Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reflections: Check Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself

"So why is Jesus being such a jerk?" was my question to Pastor Vincent this week about this Scripture from Matthew. 

This is one of the stories about Jesus that makes me uncomfortable. I want the simple Jesus that we know loves us and everyone because the "Bible tells us so."  This is a passage that reminds us that Jesus was not always warm and fuzzy.  Jesus is approached by a Canaanite women - an outsider who was definitely not one of God's "chosen people." To Jesus, in that moment, maybe she was like an annoying helicopter parent with a screaming kid. But she desperately needs help so she comes to Jesus and he first ignores her -  and then basically compares her place in the world to that of a dog.  Ouch.

This is dog named Chingo and he lives in the El Porvenir community in Nicaragua.

 What's up Jesus? Why are you being such a jerk?

I have to remind myself when I read this story that maybe the "fully- human" Jesus was just tired and getting irritated that the disciples still don't seem to get it - and that others were still unconvinced and not believing who he really was. Rejection makes us grouchy. And here comes this screaming nobody of a woman who does get it - calling him "Son of David " and recognizing his divinity. She's not his target audience - who he's been working so hard to convince of God's love.  She wants him to take the demons out of her daughter. She knows he's capable of it - and maybe he's starting to feel a little used.  We all feel that way sometimes. I get how that would be frustrating. 

The disciples tell Jesus to send her away. Jesus himself tells her that he was only sent to help the " lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 

And then things get real. She kneels before him and uses his own words about the dogs to show him that she is willing to show up, worship him, and be present. Even when everyone is against her and she is not one of the "chosen."  Jesus sees her persistence and faith  - and he changes his mind. He heals her daughter.  

He sees that her need outweighs her status and station in life. He humbles himself, changes his mind, and helps a struggling marginalized, screaming, annoying women.  Of course, we like this Jesus at the end of the story better than the Jesus at the beginning. Jesus shows us that - as we know from what's going on in the world around us- seeking justice and sharing God's love is not comfortable and easy. And we don't always get it right on the first try.

I am asking myself this week- who do I need to listen to closely? Who have I rejected without much thought? 
Where do I need more humility? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017 - Part 2 El Porvenir

 Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017 is complete! 
We had a wonderful visit and mission exchange with our friends at El Porvenir.  I'll be posting photos and info from our trip in parts over the next several weeks so check back for more! 
Also, for some background and more info on our partnership with El Porvenir please check out the June edition of the church's newsletter, Sixth Sense.
The mission team: Our group of six included David Rothenberg, Sara Berg, and Jenny Newman (that's me!) from Sixth Presbyterian Church.  Also along for the journey were Jennifer Novelli, Executive Director of Building New Hope, and her son, Alessandro.  Mark Swift, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Washington, Pa., also was along for the adventure. We were excited to be joined by Building New Hope board member Therese Tardio during our time at El Porvenir. 

Nicargua Mission Trip 2017:
Part 2 - El Porvenir

  The journey up the mountain to the El Porvenir cooperative is quite an adventure. Besides walking, the blue tractor pictured here is the main way the cooperative members travel to and from the towns below. In the picture below, is the 4x4 truck we rented during our trip in order to help transport our group and have emergency transportation if needed. We were able to help the leaders of coop while we were there by using the truck to run some much needed errands and get parts and supplies for the community. The roads from Leon to the community are steep, rocky, and often flooded in the rainy season.  

Above is the view from the porch of the main structure in the center of the community. At right, David Rothenberg takes a rest on the porch. Below you can see our sleeping arrangements. The wooden beds were made by the community members from a previous donation from Sixth Presbyterian church. They are used to accommodate guests who come to visit. (Thanks Brenda Flores for the mosquito nets!)

During our visit we spent a day working with the teams from the coop. We learned about the growing the coffee plants, how the cooperative works, and helped spread compost on new coffee plants.  

At right, David helps carry a bucket of compost. Cooperative residents do their work in teams and everyone is paid equally, including the leaders and elders of the coop. Pictured below with David and Sara Berg is Renee, an elder and manager of the cooperative. 

The worm compost at the cooperative used to feed and fertilize the coffee plants is carefully made and monitored by the coop residents. 

Pictured here are some of the buildings used for the coffee production at El Povenir. 

Another project we helped with at El Porvenir during our visit was painting the porch railings and newly installed railing on the steps. 

The railing on the steps was built with donations from Sixth Presbyterian Church and helps to make the way down to the bathing area and outhouse safer for visitors to the community.

We ate wonderful meals together around the table at the home of Renee and Inez. Inez makes use off all available resources to cook delicious food.  The rooster above fed out group and five other family on the cooperative during our visit. 

