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Reaching Wide – Even in Our Doubts

In this season of Eastertide we are exploring what it means for us to stretch our “branches” WIDE.  No longer will we be content just encouraging our roots to grow deeper and deeper; because of the Risen Christ, we want to begin to stretch ourselves and Share the Story.

This week our scripture reading was the Walk to Emmaus from Luke 24, and then the appearance of Jesus to the rest of the disciples that same evening. In this story we notice some of the very same things that happened in John’s gospel: Jesus appears suddenly, defying the natural order of things (walking through locked doors or just appearing in their midst out of nowhere); He says “Peace be with you;” He shows them his hands and feet; He opens their hearts to the scriptures; He commissions them. In John, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. In Luke, the disciples are reminded that they will be receiving power from on high (and that happens just as promised in the exciting sequel to Luke: Acts).

I am captivated by the detail that each time the risen Christ makes an appearance, he shows his hands and feet. We don’t know if they bear open wounds or rather healed up scars as the disciples look upon this: in John his wounds are fresh because Thomas places his hand in Christ’s side; but in Luke we only hear that he “Shows them his hands and his feet.”

That bears great meaning for us. If it is through the wounds or scars on Jesus’ hands and feet that the disciples come to believe, why is it that we are ashamed of our own? How hard do we try to cover up our wounds and scars so that we appear to be perfect? It’s a problem among Christians. Our failure to share the stories that led to our scars present a dishonest picture of what it means to be Christians, for it is in the healing of these wounds that we become stronger; it is also through these wounds and scars that we can help others come to believe and understand.

I am so grateful to our dear Patti Applebee for agreeing to share her story of faith with the congregation on Sunday. I have heard from many people who were present that her story strengthened them and gave them courage to speak of their own wounds. I pray you find her story of witnessing the risen Christ to be as compelling and moving as I did, and I pray it will bless you as you seek the courage to go “Deep and Wide” in your own beliefs:

Reaching wide even in our doubts

Patti Applebee

I was born in a very small village a few miles south of Lincoln NE. in 1928.  This is relevant only because it’s been at long life, and when I look back I feel as if I’ve lived 3 full lifetimes.  This was just a year before the big stock market crash.  I don’t remember the unbelievable changes that came to this country at that time.  All I remember about this is that few people that I knew had very much as far as money or worldly goods.  But being such a small town we had family and friends, and a community that worked together.  But then came the great depression.  The thirties were very hard for everyone especially our farmers.  I didn’t live on a farm but several of my cousins and many of my schoolmates did.  Each year we watched the crops burn up, and suffered so many huge dust storms.   In the late thirties many people left for CA.

I was raised in a devout Christian family.  We had one little church in our town, and it was a Presbyterian church. Most families were of Dutch and German decent.  Our school and our church were the hubs of activity for us during my young life.

My Mother was a wonderful lady who taught me that God was my Creator and his Son Jesus was my Comforter and Savior, and that I could go to Him and talk to Him about anything that troubled me, and for an answer, as well as to thank Him for all the good things also.  I heard all the Bible stories and she made it all so real, that I sincerely believed her.

As an example, she and I used to play the Old Maid card game when I was quite young, and I vaguely remember this but know more from being told about it.  We were sitting at the card table playing Old Maid, and at one point I got off my chair and ducked under the table,  Mother thought I had dropped a card, but when I didn’t come right back up, she waited a moment, looked under the table and said, “Patti what are you doing.”  She said I looked up with a sheepish smile, and said, “Oh Mommy I was just praying to Jesus that He wouldn’t let me be the Old Maid.”  She said it almost took her breath away, but in telling it later she said, “Right or Wrong,” you can bet that I did not let you draw the Old Maid that I was holding.”

I had a good life growing up but of course I went through many of the unpleasant things that all children and teenagers go through, but I can honestly say that my faith was strong and never wavered through those years because of the strong teachings I received at home, at church and at school. It was later that I really began to be tested.

The war years were very different and trying, having to watch so many of my friends go off to war.  My mother along with many other women drove to Lincoln every day to work for the war effort in various factories. At the age of 14 I was given many responsibilities that I might not have taken over but for that. I learned to cook to have dinner ready every night when mother and dad came home from a long day.  To clean, the way my mother wanted it cleaned, and in the summertime to weed and water the Victory garden my Dad planted. So many things were rationed and we had to adjust the way we lived, but the sacrifices were nothing compared to what the families made with members who were in the military. We prayed fervently for those boys and their families.

