Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Twain Shall Meet

In late August, I welcome Jumpei – a Japanese exchange student, into my home for three months. As part of Rotary International exchange program, he comes to the US for one year – his final year of high school, though not every student who comes here does graduate at home as some countries do not accept our school credits.

Over this past several weeks, I made one significant change in my home as I prepare for having a second person live here. The change is to switch the guest room (small) and the larger room generally called “office” giving my three-month guest the larger of the two rooms. There has been a lot of work involved in this switch: move five bookcases of books into the small space; arrange for the cable and computer access to come directly into the new office space, find a table to serve as his desk, find curtains and bedding that are not frilly. I hope Jumpei likes what I have done, though he won’t know of the effort put into the change.

As I carried stacks of heavy books from one room to another, I wondered what I got myself into by volunteering to have this child-man who is traveling halfway around the world for an “American Experience.” I already know that his English is quite poor, so I plan to sit him in front of the TV to listen and try idioms, to talk back to the TV and then to try things with me. When I was in my doctoral program, many students were from China or Taiwan. For the most part, fellow graduate students too frequently gave up expending the effort to listen when the English was poor. Maybe we can get him up to speed before Wellsboro kids give up on him.

I also wonder about having a teen live with an older woman – no kids around to amuse him, no one to share homework answers, no one to show him the ropes of living in this single-person home. I have lots of professional training with kids living out of home but most of it entails rewards/punishment to encourage modeling appropriate behavior. I hope I do not have to worry about this type of relationship.

Other things I hope I do not have to worry about:

* does he smoke? Many Asians on television do, and mine is a nonsmoking home. Nonsmoking extends to the porch and the back deck. So if he smokes, how to handle that.

* Jumpei’s biography states that he does not like tomatoes – though I note ketchup is good. I can handle that and hope that other food choices are not issues. I eat lots of fresh vegetables and chicken and fruit. Rarely do I eat cereal and I have not had a glass of milk in at least 20 years. I don’t mind fixing different foods – will he help?

I also wonder

* if he knows how to do laundry?

* does he clean the bathroom after himself? (I have another bathroom that I will use, but three months of grunge when he moves to the next home would be a pain).

* Will he put away the things he gets out?

* Will he have patience with me?

*Will we hate each other at the end of three months? Looking ahead, 90 days does not seems to be that long; living those days – day by day – can be a huge challenge.

When your children are your children for life, they learn the expectations a bit at a time – here we need a crash course in “Living with Sharon.”

As I wonder these things, Jumpei is getting ready to move to the US for 12 months and he must be wondering why he decided to leave home and come here. I imagine he has questions too

* what about his host families! What are they like?

* What foods do they eat?

* How many kids? How old?

* How to get to school?

* Curfew?

* Will they force him to go to places – like church? (Living with a pastor for the first three months may make this concern somewhat real.)

As a child, I lived in Japan – I am excited to have this young man here and hope that we do have a good relationship. You can keep both of us in your thoughts and prayers (end of August to end of November) as Jumpei faces homesickness and English challenges and friend making. Oh, and he loves tennis, so a tennis partner would be a good request.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Generation to Generation

One book that clergy read and discuss as part of seminary is Friedman’s “Generation to Generation.” This generation-to-generation blog is critically different from the textbook.

On Saturday I attended the 36th annual Laurel Festival parade party hosted by a couple I have come to know and like since moving to north central Pennsylvania. They invite many to bring chairs for sitting, nibbles to pass and a dish to share while we watch the local parade pass. I think more than 100 people, of all ages and stages of life gathered to watch.

It is more than that the parade passes by; it is that this group applauds each band, group and float that is part of the parade. The area “queens” (Miss Dairy Miss Laurel Festival and numerous others) waved and received waves by those in this “reviewing” stand. The bands make an effort to stop at this area and when the bands stop, they play extra well (at least so it seemed to this listener although others in town felt that same way). After the parade, there is eating, more visiting and music by “Spare Parts.” It was a wonderful day though when I walked from my home to the party (more than a mile each way) I could only think of the heat and humidity that measured about the same – 90 or so.

The party, the tradition, the camaraderie were nice and I made sure to get there on time. Last year I was late, not understanding the timing which is: come about 10AM and drop off the dish to share stored in my own cooler if refrigeration is necessary and drop off my chair at the same time. Suggestions were offered regarding parking my car for later. I got into my parking space early enough to avoid paying the $5 for parking. From 10:10AM, I was on foot the remainder of the day and I then did what so many others did: walked back to town and visited local street vendors. After visiting, I hiked home, got a cool drink of water and changed my hot clothes for cooler. Then, before 2PM and starting to drag from walking in the sun, I returned to the party, visited with those I knew, met a few people I did not know, enjoyed the parade and food, then went home to finish preparing for Sunday worship.

The generation-to-generation part of this blog falls under “plans for next year and the year after.” In May I was asked to join a group going on a cruise – this group lives south of here, in another county and none of them come to the Laurel Festival parade so they don’t know about generational parades. I asked a local friend – party attender - if she was interested in going the cruise and sharing a room – she declined because the cruise interferes with next year’s party. Each year, she, her daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and now great grandchildren converge for this party. Not only that, the family of the host/hostess come with their children from out of state, as do other families. These are people who started attending this party 36 years ago and now come each year. It is a reunion of sorts.

