by Cary Youmans
Through the years, I have encountered a few individuals who share my birthday, May 23. The first was David Manweiler in the first grade. Everybody except David and I had to color two birthday cake pictures. We each only colored one, which we exchanged. Another was a young man whose parents hosted me during a college choir tour. I discovered we not only shared the same birthday, but his name was the same as my nephew, Damon. This year, I share a birthday with a different kind of "person." This year, my birthday falls on Pentecost Sunday. This year, I share a birthday with the Church.
As a soon-to-be 60 year old, please allow me to share some insights I've picked up along the way about being the Church . First, to be the Church is to be the Body of Christ. I've adopted "follower of Jesus" as the label I use to describe myself over the last several years. While I don't actively dislike the term "Christian," I find the literal definition "little Christ" too... little. I don't want to be a little Christ. I want to be a big Christ. I want to be a full measure Christ; a "pressed down, shaken together" Christ; an "Eternal Life" Christ. To me, being the Church means to be like Jesus as much as we are able. To be LIKE Jesus, we need to BECOME like Jesus. To become like Jesus, we need to follow Jesus in the path and example He shows us. THAT path begins with our baptism. Just as Jesus was Baptised with water and with the Spirit, so our journey as the Church begins with our baptism with water and with the Spirit. We are launched, as Jesus was, into our new life as the Church with God's proclamation, "This is My beloved [child]." We ARE God's beloved children, filled with God's Own Spirit.
My second insight is about acting like the Church. The evangelical tradition I began my journey in emphasized personal salvation, proselytizing, and "making disciples of all the nations." I was indoctrinated that faithful, Bible-believing Christians are to "seek and save the lost." Barely two decades ago, I was introduced to Jesus' self-described mission:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
After reading this passage from the prophet Isaiah, He then proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He identified Himself as the One on whom God's Spirit "is upon," and anointed to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. As Christ's body in this time and place, these tasks are the Church's mission; OUR mission . We are called to liberate and recover; to proclaim good news and God's favor. It is now up to us to fulfill these scriptures in the world’s hearing.
The third insight (because I was a pastor once and 3 point messages were EXPECTED), is about loving like the Church. We have a new commandment: to love one another as Jesus loves us. I've found that this one can be a bit tricky. Most of the time, Jesus loves us like "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." But other times He loves us like, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" Sometimes we're offered the promise of God's house with many mansions where a place is being prepared for us; other times, we're driven out with a scourge after our normal daily routine has been completely overturned. The tricky part is knowing when to love in which manner. Sometimes, we who are the Church get it wrong, and we whip when we should welcome, or welcome when we should whip. We need to be like Jesus and recognize those instances when "tough love" is the most loving, liberating act we can perform.
My final insight (a "summary" insight, lest I violate the expectation of 3 points), is that, if We the Church become, act, and love as Christ's body in this time and place, maybe, just maybe, we would find ourselves accidentally preparing for our "Bridegroom's" sudden, surprising appearance. I wouldn't have had this insight if not for context provided by the last 4-5 years. I was jaw-drop agog at the profession of some Christians, many of whom I used to study and pray with, that the election of a former, orange-hued, White House occupant would somehow motivate (manipulate?) Jesus' return to earth. In this absurd context, I had to consider, IF We the Church COULD have ANY influence on when Jesus returns (I know, we can't, "...only the Father knows..."), wouldn't a liberated and recovering world/society be more inviting than the horror show created over the last four years? Wouldn't God bid the Only Begotten to return to a world that would welcome and celebrate Jesus' return, rather than reject and execute Jesus all over again?
Therefore, let us be the Church. Let us be Christ's Body in the world in this time and place. Let us be Jesus' heart and hands and voice manifesting God's transforming love upon the earth, upon our culture and society, and upon the relationships we share with every living thing. This Pentecost Sunday, remind yourself, "I AM the Church, and the Church is me." And since WE are the Church together, this May 23 is ALL our birthday! Happy birthday, Church!
By Kristi Grussendorf
Balance. I struggle with balance. As I write, I worry that the three people who read this are going to worry about my mental health. I’m okay…really:)
My mom says, “You think too much, Kristi.” Do I? If that’s the case, why do I forget birthdays and appointments? Why do I seem to notice a building on a corner I’ve driven by hundreds of times only to be told that, yes, it has been there for at least a couple of years…
Right now, I have a headache. Maybe I DO think too much! Not everyone with which I associate, knows that I’m an artist. I hate to stereotype but maybe this is one of the reasons I am not a linear thinker. The traits that make me creative, while challenging at times, have also saved me. Art has saved me. It’s a refuge, a place to escape those bigger balance questions. For example, when do you forgive and when is accountability necessary? Is it true that there cannot be any peace without justice?
