Show Us What We Yet May Do

I love spring! It was a long, hard winter, with lots of snow, ice, and very cold temperatures. As we officially welcome spring on Saturday, I’d like to share some Iowa photos that remind me of the new life to which God invites us as we share and model the love of Jesus to a world that hungers for kindness, mercy, justice, and peace.

“Day is dying in the west; heaven is touching earth with rest; wait the worship while the night sets the evening lamps alight through all the sky. Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thee! Heaven and earth are praising thee, O Lord most high!” (UM Hymnal, #687.

“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small; all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.” (UM Hymnal, #147)

“Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning; blackbird has spoken like the first bird. Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word. (UM Hymnal, #145)

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.” (UM Hymnal, #400)

“When morning gilds the skies my heart awakening cries: May Jesus Christ be praised! Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair: May Jesus Christ be praised! (UM Hymnal, #185)

“This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, the morning light the lily white, declare their maker’s praise. This is my Father’s world: he shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear him pass, he speaks to me everywhere. (UM Hymnal, #144) (cliff swallow nests)

“God, who stretched the spangled heavens, infinite in time and place,
flung the suns in burning radiance through the silent fields of space,
We your children, in your likeness, share inventive powers with you.
Great Creator, still creating, show us what we yet may do.” (UM Hymnal, #150)

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me. (UM Hymnal, #140)

Why should I feel discouraged; Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely; And long for heaven and home,

When Jesus is my portion, My constant friend is He.
His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.

(The Faith We Sing, #2146)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wild Geese (Mary Oliver, American poet, whose work was inspired by her passion for nature)

The Other Side

Do you like to experience new things? Are you always up for an adventure, or do you like to play it safe, not wanting to risk or put yourself out there? Have you ever attempted to go to “the other side”? One of my favorite scriptures is Mark 4:35-41 (CEB), where Jesus is spending the day teaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are there, and people are responding. Later in the day, Jesus says, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” The words are casual, but the meaning is deep. The other side is often where those who are “other” live – those who are not like us. Jesus invites his disciples to let go of the familiar shores of Capernaum, take a risk, and head toward the foreign shores of the Gerasenes.

Other boats follow along, but soon gale winds arise and waves crash against the boat, threatening to capsize it. The disciples are terrified, but Jesus? He takes a nap! Finally, the frantic disciples wake Jesus, saying “Don’t you care about us?” Jesus says to the waters, “Be still!” and immediately the wind settles down. Then he says to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith?” And they reply, “Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Do you ever travel to the “other side?” Do you ever risk searching for new ways to reach out to others with hope and grace, or would you rather play it safe? One of my favorite quotes is from Andre Gide, a 20th century French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

In this story, Jesus has a fruitful ministry at Capernaum on this side of the shore where he teaches parables, casts out demons, and calls Levi, the tax collector. The disciples experience a transformation and give up their old lives. But now Jesus is asking them to leave the familiar shores and go to the other side and advocate in a place where the least, the last, and the lost live.

For many years, the Iowa Annual Conference has had a presence in the Iowa State Capitol during the four months that the legislature meets. Our Advocacy Team uses the Book of Resolutions, 2016; The Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Book of Resolutions, 2019; and our United Methodist Social Principles, 2016, as the basis for our advocacy work. The Iowa General Assembly (IGA) is the legislative branch of the government of Iowa. We have a part-time legislature consisting of the Iowa Senate (50 members) and the Iowa House of Representatives (100 members).

The Advocacy Team determines the bills upon which we will focus, with our goal to be a voice for those who have no voice. The word “advocate” comes from the Latin advocare, which means “to add a voice.” An advocate is one who pleads the case of or adds a voice of support to a cause or a person, especially those considered “other.” I am deeply grateful to Brian Carter and all other members of the Advocacy Team who add their voices of support for legislation that aligns with our Book of Resolutions and Social Principles. 

