The cooler weather brings certain gifts. With the change of season, arriving late this year, it is now possible to sit in the crisp cool of the evening, cozied up under a blanket, with an enjoyable book and a warm cup of tea. The summer heat is now behind us, we bring out our knit hats, scarves, and our favorite sweaters. We enjoy watching our wisp of warm breath in the morning air as we rake leaves, plant bulbs, and walk among trees, still clinging to their orange and yellow and red leaves. Autumn’s vibrant color scheme fills us with wonder, as we take in all that God made. And of course, there are the birds. We watch as the waterfowl practice their formation, before taking to flight in search of warmer weather.
But one of the things I love about this time of year is the food. The winter squash and Brussels sprouts and beets beckon to me. The apples are crispy and sweet. Chillier weather means chilis and soups, and all the hot meals we were avoiding cooking in the heat of summer. And we can’t forget about the baking—pies and cookies and holiday treats. There is also the joy of Pumpkin Spice everything! Last week in my grocery shopping, I bought every pumpkin thing I could: pumpkin bisque, pumpkin butter, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spread, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin-spice-covered-espresso-beans, pumpkin spice rooibos tea, pumpkin ale, pumpkin pancake mix, pumpkin spice incarnations of various breakfast cereals. As the saying goes, “Variety is the (pumpkin) spice of life!!!”
November is the month for giving thanks. We started the month, remembering the gift of the saints we have known and loved. We end the month with Thanksgiving and Advent. It is during this month that the church year rolls over (Christ our King Sunday, November 20th is the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar; November 27th is the first Sunday of the church year), and the shift of season moves from active toil in our gardens to resting on our laurels and reflecting on the blessings we experienced this past year.
The Psalmist exclaims, “O taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are those who take refuge in God” (Psalm 34:8). Where have you seen God’s goodness? Where have you tasted it? For me, my heart fills with gratitude for my family. Sarah and I have been married 20 years and she is still my best friend! I am thankful as I watch my kids grow, each of them on the journey to becoming themselves. I am grateful for all you, and the ways that Jesus shows up in the love and care we have for one another. And I give thanks that God is not through with us yet! Why are you thankful?
I like to write about spirituality, and I like to share what encouragement I find in scripture with others. But Church newsletters are hard for me. Invariably the end of the month comes, and I know I must produce an article for you all, but I don’t know what to say, and I wonder who reads these and if it is worthwhile. I sometimes ask my family members what they’d like to read if they were in the mood to read a church newsletter. They tell me they are never in the mood.
Isaiah 55:11 says that God’s word doesn’t return void, but “it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” I believe that the extent that I speak the words God gives me, that they mean something, but it doesn’t make the task of sitting down to write a newsletter easy. Sometimes I stare at a blank page, sometimes I look at what other pastors in other places write to their congregation in their monthly missals. But usually I sit back and ask, What is it that Klamath Falls United Methodist Church needs to hear right now? And I wait.
God is with us as a congregation, that God cares for us. I know church, and our church, is facing challenges right now. We are an aging congregation, and post Covid-19, some of the folks that regularly warmed the pew next to you are not in worship. This is not unusual, a year of not going to church and another year of restrictions broke the worship habit many of us had, and those of us who remain are increasingly called upon to keep the ship running.
As your pastor, I am aware of the institutional challenges of keeping things running. When there is a lull in congregational giving, I feel it. In a post pandemic world, I don’t take it personally. The fact that giving is down is more to do with lackluster attendance and economic inflation. But here is the thing, I don’t think that God is done with us yet. I am grateful for the way that First United Methodist Church of Klamath Falls inhabits our community. Until recently, we fed our neighbors twice a week (and more because they took grocery items home from the Palm dinners which helped allay their weekly expenses). In a post P.A.L.M. world, I am excited to press into the ways that KFUMC meets our neighbors with the love of Jesus.
