their expectations. We have much to learn.

Worship was at the end of the day today. We read Jesus’ words, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). How fitting.

18 July – Perspective

IMG_0229We drove two hours today to Kambaala to see a health clinic run by Father Ponce, a classmate of Father Woody’s from seminary.  The people who worked in this health clinic were overwhelmed with gratitude for our visit, and long introductions and speeches were included as part of a day’s worth of “webele.”  At the end of the day a few in our group were a little put off by how over the top it all seemed, but to those we visited, today was a big deal. We were the first Americans to visit. The totes we brought full of supplies will really help their efforts.

IMG_0230One of them said, “just think what we can do once we have electricity!” It wasn’t a sarcastic complaint one of us would have made, but real optimism and confidence that they really were making a difference. This health center serves about 5,500 people. Eight out of ten patients who come for treatment first present symptoms of malaria. Since St. Michael’s participated in the ELCA Malaria Campaign last fall this was of key interest to me.  After lunch we were given a tour of the grounds, including a new pump well at the bottom of the hill that will serve the community with clean water. A little can go a long way.

At the end of our day Father Ponce invited us into his family home, where we met his mother and several of his ten siblings. It was both an honor for us to be there as much as it was for him to host us.

IMG_0241As we processed our outing at the end of the day once back at St. Kizito, we talked about how our trip fit into the other pilgrimages that have taken place since 2001. We tend to think of “our” accomplishments when it comes to ministry and/or mission, but there is always a context of relationships that set us side by side with others.  Perhaps another group will return to Kambala, and maybe that group will not include any of us on that trip. That detail won’t matter; because the visit will be about continuing the relationship of those who first came and saw the work being done, who brought supplies to help support it, who visited the pump well, and who sat in Father Ponce’s house as friends. Continuing those relationships and making new ones is just as (or perhaps even more) important than how many bricks we stack or rooms we complete. I’m remembering that fish story in Luke 5, where the fishermen have to call another boat over to help lift the nets because the load is too heavy for anyone to lift it alone. This is the mission we share – to help lift each other’s nets after we encounter Jesus.

 

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Coming back from Uganda, “Jesus is Abundance,” a sermon on Matt 14:13-21

148/03/2014

Back from Uganda, a sermon on Matt 14:13-21

“Jesus is Abundance”

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, New Canaan, CT

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Gangs, Gaza and the Gospel (An epistle to the churches of the New England Synod, ELCA from Bishop Jim Hazelwood)

Jim.bishopy.
 
This letter was waiting for me in my inbox from Bishop Jim Hazelwood when I returned from Uganda last week. I believe it is written from the perspective of relationship, not the polarized politics that feed our hungry news-cycles. Even still, these issues are complicated, and I ask for your prayers for our ongoing discernment, for all those who suffer at the hands of others, for courage for those who can help, and for those whom we have elected to office, to make sound and good decisions, especially those with whom we disagree. We can make a collective difference if we are willing to try. Peace be with you all.
-PGS

 “GANGS, GAZA AND THE GOSPEL”

(A Letter to the New England Synod from Bishop Jim Hazelwood – July 16, 2014)

 “I am weary with my moaning;  every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.  My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.”(Psalm 6: 6 & 7)

 What other response can one have in these days of suffering?  I listen to the news and think of our brothers and sisters in our companion synods in Palestine and Honduras.

 Today, in Gaza a short-lived cease-fire ended, with death and destruction.  I was just in Israel and the West Bank in November, eating lunch with Munther and Mona.  I worshipped with Palestinian Christians in our Lutheran congregations, walked the streets of Jerusalem, and witnessed the pain, hypocrisy, and injustice of a people longing for peace.

 Yesterday, as a nation, we deported 50 women and children back to Honduras.  The humanitarian crisis on our southern border grows every day, as children flee the gang violence that is consuming Central America.  It is a violence rooted in drugs and profit.  In 2012, I slept in a humble cabin in the mountains in Honduras near the Nicaraguan border, worshipped with Dagoberto, and worked alongside our sisters and brothers to build a church where the Good News of the Prince of Peace is being proclaimed today.

