Sunday, December 03, 2017

Chained to the Altar

Chained to the altar
   my heart that wants to go to flight

on the altar is the lamb that was slain
  on the altar is the Word become flesh
     on the altar is God, among us
         come to bear the suffering of the world,
of my suffering
       
come to bring healing for this broken heart

so I chain my heart
   that wants to flight
I keep it before its Hope and Healing

       

Friday, March 03, 2017

Church Mouse in the Library

When Moses and Asa were little boys I began telling stories of a Church Mouse. One of my goals for this year is to explore putting them in a form accessible to others. This story came about a couple of nights ago in a story telling session with Aravis and Kyrie. 
I'd love to have some feedback.
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Church Mouse in The Library

It was seldom that CM found himself surprised by the presence of a person. Today was not that day. He was in the Library, returning C.S. Lewis' book, The Last Battle, his favorite in the Chronicles of Narnia series. He almost had it inserted back on the shelf when around the corner came Marie Lamb. He wasn't sure how she had come into the church. He hadn't heard the doors open. He did know that Marie, who was slight in stature, could move without much of a sound, but he hadn't heard her come in. While the thought of not hearing her crossed his mind, his eyes perceived that he should get moving. For hurtling through the air, coming his direction, was a book.

Marie had come to the church to put away a stack of books that had been accumulating in the returned book section. She had stopped by the office first to check-in on Pastor Marion, but he was out for the moment. So she made her way through the empty halls quietly. She didn't turn on a light, she knew where all the furniture was, she was as quiet as a mouse. But seeing a real mouse - that was not on Marie's agenda for the day.

Rounding the corner she saw a nose, whiskers, a tail and a book. Marie's instincts were not to run, but to squash the beast. She picked up the first thing her hand came to - Martin Luther's commentary on Romans. While in High School she had great aim with a softball, but she had never thrown a book before. Desperate times called for desperate measures. She didn't even look at the title, she knew it was big enough, hard, and could squash a mouse. 

CM's eyes opened up, his mind calculating his lack of hearing, and then suddenly his legs became like a race car. The book in his hands gave way as he went into survival mode. He raced to one of his internal library tunnels. He had been caught in the library before and could always hide for a while in a tunnel. 

Something had happened in Marie, she was in no mood to avoid a mouse. She wanted to rid the church of the mouse.  She began peeling back books, seeing the tunnels, hunting for CM. 

CM came out in the open. He was on a top shelf with all of John Wesley's Works arrayed behind him. 

Marie took aim, book after book flew like missiles from her hands. Bonhoeffer, Barth, Brunner - never mind that they were pacifist writers of the 1930's - the mouse had to be stopped. 

He darted in, and around, and behind. Finally he was able to make it to the duct work that would lead to his apartment, way up in the attic. Instead of making the climb he turned around to watch. Marie was still on the hunt. 

She cleared shelves of their books looking for the mouse. It was almost as if she was trying to get the last bit of yeast out of the house before Passover. 

After an hour or so the adrenaline stopped. Marie stopped. She looked around and then sat down on the floor. The shelves were empty.

About that time Pastor Marion returned. He had been to the hardware store getting some paint for the kids worship room. He popped his head into the sanctuary and saw something strange. Then he noticed all the books off of the shelves. Sitting on the floor, her hands were in moving back and forth, and her lips were moving but not there was no sound. 

Pastor Marion asked, "Marie are you ok? What happened here?" 
She sat quietly for a moment, then raised her head and looked him in the eye. "A mouse. I saw a mouse and tried to catch it." That was all she could say. 

After 20 minutes Pastor Marion said, "Marie, maybe you need some food." He decided to take her to the Side Tap Trap for a bowl of chili. Marie loved the chili at the Side Tap Trap and Pastor Marion thought it would bring her out of the daze she was in. 

As she settled into a booth CM was telling the story of today's events to his friends, Baptist, Naz Boy, and Episcopacy. They sipped their soda and looked on Marie, who sat below them with a dazed look. Naz Boy asked, "think we should drop in on her now? "

Now way, said CM. I've caused enough trouble for one day. Next thing you know she'll have her bent pointer finger staring us down, and it won't be good. She may be small but she is mighty."  

CM finished his soda and returned to his apartment. 

