Parting Ways

Written by Rhonda Alstott
One of the things I’ve personally been working on during this pandemic is my health by focusing on adding healthier foods and more steps to my day. The benefit of this is I have been losing weight. The baggier fit of my clothes, renewed energy and my bathroom scale have been my positive reinforcements in this. The past two days I’ve had my scale give me a hard time. It has told me I have dropped 20 pounds in two days. Now I love good news, but this is great news. Almost too good to be true, so I changed the battery. Same weight…hm… I go to the kitchen and grab a 5 pound bag of flour. I learn my scale has decided to give me faulty information and seems to be lying. My scale and I are parting ways after an 18 year relationship because it’s broken and can’t give me accurate information. I usually donate my belongings to the Salvation Army when I get something new, but sadly I cannot do this with my scale. It will lead the next unsuspecting person astray as well and it might not be for just a few days.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like every day I experience whiplash from hearing something different from the day before…don’t wear a mask/wear a mask, children don’t transmit COVID/children can transmit COVID, don’t trust the numbers/trust the numbers… the list goes on and on. What I do know is that misinformation and conspiracy theories travel faster than the virus itself. I’ve decided that when it comes to deciding whether something is a truth or a lie, I better wait before I post, like, or share because real understanding comes with time. That was true of the prophets and prophecies in scripture. Time showed whether a prophet was telling the truth and time showed whether the prophecy was true. Scripture gives us plenty of examples of what happened to those that were involved in falsehood.

 

When I go back to Genesis and see the story of where sin entered the world (Genesis 3), the serpent enters the scene questioning Eve regarding God’s instructions. When looking at this I’ve always focused on how the serpent took God’s instructions and manipulated them in a way that caused Eve and Adam to partake from the tree causing sin to enter the world, but recently I’ve realized there’s another issue I may have overlooked. A lesson for me is to pause and think that maybe a broader issue than eating the fruit is the issue of who they chose to listen to. Who we listen to is important. Listening to the serpent as authority cost them everything.

 

My question for all of us is this, whose voice are you listening to as your authority?

 

In John 8:44, Jesus tells us himself that Satan is the father of lies. I have spent the past few years of my personal study with scripture in the gospels because it is there that I see the very words of Jesus, a savior I choose to follow. It is in the gospels I see Jesus speak grace and truth into his community where political and religious systems had misrepresented His Father. I see Jesus confront the lies that had been perpetuated by the father of lies and dismantle some strongly held beliefs of his time. Did it cause some discomfort? It sure did. That, along with God’s plan of redemption for us, is what got him arrested, beaten, and killed. God’s plan for redemption was for all nations and people. He has invited us into that work when He invites us into a personal relationship with him. It was his charge to us from the mountaintop in Matthew 28 in giving us His Great Commission.

 

Confession time… there was a time in my personal life that I valued the acquiring of knowledge over my relationship with Christ and those around me. Why? Truth be known, I’ve always had this misconception that knowledge is power. Arguments can be made for or against, but my faith journey has painfully taught me that doing what Jesus says is the real power, not knowledge. Following his voice and doing what His Spirit shows me is the truth I cling to these days. It’s the only comfort I have on some days when I see so much pain and heartbreak inflicted on social media. I ask all of us these two questions:

 

Whose Voice are you listening to?

 

Could I be participating in misleading others in what I share?

 

So for now, I am seeking and setting my mind on things above (Col 3:1-2). I’m focusing on my life that is hidden with Christ and not on the special knowledge some claim to have on social media (Col 3:3). And I’m parting ways with anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk and lies with the help of the Holy Spirit (Col 3:8-9). I’m reading, fact checking, and parting ways with the misuse of knowledge and lies on social and mainstream media, just like I’m parting ways with a scale that can’t tell me the truth, even if I like what it’s saying.

 
 
 

Peace-

Rhonda


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Humility or Defensiveness: Racism and the Human Reaction

Written by Pastor Tony Alstott
 

If someone asked you if you were a racist, how would you respond?  Most of us would respond from a position of defensiveness.  We are taught that being a racist is a bad thing so we have worked hard to not be a racist.  While working hard not to be racists, we have well-developed arguments as to why we are not racists.  Our arguments to defend that we are not racists are developed from a position of defensiveness. 