I graduated high school, in May of 1945 and attended the Univ. of NE that fall.  The war had ended in Aug. of that year.

I met a young man at the University who had seen serious action in the Navy and had been sent to the University with a V-12 Officers training unit and we married in 1947, after he graduated.  He became a geologist and we began a rather long list of moving around the country.

I could say that this marriage was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, except that this union produced two of the most wonderful children I could have ever asked for.  Sadly, alcohol took over his life, and even tho’ there were some good times, there were so many bad times.  In those years alcoholism wasn’t really acknowledged as a disease, and it was soooo difficult to understand why he did this.

I will spare you all the details, but I wondered if I wasn’t being a good enough wife, and I was being told by him how worthless I was and I almost believed it, but I was taught that God made me in His image, and He didn’t think I was worthless.

I knew in my heart that God loved us and wanted the best for us.  One of the most difficult things was to raise the children in some semblance of normalcy.  I thought I could protect them from the reality of the problem, but of course they knew.

We lived under the cloud of alcoholism for nearly 20 years.

I taught them the things my Mother taught me, and we attended Sunday school and church, and that their prayers were very important. That God would answer in His time.

My prayer many times a day was, “Lord please make him stop drinking,” but I was beginning to doubt that it was ever going to happen.

I was driving down a very quiet street one day on my way home from the store with tears streaming down my face talking to God, and I said, “God I know you don’t want me to get a divorce, but I don’t know what to do.”  I wiped my tears, and in a moment I tell you as surely as I’m standing here, I literally heard a voice, saying “How do you know I don’t want you to get a divorce. I want you to be the best person you can be.”

Truly, I didn’t doubt that I had heard Gods voice, but suddenly realized what He was telling me.   I was being consumed by my desire for my husband to quit drinking and allowing myself to become unhinged.  It became so clear that I couldn’t change this man, but I could change myself.  I had just been given permission!

After my divorce, which my grown children supported, I moved to Denver.  I had known Jack Applebee all my life, and he looked me up after getting my number from my Mother,  and we started seeing each other, and I knew him to be the kindest, most loving, generous, and well-grounded person I’d ever known, and we’ve been married for 42 years next month.

As children we were taught that Thomas wasn’t a very good disciple because he doubted that Jesus was really raised from the dead.  Poor Thomas.  How would we have reacted in that day and time?  We have the Bible; we have students of the Bible who teach us the things that have already happened.  But the disciples simply had to live by their early Jewish training, and then the teachings of Jesus.  Talk about having to have faith!

Knowing that Jesus had been crucified, Thomas knew about those scars and wanted that proof.  When Jesus showed them to him he was nearly overcome when he said, “My Lord, and my God.”

Yes we know the story, and still we have doubts and questions.  But that’s O.K.  Jesus knows that we are just as human as he was when he said, “Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?”

The important thing is that we overcome those doubts because we know God is there for us and he answers prayer.  Not always the way we think he should, but in the way that is best for us. All we have to do is to – LISTEN – for his answer, and Trust and Obey.


Deep & Wide: Stretching our “Branches”

One week after Easter Sunday, our scripture reading took us back to the very day of the resurrection. The disciples were hiding out, afraid for their lives in the reading from John 20:19-31:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Poor Thomas. Everyone remembers him as “Doubting Thomas” when all he asked for was what every other disciple was privy to: to see with his own eyes. Peter denied knowing Jesus and oh yeah, he SUNK when he tried to walk on water, but we don’t remember him as “Denying Peter” or “Sinking Peter!”

And listen, if I happened upon my friends who told me they had seen the risen Lord, but were still hiding behind a locked door I would probably be skeptical as well. Because wouldn’t something like that: seeing Jesus, touching his wounds, talking with him, receiving the Holy Spirit from him in a breath of life — would that absolutely transform your life?

But there they were. Doing nothing different than they had directly after the crucifixion. I imagine they were sitting around in some kind of a stupor, trying to get a grasp on reality. Why wouldn’t Thomas ask to see for himself?

In Thomas’ asking, we receive a blessing. When he sees the wounds and falls on his knees to worship Jesus, he is told, “You believe because you have seen with your own eyes; BLESSED are they who believe but have not seen!”

That’s us! We’re the blessed ones. We believe even though we have not seen with our eyes or touched with our hands.

But. . .

Are we still keeping ourselves safe and sound behind closed doors like the disciples?

Or have we not only allowed ourselves to believe, but to be transformed and changed and emboldened to go out into the world and start the work of Jesus for ourselves?

