Category Archives: Orchards

The Church in a Strike

Dear Church,
What shall we as Christians think and do regarding the ongoing controversies between teachers and their employing school districts? I offer these principles and practices for your consideration.

Principles

Traditionally United Methodists favor strong public schools and the rights of people to bargain collectively. Specifically, we have adopted the following social principles and resolutions.
  • We believe that every person has the right to education. We also believe that the responsibility for education of the young rests with the family, faith communities, and the government. In society, this function can best be fulfilled through public policies that ensure access for all persons to free public elementary and secondary schools and to post-secondary schools of their choice. Persons should not be precluded by financial barriers from access to church-related and other independent institutions of higher education. We affirm the right of public and independent colleges and universities to exist, and we endorse public policies that ensure access and choice and that do not create unconstitutional entanglements between church and state. We believe that colleges and universities are to ensure that academic freedom is protected for all members of the academic community and a learning environment is fostered that allows for a free exchange of ideas. We affirm the joining of reason and faith; therefore, we urge colleges and universities to guard the expression of religious life on campus.
  • Once considered the property of their parents, children are now acknowledged to be full human beings in their own right, but beings to whom adults and society in general have special obligations. Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth. All children have the right to quality education, including full sex education appropriate to their stage of development that utilizes the best educational techniques and insights. Christian parents and guardians and the Church have the responsibility to ensure that children receive sex education consistent with Christian morality, including faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness. Moreover, children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians. In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. In order that the rights of all members of the society may be maintained and promoted, we support innovative bargaining procedures that include representatives of the public interest in negotiation and settlement of labor-management contracts, including some that may lead to forms of judicial resolution of issues. We reject the use of violence by either party during collective bargaining or any labor/management disagreement. We likewise reject the permanent replacement of a worker who engages in a lawful strike.
We have historically taught that public education is a great healer of divisions between groups of people. It is the primary way people learn about the world. It is the first source of critical thinking that leads to breakthroughs in both the sciences and the humanities. We support teaching because there is no industry with as great a consequence on the health and well-being of our planet than teaching.

Applying the Principles

Looking at these principles, where does the church stand in our local circumstances? Strong-arm tactics-such as taking teachers’ health-care coverage in order to ‘win’ an argument-are an egregious violation of fair bargaining. Mudslinging of public officials on either side also is outside of acceptable Christian practice. How we bargain is very important. Truth ultimately must prevail.
I look at it this way: given that our society shows value through money (salaries, wages and benefits), and given truth and knowledge are among the great goods, it seems like ample pay for teachers is a good thing. I would welcome the day when my local Division 1 university paid its Physics professors more than the football coach. Same goes for primary and secondary levels. Ultimately public education is a public trust: we all pay into it because we all benefit from it. Like a friend once said: your future heart doctor is sitting in high school Biology right now. Do we want her teacher worrying about how to make ends meet?
Finally, these matters will eventually get resolved. Teachers will return to work, and our kids will return to the classroom. Lawyers and mediators will go home. Everyone else at the bargaining table will have to figure out how to restore trust. Administrators who claim to support teachers will have to demonstrate it. Teachers will have to realize that administrating is complicated. I would hope that the Christians on both sides will lead the way in rebuilding that trust.

Actions out of Principles

What then are we to do? Yes, pray. For teachers, administrators, mediators, board members, kids, classified staff (all the non-teachers in a school), etc. Also, be a civil witness reminding people to seek truth and walk humbly. Organize our space for that time when parents need a place to go or send their kids. Picketing is fine, do it civilly. Supporting the board is okay, do it civilly. Denounce bullying tactics and ugliness. Encourage resolution. Embody fairness. See the other as human, not just an enemy. Think and act as ambassadors for the students. Stay involved. Get ready for the aftermath.
Finally, in as much as you talk abut this, make sure to listen. The feelings of disrespect are real. The feelings of vilification are real. Listening and not adding to people’s anxieties are very valuable skills to be employing.
That’s my take. What’s yours? What spiritual principles are you leaning on through all this? What do you want/need at the resolution of this controversy? I’d love to hear you.

Reading the Bible Better

You can read the Bible better. It doesn’t take a degree in religion. It does require some skills that too often are relegated to the academy. Those skills can be acquired and practiced by everyday people.
You probably suspect that there are layers of meaning in the text. You hear great preachers and teachers reveal these layers. Maybe you think that level of understanding is beyond you. It’s not.
Here are some things you can do to begin reading the Bible in a way that reveals those layers. Who knows it may even change your life. (That is why you’re reading, isn’t it?)

Find Your Character.