Pastor Marion worked late that night, putting all the books back on their shelves. He came across the Last Battle, and thought, I think it's time I read this again. 

The End. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

All Things - A Prayer

Kind Father

All things come from you
All things return to you

Within an instant all things in my hands can be taken away
in the next moment
the next breath

Do not take
But let me offer all that is in my hand
Amen

Kids and Money Talk

In mid-December I brought home paperwork that described the details about my salary and benefits. I decided to take a few minutes to show and explain the data to our kids and let them gain knowledge, understanding, and a degree of economic insight. I described the features: cash salary, housing allowance, expense reimbursement, pension - defined benefit and defined contribution, insurance - health, death and disability.

As I explained the data to Kyrie, my 8 year old daughter, Anna, my wife, remarked that it was probably over her head. Kyrie piped up, "it is not, I am interested in this." It wouldn't be long before we knew how interested! 

A couple of nights later we were having a family discussion. Kyrie was being very funny and I began to imitate her. After I mimicked her one too many times she scampered across the room, stood upon my knees and declared: "if you copy me one more time, I'm going to put you on disability." 

She was more than interested, she caught the concepts and applied them.
  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Prayer for Traveling

Tonight the sky was clear and crisp. I looked up into the sky and I saw airplanes - about 10 of them - at different places in the sky and heading in different directions. Those planes made me think about all the people traveling at this time of year; many of them  headed home for Christmas. Or in the words of the incredible radio personality Gary Burbank - home to see mamma n' them (Burbanak was on 700 WLW - Cincinnati - The Big One). 

The many travelers reminded me of the travel reflected in the story of Christ's birth. Mary traveld to see Elizabeth. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, to Egyp, and finally to Nazareth. The Magi traveled from a distant land to behold the King of the Jews. The Angels traveled to bring God's good news to Mary, Jospeh, Zaccharias, and the Shepherds. In the midst of all this travel God was giving great joy and comfort to the world.

If you're traveling this year, maybe to see mamma n' them, or maybe on some new adventure; 
May the God who watched over the travelers of Mary and Jospeh and all the others, watch over you. May great joy, and the wonderful surprise of the Holy One greet you.  
May you journey in the comfort of God as the world, your world, knows great sadness
May the journey change you in ways that bless the world, that bring good news.
May the journey take you, finally home, where you find the people of God, dwelling in sweet communion
And may the heart of Mary, a heart that treasures and ponders all these things, be found in you. 
Amen.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Running with a Dog

Anna and I have a running route that takes us by the house of a friend at our half-way point. Our friend has a small black lab type of dog that is getting along in years. She has decided that we are her running partners. When she started running with us, she would gasp mightly for breath, because she was in no running shape. As she has shed some pounds, she looks back at us as if to say; hey come on, why are you so slow. She's progressed in her running.

While she's progressed as a runner, she is not good about traffic. She thinks she owns the road. If we run on one side of the road, she'll run on the other. More often than not, she'll run right down the center of the road. We live in the country, thus the traffic is not as persistent as it could be in a village or  a city. But there is still traffic.

Recently I began to notice how automobiles react to her presence with us, and how autos behave around us when we're the only two on the road. When it's just humans, auto's seldom slow down, they just move over - it's the country and there is plenty of room. Sometimes, they might not move over much. Occasionally, as soon as the auto is past, the owner slams on the accelerator. A big plume of diesel smoke emerges from the tail pipe. I guess they are letting us know they are faster. Keep truckin' buddy.

When the dog is with us, the auto's slow down, way down. She can stay in the middle of the road and keep moving ahead and cars or trucks will come to crawl. Many times people will roll down their windows and say hello to the dog. Almost never does someone stop us to say hello; the exception is the dog's master. He says, "don't take her home, she knows the way."

