Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace for the Great Plains UMC

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This last week, the clergy of the newly formed Great Plains annual conference joined together for an Orders and Fellowship meeting.  We had a speaker, some workshops, some worship, and a great deal of fellowship.  I had fun seeing colleagues and friends from all over the two state area.  Unbeknownst to me (perhaps others knew about it), the chairs of each of the orders were making a statement about the following two questions:

1.)  How do we live in the tension of upholding our covenant to follow and uphold the Discipline of the UMC while disagreeing with some positions of the Discipline?

2.)  How do we respond with grace and love, both corporately and personally when a colleague decides she/he can no longer live within that covenant?

Given the recent conversation in the UMC, the elephant in the UMC was named and it seems that we are going to begin to (try) to find unity in the bond of peace in the midst of great conflict.  After each chair of the orders made their statement, Bishop Jones made a statement, too.  It’s found here.  

On Thursday morning, Rev. Dr. Nanette Roberts of Grace UMC, Olathe, preached a powerful sermon, not without it’s provocative statements.  They announced that the video would be made available at some point.  I assume that it will eventually be found here.

So…it seems that we are going to have a conversation, or at least the door was opened for a conversation in the open, about where we as the Great Plains will be standing on pastors upholding the Book of Discipline.  Being a peacemaker and a prophet often don’t go hand in hand.  What will we do?  Who will we become?  How will we show love to each other in the conversation?

 

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Dorm Sweet Dorm: some advice for living well with others

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I don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed, but in the decade between age 18 and age 28, I shared living space with 28 different women.  Here’s the breakdown:  10 roommates (for a minimum of a summer), 13 suitemates, and 5 different apartment-mates. 

Wow!  When I put it that way, it sounds like I don’t play well with others.  While that may be true for some, for me, I spent that decade in dorm rooms and campus apartments while I was in college and seminary and I even worked for 4 years in residence life.  I’m now in campus ministry and have many conversations with students who struggle with roommate challenges.  As the new school year is starting, I offer a little about sharing living space, compromising on climate control, and even about what it means to be a more faithful follower of Jesus. 

Communication is Key

While I initially loved having friends around every corner in the residence halls at my two schools, after 7 years, I finally got out of the dorms and moved into townhouse-style housing.  Our 3-bedroom space ensured the most privacy I had experienced since….ever, due to sharing space with my twin sister for our whole lives!  Upon moving into our townhouse, I was the one who anticipated living there the longest due to my roommates’ graduation, marriage plans, and jobs, so I called a house meeting and we discussed several things:  1.) pet peeves, 2.) mealtime expectations, and 3.) temperature of the house.  I knew that while one of my roommates didn’t like dishes left in the sink, I couldn’t stand someone putting a mostly empty ice cube tray back into the freezer, or using all but the last two squares of toilet paper.  (I mean, how much energy does it take to put on a new roll of TP?)  With our pet peeves discussed, we were able to not let “little” things crowd into our relationship with one another.

I also knew that we would have a kitchen for the first time in quite a while.  We were all looking forward to being able to cook, but with different schedules, we needed to discuss whether we wanted to share cooking responsibilities and eat together, share expenses, plan a weekly meal, or each person do her own thing.  While it may seem like a moot point—just let it happen and do what you want—we agreed that we wanted to share certain expenses, have weekly meals, and keep our hands out of each others’ food unless specifically invited.  With each new roommate, we discussed the expectations, and each time we let our schedules, diets, and habits be our guide.

Finding a happy medium on room temperature was a bigger deal in my experience in dorm life, but when we were suddenly paying utilities, some of us were hyper vigilant about not wanting to pay to air condition the outside, or were more willing to put on a sweatshirt.  Again, everyone has different preferences and the key is to be respectful of one another and be willing to give a little.

 

Don’t miss an opportunity for Christian Community

There is a lot of writing out there on intentional Christian community (Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and their predecessor , Dietrich Bonhoeffer),  and while you may just be looking for someone to share expenses with, there may be an opportunity to take steps toward living out your discipleship by living with others.  Some general commonalities of many intentional Christian communities include sharing expenses (and even possessions), hospitality, engagement with the poor, and a shared, prayerful life.