While reading the Bible, determine which character is most like you. It may be that a main character is like you. It maybe that you are actually more like Jesus than the one he’s talking to. It may be that you are more like a character that is a bit off-screen (more on that in a second). The purpose here is enliven the scene by placing yourself in it. The Bible has enough distance to it: culturally, historically, etc. Reading it from a “third-person” perspective only adds to the distance. Finding your character may open up more questions than clarifications. That is a good thing. Each new question is an avenue of further exploration.

Consider the Jonah story for example. Are you Jonah running away from God? Perhaps not. Are you more like Jonah’s fellow passengers when a storm arises: just trying to do what’s right in a bad situation? Are like actually like God: desperately wanting someone to trust you enough to do something difficult but good? You may find that you are actually more like God.

Switch Characters, Uncover characters

Often we read the Bible from a single point of view. It may be a third-person perspective that takes us out of the story altogether. Once you Find Your Character in the story, you can then begin to play with other characters. Playfulness is a great tool for reading the Bible. Take for instance Jacob’s rivalry with his brother Esau. Maybe you identify with the younger Jacob always striving against your older brother. That’s great. But take some time to enter Esau’s world: he had to take care of his widowed mother who sold his blessing to his brother. And yet, when Jacob and Esau meet again years later, Esau seems at peace (Genesis 25 and following).

As you’re playing with characters in the text, look for unnamed characters. This could be simply groups of people like bystanders or background people like the Innkeeper in the Christmas story. One that shocked me was revealed to me in seminary: when Herod ordered the killing of all boys age 2 and younger in order to eliminate Jesus, the unnamed characters are the people who carried out the killings (Matthew 2:16-18). Were they fathers? Did they have sons?

Play with the untold story.

The Bible is big and at times the details can be so tedious. But there are also plenty of holes in the plot line. It is okay to play with the untold stories within the Bible. This is a great approach to test out your own experiences, morals and questions. Continuing with the Esau example, one of the untold stories is what happened to Esau after Jacob stole his blessing from their dying father. Esau disappears for the better part of 5 chapters while Jacob grows his family into an army. When they meet again famously in Genesis 33 Esau is successful and at peace. Of all the stories I wish the Bible told, the story of how Esau made peace within himself over his brother would be at the top of the list. The next best thing is for us to imagine how did Esau forgive his brother? What became of his relationship with his mother Rachel? You can make similar imaginings with the Samaritan woman, Pontius Pilate, Mephibosheth, Ruth, etc. (There is a great book called Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist which does this very thing).

Switch from Me to We

One of the problems of the Bible in English is that English renders the 2nd-person singular pronoun (you) the same as the 2nd-person plural pronoun (you). Reading the Bible in English means you don’t know when God is talking to you personally or you collectively. And American society is biased toward the individual. This means that when we see “you” we see the singular first. Our ‘default’ setting means we are prone to miss when God is talking to the community, the town, the nation, the family, the church, etc.

One way to unlock the layers of the Bible is to discover the communal aspects of it. When you can see that God is talking to a nation rather than a person…a whole new level of understanding emerges.

This may require a bit of technical assistance, unless you know biblical Hebrew or Greek. By technical assistance, I mean a good study Bible with footnotes that can help you know when the ‘you’ is singular or plural (NIV Study Bible does this well). Or you can try the Texas Bible App which is a plugin for your Chrome browser. The Texas Bible app will swap all plural ‘you’ for “y’all”. Yes, it’s a cool as it sounds.

Read in blocks.

One of the difficulties with reading only in worship is that we tend to read in very short segments. Sometimes not even whole chapters. But the scriptures were written as whole units, even the books that are pieced together from multiple sources. Furthermore, the minute dissection of scripture in church can literally cut out the drama in the text.

Take Mark’s gospel for example. Mark is a fast moving text where Jesus’ baptism is followed immediately by temptation in the wilderness followed immediately by Jesus calling the 12, teaching in the synagogue, healing a man with an unclean spirit, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, praying in the hills at night and healing a leper. That’s just chapter 1. The immediacy of the storytelling unlocks the desperation in Mark’s message. Mark really needs you the reader to pick up the mantle and finish the work Jesus started.

So read in larger blocks. This is easier than it sounds. Mark is readable in an hour. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) can be read in one sitting, too. The movements within help unlock the power of the storytelling. Each of the Psalms ought to be digested as a whole given their poetic nature. Rainy Sunday afternoons are great opportunities to break into the larger characters.

Read in Community.

It would be dishonest for me to say the Bible is easy. It would ALSO be dishonest for me to say that you can’t get it. Reading scripture with other people is one of the best ways to unravel the layers, discover new connections and air your questions. Different people are going to see different things. The point is NOT to all agree. In fact disagreeing is almost guaranteed. The point is to deepen your understanding of scripture and unlock its power to transform your life and your world.

