Sunday, December 04, 2016

The treasure within

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.   
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 New Living Translation (NLT)

Robbie and I are on the most exciting and challenging journey of our lives: we’re expecting a baby in May 2017!  I say most challenging, because it’s not about having the skill to learn a language or climb a mountain or something I can train to do perfectly. We are on this wild ride which is filled with joy, lots of emotions, new firsts, a queasy mama, a proud papa, eager hearts, and a mysterious activity going on inside my body that is growing the newest member of our family! It is so surreal it makes my mind as queasy as my tummy;) 

This morning in my prayers I felt God give me this passage, as I find myself to be the fragile clay jar carrying this beautiful treasure. Paul was using this image to speak to the Christians in Rome who were being persecuted for their faith.  The fragile clay jar symbolized their human bodies which could be broken and damaged, while the treasure inside symbolized their faith as a gift from God which could not be damaged by the world, because it was sustained by the life of Christ and nothing else.  As someone who longed for motherhood, I never imagined the physical challenges that would come with it.  Sure I knew that there was sickness and body growth and hormones, but I’m Kati, I can get through anything. I never imagined how tired I would be, how depressed I could get at times, how constant food aversions and nausea would effect me, and how that special “umph”, or ability to muster up energy and get something done, would just disappear out of reach. 

So many things can go wrong in pregnancy, it’s hard to fathom that those things are mostly out of our control.  Although I keep a tight watch on my diet, I recognize that ultimately I could do everything perfectly and so much about the child’s development is still completely out of my hands.  Thankfully, though, God’s hands are there at work. My mantra this week has been to let God take control; “Jesus take the wheel!” Like it or not, I recognize I’ve never been in the drivers seat for this journey, but recognizing that God has always been there brings me peace.  This little treasure may be fed by my blood and my body, but it is sustained by the Life of Christ already shining from within.  

Compassionate and All-mighty Creator, keep up the Good work and as I am pushed from every side may I find the joy to marvel at the treasure within, to rejoice in the gift being given, to laugh like Sarah at the joyful mystery of it all, and to sing like Mary for the blessing that is coming into our lives.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 Election

(Big sigh.) I thought I was ready for this. I comforted people before the election saying, “the world will go on no matter who is elected on Tuesday,” and “no matter how the vote turns out, we must continue to trust in God, to trust in our country and to trust in one another.” 

Last night I cried myself to sleep lamenting that our next president would not be someone I could consider a role model for my children and myself. My husband comforted me saying, “Who are we to think we have the right to a president who is a perfect role model for our children. That’s our job.” I went to sleep grateful for my husband who respects women, daily helps me be a better feminist and enjoys learning from and working alongside people who are different from him, whether it be from race, religion, economic differences, orientation and more.

As I awoke to article after article reporting the election of Donald J. Trump to be our next President of the United States of America, I cried in sadness for all of those who have been insulted and feared for their safety in this country throughout his campaign.  How could I face them? How could I face those who elected him? How could I preach to a congregation which more than likely is as divided as our nation?

Tonight I’m giving a short lecture on Hildegard of Bingen. I was filled with joy to think about how it would feel to talk about her on the day after the first woman president was elected.  As I sat composing my final thoughts this morning, I was filled with dread, considering the person elected degraded women with violent language and even testified that women shouldn’t be in the military.  The anxiety and sadness enacted my morning sickness, so this pregnant pastor has been vomiting and nauseous all day.

So, I turn to my writing to mark down my thoughts for my child to be and my fellow Americans.  One reality is incredibly clear today.  We may think we have come so far in creating a better world, but somehow we continue to speak only to and with those who agree with us.  Try as we can to truly listen to one another intentionally with our whole heart, it doesn’t work unless we sit at table with those who disgust us, those we don’t understand, and those we fear.  We will never grow past this division, unless we all sit at the table together and really talk, really listen, and prepare our hearts to be changed and see things in a different light. 

We’ve reached a point in our culture where every demographic feels oppressed. From refugees and immigrants to muslim Americans born and raised in this country, from Native American tribes on the reservation to the African Americans working twice as hard to climb up the ladder and provide for their families, those we expect to feel like we are making progress, they still feel like our system is broken and law enforcement continue to face challenges building relationships.  Caucasian men and women, with big houses, stable retirement plans and work that fulfills their passions, you would expect them to feel safe and satisfied with their life. And yet, they also feel oppressed when they feel their voices are not heard, when they feel their rights might be taken away, when they feel their tax money goes towards programs that help people who make mistakes they have avoided and when they make judgements about others without ever talking to them. 

President Elect Trump promises to be a President for all of us. Can it be done? Will he do it? Will he listen? He has picked up on a voice almost no one else was listening to before and throughout the election. Will he listen to more voices? 