As we move through the 50 days of Eastertide we are going to challenge ourselves to let go of our fears and doubts about sharing our own encounters with the risen Christ. We’ll start with casual discussion during our worship services and move to talking to our friends and family. The only way we can assure that The Story keeps on going is by actually sharing The Story and sharing how that Story makes a big difference in our lives.

The Story has shaped my entire life, and you know what?  I’m learning more and more about it through all the good and especially the not-so-perfect saints I have met and loved along the way. I am looking forward to learning more about our Story from you!

In Peace,

Rev. P

Sharing the Cup; Telling the Story

The Lenten Cup: Sharing the Cup; Telling the Story

The Gospel of Mark’s account of the resurrection story ends pretty abruptly and surprisingly:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:1-8).


What is this?

On Sunday, April 1, it seemed like it could have been the most elaborate April Fool’s joke of all time.  At the very least, the ending of Mark comes across today as the original fake news.  Fake because of course the women said something to someone – otherwise we wouldn’t have our story to tell. Our Story with a capital S because it is what gives our life meaning and hope. Our Story: the good news of the empty tomb – is ours to share, like the women inevitably did. And no matter which gospel you read the Story from, in each resurrection account, it is the women who have dutifully headed to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for proper burial. It is the women who discover the empty tomb.

Why Women?

I felt like I crash landed into Holy Week last week, having just returned from two weeks at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. Even today my head and heart are still spinning with the stories I heard and the information I gathered. I’m working through it, bit by bit, but one thing stands out to me. Again and again I heard of successful peace-making, reconciling work, and educational efforts accomplished by women in the rural areas around the globe.  In a “He for She” presentation (where male leaders and personalities advocate for women to help empower them), a government leader from Denmark said they have learned to teach the women in the rural villages the skills the rest of the community needs because, “You can give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. You can teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. But if you teach a woman to fish, the whole community will eat.”

So, what now?

If you accepted the “Lenten Cup Challenge” it is my hope that you have deepened your faith through Lent by taking personal time for study and meditation and prayer. And even if you only came to worship and listened to the sermon and scriptures throughout Lent I hope that you did deepen your understanding of who you are and how you need to fill your “Cup.” First, get rid of the yucky stuff you carry with you to make room for the good stuff God wants to add. A full cup cannot receive anything. Second, work on filling your spirit (cup) with good and beautiful things; honorable things; the living word of God and fellowship with your brothers and sisters. That might mean cutting down on the social media or constant news stream on the radio or television, so you can make more time for meaningful, face to face relationships. Don’t you want that cup to be full of good stuff so that when your life gets jostled around, it is the “good stuff” that spills out and not the yucky stuff that spills?

Taking it Wide

Together, moving into the glorious, new life of Eastertide, we will look at what it means to take our DEEP faith WIDE. Taking it WIDE means we are no longer looking only within ourselves and nurturing and growing our own faith, but that we are looking up and outward, and learning to share our cup by telling our story and talking about our faith. It’s daunting – it really is. When I think about the women leaving the tomb and telling no one because they were terrified, I think of the way we clam up or get sweaty and nervous when talking to someone who may or may not believe in the same things we believe in. It’s even a sad truth that people have difficulty talking to their pastor about their own personal faith.

If the message of Easter tells us anything, it is that good news really can’t be suppressed, though. The movement of the body of Christ moved from the empty tomb throughout the world and is still moving and transforming lives. Jesus is still binding up the brokenhearted and freeing the oppressed. Let’s look up and outward, and find out how we can begin to remember the Story, share it, and go WIDE.

Ready to Stretch My Branches With You,

Rev. P

Easter Monday Revelations

The sun burst over the Divide and pierced through the East windows, shining on the butterflies and warming the flowers up to waft the heavenly fragrance of hyacinth through the Sanctuary this morning.

Easter Monday, 2018. Very early this morning I noticed that the sky was clear and we were in for a beautiful sunrise. Since I was already up and about, I headed into CEH because I wanted to watch what I had hoped for yesterday.

The east windows of the sanctuary did not disappoint. The rising sun pierced through the Valley and burst into our sanctuary. What was even more beautiful was the way it illuminated our chancel area (see picture  on bottom right).

It’s quite unlike yesterday. Yesterday, on a grey April 1, Easter came in with more of a diffused glow. The Divide was thick in clouds and the snowfall limited visibility. The entire Valley had a thick covering of fog and really, the view out the East window looked more like a black and white Currier & Ives print than it did a sunrise. There was light, but we couldn’t see the source.