Perhaps roommates aren’t all that interested in the spirituality of life together, but if they are, it can be an incredible opportunity to cultivate habits that stick with you, even after you no longer live together.  Over the years, I prayed with roommates and suitemates through a posted prayer list, other times it was occasional times in which we gathered for prayer.  One happy school year, I even prayed the bedtime Compline prayers from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours prayer books with my college-aged niece who lived with me.  Having a rhythm of prayer in community with others even for a season shaped my own prayer life, but it also taught me about how others connect with God in prayer, too. 

Being aware of the values of living in community has ripples even when you no longer live in that community.  As I transitioned from living with roommates to being a homeowner and sole resident of my 2-bedroom house, I decided that my spare bedroom would be ready to host guests any time, which it has.  I keep a guest book in my extra bedroom and count at least 30 different guests over the last 8 years.  Learning to live in community while in college and grad school has prepared me for a life of opening my home to old friends, students in need, family members, and visiting ministry groups. 

Living with others, whether in college, summer internships, or even starting off in a new city, can be stressful…and it may be necessary.  Don’t despair:  it can also be a time of rich community, of learning about yourself and others, and you might even be surprised at how much fun it is!  You don’t have to want to be best friends with your roomie, but if you have clear communication and even engage a little spiritual intentionality, you’ll likely learn lessons about how God is working in you and in your community that you wouldn’t otherwise learn, even if you don’t always agree on the thermostat setting.  

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5 ways to Start on the Right Foot in College

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It’s the time of year that college students everywhere are leaving behind their summer jobs, internships, and mom’s cooking for a return to the college campus. I have worked with college students for more than a decade now and I’ve discovered that sometimes classes can get in the way of their social lives.  I can’t say as I blame them…there are a lot of great people with whom to connect and lots of free activities at the beginning of the year of which to take advantage. 

However, the inevitability of homework, tests, and one’s academic career leads me to come up with a little advice.  So…I present, 5 ways to start on the right foot in college.  This is especially appropriate for my small, private college campus, but it’s solid advice for college students everywhere.

 WRONG FOOT:

Assume that things are going to eventually slow down and you’ll be able to get on top of things.

RIGHT FOOT:

 Start getting organized, even when things are crazy.  Put assignments on a master calendar. Set deadlines for yourself. 

 

WRONG FOOT:

Enjoy the first couple of weeks of school before the “real work” starts!  Stay up late and get to know new friends.  Skip the reading—the professors will tell you all the important stuff right before the test anyway.

RIGHT FOOT:

Spend some time connecting or reconnecting with friends, but make sure that you are getting enough sleep to maintain your active life.  Stay current with the reading and make sure that you have the important parts identified when you get to class.

 

WRONG FOOT:

Skip classes and fail to communicate with your professor about your absences.

RIGHT FOOT:

Go to class!  However, there will likely be a time that you have to miss class for an emergency.  Be sure to communicate with your professor IN ADVANCE via email.  Be prepared to do work to make up for your absence.  In some cases there won’t be any work that you can do to make up for it. 

 

WRONG FOOT:

Wait until the last minute to start your first research project…Have the attitude: “I’m sure that the library can help me find my necessary resources the day before it’s due.”

RIGHT FOOT:

We do have an amazing library staff, but they won’t do research for you.  Take advantage of the opportunities that they offer to learn how the library works.  Then, Identify potential topics and do some research a month before a research project is due.  They’ll be able to Inter-Library Loan any resources that would be beneficial to you

 

WRONG FOOT:

Ignore campus resources if you find that you’re struggling a bit in a class.  Things are bound to turn around.

RIGHT FOOT:

Speak up if you find yourself behind, or even just confused about your subject matter.  Ask the professor if there is a tutor for the class.  Find your way to the tutoring center on campus or set regular study hours with a group of classmates.  Also, find out if there is a writing center if you’ve got angst over that first big paper.  Also, don’t be afraid to set up an appointment with your professor during his/her office hours to seek additional help.

 

The outcome of your semester could very well be a result of some of the first steps of this semester.  Don’t waste these first few weeks.  You’ll thank yourself later.

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Back-to-School Blogathon at Faithoncampus.com

For the last several years, Guy Chmieleski, over at Faith on Campus has been organizing a Back-to-School blogathon.  He solicits a dozen campus ministers, writers, thinkers, and pastors to write articles that can get you thinking about ministry with young adults.  He’s asked me to write for his blogathons various times over the years and I wrote one for this year.  It’s called: Taking Care of Yourself–for real this time!  Take a look!