These friends, scattered fron the Carolinas and DC and the northeast are extended family. There for each other, sharing memories, introducing future generations to future generations and instituting the cultural fabric of the future.

I like to think they gather the next day, Sunday, to attend church but that is (perhaps) my fantasy of what rural culture is all about and is a holdover from the times in our society when church was the center of activity. Actually, I do hope that the parade is only part of the activity and that church is important as well. Getting to know God in a cultural setting was what many of these people did as youngsters. I know that God is looking different these days, and that God is less important in the lives of some. I hope, though, that these folk - who used to attend a church - would think that God is as important in their lives as a parade – that the small town, rural life mores are based upon a religious foundation rather than an entertainment basis. Our future generations deserve the chance to accept or reject God, but won’t do so without being exposed to God. A complex God, for sure, but one who should be known.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I spent last weekend, a three-day work-filled weekend, at the annual meeting of Penn Central Conference, United Church of Christ (generally abbreviated as PCCUCC). The theme of the three days of workshops and worship was SPIRITED! Sunday morning, our speaker (not our worship preacher) reminded that we tell each other how awesome and spirit-filled our churches are, but we too often neglect telling others. This blog is one way to communicate how awesome the congregation at Soul Link Faith Community UCC/DOC in Mansfield and Tioga County Pennsylvania is.

The UCC/DOC means we are part of two denominations. The new part in Tioga County is the UCC connection. We are part of the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has as its foundation three important building blocks: The three are
* Though our faith that is 2,000 years old, it is still evolving giving us the perspective that our thinking is current and in keeping with our culture and times.
* The UCC is a denomination that practices extravagant welcome telling all who come to our churches that “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” and we mean it.
* We are a transforming church, the Still Speaking Church that reminds us of Gracie Allen’s advice: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma" (I cannot even put a period at the end of her quote ) In Tioga County, God is still speaking through this growing congregation.

In addition to our UCC d.n.a., we celebrate our joint affiliation with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a denomination that declares “no creed but Christ” and seeks reconciliation of all Christian communities. We invite all to weekly communion and full participation in our faith.

In our lives and in our church, Soul Link is inclusive, an open and affirming congregation, welcoming all into church and all aspects of the life of the church including calls to ministry and ordination. A list of who is included would leave some out, so if you feel called to come to this church, you are welcome.

Weekly, sermons remind us that our faith is still vital and offers ways for us to be called into the community. Someone wrote that if the church is myopic or tunnel-visioned, always focusing on itself, it becomes no different than a social club. We are not a social club, we are a faith community – a group who is fed spiritually seeking opportunities to feed others. This food is frequently food for those who are in need through cans for the food pantry, our Fourth Sunday Supper and cash donations to agencies serving the hungry. We also look to other needs, asking who is lonely, who needs a friend, who faces so much stress they can barely get through the day and who seeks ways to enhance inner spirituality. We cannot always provide cash, we can always provide an arm, a listening ear and a heart.

This coming Sunday, one of our young members will preach for us. He is confined to a wheelchair, but though his body is limited, his mind and abilities are not. I invite you to join this 10AM service – be part of this amazing congregation – a church that offers God to 21st Century seekers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Worthwhile miracles

Remember the television show called “Bewitched” that featured the good witch, Samantha, who could – if she dared – clean her house at the twitch of her nose. With another twitch, she could make her husband’s boss follow her instructions – maybe make him bark like a dog. She could perform many other feats but always had to be on the lookout for the neighbors who were nosey and might wonder about this woman.

The Revised Common Lectionary for time after Pentecost focuses on Luke’s gospel for several weeks, especially showing Jesus’ ability to cure, make whole and raise some from death. He, unlike Samantha, performed these miracles out in the open - not afraid of people noticing, but perhaps daring them to criticize him for doing God-work.

As I preached on Sunday about miracles I thought about how I would like a few miracles in my own life – the wham-bang type. You know, big ones – miracles that make everyone sit up and take notice. Miracles that make a difference. Then I was tapped ‘longside the back of my head and reminded of the miracles already in my life. Here are a few:

@ I live in an area of the country where the economy is actually quite good – people who want work have it, houses going onto the market sell, and we do not have that much visible homelessness. The bank and I own my house and I am able to make it home for the cats and me.

@ Soul Link Faith Community is taking hold and starting to become a community of believers rather than a group of people who merely worship together. They share birthdays, joys, concerns about family and friends, movies, popcorn, they laugh together and cry when sadness befalls one of their own.

@ Increasingly, I am accepted as a member of this community and the membership is as a pastor. People are beginning to ask me to do invocations at meetings, to offer grace at Rotary, to perform weddings and funerals, and to stop by to visit the sick of our community. When I walk down the street, people call me by name – much as God did when I came here.

@ After August vacation, I will return to home and job. I have a job that makes my life useful to others and meaningful to me even though I sometimes feel I have way too much to do. Lots to do must be a miracles of sorts .

Problem with the above is that I tend to want the miracles to be BIG. Looking for the big miracles makes me risk overlooking the miracle of every day. I would HATE to miss the miracles of daily life as I stretch my neck toward the sky for that BIG one. The everyday miracles – the ones I almost miss - are what offers me life and love and living and success and in the end, proves my faith. Some tell me they cannot believe in God because they cannot prove God. Taking time to count the miracles might help with the “proving” part of that. I hope you see your own small miracles and that they bring joy to your life as they do mine.