Consider learning a new musical instrument or a second language. You can practice from the book all you want. But it’s when you join other players that your own skill can elevate. It’s when you get off the plane in Paris that you can really know how good your French really is. Your community will help you suss out your biases, reveal new angles of understanding, help you in living out what you’re learning and share in the joy of scripture.

Enjoy.

Have fun reading the Bible. It’s a pretty good book. I hope these tips help.

What has been helpful to you?

Now Loading: Year Three at Orchards

On September 1st, I began my 3rd year in ministry with you here at Orchards. It has been an honor to have been with you for 2 good years. I just want to briefly mention my love for you and this congregation.

You may not realize it, but 2.5 years ago I was looking for work outside of the church. I am glad that circumstances have changed that allowed me to come here. And I am forever grateful for the myriad of people who advocated for my arrival here. It has truly been a reprieve on my life in ministry. And I still feel a great burden to make this reprieve count.

I am proud of what have done together so far: Village Support Network, WHO, Project Transformation, camping ministries, Covington breakfasts, LifeGroups, etc. And as the Church Council meets soon to set a course for the following year I have both confidence and enthusiasm for the work ahead. I have begun describing you to my colleagues and friends as a “small but mighty” congregation. I think there is a power within you from God that has yet to meet its limit. Here’s to finding that limit together.

To God be the glory. AMEN.

Project Transformation, Day 1

I remember my first week as a camp counselor. I had just finished two years in a very intense children’s home. I had done summer camp before. I had a college degree under my belt. I was accomplished and capable. Then the kids came. I was paired with an experience co-counselor, who grew up going to Camp Glenkirk. But at the halfway mark of the first week…we were struggling. We couldn’t get through to the kids. They were officially running the asylum. My brother was the Assistant Camp Director and he pulled me aside. We chatted about the struggles. I vented. He listened and then established a standard to obtain. Finally, he sent me back to the campsite with his confidence. By week’s end, we had figured out how to love and lead the kids effectively. That summer working form brother was particularly awesome.

Sitting here as day 1 of Project Transformation comes to a close, I am remembering that it is hard to lead a bevy of kids. But today, this group did it. The interns were focused and making friends quickly. Volunteers were plenty and making good connections with the kids. And the kids were…amazing. They are funny and smart and determined and brave. I wonder who exactly will be most transformed by this endeavor?

Today I learned a lot about Power Rangers, because D. read to us from a Power Rangers book. I learned that A. is a good problem solver as she helped the team get across the log. I learned that feeding kids is rewarding and cleaning up after them is challenging. I learned that R. will be joining us tomorrow and that is a big relief to her mom. I can’t wait to meet her.

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Bottom Line on Project Transformation: Reading with Kids is Fun

moonMy first favorite children’s book is Goodnight Moon, the classic tale by Margaret Wise Brown. Our kids have always loved watching the room change as the bunny is getting ready for sleep. One time when we were flying and Anna was little we were reading the book on the plane. The kind gentleman next to us commented about how much he loved that book. I noticed he succinctly put down his Wall Street Journal while we read the book (forward, backward then forward again is how baby Anna like to read books).

kitten

My next favorite children’s book is Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes. It is about a newborn kitten chasing a bowl of milk. Poor kitty! I love this imagination. I love the sense of discover in the kitten. I love the kitten’s daring and ambition. And I love the idea that Henkes gets to draw kitten’s for a living.

There is a great bookstore in Charleston, West Virginia called Taylor Books. While in Charleston for the day, I stopped in to get the kids a new book. I was delighted to discover All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon. It was a Caldecott Honor Book and is gorgeously illustrated. The book is joyful and real and eternally hopeful.

world

Reading, as they say, is fundamental. But not just for success in the marketplace as adults. It is fundamental for a joyful life. Through reading you discover the world. You hear others’ stories. You gain a sense of your own story and you learn a medium for expressing yourself. Also, it is a great way to bond with another. Now that we have a reader and a half among our kids, I am seeing their minds open up to the world around them. On one hand, they might become more exposed to the troubles of the world. On the other hand their strong nimble minds and their indomitable spirits make them forces for the future good of the world. Many days I worry about little things concerning my kids. But with reading, I know I am preparing them to live free and well.

What is your favorite children’s book? Who read to you? What story has stuck with you? What story makes you put down the newspaper?

As much as I love reading with my kids. I am looking forward to Project Transformation and the joy of reading with kids. I wonder what books they will want to read.

Project Transformation…a pathway to the church

In a few weeks, 50-60 kids will descend upon our humble church facility for Project Transformation. And I am so excited for them to meet you. I am excited for the kids to be nurtured and loved all summer long. I am excited for the college interns who will run Project Transformation to grow in their service and dedication to the “least of these” (who happen to have a ton to offer, by the way). I am excited for the church to be abuzz with activity that is meaningful and fruitful. The more I think about Project Transformation, the more I think how this is what I’ve always wanted to do in church. I am nervous, too, no doubt. But excitement and anticipatory joy is what I most feel.