Those are questions I am unable to answer but as an artist, let me share with you what being an artist, especially a watercolor painter has taught me:
By Frank Pultar
To preface: I do not know the original author of this story, but it spoke to me, and I thought it was worth sharing.
I was at a Dollar Tree last night and there was a lady and two kids behind me in the LONG line; one was a big kid, one was a toddler. The bigger one had a pack of glow sticks and the baby was screaming for them so the Mom opened the pack and gave him one; which stopped his tears. He walked around with it smiling, but then the bigger boy took it and the baby started screaming again.
Just as the Mom was about to fuss at the older child, he bent the glow sticks and handed it back to the baby. As we walked outside at the same time, the baby noticed that the stick was now glowing and his brother said "I had to break it so you could get the full effect from it."
I almost ran because l could hear God saying to me, "I had to break you to show you why I created you. You had to go through it so you could fulfill your purpose."
That little baby was happy just swinging that "unbroken" glow stick around in the air because he didn't understand what it was created to do, which was "glow".
There are some people who will be content just "being," but some of us have been chosen by God to be "broken". We have to get sick. We have to lose a job. We go through divorce. We have to suffer with the disease of addiction. We have to bury our spouse, parents, best friend, or our child because, in those moments of desperation, God is breaking us, but when the breaking is done, then we will be able to see the reason for which we were created.
So when you see us glowing, just know that we have been broken but healed by His Grace and Mercy!!!”
So, let your inner light shine and you will not only light a path for yourself, but also light a way for others.
It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. - Psalm 18:28
By Cary Youmans
I came across the link below on FaceBook, posted by a former pastoral colleague. The link opens a page with commentary about, and audio links to, J.S. Bach’s Cantata, BWV 28, “Praise God, This Year Is Coming to an End.” I hope you enjoy this sacred music, and that it encourages you to be a blessing in 2021.
Deo soli Gloria.
Cary J. Youmans.
By Dave Wilson
When I was a kid I first learned about some of the great plagues in recorded history; not only the Black Plague, but many others including when smallpox ravaged much of the New World over a period of more than 300 years (A friend of mine has a Native American niece who is quite assimilated and not overtly bitter toward Europeans. She calls Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day “Smallpox Day”). Many poor countries in the world regularly have plagues of fatal diseases today even when there is not a worldwide outbreak of a novel virus. It has always fascinated me that during times when sick people were often boarded into their homes to die and many bodies were not properly disposed of because of justifiable fear of disease, some people took care of large numbers of the sick and dying. Today we see countless examples of this as health care workers and others risk death to care for them. In the past as now, this includes Christian people and those from other religions risking their own lives to provide religious comfort or other supportive care to the sick.
The last major nearly worldwide influenza plague, often called the Spanish Flu (naming a plague for another country has not gone out of style today; that virus almost certainly emerged in the central U.S. and spread to Europe via WWI soldiers) took place 100 years ago. All of the same arguments, politicization, unwillingness to strongly enforce laws and fines or for some to wear masks, insistence by some that the plague was not real and resultant deaths that we see today also took place a century ago. Many people recognized that parades, large gatherings, reopening of bars and theaters, etc. were followed by massive death loss; bodies rotted on the sidewalks in some major cities. It is not my purpose here to inflame these arguments or proclaim which “side is wrong”. We all see enough of that every day. I only point out that not much has changed in 100 years. However, another aspect of plagues in history is that frequently there has been reluctance to avoid large gatherings in church or other religious spaces, and strong desire by people to continue singing in close proximity to each other. Funeral attendance has often been a subject of some controversy as well. For some, large wedding gatherings have now been postponed and the joyous day of marriage has not been celebrated as it would have been for all but a few years in the 25,000 year history of people on this continent. The time for commemoration of the departed and celebrations will come again.
Prince of Peace has dealt with all of these issues regarding life, spirituality, weddings, sickness and death.
The difficult decision to stop indoor church services and group singing in close quarters was made. This included telling the congregation that shares our building - and happens to be at higher risk of death loss because of demographics - that they could not meet there either. No other large events can take place in our building for now. Because we are saving on less expenditure of some parts of our budget this year, we as a church are giving more financial support to community needs organizations, but the need continues to grow. A dedicated group of people worked tirelessly for approximately two months to clean and do other tasks so that Narcotics Anonymous could have two meetings each week in our building. We were told that those meetings represented two of the three weekly NA meetings available in the entire valley. Recently, considering the overwhelming of the health care system and the unprecedented new infection rate of the virus, we stopped hosting the NA meetings. These are by no means clear cut or easy decisions, and for some the “right answer” may not be what has been done; I do not claim to know for sure. As an epidemiologist and a biologist I strongly believe we have done the best for all. Nevertheless, I also want to acknowledge that those who visit or take care of the sick, help with grieving for those who have gone on to the Church Triumphant, and have gone to the fullest measure to support activities such as substance abuse support groups are the true embodiment of the Carpenter from Nazareth. News came today that the single most promising vaccine so far has also shown that any vaccinated individual contracting the coronavirus has not become sick with any serious clinical signs in the trials to this point. As King Charles II is supposed to have said, the plague rouses men and women from their sleep. We are all awake now, and I hope and expect we will stay that way for the rest of our lives after this pandemic ends.