Our six legislative priorities for 2021 are the same as for the year 2020, and each one is vitally important. As the Iowa legislators go about their work, we are called to be their conscience by bringing to their attention:

  • The degradation of our environment and how we only have one earth for which we are called to care
  • Gun safety – balancing the right to bear arms with necessary precautions around that right
  • Poverty – especially seen in the light of massive job loss due to COVID-19
  • Human Rights – raising awareness around diversity, inclusivity, and equity and responding with advocacy and justice for all who call Iowa home
  • Criminal Justice Rights and celebrating that Governor Reynolds signed an executive order last year granting convicted felons the right to vote after they complete their sentences
  • Mental Health is especially important right now. Particularly concerning is the cumulative effect of COVID-19 on the mental health of children and adults throughout Iowa.

The process that our Advocates use as they track legislation includes:

  • Set priorities in consultation with the Bishop, Assistant to the Bishop, and Director of Connectional Ministries.
  • Review Iowa Annual Conference Resolutions, General Conference Resolutions, and our Social Principles.
  • Review the list of bills being presented for consideration by legislators.
  • Declare either “For” or “Against” on bills presented if there is a clear resolution stating The United Methodist Church position either from the Iowa Annual Conference or the General Conference.
  • Issue Action Alerts to ask United Methodists to talk to their legislators about bills we have declared on and share our concerns as the bills move toward passage.
  • Attend Iowa Legislative sub-committee and committee meetings in the Senate and the House of Representatives to present our United Methodist view and submit suggestions for changes.
  • Review bills that are passed by the sub-committees and committees and make adjustments to the United Methodist Declarations: For, Against, Undecided.
  • Thank legislators for their time listening to us.
  • Thank United Methodists for contacting their legislators.
  • Make a report to the Bishops Office about the results of our advocacy.

I am deeply grateful to our Advocacy Team for their tireless work during legislative sessions:

Brian Carter: Team Lead – briancar@dwx.com
Rita Carter – ritaac@mchsi.com
Gary Nims – gary.nims@gmail.com
Bobby Jo Paige – bjpdaisy@gmail.com
Robert Mulqueen: Consultant – robert.mulqueen@gmail.com
Deb Streff: UMW Liaison – debstreff@gmail.com

If you would like to sign up to receive Action Alerts, please click here. From the early beginnings of the Wesleyan movement in America, Methodist clergy and laity reached out to all people with the love and grace of Jesus Christ, especially those who were considered “other.” Our Advocacy ministry in the Iowa Annual Conference invites you to travel to the “other side” with us as we continue to advocate for health and wholeness for all, not only here in Iowa but around the world. “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

Be Kind, for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Great Battle

Like schools across the country, the Yale University School of Music has been deeply affected by COVID-19. Figuring out how to perform ensemble and orchestra music or even teach lessons has been an incredible challenge. On May 18, 2020, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker stood in an empty Morse Recital Hall on Commencement Day in front of an online audience and said, “The disappointment among and between us all is palpable. Despair is a place where hopelessness resides. It is the destination for those who have been completely broken by the world and its relentless disappointments. The artist must summon the courage to take a different, unmapped route, and that detour around the destination of despair enables us to push forward.”[i]

Taking that detour around the destination of despair is a challenge for all of us as we continue to adapt and innovate during this Pandemic time. I am reminded of a quote that has been attributed to Plato and also to Philo of Alexandria, but there is no clarity about its origin. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” As we approach the one-year anniversary of our world-wide struggle with the Pandemic, I wonder, “What has COVID-19 taught us?”

I have vivid memories of sending an email to clergy and laity in the Iowa Annual Conference on March 12, 2020, saying, “With fourteen cases of COVID-19 reported by the Iowa Department of Public Health (as of March 11) and an additional 126 being monitored, the Iowa Annual Conference is canceling or postponing all upcoming events for the months of March and April 2020. The evolving situation is being closely monitored and information will be updated frequently.”

Just two days later, the evening of Saturday, March 14, I sent an email to all clergy, advising them to cancel in-house worship for the foreseeable future. I wrote, “As it has become clear, the coronavirus will get worse before it gets better. That has entailed changes in our everyday life and work, as we all seek to avoid exposure and infection with the virus.”