I remembered the words of C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  And so, even without seeing the sun, we saw the light — and we gathered tentatively, expectantly, and lifted our voices in song and praise.

Our scripture reading was the Resurrection account from the gospel of John. In this version of the story the women head to the tomb and it’s empty, only the burial cloth is left in the tomb. Jesus was in the garden, but Mary didn’t recognize him (she thought him to be the gardener). But then Jesus said, “Mary” and she knew her teacher.

Rob Bell pointed out that “It is such a letdown to rise from the dead and have your friends not recognize you.”

So at sunrise service I challenged the worshipers to be willing to look at those who have “risen from the dead” and to look at them with “Resurrection Eyes” that expect and believe in transformation; not eyes that expect the same old same old. Because I think all too often we doubt the amazing transforming power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. I’ve seen it time and time again in my pastoral care: someone bounces back (rises from the dead) from debilitating depression or sobers up (leaves the tomb) from addiction and even their family and friends do not recognize them or the change in their life and will not accept them as a new person.

There are people I know who have been trapped in sin or doubt for years and have been set free by the forgiving and redeeming love of God through Jesus Christ, only to have their family and friends expect failure from them.

Sometimes, even after a holy transformation, we live into what others expect from us. That can be a good thing if people are expecting radical change and helping you to embrace your resurrection; but more often than not it is the expectation of failure and backsliding that people live into. As Bell says, “It’s such a letdown.”

Yes — those lilies are beginning to open their tight buds to trumpet the news of the resurrection to the world.

This morning, in the silence of the sanctuary at sunrise, I noted that our lilies (that had been shut tight yesterday) had begun to open in the sunlight; a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to open our eyes to transformation and change. Let’s expect transformation rather than failure — in ourselves and in those we encounter who have “Risen” from the dead.

Eastertide lasts from yesterday, Resurrection Sunday, through Pentecost. 50 days. In direct contrast to giving up something for the 40 days of Lent, I encourage you to take on something new for the 50 days of Eastertide. What I want you to take on is the expectation of transformation. Watch all around you for marks of God’s transforming power over nature — the budding of the aspen, the early mountain flowers, perennials beginning to sprout after a long winter, snow melting into raging rivers that flow furiously and can transform the landscape by finding new paths down mountainsides.

Because what we see and witness in creation is reflective of our Resurrecting God. We expect creation to break forth in new life; can we begin to expect new life through the transforming power of the resurrection?

I pray we can, and we will, as we live into the promises witnessed so gloriously all around us.

May it be so!

With love,

Rev. P


Deep & Wide – Let This Cup Pass From Me

Sunday, March 25 was our last Lenten Sunday, which is celebrated as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It kicks off our Holy Week, which culminates in the holiest of days, Resurrection Sunday (Easter — it’s really called Resurrection Sunday).

Since I’ve been serving in a pulpit, I have chosen instead to lead the congregation through what has been called Palm/Passion Sunday, as the Passion Narrative has traditionally only been read at Holy Week services and in our over-scheduled, busy culture, not many people make time for Holy Week services.  So even those who come every Sunday of the year would never hear the Passion Narrative if they missed Holy Week.

Our service Sunday began with a short lesson for our children about parades, specifically the ones happening in Jerusalem. Here I quote from some excellent scholarship that explains it much better:

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a  peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.

Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology … it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts …

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God … For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.

We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem … As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counterprocession’ … The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion: look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.

Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cæsar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life … Holy Week is the story of this confrontation” (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-5).

The whole church proceeded with palms, shouting “Hosanna!” About halfway through the parade I invited a five year old to lead the procession and without hesitation, she stepped right to the front of the line and fearlessly marched onward.

Our attention then turned to a reading of the Passion narrative from Matthew interspersed with sacred hymns of the season. I invited the congregation to participate in the story this year rather than just observe, and challenged each one to consider where they are on the spectrum between “Hosanna” and “Crucify!” All of us want to hurry up and get to the “Alleluia!” but we must take our time through this, stopping to consider where we are along the way towards the cross.

Even as we asked “What Wondrous Love is This?” we paused to think about our Lenten Cup. In our scripture reading, Jesus had just prayed all night long in the garden of Gethsemane:

In his very human prayer he beseeched, “Father, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus knew this cup was a cup of suffering. He had even suggested to the mother of the sons of Zebedee that her sons were not prepared to drink from his cup.