By Barbara Daniels
Give thanks for parents; their wisdom guides us.
Give thanks for children; their growth amazes us.
Give thanks for pets; their faithfulness and enthusiasm bring us joy.
Give thanks for democracy; our vote is counted, and counts.
Give thanks for Pastor Emily; she leads us with a steady hand through turbulent times.
Give thanks for the NA group that meets at Prince of Peace; they comfort and encourage one another.
Give thanks for rain and snow; they are God’s provision for our planet.
Give thanks for masks; they protect our loved ones.
Give thanks for the medical community; they risk all to save lives.
Give thanks for musicians; their talents and sharing uplift us.
Give thanks for technology; it enables us to see more of one another safely.
Give thanks for the food pantry; generosity feeds both recipients and givers.
Give thanks for Chosen Heritage; they praise God and serve our community.
Give thanks for teachers; they educate and inspire.
Give thanks for the free gift of grace through Jesus Christ.
Feel free to come up with your own as you reflect on all you have.
by Sandra Weingart
I do a lot of writing in my job and have, over the years, developed a distinct distaste for one of the most prominent features of academic prose. Way back in the day, somebody decided that it is inappropriate for authors—especially in the scientific disciplines—to have an active voice in the reporting of their experiments, observations, and discussion. In order to preserve an air of neutrality, the passive voice was assumed [doesn’t that sound absurd?]. Things happen, rather than people making them happen. Blecch! It is appropriate sometimes, but I am usually quick to scratch it out when I’m editing for someone else or revising my own work.
We live our baptismal journeys in the active voice as well. A faithful life is not one in which we never feel doubt or have awkward questions; it is a life in which we engage with those questions and carry out God’s commandments despite our doubts. A hopeful life is not one in which we ignore our own troubles or those of the world around us; it is a life where we hold fast to the knowledge that God wants good things for us, is with us in the worst parts of our lives (even if we don’t feel it at the time), and will welcome us home in the end. A loving life is not one in which we always are happy and comfortable with our families, friends, and neighbors, nor they with us; it is a life in which we choose to act for the good of each other because we know that we and they are God’s beloved children.
I often think about that last part in connection with Jesus’ commandment that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If a neutral person observed your behavior, would they conclude that you love yourself? Are you patient, kind, and forgiving to the child of God who is you? Do you nourish your body and your soul with healthful food, appropriate rest, and habits that allow you to participate fully in the world? Or do you condemn yourself for past mistakes and tell yourself that you will always keep making them? Do you cling to old hurts because at least they are familiar and you don’t know with what you might replace them? Do you fight to keep a sense of unworthiness stuffed someplace hidden deep inside?
How would things be different if you could look at every unlovely part of your life and stop fighting yourself over them? Can you say “yes, I did that and it turned out badly” or “I really do care about this situation and it hurts that I can’t change what happened” and then look at yourself through the eyes of God and see that you are loved, not despite who you are, but because of who you are?
I encourage you (and me!) to take these ideas out for a spin. I suspect that all of us would like to be better at loving our neighbors and our world and practice is how we develop our skills. So practice loving yourself as we near the end of the church year and start preparing to open yourself to the Love that comes to us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
By Erik Ingram
The start of a new school year usually seems to find me in a reflective mood. Next
month will mark eight years since I got my first introduction to Logan and Cache Valley, and last
month marked seven years of living here among you. That in and of itself has been a tremendous gift, with all the experiences I’ve been fortunate to have and memories I’ve been able to make. That’s something I look forward to continuing, at least as much as circumstances allow in the days and months ahead!
At the same time, however, I can’t help but find myself also reflecting on the time I’ve
spent here without finishing my degree program, even as others my age and younger move on
and begin their careers. It’s true that some of the factors contributing to that have been beyond
my control, but it’s still something I’ve had trouble reconciling with at different times. As it
turns out, however, the effects of the ongoing pandemic have given me the opportunity to
consider how this may actually have something to do with God’s plans for my life, from a few
different perspectives. I certainly can’t pretend to know exactly what His plans entail, or how
they come to be, but I’ve been finding comfort in thinking with it during these uncertain
In an earthly sense, the time it’s taking me to progress has served as some protection
when it comes to my chosen career path; were I working at an airline by now as many of my
friends and acquaintances are, there’s a very high probability I would be facing the possibility of
a furlough or layoff. In no way am I trying to suggest that that is in God’s plan for those who are
currently in that position, but it is a thought that has stuck with me since all of this began.
