Trapeze Artists: How to Trust our Future

Henri Nouwen was once deeply moved by a performance of the Rodleighs, a troupe of flying trapeze artists.  One of the artists explained to Nouwen that the flyer can do nothing but trust that the catcher will catch him.  The timing is crucial.  If the flyer tries to catch the catcher they could both be seriously hurt.   But if the flyer waits, extends their arms and waits to be caught, his partner can deliver him back to the safety of the platform.

That period of waiting to be caught and land safely is hard.  It’s all about trust.  Nathan Kirkpatrick writes that we trust people who are competent, have our best interest at heart, people of integrity (open and transparent), and reliable in their performance and predictable in their behavior.

This year is a year of high anxiety for many.  It feels like an “in between time,” a season of not quite yet.  Some long for new people to be elected to public office while others yearn for a resolution to the present theological impasse in the United Methodist Church.   Regardless of how much we want it be sooner, General Conference will be held  May 5-15, 2020 and the next general election will be on November 3, 2020.  When you find yourself in that place of anxiety or worry, remember the words of Psalm 46:  “Be still, and know that I am God.”

At Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, the Way Forward Task Force has been listening to both the pain and the hopes for this community of faith.  We hope you will attend one of the three remaining listening sessions:  Sunday, August 25, 12:15, Wednesday, August 28, 6:30 p.m., or Sunday, September 8, 12:15 p.m.

This fall the task force will make a recommendation to the Servant Leadership Board about how we will move forward as a congregation, ready to respond swiftly to the options available to us after General Conference meets in May 2020.

We serve a God who invites us to let go and trust God.  We are invited to take God’s hand and step into the future with confidence and deep, abiding joy.   Let us continue to serve Christ, love one another, and open ourselves to be vessels of grace and love for all of God’s people.

Peace,

Rev. Dr. Cathy Johns

Where Fred Got it Right

Fred Rogers, the star of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, reminded us of the importance of community.  After last week’s shootings in El Paso and Dayton, we struggle to get our bearings.  News of multiple deaths, injured bodies, and countless victims ripped across lives just as tornadoes tore through the northern edge of Dayton just weeks ago.

Mr. Rogers was a bearer of light and hope.  He was interested in building healthy lives and strong communities.  Some of my favorite quotes of Fred Rogers are below:

“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world.  That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors – in our own way, each of us is a giver and a receiver.”

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero.”

“Listening is where love begins:  listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”

Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church is committed to being a loving neighbor to people in need.  Giving ourselves away, we seek to bless those around us.  I celebrate the many ways our faith community extends its love to our neighbors, including:

Summer Jam, August 22, a free concert where we invite our neighbors to come and enjoy music on the church lawn

Free Vacation Bible School each summer, touching more than 300 lives with God’s love

Inter-Faith Hospitality, a ministry where we open our doors to families in need of shelter and food

Stephen Ministers, trained lay-care givers, who listen to people in times of change, grief, and loss

Grief and Loss Seminars, inviting our neighbors to find healing in seasons of pain

I am thankful to call you my neighbor.  Let us hold onto God’s hand and one another’s hands during these troubling times.

Peace,

Pastor Cathy

Love that Descends

He loved her, without a doubt.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher of the 19th Century, wrote of a dilemma faced by a king who loved a humble maiden.  He was a great king and could have whatever he wanted.  Foreign states trembled at his power.  Every statesman feared his wrath.  All would send ambassadors to his wedding.

He realized that if he asked the members of his court about following through on marrying this humble woman that they would respond, “Your majesty is about to confer an honor upon the maiden for which she can never be sufficiently grateful her whole life long!”

The dilemma was simple:  Even if she did want to come with him and join him in marriage, he could never be sure that she loved him for himself.  He wrestled and agonized in his mind.

Finally he decided. If she could not come up to his high station in life and be sure to love him freely, he must descend to hers.  He must descend stripped of all royalty and power, for only then would he know that his beloved loved him freely, as equals.

The king made his choice:  he laid aside all his power and privileges and came to her as her equal, for the sole purpose of winning her love.

Thirty-five years ago this Sunday, July 21, I married my best friend, Doug Johns. Every day I thank God for his love, his laughter, and the joy that he brings to my heart and soul.  Words cannot express my gratitude for his presence in my life and in the life of our family.

May God richly bless you and those whom you love.

Your Servant in Christ,

Pastor Cathy

A Time to Be Silent

In the book of Ecclesiastes we read that there is a time for every purpose under heaven.  Included in the list is: “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”   

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on listening:

“The first duty of love is to listen.” Paul Tillich

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

In February of 2019, General Conference voted to tighten the ban on gay clergy and same-sex unions.  For some, the vote brought a time of relief and joy; for some, the vote brought disappointment and pain.  The global United Methodist Church has wrestled with questions of human sexuality since 1972.  It seems that attempts to bring unity are struggling; divisions seem to grow deeper between United Methodists who hold different biblical and theological perspectives.