If you would have asked me if I was a racist when I was 20 years old I would emphatically have told you no.   Denny and Reggie were some of my best friends.  We often met at the elementary school which was between our neighborhoods.  As kids, we played on the playground.  As teenagers, we played basketball on the outdoor goals at the school.  In middle school, Jamie and I became friends when we played football and ran track together.  When we were able to drive we went to the park, to baseball games, and to King’s Island.  When I was 19, we even took a trip to New York City together just because we could.  We freely went into each other’s homes.  I was invited to gatherings where I would be the only white person.  I never felt uncomfortable or out of place.

A racist is someone who hates black people.  I do not hate black people.  A racist is someone who kills black people because they were black.  I do not kill anyone.  A racist is someone who joins the Ku Klux Klan and terrorizes black people.  I did not join the KKK nor do I terrorize black people.  I was not a racist because I had black friends that I would love and defend.  I did not have a prejudiced bone in my body.

When I was in college, a history teacher challenged me to reflect on my views and discover my prejudices.  I told the teacher I was not prejudiced.  He pushed back with questions that led me to discover stereotypes that I held about groups of people. Rich people were smart.  People who went to college had ambition. Of course I had never said any of this out loud before but the conversation forced me to self-reflect.  My realization that I believed rich people were smart also led to an underlying belief that poor people were not as smart.  By thinking that people who went to college had ambition gave me the false belief that people who didn’t go to college didn’t have ambition.  These stereotypes were prejudices.  Unconsciously these prejudices impacted my attitudes, words and actions.  It was one of those “a-ha” moments that changed my life.  I would never be able to work on my prejudiced thoughts, words, and behaviors until I was willing to admit that I had them.  I had prejudices.

So the question I had to ask myself wasn’t, “Do I have racists thoughts?”  The question I began to ask was, “What racist thoughts did I have?” 

Today I’m 57 years old.  I have spent a lifetime trying to remove prejudice and stereotypes from my life.  I believe that if I humble myself, I can learn something from any other person on the planet whether or not they are rich or college educated.  I can learn people’s stories.  I can discover that we all have hopes, fears, and feelings.  I have also discovered new stereotypes that emerge in my life that I need to ponder, identify, and confront. 

Am I a racist?  If I take a position of defensiveness I would give you an emphatic no and tell you all the reasons why I am not a racist.  The result of my response would be that the conversation is concluded.  A direct question was given a direct and decisive answer.  However, if I take a position of humility, I’m prepared to discuss with you how I may be holding some racist views that are systemic in the society I live in.  With the position of humility, I may be able to self-reflect and remove some unconscious racist stereotypes so that I may be less racist than before.  Today if you ask me if I’m a racist, my response is, “I’m working toward the goal of being anti-racist.”  An anti-racist is someone who is against racist ideas and systems, first from within himself or herself, and then in society. 

Are you a racist?  If you answer no and give me a wonderful list about how you are not a racist, then I know you are answering from a position of defensiveness.  If you answer, “I hope not,” and are willing to self-reflect to discover if you hold any racist views, then you are answering from a position of humility and you are ready to identify and confront racist views you may be unconsciously holding.

If you would like to be join me in the journey of becoming an anti-racist, Dr. Erica Lawrence and I will be leading a four-week discussion on “Becoming an Anti-Racist.”

Each session will begin at 6:30 p.m.

August 6: I live in a racist society

August 13: I am not a racist

August 20: The Real Message

August 27: Becoming an anti-racist

Click here to register for the class.


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Praying for a Miracle that isn’t Coming

Written by Ahnya Evinger
 

A verse that God placed in the forefront of my life four years ago this summer is Romans 5:1-5. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into the grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I heard a gentleman deliver a message on the passage at our Indiana Annual Conference, and the words were seared into my heart and mind. Hope does not disappoint.

This is the verse I clung to that fall when I was diagnosed with a heart condition called sick sinus syndrome. Although this syndrome has affected me my whole life, I did not have a name or diagnosis for it. My entire life, I would experience syncope where I would lose consciousness. Every time I woke up, I was confused and tired. I learned how to recognize the signs before I would drop, but I was not always able to prevent it. One Christmas break, I had to go to the emergency room to get seven stitches above my eyebrow because I cut it open when I fell. Doctors throughout my life had different suggestions about why I was passing out, but it wasn’t until I was 28 that we finally had the data to make a diagnosis.