Then in his very Divine prayer acquiesced, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

And of course we know that Jesus, in his Divinity, willingly drank from that cup, sealing our reconciliation with God once and for all.

What is the cup of suffering that has been given to you? Is it something for which you constantly pray, “O Lord, let this cup pass from me?”  Is it physical or mental illness? An ailing family member? Neighbors that you just cannot get along with? A child with whom you constantly disagree? What is in that cup for you?

Because I have good news: no matter what the cup is, or whether you perceive that you can or cannot drink from it, God will be with you. God is with you. So even when we fail as the disciples did (by falling asleep when Jesus merely wanted their prayers and presence; by choosing aggression in the garden when Peter cut off the ear of the centurion; by abandoning Jesus during the trial and crucifixion), God will still be with us. There is no cup too bitter or too full of sorrow that God cannot share with us.

Do you know where you are on that spectrum from Hosanna (“save us”) to Crucify? As we continue to move through Holy Week, please continue to ask yourself that question. Having your palm from Sunday hanging in your home can be a visual cue to be mindful that Holy Week happens perpetually in our faith. We are always a people who shout “Hosanna” in our desperation, or when it is convenient, or part of what the crowd is doing; and constantly poised to be a people who shout “Crucify” when we aren’t willing to risk anything for our faith, or when being a Christian is inconvenient, or when the rest of the crowd is denying Christ as well.

Most congregants chose to leave their palms at church on Sunday. I’ve saved them, as I do each year, because our Palms from Palm Sunday become next year’s ashes for Ash Wednesday. Please drop by the church and pick up a palm to hang in your home somewhere as a reminder of our fickle nature, as a reminder to consider if you’re living in the Hosanna or the Crucify. Then next year on Ash Wednesday you can burn your own palm or bring it to the church to be turned into ashes for our Ash Wednesday service. Here’s an article with other thoughts about what you can do with your palms.

Take comfort, people.

We’ll be taking our faith wide after Easter. . .

In Christ,


Rev. P

CSW 62 Harmful Practices

Harmful Practices
Note: Sensitive issues of Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights discussed in this blog post.

The Charter of the United Nations includes among its basic principles the achievement of international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion (Art. 1, para. 3). Tradition and religion play into it like this:

Traditional cultural practices reflect values and beliefs held by members of a community for periods often spanning generations. Every social grouping in the world has specific traditional cultural practices and beliefs, some of which are beneficial to all members, while others are harmful to a specific group, such as women. These harmful traditional practices include female genital mutilation (FGM); forced feeding of women; early marriage; the various taboos or practices which prevent women from controlling their own fertility; nutritional taboos and traditional birth practices; son preference and its implications for the status of the girl child; female infanticide; early pregnancy; and dowry price. Despite their harmful nature and their violation of international human rights laws, such practices persist because they are not questioned and takeo n an aura of morality in the eyes of those practising them. (https:/

Since the very first Commission on the Status of Women, Harmful Practices have been examined under the specific lens of Harmful Practices against women. The two chief practices that I have been learning about and for which we still advocate against are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage.

Because these harmful practices are based in tradition, culture, and even sometimes religion, they are quite difficult to “Legislate out.” Even when laws and regulations are agreed to at the State level, even when penalties are placed on the perpetrators, these traditions are still being carried out at the family and local level.

For example, on my visit to the Eritrean Ministry I learned that FGM has been outlawed for many years, but devastatingly, over 87% of Eritrean girls are still being cut.

At another event, a female Kenyan government official passionately decried child “Marriage” and said we need to label it as what it really is: child rape and enslavement. She explained that marriage is a consensual agreement, and in child marriage, there is no consent on behalf of the bride. Child “Marriage” leads to early pregnancy in teen years and even in childhood and always results in higher infant mortality rates and death under 5 rates. Girls forced into marriage do not continue their education, and most face devastating health conditions for the remainder of their life because their bodies were not ready for child bearing. One such issue is Obstetric Fistula, which can cause incontinence and is very painful

In an emotional presentation about such harmful practices, I heard from three different countries:

Youth Champion Advocate and nurse Smriti Thapa explained how her nursing clients were between 15 and 20 and typically on their 3rd pregnancy. She told about “Kamla”, a 16 year old who suffered the loss of her stillborn baby through a failed home delivery after which she hemorrhaged and in emergency surgery her uterus was removed. She had been forced into a marriage with a 30-year-old. She was the second child wife to this man, who had lost his first young wife to child birth. Ms Thapa explained that these young women have no control over their bodies and no access to contraceptives.

