a billion organisms and the Body of Christ #iaumc15

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Did you know that soil is incredibly diverse and complex?  It might look like simple dirt, but one handful contains more living organisms than there are people on the planet.


And every part of the soil, every organism has a part to play.  They affect chemical and physical properties.  There are a billion bacteria in one gram of fertile soil that consume what is produced by green plants… there are fungi that decompose materials, there are soil animals that consume and decompose and feed on one another and leave channels in the soil that increases infiltration of minerals and water and oxygen.

And all of these living organisms live off of and feed off of one another.  It is their interaction that makes soil healthy and thriving and good.

In his book, The Third Plate, Dan Barber describes the “war” that is going on in the soil we walk upon.  It is a class system where:

Jack pointed to the soil. “There’s a war going on in there…”

first-level consumers (microbes), the most abundant and miniscule members of the community, break down large fragments of organic material into smaller residues; secondary consumers (protozoa, for example) feed on the primary consumers or their waste; and then third-level consumers (like centipedes, ants, and beetles) eat the secondaries.  The more Jack explained it, the more it started to sound like a fraught, complex community…

Fred Magdoff, likened the process to a system of checks and balances. “To me there is real beauty in how it works,” he said. “When there is sufficient and varied food for the organisms, they do what comes naturally, ‘making a living’ by feeding on the food sources that evolution provided… What you have is a thriving, complex community of organisms.”

I have been thinking about the immense complexity of dirt and what it means for us as the church.

We have been inundated with a move towards “simple church” and we talk so much about unity and yet I wonder what would happen if instead we embraced the incredibly complex, diverse, thriving nature of soil as a metaphor of our life together.

It is actually what we find in the Body of Christ as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. We have feet and hands and eyes and hearts and livers and spleens.  We all play a part. We might look at others and think, “I don’t need you,” but Paul says we are wrong.

In our Iowa Annual Conference right now, we are divided.  We are different.  We don’t read scriptures the same.  We feel differently about human sexuality.  We aren’t sure what we should do about those folks on the margins, our brothers and sisters, who are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or still discovering. Underneath it all is a different understanding of how we understand the scriptures.

And sometimes, that diversity feels like a war.  It feels like the battle Jack described the soil beneath us.  We are chewing each other up and spitting each other out. And I hate the way my brothers and sisters are hurt and damaged by comments that cut to the core of their very being.  Especially as I watch them walk away from the Body of Christ.

When you focus on the conflict that diversity creates, like Jack did, you want to strip out everything that is different to protect yourself and others.  We want simple things.  We want unity, which means, we want to all be the same.

But to be healthy, we need diversity.  We need difference.  We need checks and balances.  We need to remind each other of the importance of the bible and scripture and justice and mercy and grace and love.  It comes from both sides.  We need to listen.  We need to hold one another accountable.  We also need to challenge one another.  We need to say things that are difficult to hear.  We need to be willing to speak the truth in love.

And together, the interaction of all of our different parts creates something beautiful and mysterious and powerful.

Friends, we might look like United Methodists, but a little deeper under the cover of our identity, we are incredibly complicated. We are men and women, people of all sorts of shades of skin, languages, eye colors, theological perspectives, ideas, gifts, skills, ages…

I need you.  All of you. And together, God wants us to be amazing.

Delayed Gratification #NaBloPoMo

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Not much time to write today. I spent most of my day planting about 175 bulbs in my flower beds.

Daffodils and Muscari and Crocus,  oh my.

It is strange to have done all that work and not be able to see any sign that it was done… at least not until we go through the cold and snow of winter.

I’ll be sure to post pictures in the spring.

Longing for Crocus…

17 months ago, I planted nearly a thousand bulbs at our parsonage.  While that sounds like a lot, let me tell you, a bag of 100 crocus bulbs are cheap and they plant easily when the soil has already been worked up and is ready.  It was a lot of hard work, but the results come spring were stunning.  Tulips, daffodils, allium, crocus, wolf’s bane. Purples, oranges, yellows, whites. Glorious sweeps of color.

IMAG0950When we moved in October, I knew that the bulbs were staying in the ground.  First of all, I wasn’t sure how many would actually repropigate… although I have high hopes.  I also knew I didn’t have the space to plant them in our rental house.  And it was nice to leave a place better than we found it – to leave a gift of life and joy for the families that will come after ours.  Pastor Matt and I had coffee the other day and he was excited to hear that the tulips planted near the house were their wedding colors.

At the same time, as the snow turns to rain, and the grass starts to emerge from under the blanket of white, I’m peering out my window looking for those pops of purple.  A few weeks early perhaps, but a good warm spell just might wake them up.  I’m peering out my window for crocus that were never planted.

Then again, I also don’t know what surprises await me in the flower beds surrounding the garage.  Everything was dead and dried up when we moved in… I might just have a surprise of my own.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. (1 Cor. 3:6)

We never quite know what seeds have been planted ahead of us and what has been lying fallow until another came along to water.