As I speak about Hildegard tonight, I am reminded that she declares the visions came to her from God for all people, to guide them to a higher way of living. She spoke with authority to the people with authority, and she never apologized for it. 

I resolve to continue my work to make the hidden seen and give the unheard a voice, and I pick up the challenge of Hildegard to continue provoking and confronting those who are ignoring their brothers and sisters of humanity and especially those who ignore the plight of our fellow Americans.  May we all soften our hearts and choose to sit at table, even when it makes us want to run away and vomit, and may we experience the Light of Life as we meet together.

“And as the power of God is everywhere and encompasses all things, and no obstacle can stand against it, so too the human intellect has great power to resound in living voices, and arouse sluggish should to vigilance by the song.” translated from Scivias, Hildegard von Bingen.

#Imwiththem #LoveAllAmericans 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Loose Screws and the Love of God

Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation Mission Trip 2016 Reflections from Janet Stark

I'll admit - proud doesn't begin to describe how I felt when our small but mighty band of 8th graders from First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Kansas completed two decks with stairs during our time on the Pine Ridge Reservation near Porcupine, South Dakota this week.  I have never taken middle schoolers on a construction trip before and these youth were not only eager participants, but really, really good with tools!

This deck pictured is the first one we built.  And as Brianna and I were standing on the deck watching more than 40 young people go up and down our new stairs to the bath house, she saw it.  "Oh no, Miss Janet.  Look."  She pointed my attention downward and we discovered a screw that was moving away from the structure.  Nails were beginning to push up from the pressure of continued use.  Our structure needed maintenance... and we were leaving.  All those feelings of accomplishment were dashed with the reality that we would not be here to continue to pour into the care and attention that was needed.

Isn't that the way it always is with short term missions?  This is the 9th trip I have been a part of with youth.  Zach, Edward, Brianna, Kati, Charles and I have been a family for the week. And I have seen them address challenges and grow in ways that make any momma proud.  There is no doubt that this experience has made its mark on us, but what of the people we leave behind?

The Lakota of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are a big-hearted people, who are intentional about honoring ancient ways in a time when progress slows for no one.  

Can teams of young people really have an impact on the residents of Pine Ridge, when even in the midst of loose screws, they leave?  Doubtful.

Enter Matt Hadden.  Matt and his wife, Amanda, are a young couple who moved here from Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after Matt had experienced this sacred place during a short term mission trip with Team Effort.  While he wasn't sure what would happen next, he knew he felt that tugging to not just do something for these people, but to be with them.  He has taken jobs here as a school librarian and a bus driver while pastoring Sharp's Corner Baptist Church.  

Matt spoke with us at the camp the second night of our stay.  He laid out the statistics:  80% high school drop out rate.  80% unemployment rate, alcoholism, drug use, physical and sexual abuse, and suicide.  We were buried by the weight of the challenges here.  "This place," he shared, "is similar to Haiti in the problems they face."  And then he urged us to consider why we are here.  "You really aren't here to build decks.  That may solve a short-term problem, but the deck you build will be in ruin in a year or two.  You are here to listen to where God is calling you.  God put it on my heart to return here, to live and to minister with these people.  Take time to listen to how God is using you and where God is calling you."  

Matt and Amanda invited our team to their home for dinner on Thursday night and we laughed and talked and enjoyed their family.  They told us more stories of their time here and our young people wowed them with recordings of their sermons from Youth Sunday :)  Matt told us that his favorite bible verse is Psalm 34:8 "Taste and see that the Lord is good."  He shared that if you want people to know who Jesus was you've got to present the "deliciousness of Jesus".   Our Christian history shows we haven't done a very good job at that with groups of people who are existing on the fringes.  Matt and Amanda work to present that life sustaining tastiness in all that they do.

This is long-term work.  This is in-each-others'-lives kind of work.  This is shared heartache and shared joy.  This is mission.  We left our loose screws with the knowledge that we are not a part of this place, not really, although I'm confident that we have left a small piece of us behind.  But someone else will maintain the work of living and loving here.

In Lakota there is no word for good-bye.  In Lakota they say, "See you later."  "Toksa Ake."  I hope so!

Pictured above: Our Mission Team plus Pastor Matt and Racheal, one of our TEAMEffort leaders.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Go! A reflection by Charles

The word for the day is “GO”.  As we reflect on the last week of hard work, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, new friends and cultures, it makes me think of the poem “The Dash”.  Take a moment read the poem and think about your Dash and how you will “GO” out into the world next week, next month, next year.