In Pakistan, marriage is glorified by the young girls who look with excitement to the day when they get to wear the beautiful traditional wedding clothes and jewelry. The problem is that these young women’s bodies are not ready for childbearing, and that they do not know Basic Life Skills or understand things like birth spacing and contraception. Pakistan is trying to curb this through innovative sexual education programs and teaching reproductive rights to girls and boys at an early age. It’s a “long game” approaching it this way, but through the education of the youngest generation, Pakistan hopes to change gender norms and challenge tradition. Pakistan is serious about this education: they will be teaching basic life skills and the consequences of early marriage to 4700 schools through training 1000 master teachers in the next 60 days! Bravo, Pakistan.

Auxilia Ponga works with faith-based communities to champion women. She is working on improving maternal and child health. Her approach is important to challenging traditional practices as she works with tribal chiefs and religious leaders to teach about the dangers of child marriage. Since focusing on the local, rural areas, the effort has lowered the incidence of child marriage from 42% to 31%. Many times, families feel forced to sell their children into marriage (or trafficking, which is another topic altogether) because they can’t afford the school fees or even afford to feed their children. So Ms. Ponga is working with faith-based organizations to pay school fees, lessening the chance that girls will be married for financial relief. They have raised awareness that Child Marriages are more subject to violence; and have begun teaching life skills and rights. They empower the girls in school through comprehensive education in sexual education. An important lesson learned from Zambia is that boys must be taught this information and these skills as well as girls, as teaching only the girls has not been as effective.

Though learning about harmful practices is devastating, I see hope in the unique approaches these countries and organizations are trying. My delegation, Ecumenical Women, is a coalition of many denominations across the globe who recognize the importance of Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights, and we are unique among the religious organizations as we advocate language for the final statement that will encourage education and empowerment for women and girls in respect to their reproductive rights.

In other panel discussions this week, I have been challenged to begin to consider some of our western practices as harmful as well, as the list of practices has not included some of our long-held rituals of initiation like binge drinking and hazing. I would love to hear what your reactions are to these traditional practices. Please also take a moment to consider what harmful practices your own traditions, cultures, and religions support without giving thought to the long-term consequences.

UN CSW62 – Focus on Girls and Women in Rural Areas

Spending 25 years in ministry and education in rural areas, I have an immense amount of passion for women and girls who grow up in these areas. Growing up in an urban area gives me an even wider perspective on education and opportunities within the rural setting. I didn’t realize how incredibly fortunate I had been to grow up in an urban area until I saw the difference in opportunities for rural students.

What I’ve noticed in our midwestern rural settings are that there is a much heavier emphasis placed on sports than arts, and that the number of extra-curricular groups are diminished in comparison to the urban setting. Diversity is rare, and so there tends to be a narrower perspective as far as the acceptance of alternate views (traditions, religions, etc.). Furthermore, not every student’s particular needs can be met within a social context, and services for special needs are sometimes more difficult to receive.

Of all the places I’ve serve, I see that Grand County fills a lot of gaps for its students to provide access to the arts and a diversity of extra-curricular activities like Brain Bowl and Model UN. Beyond education though, our rural area presents issues in transportation and housing, as well as access to services such as health, mental health, and even things we struggle with daily like cell service and Internet access.

The global rural issues are similar to ours, but magnified by about 1000%. Access to all of the issues listed above is more limited, and it is all compounded by a strong sense of tradition and culture. These traditions and cultures in the rural areas seem dominated by historically patriarchal leadership and a very strong sense of machismo.

What I hear repeatedly in the many panels I have attended is that harmful practices like Child Marriage, Early Pregnancies, Violence against Women, and Female Genital Mutilation are intensified in rural areas, and indigenous women suffer the most of all rural people.

There are many reasons for this. Cultural gender norms and tradition weigh heavily in rural areas, even when the national law has prohibited marriage until 18, and when FGM is declared illegal. Think of it as Colorado’s State’s rights – Colorado has legalized recreational use of marijuana, but it is still illegal federally. Except globally, traditions and religious practices of a culture are nearly impossible to “legislate out.”

Today I visited the Consulate of Eritrea with a mostly Presbyterian delegation representing Ecumenical Women. This is a young country, located in the Horn of Africa, liberated and independently governed only for the past 26 years and signers of the CEDAW since 1996 (Convention to End All Discrimination Against Women). They are fighting hard within their own country to promote equality for women, and have established gender quotas for leadership within the country. FGM and child marriage has been outlawed there, and both are punishable by law, but they are still very prevalent in the rural areas because women and children do not know their rights.