I chuckle at my naivete. Lament is the word that best describes where many of us sit right now. Hopes and dreams have been dashed for many over this past year. We are out of synch, feeling unmoored, untethered, uncertain, and forced to take a different, unmapped route. Will the Pandemic ever end? When will I be able to see my grandchildren? Will the day ever come when we can all gather together for in-person worship without wearing masks or social distancing? Will I be able to hug my church friends again? I have only met one time in-person with our Iowa Annual Conference cabinet since last March, and we were masked and socially distanced across the room. There are so many things we cannot do. But one thing we can do. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. We are literally all in this together.

There has been a lot of talk over these last months about COVID fatigue. We are worn out from one virtual meeting after another. We desperately miss our family and friends whom we cannot see. And many people have lost jobs and are literally living on the edge. The stress of COVID can manifest itself in different ways, including feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration; changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests; difficulty concentrating and making decisions; trouble sleeping; physical reactions such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes; intensification of existing health conditions; and substance abuse.

At the same time, we are beginning to emphasize the importance of COVID-resilience as the Pandemic continues and we wait for the time when everyone will be vaccinated. Resilience is the ability to recover or bounce back from difficult situations and challenges. Resilience is not something we are born with but is a skill that is gained as we learn how to cope with adversity and challenges. How can you and I learn how to be kind and live fully and joyfully in the midst of a pandemic that has turned our entire existence upside down?

Shortly after the Pandemic began, Psychology Today published an article, “Seven Skills of Resilience: Practical Ways to Enhance Well-Being in These Trying Times.” I share them as suggestions for how we can all learn how to be kind in these trying times, for everyone we meet is fighting the same battle.

Principle 1: Cultivate a Belief in Your Ability to Cope

Knowing that there are so many things outside our control, how can we learn how to focus on the resources that we do have? They could include a warm home, a phone, and a computer that provides ready virtual access to family; good neighbors; friends who provide a listening ear; the ability to stay connected with our church by worshipping online and attending virtual Bible studies; eating healthy foods; and getting enough exercise and sleep. Acknowledge that everyone you meet is fighting a great battle and be kind, especially to yourself.

Principle 2: Stay Connected with Sources of Support

Make phone calls. Send emails. Write letters. Do a Zoom Bible study through your church. Maintain contact with your neighbors and friends. Stay in touch with your children and grandchildren.

Principle 3: Talk About What You’re Going Through

Assemble a group of friends who meet regularly. Do a weekly check-in with family members. Talk with your pastor, and if things become more difficult, find a counselor.

Principle 4: Be Helpful to Others

Focusing on others shifts attention away from our own fears and concerns. In our neighborhood, we have connected by taking turns every month providing a soup supper for each other. When we are able to help others, we help ourselves. Pay special attention to those who are the most vulnerable. Reflect God’s love in everything you do.

Principle 5: Activate Positive Emotion

Listen to your favorite music, watch comedy shows that make you laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take on household projects you would not have time to do in normal times. Use some different recipes. Get out and walk in the woods. Take up a new hobby. Save a turtle. Do the things that give you joy.

Principle 6: Cultivate an Attitude of Survivorship

A positive attitude goes a long way. Yes, we have never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. But at the same time as we are not completely in control of our circumstances, neither are we completely helpless, either. Many of us underestimate our own power to adapt and thrive in difficult circumstances. It is possible to summon the courage to take a different, unmapped route, and that detour around the destination of despair enables us to push forward. We can survive this!

Principle 7: Seek Meaning

Stay connected with your faith community. Churches as well as individuals can become resilient when we determine that no one will slip through the cracks. Use phone trees to check in with each other. Offer to help others make use of technology so they can worship online at home. Host a weekly virtual gathering of seniors. And, most of all, remind each other to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Thank you for your continued kindness.

[i] Music at Yale, Fall 2020/Winter 2021, p. 11.