Still Trying

My goal was to post once a week. A week went by and then another and then … I almost gave up before I got started. In forcing myself to post something, I realized I read may books. some of these books may interest others. So I have decided as I finish a book this tear to jot down some of my ideas. If you read or have read the book I talk about, I’d love your thoughts.

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This was the first book I have finished this year. The Righteous Mind is one of the most important books you may read. Haidt’s understanding of human morality and the science of communication and decision making are weaved together into an interesting read that allows the reader to understand how and why people react the way they do.

In our culture today, we struggle to communicate with people that come at life differently than we do, even members of our family and friends. When subjects like politics, religion and conspiracy theories are discussed we often are only heard by our self. There is seldom resolution and the other side is never convinced of our view.

I like to think that I am well-read and look at life through a lens of pragmatic logic. You can probably imagine how frustrated I have felt when I was consistently unable to win arguments with people who are more conservative in their politics and views. I had almost given up when I found this book. Haidt laid out his ideas in a simple manner with plenty of details to back up his thoughts. His ideas have allowed me to begin to see merit and positive things in other ideas.

One of the foundational pieces discussed in the book is the fact that we, as humans, make decisions in the parts of our brain that aren’t subject to critical thinking. If you want to sway someone’s opinion, Haidt suggests, you must first appeal to the emotional part of their brain or “why they feel the way they do.” As I reflected on this piece, I realized other people aren’t quite as crazy as I thought, they just have different experiences than I do.

This has allowed me to view the world in completely different ways and I feel that I can actually empathize with others in ways that I couldn’t before. I would recommend this book to any leader who has people from more than one context. I would recommend this book to leaders in any field. -Ron

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Settling In…

I have been on this new job for six months now, before that I had about four months of training, and I have known that I would be here for about a year now. Despite all that time, I am still not settled into this new way of life. There are Sunday mornings when I experience a brief panic attack as I realize I am not ready to preach, it seems strange not to have planned out my Lenten and Easter themes and we won’t begin to describe the lost almost empty feelings during Advent and Christmas. I did survive my first season of professional interviews and charge conferences, (Thank You Judi!!) and I feel as if I am prepared for my first season of appointments. This office is different, Beth is not in here every Sunday or more, and it may be a bit more cluttered with a few more piles scattered around the desk.

There is progress though as I do get to that comfortable place. The walls have a few pieces of Illini paraphernalia, and some pieces of art that I have been given over the years as memories of appointments pas. The desk has pictures of my family and I have coffee cups from around the district and the world scattered everywhere. A few of my books have made it to the shelves, though they tend to just sit there more than before. I have managed to make coffee stains on my chair and the floor. While there are scattered notes to myself that I am not sure why I wrote them. My Spotify still plays Journey and other classic rock bands, and I still would rather be just about anywhere than behind my desk.

The unsettled feeling comes and goes, but it has been strong in this New Year season. I have told friends and accountability partners that I am need of finding my new rhythm in this job. Every time I think I have found a new pattern, something happens, and it goes away. As I have reflected on this problem, I have realized that my new patterns or rhythms have been incomplete. For the past 15 years I have been able to share my insights (some would question how insightful I am) with my congregations. When some new idea or piece of information surfaced, I could share it in a small group or sermon and maybe flesh it out in my own mind better that way.

Hopefully, this space will help me in the area of sharing. I still will need to open the computer and put something down on “paper.”  As you look through the last few years of this blog, you can count the number of posts on one hand… I realize the skepticism you may feel, time will tell and we will see if this attempt benefits anyone. Until next time -ron

A New CommUNITY

With a new job came a new base for my operations so to speak. Or more plainly put we had to move. Moving is a big part of who we are as United Methodists and it has become central to who we are as a family. This is the fifth move that Beth and I have made in our 22 years of being married, and the fourth we have made for appointment reasons. We are experienced in moving, but we are far from experts.

Over the years we have learned how to pack boxes and we have learned organizational tips that help us to get through the chaos. We have learned that with the chaos there is a certain unease that pervades the rest of our lives and relationships. To begin to calm our spirits we have learned to begin acquainting ourselves with the local community as soon as possible. Sometimes that has been quite easy and others it is more difficult. Finding our way in Storm Lake appears to be one of the better transitions.

I have been told that Storm Lake is the most diverse city in the state of Iowa. The school district web site lists 24 different languages in addition to English that are spoken in the district. With that diversity comes many retail stores and restaurants that need to be explored. Just walking down the street you can feel the difference here, people are welcoming and warm. I would be hard pressed to find a more diverse city anywhere in rural Iowa.

The city and the school district strive for the unity that we feel. A highlight of our short stay here was the fourth of July festivities. Personally, I loved their parade. I saw groups of immigrants dressed in their native costumes celebrating their heritage and wanting to be a part of this countries celebrations. I was reminded that most of us can trace our path here to countries far from where we stand now.

It warmed my heart to see the smiles of the young and old alike who were a part of the parade. They played music, sang and marched. There were first responders, veterans, active duty and National Guard units, BVU representatives and people from the hospital, and many people representing many other countries. They all had one thing in common, they all had joined as one to celebrate the birthday of this country. That parade was a great metaphor of who we are, or at least should be as a country.

I say that because there are many in our fine state who in my opinion, do not see the value of unity, including the congressman from this district who was born in this fine city. I have had people turn up their nose when I told them my home would be here. I know of incidents that have revealed the dirty under belly we hope to hide. There is an ugliness in places that make-up can not hide. There is an attitude that is running wild and unchecked.