In ministry there are constant discoveries – purple crocus bursting forth in the midst of the cold, dark ground.  Everyday I get phone calls from people who have hearts for mission and who are excited to join this effort to end malaria.  In so many cases, it was not me who did the work, but district leaders, faithful lay people, inspired pastors who have been planting and watering.

This is a time in this work I’m doing, however, where I know we are still waiting. There is so much just underneath the surface, just about to burst forth and while it is exciting to know and trust and believe that God is working in our midst and stirring up our hearts… at the same time, I’m ready for it all to be made known.  I’m ready for armfuls of tulips and daffodils and for whole lawns covered in crocus.  I’m ready to see the fruits.  I’m ready to hear that we have reached our goals, surpassed our goals, and to hear about all of the lives being changed and transformed, both in our backyards and on the other side of the world.  I’m ready to see the glorious day when a child no longer dies from malaria.

I look out my window and the grey sky says back: not yet.

Not yet…

but soon.


In my flower garden this spring, I have learned the difference between joy and happiness.

You see, happiness is getting a bouquet of a dozen tulips from your spouse or from a friend and setting them on the counter for a few days.  It warms your heart to be thought of, they are beautiful to look at, and it doesn’t take any work to enjoy them.  It is a pleasant surprise, and unexpected wonder.  That is happiness.

But joy is “refined and thoughtful,” (in the words of Scott Hoezee) “because it has passed through death.” Joy persists through suffering.  Joy persists through doubt.  Joy enables us to look at the cross and still shout, “Hosanna!”

And unlike the fleeting happiness of a bouquet of flowers, a bed full of tulips that you dug by hand and then planted with care… and then spent a whole winter waiting for… is a true experience of joy.

There were moments in the waiting where I worried nothing would happen.  Maybe I had planted the bulbs too deep.  Maybe not deep enough.  Maybe the weather did not get cold enough for them to really do their thing.  Maybe the squirrels would dig them up.  Maybe the nursery I ordered them from was a scam and the bulbs were duds.  A thousand different what if’s could flow through your mind in that long time of waiting, watching and hoping.

And then the miracle occurs.  The bulbs start to peek out of the ground.  The colors start to emerge from the buds.  And before you know it, you are caught in the glorious joy of color and life and aroma that sustains much longer than a simple bouquet… and has the calluses to prove the work and the pain and the sweat that preceded it.

This distinction between joy and happiness is important as we think about this Palm Sunday and the Easter Sunday that is close on its heels.  Because today, we erupted with singing and happy songs and Jesus is enteringJerusalemand maybe you, like the people on the road that morning, are surprised by the light spirit of it all.  You join in and you wave your palm branches and sing with the children and it feels good.

But what we experience on Palm Sunday isn’t costly.  It is cheap and easy happiness.  It is unexpected.  It is a surprise.  It is happy… but it is not joyful.

No, the true joy comes with Easter Sunday.  The true joy comes after we have done the hard work and walked the long journey to the cross.  The true joy comes after we have planted all of our hopes and fears into the tomb… waiting, hoping beyond hope that there just might be a possibility of life in the midst of death.  The true joy of Easter is everlasting, sustained, and does not disappoint.

In contrast, this morning will seem like a wilted bouquet of flowers forgotten on the kitchen counter… the happiness of today simply cannot compare. You see, at the same time as we are shouting – Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  We are also saying the word, “Hosanna.”  We are crying out for God to save us.  We know that the elation we are experiencing is only temporary… we know that there is still work to do.

In fact, ever since I have been here, I have shied away from celebrating Palm Sunday alone.  It is too cheery and happy clappy in light of everything that we are about to experience during this next week.  And too often, folks will skip straight from the happiness of today to the joy of Easter without experiencing any of the difficult road.

So on most Sundays we have included the Passion texts and have really spent some time with the story of Jesus’ last week.  We sat with him through dinner, we pray at Golgotha, we experience his trial and visit Herod, we walk the streets ofJerusalemto the crucifixion.  We jam pack it all into one hour on a Sunday morning so that we at least will have had a glimpse of the cost of the grace we are offered.

But this year, we are walking this road with Jesus.  Our Lenten devotions this week in particular take us through each of the days this last week of Christ’s life.  (And if you haven’t picked one up or used one up until now, feel free to join in for this last week!)

We also have three opportunities to worship and experience Holy Week and to spend time with Jesus.  Our usual Wednesday evening worship is at 6:30pm and we will also celebrate Maundy Thursday at 7:00pm in the fellowship Hall and Good Friday with other local churches at Trinity UCC at 7:00pm on Friday night.  A carpool will be leaving our church at 6:20 for those who are interested in joining us.

So let’s enjoy today for what it is – a triumphant entry – an unexpected surprise – a momentary glimpse of joy, of hope, a glimmer of happiness.

1)    The happiness you experience when you catch a glimpse of someone from God.  The people shouted, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” And we too have experienced people in our lives who are from God.  Who bless us for a moment or two… who exemplify what it means to reflect the light of God… who have helped to make our days brighter and our roads easier.