The question that haunts me as a pastor is this: What difference does our church make for the community at large? Until recently, my answer was P.A.L.M. but as we discern the way forward in our post-P.A.L.M era, my question for the congregation, our council, and leadership, is how do we continue to impact the community after P.A.L.M? At the beginning of September, we hosted a block party where we got to meet our neighbors. I believe that God still has a plan for us and that our church can make a real-life impact in the life of our community. Do you believe this? We have reached a new season in the life the church, that requires imagination, discernment and awareness as we seek to meet the needs of Klamath Falls. God is with us as we step out in faith!
My feet were sore. I was with friends on the Pacific Crest Trail for a couple of days at the end of August and towards the end of my first day, nearing twelve miles I could feel the blisters forming on the bottom of my feet. The next day, as we hiked back, I felt my feet every mile. The middle toes on both feet throbbed and I felt a blister on the pad below my big toe. But there was nothing to do but keep walking.
It is funny, we don’t often think about our feet until they hurt. When everything feels right, we are focused on where our feet take us and who we are with and not on our feet themselves. But when our feet hurt, we can think of little else.
As I was hiking, I thought about my feet and I wondered about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:23, “The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most.” Isn’t this just like our feet?
Jesus’ feet were dirty and sore from walking town–to–town across Galilee. When he stripped off his outer robes and knelt to wash the disciple’s feet in the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion (John 13), the disciples were scandalized that their Lord would stoop down to the level of a lowly servant and wash their feet. And yet caring for his disciples’ feet was a way of expressing profound love and honor for them.
Of course, when Paul talks about the parts of the body in 1 Corinthians, he isn’t really talking about our physical bodies but the interconnection we have with one another in the body of Christ. But my aching feet got me thinking. Are there people in my life I don’t notice until they cause me pain? Are there people we treat like feet? People we rely on but take for granted most of the time? The parts of the body we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. I am mindful that in my journey with Christ, learning to love “the least of these” is learning the way of love that Jesus calls us to.
I had a fun time on the trail, despite my sore feet. But when I got home, I washed my feet and gave them well–deserved rest. Who are the people in our lives who need special care right now?
It was a sunny day at Veterans Park on Saturday, July 16, the day of the second annual Klamath Falls Pride festival. The previous year, our church had participated as the only visible Christian presence at the event. But that was last year, this year was different. This year, an Oregon State Representative led a prayer meeting before the event, out of concern for what Pride meant for our community. Another Christian group came with signs of protest and their own P.A. System where a man preached at the Pride gathering for about 4 hours straight (if you think I’m long-winded, you have no idea).
Fifty-feet-away, our church had a table. We had stickers with the United Methodist cross with a Rainbow flame, candy, and a sign with our church name and the UMC motto: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. I wore a t-shirt with our logo on it, that read, “Break the rules, love everybody.” For the five hours we were there, we would hear words of judgment hurled at our neighbors and we sought to embody a different form of Christian spirituality. One that spoke of love, and hospitality and welcome first, not words of judgment, rejection, and dismissal.
We didn’t speak directly with the other Christians there, though I made eye contact and smiled a couple of times. Our role there was not to get into a shouting match with those we disagree with, but to share the love of Jesus. We had several good discussions with LGBTQ folk who had a church, faith tradition they had left because, as they’d come to terms with their orientation or gender identity, they were no longer welcome in those spaces. Some would come to our table upset, having just talked to the other Christians on the sidelines, a few with complaints about how they were mistreated. We would listen, and we would remind people of Christ’s love and acceptance of them.
Hearing the stories of our LGBTQ neighbors was a sacred moment for me and I was moved by the spiritual hunger the LGBTQ community has. I shared with people my conviction that the Bible tells us the story of God’s redemption and love for people, and I would tell them, “If anyone ever weaponizes the Scripture against you, you can be sure that they are reading God’s story wrong.” Mostly, people just appreciated that we were there. A lot of our LGBTQ neighbors only experience judgment and exclusion from those of us in the church. Our church’s presence at Pride told a different story, as we sought to honor each person’s uniqueness and we approached them with genuine interest and love.