Union Ridge Safe School RouteMy local school district in Ridgefield sent out an email last week about “safe routes” for kids walking to Union Ridge Elementary. It was useful to us since we are a walking-to-school family. The email was a map of our little town with orange arrows denoting the safest way to walk to school as well as the placement of crossing guards. It’s the kind of thing small towns do well: taking care of little ones. (Our house is just off the upper left corner of the map.)

Churches are good at taking care of little ones, too. We do so by teaching and exuding love. We care for children by equipping them with wisdom to navigate this tough world. We take care of kids by being trustworthy, thoughtful and helpful and for providing for their needs. One of the basic needs kids have is the need to understand the world. Project Transformation provides many methods for helping kids understand their needs. Help with reading is the method that is measurable. Other methods include teaching soft skills like kindness, cooperation, appropriate expression, etc. These are less measurable just just as vital. It inspires to be part of a program that will tangibly care for the kids around us.

map screen PT
Blue lines represent our connections to residential areas. Green lines represents our connections to local schools.

Finally, I was so impressed with the Ridgefield school walking map, I created a map of my own. We have been working closely with Family Resource officers at Orchards and Silver Star Elementary Schools and the Transitions coach at Covington Middle School. As registration for kids opens in the coming weeks, we are focusing our attention on some housing units where many of the kids we will serve live. And I made a simple map, showing how, through Project Transformation, we will be connected to these residential areas. As I drew the lines I began thinking about the church as a hub for the community. It’s really an old-fashioned concept but oh so needed in our neighborhood. I began thinking about how these kids right now have no idea what we are about to offer them. I began thinking about how they will know us at the end of the summer. I began thanking God for Orchards and for putting us in the right place at the right time. I am so excited for you to meet these kids. But I am equally excited for these kids to meet you.


The best way for these kids to meet you is to volunteer to read with them. It really is a rewarding way to spend your summer mornings. To volunteer to read, please CLICK HERE to go to the registration page. From there you’ll be able to plan out the mornings you can read with the kids.

As I shared yesterday in church, I feel like the church is like a bag of popcorn just turning innocently in the microwave oven. But as the Project Transformation nears, it gets a little warmer, very soon the kids will be here and the church will burst with energy. Praise be to the living God, who does not give up on people, for the privilege of watching these little ones burst with promise and joy.

A Sermon on Epiphany

On January 6, the second-most important day in the Christian calendar was celebrated. Did you have an Epiphany celebration on Friday? Epiphany rightfully belongs in the upper tier of Christian holy days. It is as important as Christmas day. And western Christianity has lost something in forgetting the Epiphany.

Epiphany predates Christmas. It commemorates the ways Jesus is ‘revealed’ or manifested among us…meaning when we got the idea that this dude was indeed God in the flesh. We didn’t understand this all at once. In fact, we are still trying to get the full understanding. But there were events that ‘cracked open the door’ to let us see into the realm of Christ a little bit clearer. In the 2nd century, Christians came to identify 3 events as “revealing” to the nature of Christ: 1) the visit of the Magi, 2) the baptism of Christ and 3) the miracle at the wedding in Cana (water into wine).

The visit of the Magi is a crude overturning of convention. He wasn’t their king. In fact the people to whom Jesus was born were tiny in their day. Also, with the purity standards in Judaism, that the pronouncement of royalty upon a laborer’s child was made by foreigners is almost heretical. In the past, only the holiest of prophets, Samuel, pronounced someone king. But nothing was normal about this campaign. Much is often made of the wisdom of the Magi. Perhaps we ought to take more stock of the fact that they were unconventional and foreign.

It is the foreignness of the Magi that tells us something new about Jesus: he may have been born King of the Jews, but his reign matters to all of us. Epiphany is a holy celebration because the Kingdom of God has been revealed as welcoming of us all.

All that sounds great, right? But many are still on the outside of the kingdom looking in. The ways of the world betray the truth that God’s kingdom equalizes us. Rat races, geopolitical movements, zero-sum games, everyday iniquities still seek to place people in categories of ‘greater-than’ or ‘lesser-than’.

May I suggest that God may be calling a new crop of Magi? A collection of people dedicated to finding Christ in unconventional places. A collection of people willing to go out and look into the shadowy stables of our world. A collection of people noticing and following the signs of God’s movement in our world. This new crop of Magi have a divide task of revealing the Christ child to a new set of people.

In what ways may God be calling us into this holy task of revealing the Lord to others? Throughout the generations, God raises up wise ones willing to seek, to follow and to reveal the Christ. Perhaps it is time to gather our gifts and begin the journey.