The week was filled with great accomplishments that will be enjoyed by hundreds of people over the years as they walk up and down the set of steps that were created by a group of talented and dedicated servants from 1st Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, KS.  While this was a great project that made uslaugh, cry (I got a splinter), and smile, the question I have for the group is how will this change the “Dash” in your life. What interpersonal skills and life experiences will you take back to Manhattan to make the community and the world a little better place to live.  Use the experience of the week to think about what people will say about your “Dash” when the last four numbers are edged in stone.    

"We don't know how, but we know it has. Thanks, Charles, for all you taught us this week, and for being our Bernie;)"--from this morning's devotion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lakota Trip Day 2

reflection on yesterday from Zach:

First day of work done! Today was our first day of work, and we built the beginning of a deck for a door that you would open and then fall to the ground on before.   There was absolutely nothing there before we made the deck.   Here are a few "after" photos:

It will eventually have steps that will lead to the safety of the ground (hopefully installed tomorrow!) and the cross piece on the front will be removed.   We only put that cross piece up there as a safety precaution so that if anybody walks out there during the middle of the night, they won't fall off!   

We have breakfast at 8:00 am every morning, leaving for our worksites at 9:00 am.   We take a break for lunch around noon, followed by departing the worksite at 3:00 pm.   We have a couple of hours for leisure activities, and dinner is at 6:00 pm.   We finish off the day by having our little version of church, or worship (take your pick of wording), in the small little chapel they have here.   The chapel also serves as a dining and commons area for us.   Everything about this place is small, including the chapel/multipurpose room!   Here is a picture of our chapel:

I am enjoying connecting with God and the people around me, in this very remote place. The scenery is beautiful, and the sunsets and rises are spectacular.   I have had a very productive, encouraging, exciting, busy day today, and I can't wait to see what God has up his sleeve for us during the rest of the week!

Note from Kati: 

Did you know that there are over 500 tribes on record in the United States? Last night we learned that Pine Ridge Reservation was set aside for the Lakota Tribe. These plains Indians were called Sioux by the French settlers. We discovered that the term Sioux was quite derogatory, meaning something like the "snake in the grass" in French. So, we decided to change our t-shirts which called our location "Sioux Nation".

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day One Sioux Nation South Dakota 2016

No you are not looking at a google image of the Badlands National Park. This is where we are staying for the week. Our surroundings are amazingly picturesque and definitely unique. We drove past Wounded Knee and from the road you could see a gravesite with several memorials. We drove past several mobile homes. Communities full of mobile homes. We were looking for a bathroom and kept passing places that had been closed or were not businesses. Finally we reached a gas station which had almost a full grocery store. We stuck out like a sore thumb at the "happening" place in the badlands. Tons of families and car loads would pull up and someone would run in and get some groceries, all of them Native American. We were eating our sandwiches we had packed for dinner. An older man came up to us to sell us some herbs. He told us their names in Lakota and how they used them for ceremonies. He told us about the area and the animals here. Later when we were sharing our concerns or expectations for tomorrow, someone wondered if the people we work with would speak our language. At first I thought this was kind of silly, we are still in the US, but the more I think about it, the more I'm fascinated with how different the community here is from our community. I definitely feel like we are in a sacred and reserved land. The Pine Ridge Reservation is so beautiful and striking. The homes are very meager, and the schools look very new and well funded. We saw several Headstart buildings and a few hospitals. The classic church we saw may in fact be the one we visited when I was in high school. 

Today we will be building a deck for the TEAMEffort Volunteer Facilities--where we eat sleep and worship. Looking at this scenery, I've been yearning for a place to sit and enjoy it. I guess this is how we will get it!

"Now we are ready for what God throws at us next."

Friday, July 15, 2016

On the Road Again!

Sunday morning I will head to South Dakota with a rockstar youth mission team from our church! We will be staying and working on the Pine Ridge Reservation with members of the Sioux Nation, right in the heart of the Badlands. A huge thank you to our congregation at First Presbyterian Manhattan, KS for their financial and spiritual support of this transformational opportunity for our youth! Several have agreed to be prayer partners for our team, and I want to invite all of my readers to pray for us too! 

Throughout the week I’m hoping to post some updates, so czech back to see what we see! Grace and Peace;)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Prayers of Our People

Photo Credit: Natalie Bender; FPC Manhattan, KS
Recently our denomination finished the final steps needed to accept the Confession of Belhar as part of our cumulative statement of faith in our Book of Confessions.  This part of our constitution shares the history of the church and the response of faithful people expressing their faith amidst wars, political transitions and persecution. The Confession of Belhar was written by the Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa in response to the period of Apartheid in their country, declaring that Christianity was opposed to "a government that imposed strict separation of the races and domination by members of the white race." This confession expresses that community’s understanding of God’s calling for the church as an instrument to carry the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ to the world. Our denomination has accepted it as a way of expressing our understood responsibility and desire to be people of reconciliation especially when it comes to issues of race and oppression of people groups in our own country and even throughout the world.  Therefore, in light of the events of the last several days, I will use their confession as a foundation for our Prayer of the People on Sunday. Here’s a link for those who want to read more about the Confession of Belhar.