By the way, the Kansas Leadership Center that I allude to can be found here.

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Mission to Zimbabwe, updated

Three weeks ago, I returned from my two week long mission trip to Doma, Zimbabwe.  Here are a few words that describe my experience:  fulfilling, exhausting, fun, beautiful, busy, productive, and cold.  (Any of these words surprise you?)  I am so grateful for the support of so many people, both financially and spiritually, while I was there.  Three Southwestern College students participated on the trip as well as two of my nieces, Maddy and Savannah.  The mission was a powerful experience for all.

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Throughout the trip, various members of our team of 20 people blogged.  If you’re interested, take a look at the reflections here:  Http://ashlandtoafrica.blogspot.com.

I wanted to share a couple of my most significant impressions from this experience with you.  This was neither my first time on an international mission trip nor my first visit to Africa (and I don’t believe that it will be my last, either).   I was prepared for leaving behind the conveniences to which I’m usually accustomed.  Things like…beds, wifi, daily showers, privacy, central heating/air conditioning, endless water usage.   As it turned out, despite being prepared for rather Spartan conditions (I thought that I would be sleeping in a tent in their backyard), I discovered many more comforts than I expected.  They did indeed have wifi, and it and the necessary electricity worked about 90% of the time!  Additionally, I had a bed in which to sleep (and it was even inside the house!) and a shower whenever I wanted.  Of course I knew that the water was coming from a well that provided clean water for about 800 people, so I didn’t linger longer than necessary.  Even though I was prepared for austerity, we experienced more comforts from home than I expected.  And yet, even all of our comforts had an African twist.  Take for example the house that I stayed in.  It was the home of Rory and Judy Ervine.  Rory oversees the farm and its many workers and Judy oversees the clinic.  Back to the house:  it was basically a glorified “mud hut” with thatch roof, complete with birds who nested in the layers of the thatch and woke us in the mornings earlier than our alarms.  But don’t let this description mislead you.  The house was really a piece of art.  It was soundly built, had cement and tile floors, running water and electricity (and windows!).  My favorite feature was the tree (branch) in the living room on which hung metal and wood animals and insects.  The house was absolutely breathtaking and full of life.  It was so much more than meets the eye.  Just like everything else that I experienced.

At first glance, the house of Susan and Kevin Fry was a bustling, packed, busy place of organized chaos.  People were coming and going, leaving things, taking things, talking, working, and coordinating.  We added significantly to the chaos because of our 44 trunks full of donations and supplies for our time in Zimbabwe.   Our stuff seemed to multiply and divide, leaving trails of sewing machine parts, medical supplies, and stuff for kids in every nook and cranny.  But after spending time in this “mission center,” it became clear that emanating from this place were ministries that would educate nearly 200 orphans, feed nearly 800 people (orphans, missionaries, workers and their families, and neighbors), and impact a whole region.  Sure, it may have looked like chaos, but God brings order out of chaos, and people are empowered to go about God’s work through the many items that were carried over from our homes.

One of the framing motivations for our mission to Zimbabwe was James 1:27:  “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”  I first discovered this brief scripture when I was in college.  The impact of it has stuck with me.  Often, we try to complicate things—we debate what “church” should look like, who can do what in worship, how we spend our time and money—but I think that there is something much simpler to keep in mind:  are we caring for the most vulnerable, and are we living our lives in a way that reflects God’s holiness and love in the world.  I don’t want to diminish the importance of guarding the faith and teaching right doctrine.  However, this simple orienting reminder of what is at God’s heart was often curiously looking at me in the face through cropped hair, brown eyes, and hands that were constantly reaching out for a hug.

Thanks for your support!  If you want to look at some pictures, there will likely be some on our Ashland to Africa blog, but there are already some on my Facebook page.  If you think of it, please do keep Eden Children’s Village in your prayers.  You can check out their incredible work here:  www.edenchildrensvillage.org.

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My Birthday Psalm (A reading of Ps. 37)

ImageOn my 29th birthday, I started a practice that I have celebrated each year since on my birthday.  I was struggling with turning 29 and thus, decided to embrace the number just a little bit by reading the Psalm that was associated with my new year.  Wow!  I was awed by Psalm 29 and decided to commit the whole psalm to memory, specifically for this part of it:  “The voice of the Lord is powerful.  The voice of the Lord is majestic…The voice of the Lord strips the forest bare and all in his temple cry, ‘Glory!’”