This past week as the dog was in the middle of the road, a car window descended so it's driver could say hello to the dog; we were next to a cow pasture. It dawned on me. We treat dogs like people in India treat cattle. As cattle are protected so they can roam at will in India, dogs have that vaulted spot in America. We have deified dogs. I mentioned this observation to Anna and she said; "Well, they're a lot easier to get along with than people." And there you have it. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A Crisis Food Pantry

The following is an account of how Schweitzer United Methodist Church started a crisis food pantry, how it became a pantry for those in chronic poverty, and how and why it returned to its original mission. 
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Schweitzer Food Pantry
It’s more than food

Schweitzer United Methodist Church, Springfield, Missouri began an active food pantry ministry in 2003. In the beginning the pantry operated out of a small closet near its gymnasium. It served about 300 persons in its first year. Most of its disbursable food came from donations from the congregation. Its vision was to be a point of connecting with those who were in some sort of crisis. The vision of being a crisis pantry was congruent with another ministry at Schweitzer at the time, an Emergency Response team. The Emergency Response team was organized to deal with natural disasters. The two ministries complimented one another and sought to address needs that arose from crises’. Both ministries were led and staffed by volunteers.

Through unique relationships and with relocation to a new spatial context  in 2010, the Food Pantry began to spread out and its reach expanded. It moved from a small closet to having about 6,000 square feet of space for storage and distribution. As space expanded so did capacity and the number of people who came to the doors. Through an organic model the ministry grew exponentially. It was not long before 70% of the guests visited more than once a year. A majority visited ever four months. Guests were given cards that indicated the next month they could return for another visit. What had begun as a crisis pantry had migrated to a pantry serving chronic issues of food supply.

The growth in visitors was exponential. In 2003 the pantry served 300 persons. In 2014 that number had expanded to 16,816.  The value of the food that was distributed through Schweitzer was estimated to be $231,000. Additionally, Schweitzer shared about $160,000 worth of food items with partner pantries and organizations in Springfield.

The value of cash donations and food donations from Schweitzer members reached $80,000. Friends Against Hunger supplied $20,000 dollars worth of pre-packaged rice and bean meals. Food brokers, warehouses, grocery vendors, and partnering pantries contributed the remaining $291,000. The capacity to supply those who came to the door had grown to match the “need”.

The growth of the pantry ministry was celebrated. We saw an increasing number of people being served; those who came received food. Many who came were happy to receive prayer and items of spiritual support. We celebrated our increasing capacity to handle and distribute food to other pantries. We celebrated the increasing number of volunteers who served through the pantry. We celebrated that people of all ages, from youth to those in their nineties, could find a place to serve. We celebrated our collaborative connections in the community that enabled the need to be met. We celebrated that we continued to improve our processes, the environment, and the experience of those who entered the pantry. We honored all who entered the pantry as persons made in the image of God. We had much to celebrate.

As we began to take a closer look at how we could improve the pantry, we began to notice what we were not celebrating – transformed lives. People who visited seldom made a participatory connection to the church. We were not seeing people move out of a place of need. We were a part of their patchwork puzzle of subsistence groceries. Instead of transforming the world – our mission statement, we were handing out a lot of fish for a day. Through the lens of self-assessment and some pertinent writings we began to see our growth was contributing to toxic charity. At the end of the day our help was continuing and contributing to the cycle of poverty. We felt great, but those who came, visited and left would come back again, retelling their story that leveraged sympathy for a scarce amount of resources. Both givers and recipients were missing all that God had made them to be. We had to step off the chronic treadmill for the wholeness and holiness of everyone.

In the fall of 2013 a journey began with a small group of people pulled together for a Skunkworks Project (see Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program). The objective was to pivot our ministries of mercy to works of transformation. The experience of the food pantry was our starting point. The Skunkworks team began to learn and gain an understanding of poverty, of the people who were accessing our pantry, of the difference between toxic charity and help that contributes to growth. A key learning we came across helped by defining a helpful response into three areas: relief, rehabilitation, and development. We dedicated ourselves to returning the food pantry to its original mission – that of relief, or crisis; while at the same time establishing on-ramps to rehabilitation and development.

In the fall of 2014, with a clearer understanding of what we had become, and where we needed to move, a new team of people began wrestling with the challenge of shifting the Pantry to an entry point for those who are in crisis, who need immediate relief. Over the course of six months the team charted out a path of change that was implemented April 6, 2015.

Returning the Pantry to a Crisis mode means the end of telling people that they can return in 4 months for more groceries. It means an end to brief questions, document validation, and prayer being the only spiritual engagement. It means the end of celebrating larger numbers of people served and larger dollar values of groceries going out the door.