Beginning on July 7, the HPC Way Forward Task Force, chaired by Dr. Al Painter, will hold six listening sessions.  Gathered around tables, church members will be invited to listen respectfully to the responses of others without judgment or comment.   People will be asked to share their thoughts and feelings after the vote in February as well as their thoughts regarding the response of Hyde Park Community UMC.  People will also be invited to speak of their hopes for the future.  All views and perspectives are welcomed and valued.  The Task Force will record all comments without identifying the speaker, seeking to understand our congregation as we stand at this intersection.   Laity will lead the gatherings; clergy will participate in the de-brief meetings following each listening session.

Please read the Listening Session article that is included in this issue of News and Happenings for more details.  Dates for the six sessions are listed. You are invited to join the Task Force for these holy conversations.

Thank you, in advance, for having both the courage to speak up and the courage to listen.

Peace,

Pastor Cathy

Why God Made Puppies

On April 1, I was introduced to three puppies (from a litter of 12) that were seized from their owners in court because of neglect.  A rescue organization had pre-approved me and I was invited to come and meet these three puppies at a dog park in Newtown.  As I sat on the floor getting to know them, one of the puppies kept coming over to sit on my lap.  I anticipated adopting a female, but there was something about this male puppy; he seemed very loving and affectionate.   

The woman who was assisting the rescue organization asked me to pose for an “adoption day” photo.  Several minutes later I was driving away with a puppy on my lap.  He looked up at me with his caring brown eyes and seemed so incredibly happy.

I chose to name the puppy “Caspian,” after Prince Caspian of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Prince Caspian was once a refugee who summoned the kings and queens back to Narnia to restore the land and save the people.

As I played with Caspian I noticed something change in me:  I was laughing more.  His love and energy started to bless me in a way that is hard to explain.  A few days later I saw a bumper sticker on a car with a paw print.  It read: “Who rescued who?”

Caspian, the lab/golden mix puppy, may not realize it, but God has been working through him to rescue me.  When I am tempted to take things too seriously, Caspian wags his whole body, not just his tail, and makes me smile!  When life feels “heavy,” managing some of the challenges that come my way, both personally and as a United Methodist pastor in this season of “unknowns,” Caspian’s presence delivers unbridled joy and I find myself laughing out loud.  This bouncing, happy puppy is indeed a conduit for the joy of the Lord!  Nehemiah was right:  “The joy of the Lord is my strength!”

Our God, who created this wonderful world and all creatures within it, wants us to be filled with love, joy, and peace.  May we open ourselves to all the ways that God wants to shower us with blessings!

Peace,

Pastor Cathy

UMC Next: Where are We Heading As United Methodists?

Last week I joined nearly 600 clergy and laity last week in Kansas City at Church of the Resurrection UMC. Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor, and a diverse convening team of 17 individuals (clergy and lay) led us in powerful conversations about shaping an inclusive Methodist church. Table discussions were diverse and rich; they built community and gathered data that was forwarded to the convening team.

The February vote of the General Conference Special Session was a “tipping point” in The United Methodist Church. The passing of the Traditional Plan tightened the ban on gay clergy and imposed harsh penalties upon clergy who officiate at same-sex unions.  After the Traditional Plan was passed thousands of people around the world joined in the conversation.   Hamilton said, “I refuse to treat the LGBTQ community as second class.” Churches and Annual Conferences around the world have stood up in holy resistance, embracing our baptismal vows to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We discussed the need for contextual expressions of resistance.  A form of resistance, for example, that is appropriate in Seattle might not be appropriate in Athens, Georgia.  We also explored creating a new, fully inclusive Methodist Church.

The participants at the UMC Next Conference reached consensus on the following core values:

1.  We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.

2.  We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church that affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.

3.  We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.

4.  We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.

At Hyde Park Community, The HPC Way Forward Task Force will be holding listening sessions this summer and fall.  Please join us in prayer as we seek God’s path for us.     

Peace,

Pastor Cathy

God as a Mother Hen

I remember one of those “light bulb”  moments from seminary.  My father, Don, was a faithful, gentle, loving man who deeply cared for his family.  As a child it was easy for me to have positive images of God as male because my earthly father was such a blessing.

My friend, Penny, had a much different experience growing up.  Her relationship with her family was strained and bordered on abusive.  Images of God as father did not work for her;  if fact, she shared that when God was mentioned as “father” painful memories flooded her soul.  It was then that I understood:  words matter.