These words resonated so much in me because I wanted to invite the Lord’s voice into my life in a more significant way.  I was captured by both the destruction (of my false self) and the worship (with my new self) of God.  As the year went along, I really began to be shaped by and find communion with God through those verses in Psalms 29 in a way that I had not before experienced.

This practice of reading the Psalm associated with my new age has become my birthday tradition.  Some years, it has been a lament, others a psalm of joy.  This year, on my 37th birthday, I’ve discovered that Psalm 37 is a Psalm written by David and is an acrostic poem.  In an acrostic poem, the first letter in each successive line, when taken in order, spells out a word, or in the case of the acrostics in Psalms, are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Of course this doesn’t translate into in English in quite the same way, but I love knowing that this Psalm was written with a sense of completeness, order, and artistry.  The particular phrases that caught my eye are verses 3-4 (CEB):

Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness.  Enjoy the Lord, and he will give you what your heart asks.

Many people know verse 4, as it is often quoted as a word of hope and encouragement.  I’ve even heard it criticized for having a sort of prosperity-focused interpretation that some may say only reinforces a sense of self-focused individualism (the motivation for finding delight in God is so that one might have the desires of one’s heart).  However as I’m reading these two verses together (especially on my 37th birthday), I am struck by verse 3 especially:  Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness.  Remember, this is one of the psalms of David.  He knew how important the land was to the people of God.  In fact, he was the quintessential king of the United Monarchy, when Israel was establishing firm borders.  Of course this implies that it was establishing these borders through war, but the promise of the land for which generations had been longing was being realized.  So David said in this psalm to “live in the land” and “farm faithfulness.”

Living in the land has a beautiful imagery to me.  For the Israelites, it meant to put down roots (figuratively and literally), to cultivate the land, to trust God’s provision.  For me, today, it means that I need to “live in the land” of my life now, in Winfield, KS, USA!  It is often tempting to live for a time in the future, in the past, in one’s hopes and dreams, or even in one’s fears.  But for me, living in the land means that I will embrace the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about right here and now.  I will embrace the promised abundance (especially of God’s grace), and the call to bring heaven to earth through living out God’s Kingdom.  I’ll live in the land as one who has inherited God’s blessing and not mourn what the locusts have eaten, or what I think I deserve to be given.  This year, I’m not just going to occupy the space in which I reside, but I’m going to live in it—embrace it, share it, and see it as a blessing.  All my gifts, limitations, freedoms, relationships, positions, and responsibilities—those are the land in which I live, and I will live in it.

As empowering as I found this phrase, I found the next phrase even more empowering.  The second half of the sentence, “Live in the land” includes the admonition to “farm faithfulness.”  I love this phrase in the CEB.  It also is powerful imagery.  Instead of farming animals, or crops, one is told to farm faithfulness.  It’s as if I hear the instruction:  grow your ability to be true, diligent and obedient.  Cultivate habits that enable you to trust God and be faithful in your relationships with God and others.  When the weeds creep in, and they will creep in, do the hard work of love, forgiveness, perseverance, and giving and receiving grace.  I’ve learned that certain practices help me in this pursuit.  Prayer, study, meeting regularly with other Christians who seek the same things, intentionally seeking to engage with those most in need, and worship.  These practices are my tools, my sustenance, and that which helps me to grow in faithfulness.

While the temptation may be strong to can’t skip the farming part for the blessing part in 37:4, “Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks,” we cannot skip over it.  Our hearts must trust that God has our best interest at heart, that what we have is enough, that the suffering that we endure is not going to destroy us.  And this trust is built only through farming faithfulness.  Yes, I pray that that I would enjoy the Lord and that God will give me what my heart asks, but in the days and months ahead, as I work through Psalm 37 and live in the land, my first thought is that I might be found faithful.  And for today, that is enough.

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Finishing the Race: advice to new grads

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At our Baccalaureate service, I have the opportunity to give a brief “charge” to our graduates.  Here is my 2013 version.

Graduates, you may feel like your 4, 4 and a half, or maybe even 5 years of college has been a bit of a marathon.  Maybe you feel like you started running it that freshman year at Builder Camp and you’ve quoted Dory’s awesome advice from Finding Nemo, Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming (I’m not going to sing the whole song).  But here you are, you’ve made it!  You’ve turned in papers, projects, assignments, learned how to keep going, even when your body and your mind would rather take a nap.  You’ve finished the marathon of college and instead of a medal, we give you a diploma. 