Check back soon for Part 3 which will include pictures of our visit to the school at El Porvenir and details about our church's support and donation to the community and how they are used. 

What We Are Reading - August 2017

Here are our August favorites - all available through the  Carnegie Library.  Enjoy!

Great book for dog lovers!  Ed doesn't feel that he is as "excellent" as the other members of his family. This story addresses self confidence and getting along with siblings and reminds us that everyone is "excellent" at something. 

The book is probably best for older elementary age children.  It's about a girl named Emma whose parents are migrant workers. Emma wants to work to earn money for the family but is sent to school.  

This book is quirky and fun! Sam and Dave on the search for something amazing and "spectacular." The dig a hole and keep digging and find things that they didn't expect.   

This is another silly book that starts with an octopus who plays the ukulele. The author gives readers a part in feeling like they are involved in the story by pointing out basic elements of story structure and plot. 

This is a great story that echos the message in "Excellent Ed."  Everyone has a purpose and things to contribute to the world. Otis is a special tractor but is replaced on the farm with a big shiny yellow tractor. He feels left out until there is a job on the farm that only he can do. This is my 

This is my favorite of this list!  The main character is a grumpy old man who  likes to paint pictures of the birds in his backyard.  The squirrels get involved in the story and work their way into the old man's heart. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reflections: Keeping Our Heads Above Water

Peter: "Jesus is that you? You are trippin' us out with this walking on water thing. If it's really you tell me to come out on the water with you."  
Jesus: "Bring it..."

     So, I am thinking this week about trust and doubt - and how those two things are related.  Continuing with the narrative of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, we pick up the story after Jesus performs a miracle and helps the disciples feed the crowd with just five loaves and two fish.  After he sends everyone on their way Jesus directs the disciples to take the boat across the lake and Jesus climbs up the hill to be alone and pray. 

Read Matthew 14: 22-33. 

     We see Jesus in this story do, yet again, something amazing. The disciples are having trouble with the boat on the rough waters. They are scared and panicking when they see Jesus walking towards the boat ON THE WATER (which is hella weird and would cause me to flip out, too.)   Sidebar:  I've been thinking that perhaps Jesus at this moment was not trying to prove his awesomeness to the disciples but was just trying to take the fastest, easiest route to the boat. I mean, his is also fully human - and we humans are fans for taking short cuts. We know from the scriptures he is tired and craving alone time... but this is a digression for another time.
     Anyway, when Jesus gets near the boat, Peter calls him out and says (of course I am paraphrasing here) "Dude, if it's really you tell me to come out on the water, too."  And Jesus says "Bring it."  Peter brings it - but only for a few seconds because then he is freaked by the wind and starts to sink. He doubts, according to Jesus. But he also trusts - asking Jesus to help him stay afloat.

     So here's what I am thinking: Peter had to trust in Jesus to freely doubt. 

      We have to be able to trust in the people we that we choose to surround us.  We need people in our lives who will allow us to doubt, ask questions, and to take the time we need to figure things out.  We need to have people around us that can help pull us up when we just can't seem to keep our heads above water.  

Who are those people for you? 

When we are fearful, like the disciples in the boat, we need to let someone know.  I've been learning the hard way when I keep fear bottled up inside and not talk about it - it only gets worse.  This passage is a good reminder that we also need to be that support for those around us.  

We need to remind ourselves and those who we are supporting that God is always with us - when we are walking on water, when we have doubts, when we are afraid, and especially when we are sinking. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reflections: When Enough is Enough

Here is what I am thinking about this week: When do we know when we have enough?

 I've been moving my office and have discovered that when it comes to books - I have enough. 

We definitely know when we feel like we have enough stuff (materials things and possessions),  commitments other people's drama, emotions, etc. 

When we feel overwhelmed - we feel like we've had enough.

Yet, we also feel overwhelmed and worry when don't have (or think we don't have) enough. Enough food, money, time, resources, etc. 

The 14th chapter of Matthew gives us some good food for thought on this topic (pun intended!) 

Read Matthew 14: 1-21

The scripture starts with the story of Herod's birthday banquet in which I am sure had quite enough food, wine, and everything else you need for such a party. The party gets out of hand and results in the beheading of John the Baptist.

Herod has had enough. He fears John the Baptist and has him arrested. He fears the crowd more because they considered this man a prophet. 

Then, we move along to Jesus. Jesus has also had enough and is seeking some rest and isolation. But how Jesus and Herod react to their "enoughness" is very different. Herod gets tangled up in his fear and the manipulation of his family.  Jesus responds to the people and his disciples with compassion. He heals the sick and feeds the crowd. He shows the people with his actions how God loves them.