Jesus uses a tender, female image to refer to God as he laments over Jerusalem:   “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”  In John’s gospel there are seven “I am” statements that reveal who Jesus is, including “I am the Good Shepherd.”  “I am the Bread of Life.”

As a person committed to preaching the good news of Christ’s love for all people, I invite people to expand their images of God.  Ron DelBene wrote a wonderful book called “The Breath Prayer.”  This simple, short prayer (7 words of less) is constructed based on what one needs.  The steps:

1)  Identify what I need

2)  Choose an action verb that identifies how God can meet my need

3)  Choose an image for God that connects with what you need

Several years ago I was given an appointment to a church which some colleagues thought was “a reach,” saying that I was too young to serve that church at the age of 35.  I wrote a breath prayer, using the formula above, and memorized it.  I took a deep breath and prayed it all day long – in traffic, while I was waiting in line at the grocery store.  I prayed:

“Prince of Peace, cast out my fear.”

Two weeks later I experienced complete peace.  The fear was gone.

May Jesus, the Prince of Peace, richly bless you this weekend.

Joy in our Risen Lord,

Pastor Cathy Johns

The Surprise Inside

My childhood friends and I would hunt for geodes and buckeyes. We would ride our bikes in the neighborhood back to the woods. There were would find all kinds of treasures, but our favorites were buckeyes.
On the outside they are just round, green balls. When you crack them open you discover a beautiful, shiny brown treasure. We would make necklaces out of them and wore them proudly. My friends and their Dad brought home another treasure: geodes. On the outside, they look like boring rocks. When you crack them open with a hammer, you discover beautiful sparkling colors: usually blue, purple, or white.
On Easter morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb with spices. She expected to tuck the spices into the folds of his burial clothes. When she arrived she discover a surprise inside: the tomb was empty. In Matthew’s gospel we read that she saw an angel in white sitting on top the stone. The angel said, “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’”
This Easter do not miss the surprise inside……Allow yourself to walk inside the tomb to discover the treasure:
The tomb is empty. He is not here; He is Risen. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Joy in our Risen Lord,

Pastor Cathy

Unlikely Treasure: The Blue Bowl

Once a friend of my mother noticed an old metal blue bowl that I had on a top shelf.  She liked it so much that she told my mother she would like to purchase it from me.  She thought it was very valuable.  Before that day, I never gave that blue bowl a second thought.  Somehow, after someone thought it was valuable, I looked at it differently.  I still have the bowl.

Two parables of Jesus will be explored this Sunday and invite us to think about what is really important in our lives.  It is so easy to put ourselves in “auto-pilot” zone, going from one thing to the next, simply completely our “to do lists” for the day. Jesus invites us to think about what we are willing to pursue –  what things in our life have us go “all in.”  These are things that we are willing to make sacrifices for, things that are the highest priorities in our lives.

There are times in our lives when we discover what really matters.  Once there may have been fog or confusion, but now crystal clear clarity has come.  When I look at the ministry of Jesus, one thing stands out.  He did not do anything halfway.  Jesus was always “all in.”  He never partially healed someone.  He never partially challenged someone.  His mission was clear:  bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.   His life, ministry, sacrifice, and His death and resurrection usher in a new day….. He points us to the treasure that was worth dying for:  Love.

May God richly bless you this week as you seek what is important.  May God give us strength to follow in the footsteps of Christ:  Loving God.  Loving Neighbor.   

Peace,

Pastor CathyU

Healing in His Hands

As we look at the ministry of Jesus, we learn that Jesus is many things:  Prophet, Teacher, Messiah, and Son of God.  He is also a healer.

When He encounters someone who is sick – struggling with body, mind, or spirit, Jesus responds with compassion to restore the person to health.  Often he will ask the person: “Do you want to be healed?”  At times He steps across barriers to bring healing:

Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:2-12)

Jesus invited a tax collector to become a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13)

Jesus healed a woman who was ritually unclean with a flow of blood  for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34)

After Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, to come and follow Him, there was a dinner.  Jesus sat with his disciples and many “tax collectors and sinners.”  Pharisees criticized Jesus for his choice of dinner companions.  He responded, “Those who are sick have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

Jesus entered Peter’s house and saw that his mother-in-law was ill with a fever.  Jesus responded:  “He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.”   (Matthew 8:14-15)   Adam Hamilton, pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection writes about our call to continue the healing ministry of Jesus:

“Jesus’ own witness of sacrificial love and forgiveness, and his work to heal the sick and care for those in need, represent God’s ways and vision for us.”

Friends, as the Body of Christ, we are the hands and feet of Jesus.  Let us continue to step forward with love, compassion, listening ears, and hands that lift, heal, and restore all who broken.

Peace,

Pastor Cathy Johns