Some of our adult learners from our Professional Studies programs may feel like your degree has not been a marathon, but a sprint, as you’ve balanced work, family, and school responsibilities for a couple of years without much time to rest or recover.  You’ve sacrificed sleep, and money, and time with family and friends to finish this race and are relieved and excited that it is over!

Anyone who has reached a goal in their lives knows this feeling that you graduates are experiencing today.  In fact, I think that there are parallels between running the marathon or sprint of an academic degree to running an actual race.  Last Sunday, at just about this time, I had finished running a half-marathon in Oklahoma City.  That’s 13.1 miles for you sane people who have no desire to spend time pounding the pavement!  It was my second such accomplishment, so one would imagine that I would have thought twice about committing to the hours of training and physical discomfort, not to mention the psychological torture that one feels when setting out to do something of this sort. The training seemed a breeze to me as I struggled to finish the race to which I was committed, oh, about mile 9.  And yet, I knew that I had not just gone to Oklahoma City to start a race, but I had gone to finish it. 

Thankfully, that’s what today represents for you graduates today.  You’ve worked hard, put in hours of homework, stepped out on your own, invested good money into your education, probably somewhere around junior year wondered why you had made some of the choices that you had made, and yet, here you are, you’ve finished the race. 

But I hate to tell you, while you’ve finished one race, a different one begins today (well, maybe tomorrow…I’ve give you a couple of days of downtime).  The race that begins upon graduation is the marathon of taking lessons that you’ve learned in college and in life and putting them into practice, both in a career, but also in how you choose to treat people, spend your money, and live out your priorities.  It’s a lesson that allows for incredible successes, but also, may include some difficult steps.  You may be thinking, “Gosh, Ashlee—let us celebrate today!  Don’t depress us by telling us how hard things are!”  Well, my intent is not to depress you, but it is actually to encourage you as you leave this community and enter a new one. 

We read two passages that hopefully should give you a little of the encouragement that I seek to offer you.  In Philippians 3:12-14, the apostle Paul writes from prison perhaps his most uplifting words in all of his writing.  He is writing to the Church at Philippi and telling them that despite the fact that he himself is in chains, he is finishing strong.  He counts the things in his past as successes…his righteousness by the law, his faith in Christ, enduring despite difficulty…but goes on to say that he hasn’t already reached the goal yet…he has to forget what is behind him—both his successes and his difficulties—and press on to finish the race.  

So with that word of encouragement, I offer my first piece of advice:  You’ve learned a huge lesson about how to keep swimming and finish the race.  But remember, just because you’ve finished one race doesn’t mean that you’re done.  You’ve got to set your sights on another goal—finding a job that combines your passions and your talents, making your corner of the world a better place, besting your old campus minister and running a faster half-marathon, gaining healthy habits and setting new goals.  Push yourself in new ways—the motivation of grades has just come to an end.  What are the motivations now for finishing the race?  But press on to not just finish this race, but to finish the ultimate race of life.

We go from some of the most motivational words in scripture to a book that contains some of the most negative ones.  Our passage contains the rare positive words in the book of Lamentations.  Thankfully, Lamentations is only 5 chapters and I guess that if a book is named Lamentations, one shouldn’t expect it to be full of warm fuzzies. The writer of Lamentations offers words that speak to the idea of not letting your present difficulties dictate your perspective.  Graduates, despite that which may seem difficult, remember:  the continuing love of God never comes to an end.  In fact, this is where my second piece of advice comes into play.  The writer of Lamentations in the midst of all of his lament says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning!  Great is your faithfulness.”  Don’t just live in the glow of the blessings of today.  You’re stealing the joy of the blessing of tomorrow.  So today is great!  Wonderful, in fact!  But tomorrow holds promise as well, so long as you are willing to endeavor to find it.

I ran that race last week and the pain and in some ways the accomplishment of it is over.  And so, I lace my shoes up and run again today…and tomorrow…and the next day.  I hope to see you out there on the streets.  And I hope that you’ll tell me, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming!”  I’ll do the same for you until we both remember that great is God’s faithfulness and his mercies are new every morning!  Amen.

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