Monthly Archives: June 2019

Musing: Be the Church

UCC Sign at West Branch Friends Church

UCC Banner in front of West Branch Friends Church, West Branch, Iowa.  6/28/19.

As an ordained UCC pastor I was surprised – and pleased – to see this United Church of Christ banner in front of the West Branch Friends (Quaker) Church!

A similar banner – same words but printed on a rainbow background – was hanging in the Fellowship Hall at Congregational UCC, Newton, last Sunday.   At least I think it was a “Be the Church” rainbow banner.  As the substitute preacher for the day, I noticed there was a rainbow banner with familiar words.

What I remember clearly was a comment over coffee:

“After I saw the pastor from Ames UCC on TV, I wondered if we are too chicken to hang our banner outside.”

Ames UCC had a rainbow banner with the words “God Is Still Speaking” hanging outside, above the front door of the church.  It was torn down and burned in the early morning hours of June 11.  Though a bit shaken, the congregation has hung a new pride banner with the words “God is love.”

Both the Newton and Ames congregations have voted to be “Open and Affirming” (see below) congregations in the United Church of Christ.  So a pride banner is not surprising.

But it is a risk.  Not everyone agrees that our LGBTQ family, friends, neighbors, and church members should be fully accepted and respected as they are – beautiful, gifted,  valued children of God.

It’s hard, this business of following Jesus.  Of loving God and loving neighbor.  Of welcoming all – “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.”  Of not just going to church on Sunday but truly BEING the church all week long.

Whatever your faith,
however you understand God,
wherever you are on life’s journey,
I encourage you to
protect the environment,
care for the poor,
forgive often,
reject racism,
fight speak up for the powerless,
share resources,
embrace diversity,
and enjoy life!

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My mousepad.

 


“Open and Affirming” (ONA) is a movement of more than 1,500 churches and other ministries in the United Church of Christ that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. More than 350,000 members of the UCC belong to ONA churches—and our movement is growing rapidly.

After a time of study, dialogue and prayer, churches adopt an Open and Affirming “covenant” committing their members to welcome LGBTQ seekers, support their relationships, and advocate for their basic rights. All sacraments and rites of an ONA congregation are available to LGBTQ people, including baptism, confirmation, communion, and marriage. ONA churches take seriously the Bible’s admonition to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7, NIV)

https://openandaffirming.org/ona/

ONA congregations are still a minority in the UCC denomination as a whole.  Some congregations have decided NOT to be ONA.  Some will not allow persons who identify as LGBTQ to marry in their sanctuaries or to be called as their pastors.  Many congregations have never had the discussion – it’s hard and it’s risky.  Some figure they are welcoming as they are and don’t need to do anything more.

Tuesday Photo Challenge: Radiant

My first thought for the photo challenge “radiant” issued by Jansen Photo was of a bride glowing on her wedding day.  New parents gazing at their new bundle joy also came to mind.  Then I thought of family and beautiful smiles at special events.  While looking for smiles in the electronic files I was sidetracked by pictures of stained-glass windows.

Radiant - Trinity UCC - Quincy

Stained Glass Window at Parking Lot Entry, Trinity UCC, Quincy, IL.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19

The first photo was taken on the Pentecost Sunday my youngest niece was confirmed.  I was struck by the dove at the top, the red glass, and the flames of fire – all symbols of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The blue glass makes me think of Baptism which is closely associated with Confirmation.  The tree (could it be a vine?) and the branches remind me of Jesus (“I am the vine and you are the branches.”  John 15:5).  The butterflies  symbolize resurrection and new life.  Is the owl there for wisdom?  Are the three eggs in the bird’s nest a symbol of the Trinity?

The next photo is of a window in the sanctuary at the same church.  You can see greenery and grass through the clearer grass at the bottom of the window.

Radiant - Trinity UCC Quincy

Stained Glass Window – Tree, Trinity UCC, Quincy, IL.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

The most radiant window that I’ve photographed in the age of digital cameras was at a church I served in eastern Iowa.  Here it is on an Easter Sunday.

Radiant - Faith UCC Muscatine - Easter

Rose Window on Easter, Faith UCC, Muscatine, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 4/12/12.

Children: The Ring of Life

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I noticed the pool before I really saw the figures as I walked around the campus of Iowa State University this morning.  Real children playing tend to capture my attention – especially  when I have no where else I have to be at the moment.  These kids caught in stone deserved a closer look.

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The words on the rim of the pool are from a poem by James Whitcomb Riley.

The Hired Man’s Faith in Children
by James Whitcomb Riley

I believe all children’s good,
Ef they’re only understood,
Even bad ones, ‘pears to me,
‘S jes’ as good as they kin be!

Of course they are “as good as they kin be!”  These children are playing with a water lily and a turtle; there are a couple of frogs behind them.

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Titled “The Marriage Ring” and also known as “The Ring of Life,” the original sculpture was done by Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961) during his tenure as professor and artist-in-residence at ISU.   Because of vandalism, the sculpture was recast in reinforced concrete in the early 1990s.

“The circular basin of the pool represents a wedding ring and the valuable gems of the ring are symbolized by the three children, which Petersen considered the jewels of a marriage.”

– Iowa State University, University Museums, http://umsm003.its.iastate.edu/view/objects/asitem/326/542/title-asc?t:state:flow=86c383ec-25f2-47ba-b6ff-8609eb50a7c3

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As is often the case, the pastor/teacher in me was reminded of a few words of scripture.

“Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”  Then he blessed the children.  – Matthew 19:14-15a, CEB

Whether with a child, a friend or on your own, may you have time to play today.