My heart stopped. “Paused” was the word used by medical professionals, but from the flat line on the printout my cardiologist was showing me as he explained what happened, I concluded it meant my heart stopped. Sometimes, it was only part of my heart that didn’t beat, but really, you need both parts to beat in order to stay conscious (and alive). My heart is strong and healthy, but the electric current that runs through it is faulty.

Fortunately, there is medical technology that corrects this problem my heart has. It is called a pacemaker and is actually very common (in people over the age of 28 apparently….not under). Unfortunately, my cardiologist did not want to insert a pacemaker based on the little data he had. He had only witnessed one of these incidents. He implanted a loop monitor to record the data on my heartbeat and instructed me to live life as normal.

Do you know how hard it is to go about life as normal when you find out that your heart has a problem with it that causes it to randomly stop? My mind reeled. Fear gripped me. I quit exercising. I had anxiety about every weird feeling inside of my body which usually had more to do with indigestion than heart palpitations. I tried to focus on work, school, and family, but I was usually too distracted overanalyzing my predicament. I had prayed for a diagnosis and a fix, but God answered it with wait. Wait for the wisdom of the doctor and medical team. Wait for the pacemaker. Wait.

I prayed for the miracle of life. Joe and I had been talking about children, and I wanted to be a mom so desperately. With the diagnosis of sick sinus syndrome, my doctor was very stern about pregnancy prevention. My cardiovascular system would put the baby and me in danger. Wait. Wait until we figure out the severity of the heart pauses. Wait until a pacemaker is inserted. Wait.

The following spring, enough data had been collected for a pacemaker to be inserted. My doctor cleared me of any restrictions except scuba diving too deep and shooting a rifle left handed. (Who knew the perils?) That was over three years ago. It feels like an eternity to me when you are praying for the miracle of life and the miracle isn’t coming.

Waiting is hard. Waiting has turned into four years. Waiting has become a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment every month. Waiting has turned into frustration and tears. This is so contrary to the verse I whisper over and over again, “Hope does not disappoint.” I am afraid to hope because the disappointment is so hard to face. Hope. Wait. I’m tired.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Lord, I continue to pray for miracles, but I realize that my hope is not in this life but rather the eternal life you provide. May I put away my selfish ambitions of this world and be renewed in You for Your purposes. Lead me. Direct my path. Comfort me in my waiting. Equip me to serve you. Please let me not lose faith in your miracles, and may I recognize your miracles each day. Amen.

 


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Being My Best Self

One of the phrases I’ve overheard myself saying a lot to myself and friends lately is “there’s not one of us at our best self right now”. What do I mean by that statement you might ask? We’ve all just spent the last 4 months experiencing things that most of us have never experienced before. I’ve never experienced a pandemic with a novel virus in my lifetime. I’ve never had to oversee eLearning of my children while the church office is at my kitchen table. I’ve never had a major surgery and not had any of the standard post op checkups to make sure all is well, and I’ve certainly never witnessed a man being suffocated by another human being on video as he begged for his life. Protests, riots, shootings…the list goes on and on. All of this has given me all the feels and I definitely have the time right now to sit in those feelings and process them. A whole lot of sadness tempered with anxiety. So much pain and suffering on so many levels. My friends have too. Conversations with my friends and my family show me that they too are having similar emotions and have had trials in their households and relationships. That’s when I say, “there isn’t one of us at our best self right now…”

 

So what are we to do in the midst of the times where we are experiencing such pain, sadness, and anxiety, when we are not at our best selves right now?

 

*Try and respond instead of react to everything. This takes intentionality, patience, and time. It’s so easy to blurt out your first thought or emotion or to hit post with your initial comeback, but pause, pray, reflect and decide what kind of a witness you want to show. Others are watching. If your first response is anger, ask yourself, “why am I so angry about this? Let Jesus be our lead on how we are to handle others and ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the right spirit in how we respond to others. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are great places to get a glimpse of how Jesus responded to others.