2)    Catch a glimpse of a way out – a way of peace and not violence.  Jesus on the colt vs. Pontius Pilate and a Roman processional coming into Jerusalem.

3)    Catch a glimpse of salvation

  1. Story of the 7th graders from Dr. Scott Black Johnson… big picture we know salvation is about hell/ life and death… but in the meantime, there are all sorts of things we need saving from. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of hope on a tough day… a reminder that Jesus can calm our fears… the feeling of peace in the midst of stress.

These tulips this morning are beautiful… but like our shouts of Hosanna on Palm Sunday they will wither away… they are unexpected and surprising but they are not permanent. Maybe by the end of the week, our cries of Hosanna will turn into cries of “Crucify Him!”  Maybe by the end of the week, we will find ourselves at the foot of the cross.  Maybe at the end of hte week, we will find ourselves staring into a tomb… but let us walk this last week with Jesus – both the good and the bad –  so that we can experience the true joy of Easter Sunday – a joy that lasts… a joy that endures through even suffering… a joy that comes from Jesus.

Amen and Amen.

Where’s Katie?

I know, it has been a little while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been busy.  And a little stressed out.  And I stopped making time for writing.  But I’m putting the time back in my schedule starting this next week.  New month, new me. In the meantime I’ve been:

GARDENING:  This has been the strangest March on record in our area.  The soil temps/weather and plants are actually about 3-6 weeks ahead of schedule.  So I’ve been taking advantage of the outdoors. My first seeds have been planted and tended and they are growing nicely.  But my yard is a mess.  There was literally a hillside of creeping charlie that I’ve had to rake out, treat, and then kill because it wouldn’t go away.  I’m also trying to kill off some weeds in my grass on the front lawn and I have plans to mulch and transplant some hostas.  All the prep work has been done, and one good day of sunshine this week will call for a day off of work to get the last of it accomplished.  In the meantime, all of the tulips I planted last fall are doing MARVELOUS!!!!! This first image is the front of the house and directly outside of my office window.  SO BEAUTIFUL!!!

YOUTH:  I have been working with the youth in our community from a number of different angles.  I am on a grant team at the school, we have regular youth group each week, and our church is trying to be more present in the community through attending youth events.  I’ve been to plays and music events, and I’m looking forward to the spring sports seasons.  On top of that, we have had our first round of fundraisers for the year – including our 2nd Annual Chili Cook Off this past week.

FAMILY: Friday night dinners with my in-laws complete with dancing in the kitchen and wii-playing and cuddling on the couch watching Sponge Bob.  Saturdays with my family enjoying the new baby and eating good food and relaxing. I haven’t had a lot of time free to spend with them – but I make it count when I do.

DISC GOLF: the tiny bit of free time I’ve had lately I’ve spent on the disc golf course.  I’m doing pretty well for this early in the season – 11, 13, 16 and 11…. no sub 10 rounds yet, but my arm is still warming up 😉  The weather has been beautiful, the company (family and friends) is always good, and the discs are flying straight and true!

GENERAL CONFERENCE PREP: Okay – I haven’t actually done as much of this as I would like.  I’m reading here and there and doing a lot of mental digesting, but I have not done as much writing as I want to.  Writing helps me think out what I’m actually feeling, so its a necessary step as we get even closer.


plotting and planning

I spent part of my afternoon off today doing laundry, and the other part plotting out the remainder of my flower garden.  I’m putting in mostly perennials, so that they are easier to work with in the long run… Here is what I have so far.

spring is just around the corner

This evening I placed my order for seeds from Burpee.

I could almost feel the dirt between my fingers as I poured over images and reviews and mapped out the different parts of the garden.  There may be a chill in the air tonight and snow might be in the forecast, but all I can think about is spring and color and the taste of a ripe tomato.

Gardening has really been a spiritual experience for me these past couple of years.  It is hard work, down on your hands and knees, working with the earth.  Watching the miracle of life come from a tiny seed reminds me of the gifts we recieve every day from our Creator.  Nurturing the plants… but mostly pulling the weeds… has reminded me that our faith life needs to be tended as well in order for growth to happen.  I have experienced joy from sharing the fruits with others and simply looking out over that bounty with thankfulness.

This year, my vegetable garden will expand a bit, but I’m still going to use the same basic “bag-gardening” design I started with.

What is new will be flowers.  I have done flowers in the past in the beds leading along the front steps.  But between the tulips and other assorted bulbs I planted last fall and the seeds that I just ordered, there should be color everywhere!

My first big project will be to start the seeds inside.  I have had terrible luck with this in the past.  We dedicate our guest room for the planting – mostly because we can control the temp (nice and warm) and because we can close the door and the cats won’t bother the seedlings that way.  But unfortunately, I tend to forget about things I don’t see.  And forget water and things like that.  Bad for growth.

So I’m mentally wrapping my head around the idea that in two weeks, my gardening year starts.  Those tiny seeds being tended inside will be my babies. And while it’s not as backbreaking work as tending the plants outside, they require dedication and attention and I am going to give it to them!