It does mean the following:
·      Everyone who enters the food pantry will be greeted as a welcome guest
·      Everyone who visits on their first time will be welcomed into a conversation (interview) in which strengths, abilities, and needs will be explored. We will not assume people are coming only for food. Our disposition will be toward relationship. Scripts have been written and volunteers are undergoing training to move in this direction.
·      First time guests who indicate food is a need will be blessed with food, in a similar fashion as before the change. They will also be invited to visit with a prayer team member who will engage in conversation and pray alongside them if they wish.
·      First time guest will also be made aware that the pantry at Schweitzer is for crisis situations (defining a crisis has been a hard task). Guests will find us open and ready to engage in times of crisis.
·      First time quests will be made aware of the several opportunities for growth and invited to step into deeper relationships. The opportunities for growth include joining a group to experience healthy cooking, a Bible for beginners class, an intro to Money group, and a Jobs For Life (JfL) cohort. These classes, especially the JfL cohort are pathways into deeper relationship with others, with oneself, and with God.
·      Second time guests will be greeted and warmly welcomed.
·      Second time guests will be welcomed into a conversation about their arrival at Schweitzer.
·      If a Second time guest (and all subsequent visits) is in a crisis a weeks worth of food will be provided. A guest in crisis does not have to wait a certain amount of time to return.
·      If a Second time guest is not in a state of crisis (a determination made by the interviewer), they will be invited to join us in one or more of our additional groups/venues. Entering these other tracks will be met with relationship and a brief supply of food staples.
·      Second time guests who choose not to enter a fruitful path will be blessed and invited to return at any time when they would like, especially if they are in a crisis situation.

The Pantry is a significant ministry with many volunteers. A major challenge is developing buy-in from volunteers as we move away from a traditional food pantry model to a crisis pantry.  Many volunteers are wrestling with the shift. Three key sticking points have been raised during the change and implementation process:
1.     What is the definition of a crisis? The Food Pantry Improvement team has been compiling a list of events that indicate a crisis. It is imagined that the conversations with the guests themselves will be a source of definition – how do our guests define a crisis? What is not a crisis is “more month left at the end of the month than money” – that is a money management issue.
2.     Who is going to host deeper conversations? Previous verbal interactions were brief.  Conversations centered around statistics, eg. number of people in the home. New conversations will center around a life narrative that seeks to highlight gifts and abilities as it also hears about roadblocks. Good listening and discernment skills are going to be invaluable. The first response is to hire a half-time trainer/interviewer. This person is going to recruit and train a team of volunteers to host relational conversations.
3.     What about the elderly? How will the elderly population living at the margins be received at the pantry? A small sample of demographics revealed that a small percentage of visitors to the pantry fit this classification. A good and precise plan has not been put into place. We are engaging a new software application that will give us a better understanding of our overall demographics and provide data points as we move forward.

The future for the Schweitzer Food Pantry is one of greater hospitality, engagement, and an invitation to a journey of life together. We hope and pray, study and work anticipating good seeds will be planted that will bring forth transformation of lives and our community. We look forward to celebrating an increasing number of people moving from recipients in need, to stewards of a good and beautiful community.


   

The Schweitzer Food Pantry is operated by Schweitzer United Methodist Church, Springfield, Missouri. On the web at sumc.co.  By Jason Leininger, Executive Pastor. Edited, 2016 October.

Monday, October 03, 2016

What do you like about your job?

On Saturday I ran into a young man on the street who knew me from my work at Schweitzer. He introduced me to his friends. They were waiting to enter a popular eatery in Springfield.

One of they young men, being a bit intoxicated, engaged in conversation. He asked what I did as a profession. I replied, I'm a pastor. Then he asked, "what do you like about your job?"

I think it's the first time I have ever been asked about what I like about my work. I knew I did not have much time, so I said to the young inquisitor:

I like that I get to talk about Jesus, who lived, was crucified, and resurrected. I like that I can share the hope of Jesus with a world that does not have an abundance of hope. I like that Jesus gives peace to an anxious world. I like seeing people become all they are meant to be when they become followers of Jesus.

After a couple of other exchanges the young man excused himself. He returned with a cigarette in hand and indicated that he needed something to calm his anxiety.

Evidently my brief reply was anxiety inducing, or there was something going on there between the young man and the Spirit that I was left out on. The language of classical orthodoxy would say a spirit of conviction was visiting the young man. Conviction is a call to a different kind of life. Blessed are those who receive its grace.