Please pray with me this prayer for reconciliation using the witness of the people gathered at Belhar.

Calling to "the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit." This, You have done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end. And we call you to come and gather us, protect us and care for your creation again. 

We believe that you have entrusted us "with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ"; that we, as the church, "are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called “blessed" because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.  That Your lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that Your lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world;  that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity; that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine." 

Therefore, empower us today to gather together with people of other races and colors and cultures and seek to mend the wounds left by the violence we have seen and heard over the last several weeks. We continue to lift up the people of Orlando, Baghdad, Istanbul, Baton Rogue, Minnesota, Dallas, and the dear people of our own community. We pray for the police officers who continually seek to create relationships of trust with the same people they are charged to protect. We pray for those who feel the effects of our troubled American history as a country which pushed aside the native peoples we discovered and then abused the native people we purchased and brought here as slaves. 

Strengthen and embolden us to share the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ. Soften our hearts to respond with compassion, harden our feet to walk the treacherous road before us, and open our hands to receive the friendship and companionship of our fellow Americans, our fellow Christians, and our fellow Earthlings. Lead us by your son, Jesus Christ, we pray, as he taught us, Our Father...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Talking Stones

Luke 19: 36-40 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,  “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
He answered, “I tell you, if these people were silent, the stones would shout out!” 

I've been preparing a series of prayer stations for Holy Week, and advertising that the prayer stations are for all ages, so a family could could come and enjoy it together. When our Children's Ministry Director asked me if the kids could use it for Sunday school, I had to get a bit more intentional. I realized how some of the language I was using for the stations would still need to be explained by an adult. So I restructured the description of the labyrinth and added two new stations which would be more accessible for use specifically with the kids. Now when I read the directions, however, I get excited about the adults doing the same stations. 

Perhaps this is why I love prayer stations in the first place. We are invited to be creative and use our imagination and we touch interesting surfaces, holding meaning-full objects in our hands. We come to Jesus as a child and yet we use multiple parts of our brain. For me, it makes the scripture real when I can experience it like this.

I now have a very new way of describing a labyrinth. I'll give credit to my friend Jamie who compared it to a map with roads when she was explaining it to her three year old daughter.  What a visual reminder that when we are searching for God, and find Jesus, we look back and see that the Spirit was leading us every step of the way. 

May you come as a child to Holy Week and notice the "talking stones" reminding you where you have been, reminding you who God is, and reminding you of your identity as a child of God.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ash Wednesday Reflection

“Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ash Wednesday Service Liturgy

As I stood in the parking lot, I was anxious to see who would approach us to receive Ashes.  This year on Ash Wednesday, several of our Manhattan Ministers came together to provide “Ashes-To-Go” in prominent places in our community, like the County Court House, AggieVille, KState Campus and we were at the west Dillon’s grocery store. I wondered if anyone would be upset that a protestant female minister was offering what is more traditionally a Catholic service. Father Patrick from St Paul’s Episcopal Church and I were both dressed in our robes and stoles, holding our ashes prepared from last year's palm branches. He brought a short liturgy, which enabled us to have mini-services with those receiving ashes. Sometimes the mini-liturgy would be read by three of us, at other times there were as many as 5 or 7 people gathered at once. No one tried to kick us off of their property, and no one heckled or ridiculed us. People of all ages came, telling us a little bit about where they had come from or where they were going. Sometimes instead of using the liturgy, I would invite them to reflect on what the ashes meant for them. “In the Bible, ashes were used to symbolize lament and repentance, so these ashes can symbolize your prayers for forgiveness or sorrow for our broken world. Consider what they will represent for you.” One woman replied, “Rebirth and new life.”  As a Christian minister who is constantly preaching about God doing a “new thing” among us, I was awe struck by this new metaphor while placing her ashes. The mythological figure of a Phoenix represents the new life only accessible through fire, death and rebirth, and Jesus offers us more than a metaphor in the flesh. Like the children who smiled from ear to ear as I placed the ashes on their forehead, this women saw the beauty in God’s message of redemption. Death will come for us all, but death does not have the final word. Trials will come and go, but Christ came so that we might endure and flourish in our life here on earth AND that we might joyfully accept the new life to come. We stood as reminders of God’s mercy in that busy parking lot, and we were reminded of God’s compassion for all of humanity.