Photo Challenge: Trail

 

When heading out the front door for a walk, it’s a pretty good bet that I’ll end up on the neighborhood bike path.  Officially it’s a trail maintained by the City of Ankeny.  Depending on the weather, the day of the week, and the time of the day, I see bicyclists, walkers, joggers, parents pushing strollers, and kids playing.  There are always at least a few birds and maybe some furry creatures.  On a really good day, I have a camera with me and see a great blue heron (click here for a post with pictures!).

If I were to go far enough the other direction, I could catch one of the many multi-use trails in the area.

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The High Trestle Trail begins near the Farmers’ Market Pavilion in Uptown Ankeny.  The bicycle stands in the area caught my attention – scroll through the slide show below to see them all.

 

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At the beginning of the trail is a guide to trail etiquette, complete with notes for equestrians!  If you see a horse, “go slow and say hello!”

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The next sign as the trail begins provides distances (in miles).  After reviewing the photos I took before and after the one below, I can confirm that there is a bird in the picture to the left of the sign and not dust on my camera lens!

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The weather wasn’t cooperating when I had time to drive out to photograph “The Bridge.”  So, for now, you’ll have to click on this official link to see it.

Happy trails to you!

Musing: Trinity

Sassafrass

Sassafras leaves.  Photo: TLClark, 6/28/13.

Trinity Sunday.  Always the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday in Christian congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary (a series of scripture readings that repeats every three years).  Focusing on the uniquely Christian, impossible to fully explain, doctrine that there is One God but the One God is three “persons.”  It took hundreds of years to develop, going back to the early followers of Jesus, and is something of an answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”

As a substitute preacher last Sunday I avoided pointing out that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 for many  Christians (but not all!) when talking about God.

I also skipped using any illustrations of three-in-one.  If I had, I might have used the sassafras tree with its curious characteristic of having three differently shaped leaves on the same branch: un-lobed (oval), bi-lobed (mitten-shaped), tri-lobed (three-pronged).  Like everything else a preacher might use, it’s imperfect.  But I think it’s kind of fun.

Though I was the youngest one in the building and there was no children’s message listed in the bulletin, I read the book In God’s Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and showed the beautiful illustrations done by Phoebe Stone.

God is One.  But God is known by many names.  Many of us favor one or two particular names for God – name(s) that sometimes change depending on our current life circumstances.  Sasso (a Jewish Rabbi) used these names for God in the book:

  • Source of Life
  • Creator of Light
  • Shepherd
  • Maker of Peace
  • My Rock
  • Healer
  • Redeemer
  • Ancient One
  • Comforter
  • Mother
  • Father
  • Friend

In the coffee hour following worship, I thanked the congregants for humoring me and listening to a children’s book.  Someone replied that that was the best part of the service!

The sermon was less memorable.  But I hope the scripture lessons, the children’s book and/or the sermon caused one person to expand the way they think of God.

Photo Challenge: Road

Road.  “A way made for traveling.”  – Webster’s New World Compact Desk Dictionary

PART I

When I first thought of a road for this week’s photo challenge, I thought of pavement with stripes down the middle – white or yellow dashes and/or a solid line – that allows people to drive easily from one place to another.  Maybe something like this picture; I took it when shooting photos for the “tower” challenge – you can see one of the TV towers on the left.  The grain elevators in Alleman, Iowa, are at the end of the road.

Road 14.5

PART II

Can a river be a road?  Lewis & Clark followed the Missouri and Columbia Rivers in boats as they explored the Louisiana Purchase between St. Louis, Missouri, and the Pacific Ocean.  Modern travelers along Interstate-90 cross the Missouri River at Chamberlain, South Dakota.  This picture is looking northwest from a rest stop and shows a walking path, the Interstate, the town, and the river.

Road 01 - Lewis & Clark

Interstate-90 West takes a sharp turn south in order to cross the Columbia River in central Washington.  This plaque at the overlook provided a little highway history.

Road 05 - Alt Rtes Plaque

PART III

On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…” – Willie Nelson

We’ve done more than our share of traveling in the last year.  All of it by car.  All of it on paved roads.  The longest trip was to Seattle and back:  a 4171 mile adventure for a wedding that was not to be missed!

Rest stops are essential for driver and passenger alike on long trips.  When the passenger gets excited by the landscape or is just a bit bored, the camera comes out and views through the windshield are captured.  Though not of the highest quality, here are several.

Road 02 - MT Mountains

Mountains in Montana are finally in view!

Road 03 - Western MT Rain

Heading west on I-90 in the rain, going up Lookout Pass in western Montana.

Road 07 - Seattle

At the western end of I-90, merging onto I-5 North in Seattle, Washington.

Road 08 - Seattle Garden

Beginning the trip home via I-5 South to catch I-90 East.

Road 09 - Solar Field

A Solar Panel field off I-84 near Pendleton, Oregon.

Road 10 - Yellowstone

Heading northeast on Highway-20 in eastern Idaho on the way to Yellowstone National Park.

PART IV

We had so much fun getting away last fall we decided to visit Billings, Montana, for Christmas.  We hadn’t counted on cross-winds with gusts over 40 MPH as we drove I-90 across a corner of Wyoming.

Road 13 - Wyoming Gusty Winds

Approaching Buffalo, Wyoming, from the east.

PART V

Take me home, country roads, to the place, I belong…”  – John Denver

In this last road photo, we’re leaving Quincy, Illinois, and are headed home.  It was just last Sunday and the Mississippi River was still high enough to close the Highway-24 East-bound bridge.  The West-bound bridge is carrying traffic both ways.

Road 15 - Quincy Bridge over Mississippi

Crossing the Mississippi River from Illinois to Missouri.

An Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.