 The New England Synod has a deep relationship with these two parts of the world.  We are in companion relationship with the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land (ELCJHL), and in Honduras, with both Lutherans and Episcopalians.  As we watch, read, and hear the news about two difficult and complex issues in our society – Immigration and the Middle East, I wonder: what can we do?

 These issues are riddled with complexities that are not simply distant, but quite connected to our own lives.  The dynamics of the Middle East involve how we invest our money in foreign and domestic companies, how we buy our food in the grocery store, as well as our attitudes toward those who are a part of the Jewish and Islamic faith traditions.  The issues of immigration are tied to our U.S. drug use culture, our desire for products and services to remain inexpensive, and our misunderstanding of people whose racial make-up may be different than our own.

 The complexity of these parts of the world come home in our congregations when we have debates over how to invest our endowment funds, minister to the parents of drug addicted children, and enjoy our hotel rooms being cleaned for us on Cape Cod.  The world is not far away, it is here.

 What can we do?

-         I invite your congregation to include, in your prayers and petitions, our brothers and sisters in Israel, Palestine and Honduras.  Pray for an end to violence; pray for a fair treatment of all people; pray for understanding, and pray for the reign of God.

-         Educate yourselves on both of these matters, by seeking out thoughtful perspectives that deepen your God-given compassion.  Avoid the extremes in the media who seek to establish a preconceived agenda.

-         Consider including information in your congregation bulletin or newsletter.  Below are some links to resources.

-         Consider joining me in making a financial contribution to support the Augusta Victoria Hospital in West Jerusalem, and the Lutheran Disaster Relief for Unaccompanied Children.

-         Realize that in a global society such as ours, everything is connected to everything.  How we live our lives here in the U.S. impacts the children walking in the streets all over the world.

Let God, whose compassion runs so deep for us that the tears of an ancient Psalm resulted in the action of the extraordinarily generous gift of Jesus, move us to acts of compassion. 

 

-BJH, 7/16/2014

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WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL??? (or… Did you hear the one about the SUV driver and the bicyclist?)

stop.lightI was walking through town on a Sunday afternoon in June. A bicyclist rode down Main Street moving very fast. The SUV driving directly in front of that bicycle slowed down for the red light it was approaching. Just before that red light, the driver of the SUV veered to the right, having seen a difficult to acquire parallel parking spot on the Main Street curb. The bicyclist slammed on his brakes as he was attempting to pass the SUV on the inside between the SUV and the curb making no attempt whatsoever to slow down for the red light. Coming to a halt he yelled at the driver indignantly, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL???” The driver looked sheepish. The bicyclist spoke something else under his breath, then processed to ride through the red light.

The car that had the right of way driving through the intersection slowed down to avoid hitting the bicycle. The indignant bicyclist didn’t see the oncoming car, but a few pedestrians did. We had stopped when we heard the brakes screeching to watch this scene unfold. A father who had been walking with his children the opposite direction I was going shrugged his shoulders. We both exchanged smiles. “And I thought the drivers in New Canaan were bad,” I joked. I found my new friend’s responsive laugh encouraging.

We all have blind spots.

signalSometimes our blind spots come in the form of righteous indignation. “WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL???,” we say. Maybe we say worse (or at least think it). Either way we judge others by our own set of prejudices without taking the time to appreciate another perspective, or we are so convinced we are in the right we won’t even listen to another view. The bicyclist was sure the driver of the SUV cut him off without noticing the red light. Should the driver have signaled? Of course. Should the bicyclist have tried to pass on the inside so he could ride though a red light? No way. As he rode through the red light after the near collision it seemed to me that this bicyclist was better suited for a closed track than the open road. But what about me? I could not be accused of being the world’s best driver. Have I always stopped at every red light or stop sign while on my bike?  (I’d rather not answer that question. Not one of us gets it right 100% of the time.