I was so appreciative of the Eritrean Ministry to receive us so wholeheartedly, and to listen with such interest at our platforms. We listened as well, applauding this young country’s efforts to create gender equality. We were welcomed by their entire CSW delegation – five women and one man.

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW62)

Greetings from the United Nations building on the East side of Manhattan. I’ve been here since Friday, taking in lots of Advocacy Training from my Presbyterian Church (USA) Delegation and enjoying exuberant worship with the Ecumenical Women delegation. The PC delegation is made up of about 20 women of all ages. The larger delegation, the Ecumenical Women, has our global partners as well as our US Lutheran (ELCA), Episcopal, UCC, and United Methodist brothers and sisters (among many many others). What a joy to work with these new friends as we advocate for the rights of women and girls in rural areas. Both the PC(USA) and the Ecumenical Women Council are NGO’s or “Non Governmental Organizations.”  At the UN we have voice, but no vote, so I’ve been learning how to use my voice to influence change.

It has been a whirlwind of activities and meetings since I arrived, but I wanted to start this first post with a very basic primer on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year marks the 62nd CSW, and the focus of this Commission is women in rural areas. Directly from the UN CSW Website:

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. A functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it was established by Council resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946.

The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The history of advocating for women at the UN is rich. I encourage you to learn more about it by clicking here.

The most important highlights of this history would probably be the “Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (CEDAW) in 1963. It was an attempt to state in one document the standards agreed upon concerning women’s rights since the inception of the Commission in 1946. CEDAW was officially adopted by the UN in 1979. The United States remains as one of the very few Member States that has not signed on to CEDAW (shocking and frustrating at the same time).

Conferences in Mexico in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, and Nairobi in 1985 led to the 4th World Conference in Beijing and the Beijing Platform for action of 1995. My dear friend, Dr. Susanne Jalbert, was a presenter at the Beijing conference and shared her recollections of the event with me. We are so blessed and privileged to have her expertise and passion in our community. This summer, Dr. Jalbert and a group of empowered women kicked off an initiative to develop leadership skills in our very own rural girls through LEAD (Learn, Educate, Achieve, Dare), which was formerly called “Girls Leadership Council of Grand County.” We have two girls from CEH who are participating in this flagship leadership program right now: Krista Conrad and Emily Lantermans.

I’m so grateful to be representing Rural Women here this year. Thank you so much to the great community of CEH and Grand County for helping me make it here this year. I’ll be posting tomorrow about the similarities I have found between our global rural partners and Grand County!


Deep and Wide: The Empty Cup

Through this season of Lent we are looking at our faith lives as a cup. Last week we explored the significance of using an ordinary object to help us contemplate our faith. You can read about it by clicking here.

Sunday, March 4, we used the story of the prophet Elijah, exhausted and worn out from his trials with Queen Jezebel and King Ahab (1 Kings 19:1-18).  Poor Elijah was an empty cup. His life was being threatened and he had done everything he felt he could for God. So he curled up under a broom tree in the desert and cried out to God, “I QUIT!”  He basically gave up. “O Lord, take away my life.”  I mean, that’s about as empty as you can get.

The thing is, God wasn’t done with Elijah yet. It seemed like everything was working against him, but GOD was working for him. Elijah slept, and was awakened at intervals by angels who fed him cake baked on hot stones and filled him with water. He was cared for and nurtured and eventually was able to make the 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb, where God spoke to him in sheer silence.

We all feel empty sometimes. In the memoirs published after her death, Mother Teresa divulged that she experienced what St. John of the Cross described centuries ago as “A long, dark night of the soul.” During 20 some years, Mother Teresa could not feel God’s presence in her life. She didn’t lie down under a broom tree though, nor did she throw in the towel. She continued to serve the poorest of the poor and the lepers. She sat next to dying people and held their hands, reminding them of God’s beloved promises. To me, that makes her service all the more powerful. She wasn’t receiving that “holy gratification” of God’s presence and Spirit — but it didn’t keep her from being the very hands and feet of Christ to those who needed her the most.

There is an up side to emptying out, too. When our cups are full, we have little to no room to take in more. But an empty cup is ready to be filled. Think about breathing — you can’t take in the healthy and necessary oxygen until you have exhaled the carbon dioxide in your lungs. So when your cup is filled, especially when it is filled with yucky stuff, you don’t have room for growth.