 

*Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and reactions rather than focus on the other person. I say this not to encourage narcissism, but instead to get us to focus on what needs adjusted about ourselves. It’s easy to shift focus on the other person’s weaknesses instead of looking at the issues within ourselves. Start asking WHY? Why does what my spouse has said get me so bent out of shape? Why does that person’s post make me so angry? In the field of mental health where I spent my career, we are taught to ask the question, “What is that really about?” I’ve had to ask these questions on a much more personal level when I’ve been in a personal crisis. Being able to reflect on this question helps me to see if my emotions and thoughts are really in check. Can I consider another view? Can I change my mind about something? Is what I think? Is my mind a reflection of Christ? Or are they old patterns and thoughts I’ve been taught? You can still love your parents, family, and friends and acknowledge that they have taught you something contrary to Christ’s values along the way. These are questions that help me muddle through my own personal chaos and struggles.

 
 

*Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is hard for me to do, but I have to constantly set myself up for success when it comes to self-care. Am I eating things that will help my body heal? Am I getting in my steps for the day? Do I get enough sleep? Do I need to see a professional about anxiety? I know what I’m supposed to do, but doing it is another thing. Have I used my time wisely in this area or as Tony likes to say “let the COVID19 turn into the 19 pound quarantine?” Recently, I’ve been giving myself permission to sit on my back porch and relax while I listen to the birds. This small thing alone has helped me be my better self.

 

*Stay in love with Jesus. Being my best self cannot happen when I’m disconnected from Jesus. It just can’t. My end goal is to be like Him. This encompasses so much for me. I’m a much better version of myself when I love Jesus and let Him shape me into the person He desires me to be. Right now online worship, prayer, study, and meditation are practices I rely on heavily. I pray for God’s wisdom daily and then I try to lean in to it. I ask for courage to act on what God tells me to do. When I say study, I mean specifically the reading of scripture. I see so many Christians only want to read books, but for me, scripture is the goal. With the Holy Spirit as the shaping force, I try and apply what the Creator of the Universe has shown me in the sacred texts. I’ve grown tired of hearing what this radio, TV commentator, or author has to say about what’s going on around me. I can gain real peace when I read scripture and realize that God’s wisdom is the real treasure. When it comes down to it, what God thinks is what I need to focus on. Not an opinionated bully on Facebook. God’s Spirit is also the force that can ensure that I’m not the bully on Facebook. His Spirit can also make sure I’m loving my family well and that I’m having the hard discussions with them during this unprecedented time and that those conversations point them to Him. My life as a clergy spouse allows me the Holy privilege to speak into the personal pain and circumstances of others. Personal pain is at an all-time high right now. Relationships are broken and so many are hurting right now. I want to speak God’s grace and truth. I want to point them to the author and finisher of their faith. I want to model to others the gift of grace in these hard times. Our connection to Jesus is really the only way I see through the messes because striving to be like Him is the only way any of us can truly be our best self.

 

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” Ephesians 5:1-2 the MSG

 

Love extravagantly,

Rhonda

 

 

 

 


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5 Things To Remember As Your Marriage Collides With the Coronavirus

written by Ted Lowe

Be honest with yourself and me. This is the part of the article you don’t even read. Most of you, like me, skip straight to the parts that have a bold header. So I’ll spare you my unpacking of the tensions that are happening with the collision of marriage and coronavirus. You’re living it. Let’s just jump to the bold stuff, before you have to put a tranquilizer dart in your spouse’s neck for doing that gargantuanly annoying, “thing” again.

1. You can be hard to live with, too

Like you, your spouse is under all sorts of stressors. From working from home to homeschooling to the economy to lack of hand-sanitizer to having to live with you, the struggle is real.

When they mess up, ease up. Don’t care quite so much about the way they deal with the kids, their towels on the floor, their way of managing to slurp through every bite of their cereal. Give them the grace you need now or are going to need soon.

2. You don’t like mean people either

Shaunti Feldhaun—Harvard graduate, social researcher, speaker, and best- selling author—revealed in a massive study that the most important thing in a marriage is kindness.

In her 30-Day Kindness Challenge, we are instructed to say something kind and do something kind for 30 days. Now that you aren’t wasting all your kindness on your co-workers and strangers, give it all to your spouse and expect nothing in return. You know how to be kind, you do it every day. You may be surprised how staggering helpful small doses of kindness can be for your marriage.