My grandparents lived on a farm in northern Alberta where I would spend many summer days when I was a kid. My nuclear family lived in the city, or the suburbs and it was in these summers where I got to experience more fully life on the land. My grandparents were hay farmers and there were things for this city kid to explore on the farm and trouble to get into. I spent much of my time jumping between the roofs of the granaries and eating crab apples, chokecherries, saskatoons, and gooseberries from trees and shrubs I found around the homestead. But my favorite place was my grandmother’s garden.
I remember it being as big as a football field. I don’t know if that is a little kid size inflation, maybe if I saw it today, I wouldn’t think it was quite that big, but the garden was big. My uncles and aunt assured it me that it used to be much bigger than that and what I was seeing was the pared down version. At one end of the garden was an unruly and sprawling raspberry patch, followed by strawberries. There were rows of corn, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, cabbage, peas, carrots, squash, pumpkins, watermelon, onions, potatoes, garlic, dill, tomatoes, and poppies and more I am forgetting. Each day my grandmother would be in this garden or in her flower beds weeding and watering and tending her plants. She would pick veggies for dinner or harvest a cabbage when its leaves were still tender enough to be rolled into Ukrainian cabbage rolls or unearth enough potatoes to make a pierogies.
I would wander into the garden whenever I was hungry, and I would graze! My fingers were stained red from eating raspberries and strawberries, and I would stand in the middle of the garden sucking young peas from their pods, or eating the ripe red tomatoes, or rattling the dry head of poppy plants and pouring the seeds encased inside into my mouth and crunching on them. Occasionally I would go and uproot a carrot and wash it off with the hose, or snack on the cucumbers and beans or zucchini.
I was welcome to go into that garden and pick and eat whatever I wanted. But no matter how much I filled my mouth with berries or peas, or poppies there was always more to have. My grandmother’s basement was full of canning, and every freezer was full of freezer jams and frozen vegetables.
If someone dropped by for lunch, she could send me to get something and there was always something on hand to offer them. I wouldn’t have called this sacred when I was younger, it was the ordinary joy I experienced during those summers on the farm, but as I think about it now, my grandmother’s garden was an icon of God’s abundance—a nourishing bounty that was always more than enough.
Ephesians 3:20 tells us that “God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us.” Too often the threat of scarcity keeps us from seeing the ways that God is at work in us. We worry about money and resources, and bills and the demands that are on our attention and our time. It is so easy to feel like we are not enough. And we are not. But God invites us into a garden where we can take and eat what we find there and find that we never diminish the bounty of good things God has in store for us. We operate out of scarcity, but God operates from abundance. Can we trust that what God has for us is always more than enough?
I grew up singing these lines in Sunday school:
Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow. And you’ll grow, grow, grow. And you’ll grow, grow, grow. Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.
These lines can have a moralistic ring to it as though real Christians are the ones that read their Bible daily and make time to pray, the rest of us who are less consistent are somehow less than. I try to carve out devotional time, but I miss days and sometimes play catch-up. I pray every day, but often in a haphazard, occasional way. Something comes up and I pray about it. Other days I have a time set aside to spend with God. Those are the good days, but my practice is not perfect.
But let me share something I am learning about daily prayer: doing it daily makes it easier. Have you ever let the pots and pans pile up from the weekend and then you go to do the dishes, and it suddenly a much bigger job? Or one I am dealing with right now is weeding. I have a garden plot that fell into disuse, and I have spent hours pulling weeds, turning the soil, and trying to get it ready for kale, zucchini, and tomatoes. And I am not there yet! Once my garden is in, weed management becomes much easier. I will already be there watering and tending the plants, harvesting lettuce and herbs every day. Pulling weeds will become just a thing to do when I am out there already and not something that requires heroic effort.
Prayer is like that. Do you find it difficult to pray? Does God feel distant? Do you long for a deeper, more satisfying prayer life? We all go through seasons where prayer feels less easy and we wonder where God is, but as we learn the habit of daily prayer it becomes less work and more enjoyable. We have more time to water and tend and harvest the things which God has planted in our lives. Daily does not have to mean drudgery. By establishing intentional routines, we get to experience all God has in store for us. And we grow, grow, grow.