We must be willing to stand up to what is wrong. Community is important to me. No community is perfect, but I am glad that Storm Lake is trying to promote unity within its residents. There are lessons to be learned everywhere. I hope that churches and communities around the country can look to Storm Lake and learn how to be better at community. I know that it has already had a great influence on me.

I Am Because We Are

Ron

 

Is Anybody Still Here?

When I take a moment to look deeply at my life there is much going on that allows me to thrive. That doesn’t mean that everything is as good as it could be. I know that here are things I could be doing that would improve my relationships, my health and my walk with Jesus and Jesus’ church. As a United Methodist pastor, it hurts to say that I lack the discipline I need at times. I am pretty sure that I am not alone in my weakness. I know that times change, and priorities often become moving targets, but today I am attempting to get back on the horse so to speak.

If you scroll down a little bit you will see that I have been away from this space for quite a long time. The good thing about those many months with no visits by me is that this blog is hosted free, so I am out no money… I wish I could say the same thing for my gym membership(s).  Since that last post at Christmas of 2016 much has happened to me, it would be beyond boring to lay all of that out at one time, but some will bubble up as we go.

I am in the midst of the biggest change to occur in these last many months. Late last year I received a call inviting me to meet with the Bishop. It is amazing how nervous I was to meet with Bishop Laurie, but in my defense, it had been many years since I got called to the “principal’s” office. At our meeting she invited me to become a district superintendent in the Northwest District. My mind immediately started racing, and six months later I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that has become my reality.

From the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry at  http://www.gbhem.org/clergy/district-superintendents comes this definition. “The role of the district superintendent is best understood as ‘an extension of the office of the bishop.’ The district superintendent (DS) oversees the ministry of the clergy and the churches in the communities of the district, a task that requires pastoral leadership, personnel leadership, administration, and program leadership. The 2012 General Conference also made substantial changes to the ‘Specific Responsibilities of District Superintendents,’ highlighting the expectation that ‘the superintendent will be the chief missional strategist of the district.’” Quite a mouthful, and not much chance of printing that on a business card. I appreciate your prayers as I navigate this adventure.

Many will doubt my sanity in accepting the Bishop’s invitation. My denomination is in the midst of some great turmoil. I have already been, and I will be part of many difficult conversations. I will be thrust into the middle of many arguments with no “right” or “wrong.” Voices on many sides in churches and in the public square will try to prove their point by being the loudest. I accepted because I want to make a difference, and this is where God has called me to do that during this season.

In this space it is my hope to highlight things that may get lost in the anger and the fighting. There are many places that you can read about the bad. There are many people who are willing to point out problems. I want to share positive things I learn in my new job. I want to introduce you to people that are about love and want to make a difference. I want to be an encouragement. I want to remind you that you are like me in that I am Because We Are.

Grace and Peace

Ron

The Work of Christmas

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

This poem was written by Howard Thurman, I can not tell you when or where I first read it. I was reminded of it this last weekend while attending the Winter Concert at North Scott High School her in Eldridge. It was part of a piece sung by the North Scott Singers that brought a tear to my eye. With all that is going on in our cities, states, country and world, I thought it was of value to share.

I am because We are -Ron

Grandpa(ing)

For those of who think this is a cheap trick to get clicks and bring people back to my blog- you are correct. In June I became a grandpa for the first time. People had told me it was like no other job in the world, and they too were correct. The six months or so that I have had the title of grandpa have been like no other. We are blessed by Owen and hopefully we will be able to bless him as well. Here is one of my favorite pictures of this wonderful boy.img_1099

In August I had the great joy of being part of his baptism. I get emotional at any baptism, but I literally jumped at the chance to be a part of his big day.img_0907

We have a great time Face-timing with him. It usually consists of Grandma waving at him, singing to him and suggesting that he eat again. He is adorable and we love this modern communication. He was a scarecrow for Halloween.scarecrow

When the whole family gathers, which is not often enough, Owen is at the center of our attention.family-copy

Here are more pictures.

Finally be Owen is hard work.img_0018

Grandpa is definitely the greatest title I have ever received.

Peace-Ron

 

 

Looking Back and Moving Forward

As I am preparing for next week and the second Sunday in Advent, I am reading the Gospel passage and related commentaries and preaching helps on the message of John the Baptist. I understand that in the Christian calendar Advent to be a time of waiting and looking forward. In the second verse of the text we will be using in my churches, John demands that we repent. In the very same verse he tells us why, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. To my understanding, John is making a pretty difficult demand; he wants us to look backward, but st the same time, move forward.

I am not sure how I will use this observation on Sunday morning, or if I will use it at all, but this idea has caused me to reflect (which is never a bad thing!) Much of this reflection comes out of the article written by David L. Bartlett in the preaching book Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 1 for this week. I will read other commentaries and listen to other podcasts as I continue to prepare for Sunday, but right now I am struck by the idea of looking in one direction and moving in another.

Repentance involves something that has happened in the past. To repent we must look at what has already occurred. In churches that I have served, looking back often turns to nostalgia. By that I mean, when we look to the past we only see things that we remember fondly and we do not always see the whole picture. We often do that in our personal lives too, hindsight is not only 20-20, it also often times uses rose-colored glasses.

When I am moving, I have found it best to watch where I am going. I also realize that knowing what is behind me is important too. I have used the metaphor of the rear view mirror in comparison to the front windshield of a car to describe this idea. If you are looking in a different direction than you are traveling, difficulties can appear.

As I sit here trying to decide what to do with this idea, I am struck by how this looking to the past while moving to the future moving to the future capture a part of our human condition. Sunday I will explore this more, but today where do you see this playing out in our common lives? Is there value in this, or can we redeem what we see as of little value?

Peace-Ron