Monday, February 19, 2018

There is already one post about the senseless shooting of young people on this blog and it would be better for all if that were the extent of it.  But the country is dealing with yet another act of violence on school grounds.  There will be much blame spread around and many excuses like every event before it.  The one thing that may be different about this time, is the anger of the victims themselves.  Instead of mourning and moving on. these young people have decided that their voices will be heard.  Unlike their parents and grandparents who, for the last 20 years, have tried to work within the system to make things better, these young people will join with hundreds - if not thousands- and they will take their fight public.  They will expect those in charge to explain how the rights of one person to own a gun can outweigh the lives of all those who have been killed by them.  Instead of watching the ineffective government stand by the constitution to protect them from making decisions that might be unpopular to gun owners and lobbies, they will vote for those who see that the world is a different place and one in need of change.  They will be heard and with any luck, this WILL be the last time a school shooting occurs.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Does Your Church Have a Sheep Ministry? It Should

I am a city kid. Until I married a farmer, my experience with sheep had been limited to my attendance at the county fair. In school, I had learned that lanolin, an ingredient in hand cream, came from sheep, that the meat was called mutton - which would never be found on our dinner table, and that sheep produced wool so I could have those itchy jumpers my mother thought were so practical in the late sixties. But in the mid-1980s, I found myself the owner of 60 head of cross bred sheep and I quickly understood why there were so many stories comparing shepherds to ministers.

As strange as it may sound, humans could be sheep version 2.0. Certainly, humans are in a more attractive package and the opposable thumb thing, speech and critical thinking skills were great improvements but on the inside, similarities between these two are too close for comfort.

Sheep have been domesticated for as long as humans have a history. In the Middle East, during biblical times, humans and sheep had a symbiotic relationship that exists even today. Sheep provided milk and meat for food and skins that could be made into clothing, drums for music or storage containers for wine and water. Eventually, the wool fiber was traded for other supplies and woven into tapestries and fabric. The abiliy to survive on weeds as well as grass and its steady footing and compact frame meant sheep could use pastures not suited to larger animals. All a human had to do was be observant and take care of the sheep. That's all.

In reality, though, sheep are not the doe-eyed visions of Easter cards and sleep-aid advertisements. They are smelly, simple minded beings that can exhibit every one of the Seven Deadly Sins before lunchtime. Carrying a bucket of feed and having nothing between you and three and a half tons of charging flesh supported by 240 sharp hooves gives a new perspective to the concept “to lust after”. Rams (the males) will fight until one kills the other over ownership of a single female. A lamb turned out onto Spring grazing can die within hours if not vaccinated against overeating. Hobbies include sleeping 20 hours a day and finding a hole in the fence so they can see if the grass is really greener on the other side. Their curiosity makes them a danger to themselves and their high metabolism translates into quick death if preventative measures are not the norm, Being a shepherd is not the dull, boring job seen through today's impressions of CEOs and positions of authority. A skilled shepherd held the fate of the family in his hands since the flock was both the main food and income source of the family. Losing even a single animal was a tragedy.

So is the role of minister and shepherd the same? Should they be compared litterally? A review of the scriptures finds such figures as Moses and David being called by God during their time as a shepherd as if it were the skills of the shepherd that each needed before they could be successful as God's messenger. God and Jesus are also referred to as a shepherd of men/Israel. The Parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10) has a ring of truth for every modern flock owner and speaks to the relationship between sheep and shepherd that is well documented in farming. The shepherd mentions that he not only knows each animal in his flock but they, in return, know him. There is a level of trust, dedication and awareness that shows the investment he has for his chosen profession. Along with the Parable of the Lost Sheep, these scriptures lay out a clear picture of what is expected from anyone choosing to be a servant of God.

In much the same way as farmers study what contributes to the decline of their flocks, churches study the reasons some fail and others thrive. In both, positive results are based on more than numbers and accomplishments. The building of relationships is a key but the concept of a group that functions as one is also present. Some might say a church needs to act like a flock as well as be treated like one in order to be successful.  As a flock, shepherd and animals move together as one toward a better understanding of God and his plan.

Today's clergy are an important resource for any church. While, perhaps the image of a minister is changing, he/she is still vital to the mission of the church. To keep from over-spiritualizing this, it might be best to think “sheep” rather than attendance. Short of spending a few months of intensive training with real sheep here are a few tips from one shepherd to another to help establish your Sheep Ministry