This Lenten season, as you study and pray and hopefully deepen your faith, consider the yucky stuff in your cup and recognize when it needs to go so you can make room for the good stuff. Or perhaps you feel more like Elijah — you’re empty and burned out — ready to quit. Remember that even when you feel like you’re done, God is close and ready to send angels to nourish you back to health. Take time for yourself; rest, wait on the Lord. It can be our emptiness that opens us to growth and renewal.

With Peace,

Rev. P

Deep and Wide: The Lenten Cup

Sunday was a momentous day for our congregation as we ordained and installed new officers for our church leadership. Mark Lund, Cathy Lile, and Jake Bolen were ordained and installed as deacons; Bob Gaskins and Dylan Cormican were ordained and installed as Elders.

You may be asking what our “Lenten Cup” has to do with Ordination. Well — here’s how I see it.  Sunday I told the stories of several lovely tea cups, coffee mugs, and basic, utilitarian glasses that I had brought from home. By telling the stories of the cups, you all came to understand why each one was special to me. I think the most telling one may have been the coffee cup from my mother’s china set. She was married in 1964, and I recall using that china only one time — for one of my parent’s milestone anniversaries. The cup I shared on Sunday morning still had the German manufacturing sticker on the bottom; my mother had always said she was saving it for something “special.”  Unfortunately, Dad died in 1992 and we never used it after that. Mom died in 2012 and was perhaps still waiting for something special.

“Okay, Paula” you might be thinking. “Enough about the cups — what do they have to do with my faith?”  Just follow me. . . I’m getting there (I promise)!

Cups are essential to our life, as we cannot live without water and fluids. So even if we fashion a cup out of our hands at a crystal-clear mountain stream, we can still see those hands as a cup and they share the same basic characteristics of any cup: they have the capacity to be filled; they have a limit to how much goes in; every one of them is different.

But why cups?  The roots of the Presbyterian denomination are post-reformation Scotland, and we have a strong connection to Celtic Spirituality. One aspect of Celtic spirituality is the understanding that there is no difference between the secular world and the spiritual world — any commonplace or ordinary object can point us to God:

It was a “holy worldliness” to use Bonhoeffer’s phrase where a holistic approach to life was expressed daily in the real incarnational ordinariness of life as it is. There was no false divide between the sacred and secular. Where an integrated life, of body and soul, work and worship, wonder and ordinariness; prayer and life are the norm. A sacramental outlook that because it sees God in everything, encourages a reverence for God’s creation and a respect for the care of his world. An everyday spirituality of ordinariness accessible to all. Never anti –intellectual it was an earthed spirituality that met people where they were. People did not have to climb ecclesiastical walls or learn ‘holy God speak’ to encounter ‘a thin place.’

Esther De Waal puts it well; ‘The Celtic approach to God opens up a world in which nothing is too common to be exalted and nothing is so exalted that it cannot be made common.’ They believed that the presence of God infused daily life and thus transforms it, so that at any moment, any object, any job of work, can become a place for encounter with God. (click here to read more about Celtic Spirituality).

The features of an ordinary cup that teach us so much about our own life and our faith is several fold. Like the stories I told about each cup on our Communion table last week, we each have stories of our own that make us unique, special, and treasured.  Like the cups on the table, we each have the capacity to hold something — good stuff or yucky stuff. And like the cups on the table, we each can be filled with only so much (which makes what we fill our cup with all the more important).

Jesus often used ordinary objects to teach us about life. Whether it was a fig tree, a coin, a sheep, or a cup, the metaphor was rarely lost on Jesus’ first century listeners nor on us.  Consider this teaching of Jesus near the end of his ministry on earth:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26  

See? Jesus says it like it is. . . the pharisees and lawyers of his day were so wrapped up in “appearing” holy and righteous, that they rarely worked on the inside to become truly clean. I think too often we get pretty wrapped up with our appearance as well.  But there is, of course, hope:

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”   2 Tim. 2:21 CEV

So — that’s what we’re doing. We will first clean the yucky stuff out of our cup and then work on what it is that we put inside. And as a special charge to our newly ordained officers, I reminded them that we have many assorted and unique cups in our church family, and it is their calling to minister to all of them, regardless of what the outside looks like; and encourage them to look compassionately at what is on the inside.

I pray that this Lenten season offers you many opportunities to experience the “Holy” in the “Ordinary” and that you will begin to fill your cup with the good stuff, so that if you ever begin to spill over, it’s only beautiful, loving things that are flowing out rather than the yucky, sinful and selfish things we become so filled with over time.


In Christ,

Rev. P