Laws are in place to protect us from our lapses and call us out when we get it wrong. Good order holds us accountable to each other and the community at large. It is important to internalize how our actions impact others, because laws are ultimately not about just upholding the rules – they are about how we relate to each other that ultimately matters.

The questions for us to consider are: How do we choose to relate to one another in our church community? and, How do we relate to those outside it?   

Are we bicyclists; oblivious to how his actions impact others? 

Are we SUV drivers; so happy to find parking we forget to signal? 

Are we the people on the sidewalk; laughing at the ignorance of others? 

Are we innocent bystanders; happy not tom get involved?

Or can we be somebody else?

The theological category of “law” puts these questions in perspective – reminding us of things done and left undone.  It is here where not getting it right 100% of the time begins to accumulate. But to turn-around (the literal meaning of the word “repent”) points us in another direction, perhaps one we had not noticed before.*

The theological category of “gospel” frees us in Christ to care for others. The good news of Jesus (centered in his life, death, and resurrection) points us away from things done and left undone and instead gives us new vision of working in God’s Kingdom – without guilt or other self-congratulating motivators because Jesus bears all things for us. We help others because they need help, because we are called to serve, and because we do not need to be worried about either reward or retribution. Instead we start to see ourselves in union with Jesus, acting in concert with him for the world – even though we have no business doing so. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, and renewal are not just words we say, but a change in our very perspective on the life we are leading. We become grace-agents, called to live, love and see others in a whole new way.

So what to say about the SUV driver, the bicyclist and us?

Enforcing laws and keeping snarkiness from sidewalk conversations can help to a certain extent. But placing limitations only goes so far. The gospel frees us to see things differently; whether we are walking, riding or driving. When we start to be concerned for each other, rather than seeking a quick laugh, a better parking spot or a quicker way to our destination, new vision toward how we live and treat one another comes to light by the Spirit’s aid. How we begin to think about those moments and start looking at the world differently is located in the question, “With whom am I more concerned: myself or those around me?”  Maybe instead of screaming, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL???” We ask of each other, “How can I help?” Our prayers are better guided by asking God to utilize for the sake of others, rather than getting us there more quickly or finding that elusive parking space.

Who knows what good might come of it? Driving in town might even one day become enjoyable…  :)

Peace,
PGS

___

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

___

* Martin Luther began his famous Ninety-Five Thesis with this opening argument, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent’ (Matt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” (Martin Luther, “The Ninety-Five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences [1571], Thesis 1,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. ed. Timothy F. Lull. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989], 21.)

How might we live a life of repentance?

Posted in Church & Mission, Faith Everyday, Thinking About Church Differently, Traffic Patterns, What We Seek | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Being church doesn’t have to be rocket science, does it?

rocket-scienceSometimes we over-think this church thing. We think that if we built a rocket it would take us from the challenges we face and provide a new landscape. We want new and improved programs, a shiny new curriculum, better participation, deeper generosity and more staff or volunteers to make it all happen. I have come to the conclusion that we are trying to answer the wrong questions – because we’re focused on marketing and not on discipleship.

You recognize a vital healthy church when you participate in one. Even though they come in many forms, sizes, worship styles, locations, budgets, structures, and affiliations – these pieces are all secondary concerns. Are there challenges that continue to lurk in each of these categories? Of course. But these areas are not the foci of what these churches do.

I believe that vital and healthy churches do two things:                                     they love God and are relationship driven.

When a church is passionate about God – worship, learning, governance, and participation all take on a much different flavor than the guilt and drudgery prominent in so many congregations.

When a church is motivated by bringing people together – events, groups, hospitality, invitation, service projects and connecting with people in the neighborhood isn’t about proving the need for your existence or selling your product in a new market. The church should be about relationships, because the church is first and foremost a community of people; not an institution to maintain.