  1. Be the Shepherd - Even if you have others who are committed to pastoral care, make sure your first purpose is to be the “good shepherd” (John 10). Know each and every person attending your church (not just members) and continue to learn about them. Make the contact personal and more than the handshake you give before or after Sunday Service.
  2. Remember the Nasty Ones - Every farmer has one or two nasty old mamas that they would not part with for any amount of money. While they can be a pain to work with, they can also give great support for you in your ministry.
  3. Keep records – No one can remember everything. Keeping notes on your pastoral flock can be an excellent tool in building a foundation of trust. But a word of caution – This is not a place to 'fake-it-until-you-make-it'. Do your own homework. Sooner or later insincerity always finds its way into the light and is difficult to repair.
  4. Expect to work for it – Paul doesn't sugar coat the job in his many letters to the early Christians. The salary and benefit package may be better than it was in Paul's time but the job is still 24/7/365 if you follow Paul's example. There will be the easy days and there will be days that nothing goes right. Even if you have structures in place that allow you to take time off, recognize that regularly missing out on the daily life of the church hinders your ability to connect and influence those in your care..
  5. Don't expect Thank yous – Sheep, and humans, are hungry and thirsty every single day. It is only if you expect nothing and open yourself up personally that you will see the signs of true gratitude. A first-time volunter, an increase in giving even if the coffers are full, or a quick email can be far more rewarding than a spoken one.
  6. Lead without Force - This is where a shepherd reaps the rewards of his/her efforts. As it says in John 10, a flock that trusts its shepherd will follow him/her. Save yourself some trouble and before you try to take your flock on a new journey of faith, get to know them and let them get to know you. Trust is a lot easier on the Shepherd than constantly wielding the Shepherd's crook.

Accepting the ministry is not an easy job and just as in Paul's day it can mean hard work and few accolades. Yet, a minister (layman or professional) has the potential to give the greatest gift the church has - a connection with each other based on God's grace and teachings. What better way to spend one's days than to be like Christ – A Shepherd of Men.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fake News - Test Your Skill

Fake News - Test Your Skill

Words are wonderful things.  In this world of 140 character political statements and text message acronyms, it is easy to forget that each word has its own special magic that when combined with others produces a very special meaning.  The study of how those words work together is called Semantics.  Because I consider myself a type of journalist and take that role very seriously, I hate fake news.  I have reported more than one photoshoped picture or unsubstantiated article.  But how can you tell the difference.  See if you can tell what is really the topic. 

These two passages have been written about the same image. Each passage is approximately the same words.

Version 1

The lines were crisp and clear. The color stark against the snow white edging  The color brings to mind roses on Valentine's day, rich and vibrant, welcoming and friendly.  One can almost reach out to stroke its warmth. A feeling of health and happiness emanates from the vision

Version 2

A sense of new blood seemed to pulse from the figure.  It was confined by a hard line but threatened to spill out onto the border which was as white as a sheet.  The more one stares at the image the more it resembles a heart beating. Is it alive and threatening in its force.

Was it easy to tell what is being communicated? Probably not.

Each passage is written much like reporting on a new law that is being proposed.  With the pressure of reporting in real time, writing anything is more important than being accurate.  To further complicate the issue, news agencies now have teams of writers doing one article. It does make it easier to get quotes but much harder to make sure the content is not misconstrued by multiple perspectives.  What starts out as an honest attempt to present the facts can quickly get away from writer's when they do not have a chance for perspective and reflection.

So, what was I writing about.  Please feel free to comment below.  Perhaps someone will be able to see the words for what they truly are.   

Nana Jane  

Friday, August 25, 2017

Citizen's Day:  A Holiday to Remember Everyone is Important

**This was originally written on August 25, 2015 and sent to the Old Farmers Almanac as an entry into its "New Holiday" writing contest. I repost this today to remember that as citizens we all have something to lose when we chose violence and force over discussion and compromise. It is a shame to realize we have not come far in the last 2 years.

Two young people died this morning in another random shooting.  The victims worked as a morning news crew.  The shooting happened on air as thousands of viewers, including children getting ready for school, watched in horror. In this rural community, random violence has become the norm, not the exception. Can a new National holiday bring us together? Can a one-day celebration be the call-to-action which returns a sense of peace and togetherness to a broken society?.

National holidays are, by their nature, events that celebrate the broader base of the population.  Such days recognize service and times of goodwill.  In keeping with this tradition, it is time for a Citizen’s Day to be recognized - a time to remember the meaning of the phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” as well as a time to acknowledge that one person’s rights do not negate another’s. .

Our country has very little respect for civility. Violence and public disagreements have become the problem-solving tools.. As our country moves into a national election and subsequent time of transition, voters should consider their choice carefully.  Would the candidate support a Citizen’s Day holiday? For the sake of this country, one hopes they would.  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Modern PenPals

Image result for public domain stamp letter I love to write. I didn't always.  While my life has not changed all that much over the years, there are times when I have to marvel at how different life is now than when I was a little girl.  Then, I would have had to sign up to be a pen pal in order to connect with someone who did not live in my neighborhood, go to school with me or attend my church. It was a tedious process waiting weeks to get a reply and even more tedious writing on thin paper with erasers that more often than not, tore a hole in the paper.  It was a difficult way at best to get to know people and see them as anything more than subjects in National Geographic or highlights from a highly edited or scripted television program. I certainly wasn't sheltered as a child. I had many opportunities but I was a typical middle-class female born to two hardworking parents at a time when life was far more predicable than it is now. Now connecting with others of differing viewpoints might be something of a risky venture, but the need to become modern penpals might be the venue that ultimately brings the world to a time of greater understanding.  With understanding there is friendship and with friendship there is peace.Today's post, is the first of what I hope is many entries to this blog. I welcome you to comment on my posts as long as you can be civil. Please remember this is how I see the world - it is not the way I expect you to see it.  If I can even bring about a small amount of understanding between two different viewpoints than I have accomplished what I hoped to do. I hope we become internet friends. Global friends in an ever shrinking world.