To take a deeper dive into what all of this may mean, I’ve found myself reading into the
philosophy of kairos, which gained prominence through the work of Lutheran theologian, Paul
Tillich. In its original Greek interpretation, it refers generally to a moment of opportunity, or the
critical time for an action to take place (compared to chronos, the term for linear, chronological
time), although a specific definition has proven difficult to accurately pin down. Tillich’s use of
the term was influenced by the changes in the world around him and how they related to the
church as a whole; much of his work on the topic took place in the 1920's and ‘30s as Germany
was transitioning toward the Nazi regime, and consequently he sought to use the moment to
inspire citizens to “look beyond the present moment and into the future to see the urgency of
the present” (Elizabeth Earle, “The Rhetoric of Kairos: Paul Tillich’s Reinterpretation”). That is,
significant occurrences in history represent kairos moments that require action on the part of
an individual body (as a person or an organization).
As it relates to my situation, I’ve come to the idea that my extended education process
is a form of kairos moment; while it may feel as though I’m stuck at times and behind some of
my peers, this is also the opportune time to prepare myself as much as I possibly can for what
the future (as I understand it to look like) may hold. On a larger scale, the pandemic and its
wide-ranging effects are serving as a kairos moment for church bodies of all types, from
congregations like ours to the ELCA to the global family of believers as a whole. As has been
well-documented, it’s been a challenge to discern the right actions to take on all of those levels.
As I understand it, however, this is where we are called to look ahead to the future that we
want for ourselves and as a congregation to determine the path to get there. It’s certainly a
process, but if any of the other journeys we have been on are an indication, it’s one where we
can count on God to help lead the way.
I say absolutely none of this with any sort of certainty or authority; ultimately, I’m just
one individual trying to make sense of my situation, and I’m sure many of you are experiencing
the same thing in your own lives. I do believe, however, that God is using this as a time to
interject and open our eyes, hearts, and minds to the plans He has for each of us, and I hope
that these thoughts bring comfort in times of stress and uncertainty such as these.
By Frank Pultar
I just got a year older a few days ago, as we all do, and was trying to remember my earliest birthday. The one I came up with was the time my oldest sister, Mary Ann asked me what kind of cake I would like for my birthday. I just answered a Baked Alaska, and she said OK. When my birthday came around, I had forgotten all about it. I came into the house from being out in the woods thinking that nobody knew what day it was; then after supper my big sister came from the kitchen carrying a cake with candles. When she set it down in front of me, the heat from the candles was melting the meringue, and the Texas summer heat was doing the same to the Baked Alaska. I got tears in my eyes because my big sister kept her promise. She saw my tears, and asked are you crying because the baked Alaska is melting? I said no, it is because you made it.
By Kristi Grussendorf
“Where can you lean into discomfort in your own life for the sake of growth/transformation?” This was the question asked by our Pastor Emily a couple of Zoom Bible study sessions ago. This question already found me in the midst of a lot of “discomfort.” I had written a letter several weeks earlier to my Trump supporting mother and brother. I shared my views on politics and race and how I just didn’t understand how they could justify their continued position in light of their professed values and faith.
I grew up in a conservative, patriarchal household and I learned quickly to stay quiet and not voice any disagreement if I wanted peace. This new truth telling sister/daughter was not well received. I started my letter out with the statement that this was who I was and they had to either accept me as a whole, or not at all. The verdict is still out. I think the hope for many in my family is that I will go back to that comfortable role that I’ve played for so long. It doesn’t feel right to have a relationship where I can’t be my authentic self, or where I have to pretend to be someone else and have belief systems with which I don’t agree. I’m not holding my breath for transformation but God has surprised me in the past, so who knows?!
Relationships are messy, right? The part that scares me the most is, what if I find out that the people I’ve known, loved and maybe even admired are not who I thought they were? If I had
just kept my mouth shut, I would never have known for sure. I guess it’s just gotten to the point that I don’t have the patience or the time for shallow relationships. I want to really know the people in my life; with that comes risk. What if I don’t like what I learn about them? It’s funny how things have switched. When I was younger, I worried a lot about what other people thought of me, and now I’m more fearful about losing respect for others.
“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re stupid than to open it and prove that you are.” This is paraphrased but I have spent a lot of my life reminding myself to heed this adage. I don’t know if it’s the stage of life I’m in, or our current political climate, but I feel like none of us can sit this one out. There is too much at stake. As a church, as white people of privilege, we have become very attached to our comfort. I think we can and are called to be part of God’s plan in the world. It’s definitely NOT comfortable and might even be painful but I’ve decided to accept the challenge!
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.