3. You’re weird, too

Some couples have a lot of differences. Every couple has some differences.

Some of you are stressed your spouse is not stressed enough about the coronavirus.

Some of you are stressed because your spouse is too stressed.

Some of you hate this time has messed-up your structure.

Others are thrilled daily hygiene is optional.

Don’t roll your eyes at your spouse. Look at their face. It’s harder to be frustrated with your person when you re-see the face you promised to love. They may be a LOT to deal with, but so are you.There’s no better way to draw your spouse to you than accepting them, all of them. They need your acceptance now more than ever.

4. You can be NOT FUN, too

I fully understand the coronavirus is serious. How in the world could we ever forget? The reminders are everywhere. But too much news causes too much stress. Too much stress weakens your immune system.

So, for the sake of doing your part, try to be at least semi-fun. You don’t have to do stand-up, but at least tell a few dad jokes. Lock your spouse out of the house and make her dance to get back in. Walk behind the couch and pretend you are walking down non-existent steps.

And for all that is holy, if your spouse does or says something remotely funny, laugh!

5. You are not GOD either

Instead of trying to convince your spouse to stop being or doing that thing they are doing, or asking them to give you that thing they are withholding, step back, step away, and just pray. When we spend time with Him, we become more like Him. Plus, it takes a whole lot of pressure off our spouse to be God-size. They are having a tough enough time being human-size.

I don’t know how God speaks to you, but ever since this cluster started, I’ve had this song stuck in my head, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” And He does. Period. No matter what. Spend time with Him. Talk to Him. He is crazy about you. Don’t forget it. When we don’t forget, the people around us will always benefit.

We can do this married people! I promise. How are you protecting your marriage from the Coronavirus?

 


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Love, Lepers, and Social Distancing

When we change from handshakes and hugs to social distancing, what remains? Read Luke 17:11-19. The Healing of the Ten Lepers in Luke 17 has always been a great text to teach about gratitude. During the Covid19 pandemic I have been reading Scripture with a different lens. There are ten lepers who are a distance from Jesus. Leprosy is a skin disease. In Jesus’ day, lepers were required to practice social distancing from the rest of society. They were not allowed to touch or hug their loved ones. They lost their jobs. They could not go to the market to buy or sell. They were not allowed to walk down the street. They were not even allowed to live in their own homes. They were forced to live in leper colonies outside of the town and they were dependent on other people to provide food, clothes, and medicine. They asked Jesus for mercy. Almost every healing miracle of Jesus includes some kind of touch. Jesus touched the blind man’s eyes and he could see. Jesus touched a leper in Mark 1 and he is healed. A woman touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and she is healed. The healing of the ten lepers did not involve touch. Jesus instructed the ten lepers to show themselves to the priest. One returned to thank Jesus for the healing. When I read this Scripture today, the lepers were quarantined because of their disease. When they speak to Jesus, we find them practicing “social distancing” which was a legal requirement in Jesus day. Jesus’ instructions to go to the priest is missed in the context of our culture. The priest would have declared the lepers clean, and therefore, would be able to “reenter” society. The priest was more than a medical examiner, he was a spiritual guide. After the leper would have been declared “clean” by the priest, the leper’s next step would have been to worship at the Temple. The joy that is experienced by the leper is hard for us to identify with but, we may be able to come close. Many of us continue to shelter at home. Many of us are dependent on others to bring us food and medicine. Many of us are missing the compassionate touch of another human being. Many of us miss being in a physical assembly worship our Lord and savior. When we cry for mercy, Jesus hears us whether we are near or far. We can still praise God from our living rooms. We can still be cleansed of our sins in the kitchen. We can still say our nighttime prayers from our bedrooms. We can still soak in the glory of God’s nature from our porches and balconies. We can still receive God’s spiritual touch when we practice social distancing. We can still be compassionate even if we cannot be by another’s side. When everything is changing, God’s love remains.

Come Holy Spirit, in the absence of physical touch, give us a spiritual touch. May our love fill us and may your mercies be new each morning. Give us compassion for one another. Amen.


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