When churches struggle or have less participation than they used to have, people start to panic and look for quick fixes. There are no quick fixes, but that doesn’t mean we have to over-think it.

All we are called to do is love God and love our neighbor.

While I would maintain that God (and not us) should be the subject of our sentences as we connect God’s love for us with what God is doing in and through us to love others, we must ask ourselves, “How is the ministry we share geared toward these two purposes?”  If we can’t answer that question then we need to change our practices. If we can answer that question, then we can work on strengthening what we are doing. “Doing” is where we need to focus.     Too often we talk about what we want to do, but struggle to follow-through. We have to call on each other to “do” something, or we will end up not doing much of anything.

Too often in my view, churches focus on the wrong things. They are held captive by their past rather than utilizing their history to move towards the future. They are geared toward maintaining what they have before they lose it rather than giving themselves away.  They are focused on not upsetting a few people rather than keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus and doing the right thing even when it is most difficult.

Being church doesn’t have to be rocket science.

We don’t have to make it harder than it is.   A few fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers, suspect women and many strays made a pretty good go of it in the first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection because they loved God and brought people together. If God can use that group to change the world, God can use us too.

All it takes is a heart for the Lord and heart for others that call people to action.

We can leave the rockets for another day.

(And if you don’t think my analysis is right, read through Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, and then tell me what you think.)

PGS

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Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

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The Ugandan Martyrs and Living Faith

Uganda.3Karoli.Lwanga.and.martrys

As part of my trip to Uganda (July 14-29, 2014), the group I will be with from St. Anne’s Church in Hamel, MN will be visiting the Basilica dedicated to those who died for their Christian faith in the 1880s.  Christians and Muslims alike were seen as a threat to King Mwanga II’s authority.  As a result missionaries as well as converts were persecuted. Archbishop James Harrington of the Church of England was assassinated on October 29, 1885. Reports vary, but at least forty-five Christians were killed in the coming purge. Twenty-two of them were Roman Catholic Ugandans, who were burned alive in Namugongo on June 3, 1886. As he was being burned, Father Charles (Karoli) Lwanga is attributed as saying, “It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me.”

The Ugandan Martyrs became revered not only by locals but throughout the African continent. They were beatified in 1920 and became saints in the Roman Catholic Church on October 18, 1964. In his homily at their canonization, Pope Paul VI said, “Indeed, do we wish to forget the others who, belonging to the Anglican confession, confronted death in the name of Christ.”  It is encouraging for me to consider the ecumenical heritage and spirit in which these Christians are remembered, especially as a Lutheran pilgrim who is traveling with a Roman Catholic group.  I remember the prayer of Jesus, “Father protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11) and the words from the letter to the Ephesians (4:4-6), “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” We are one in Christ, and it takes all of us walking together by the Spirit’s urging and guidance to remind each other of the promise of unity amidst the world’s violence and divisions. The Basilica of the Ugandan Martyrs in Namugongo was built in their honor. Our group will visit and attend mass there on Sunday, July 27, 2014.

I’m looking forward to my pilgrimage to Uganda, and the living faith among the people I will both travel with and meet while I am there. As I set forth on this journey, I leave you with the question that is the theme of our trip,

“Where is God calling me to serve today?”

Where indeed? Sometimes a trip far away leads to new insights, but most of the time it is simply looking out our window, paying attention to what you, and stepping outside to meet it. Thankfully most of us are not called upon to be martyrs, but all of us are called to serve. Let us do so remembering the water the claims us in Jesus name, wherever it is we are.

Take care. Be well. Serve boldly.

PGS

Helpful links about the Ugandan Martyrs:

http://www.ugandamartyrsshrine.org.ug/details.php?id=1

http://www.buganda.com/martyrs.htm

Posted in Church & Mission, Church by Perception, Faith Everyday, Insights by Others, Thinking About Church Differently, What We Seek | Tagged , , | Leave a comment