Jesus' miraculous act of feeding the crowd reminds us that God is always with us. God is with us when we have more than we can handle. God is with us when we don't have enough.  

Jesus provides the miracle by turning five loaves and two fish into enough for the crowd. But, Jesus also asks the disciples to help feed the people  - reminding us to help others in their "enoughness" as well. 

Who can you help that has had enough - not enough?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Neighbors - Vacation Bible School 2017

We just wrapped up our Vacation Bible School nights at Sixth Church for 2017. Our theme this year was "Neighbors." Over three consecutive Friday nights we explored the topics or "Who is our Neighbor," Welcoming our Neighbor," and "Loving our Neighbor" with a variety of activities, songs, crafts, and scripture. We started each week with sharing a meal and fellowship. Thanks everyone who helped and participated! 

Here are the highlights: 

Scriptures shared were: 

  • Matthew 22: 34-45  
    The Greatest Commandment
  • Mark 10: 13-16 and Matthew 19: 13-15  
    Jesus blesses and Welcomes the Children
  • 2 Kings 4: 42-44
    Elisha Feeds 100
  • VBS participants helped pack and prepare over 50 care packages with items purchased by the Sixth Deacons that were donated for distribution through Community Human Service

  • We welcomed the Kids on the Block, and education puppet show about children with disabilities. The show is a special outreach project by our Neighbor's at the Children's Institute.

  • VBS kids prepared and hid "Random Kindness" toys to be placed throughout their neighborhood. 

View a slide show of pictures from VBS!


Below are some resources to do at home! 

Here is great easy recipe for baking bread at home in a bag to give to a neighbor!  
Bread in a Bag

Print out this guide of things you can do will kids all ages to explore your neighborhood

Print out some Random Kindness tags and spread some joy!
This is a great list of books for kids about Neighbors and Community Helpers 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Camp Crestfield Summer Camp

In June I had the pleasure of spending a week at Camp Crestfield summer camp.  It was awesome! I served as the Camp Advocate  - which means I was basically the camp "grandma" for the week. I was there to help with sick or homesick campers, be a liaison between first-time campers and parents, and help the summer staff and counselors in any way needed. In addition to counselors and camp staff , each week volunteers are asked to serve as chaplains and camp advocates. 

If you have ever considered summer camp please check out Camp Crestfield.  It's in Slippery Rock, Pa., just about an hour from Pittsburgh.  Visit their website to get a feel for all the different camps that our offered.  Each week is filled with all the tradition camp activities such as archery, canoes, swimming. Crestfield also has a clay and swamp pit for games, high and low ropes courses and a great climbing wall.  A labyrinth and outdoor chapel on the camp grounds provide space for wonderful worship experiences. 

Of course, I am biased because I was a summer camp kid  but I think it's a great experience for all kinds of kids.  You can read more about my thought on camp in this previous Blog Post. (click the link!)

Checkout this slide show of photos from Week 4 of Summer Camp!


Reflections: It's like...

This week the scriptures take us to Matthew's Gospel where Jesus is teaching in parables.  I love Jesus's parables.  Some of them are pretty straight forward and understandable. But for some of them, I am frequently asking in my head "what the heck - Jesus."  Some parables are confusing, mysterious, and take a lot of thinking make just a little sense. It's like that line from the movie "The Princess Bride" where Vizzini keeps saying, "Inconceivable," in a variety of different situations.  Inigo says, "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

     The passage starts with the story about the mustard seed.  Pretty easy to interpret: Even small things can produce great results. But then Jesus tells three more - talking about the treasures in a field, pearls, and fishing and separating the good fish from the bad fish.  
All of these parables start with Jesus saying, " the Kingdom of Heaven is like..."

I get them and I don't get them all at the same time. So, here's my arm-chair take on these parables. First - I think when Jesus talks about the "Kingdom of Heaven" he is not only talking about the Heaven beyond earth but also the presence of God on earth in our "Kingdom" right now.  Here are some take-aways:
  • The "Kingdom of heaven" and God's love, and our faith, can start small but become big.
  • Just a little bit of this "Kingdom of Heaven" is needed to create change.
  • The "Kingdom of Heaven" is so precious and priceless that people would give everything that they have just to get it.
  • The "Kingdom of Heaven" is filled good things that are not ruined by bad things.
Do you think these mean what I think they mean? Not totally inconceivable - but challenging to think about. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Nicaragua Mission 2017 - Part 1, Granada

 Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017 is complete! 

We had a wonderful visit and mission exchange with our friends at El Porvenir.  I'll be posting photos and info from our trip in parts over the next several weeks so check back for more! 
Also, for some background and more info on our partnership with El Porvenir please check out the June edition of the church's newsletter, Sixth Sense.

The mission team: Our group of six included David Rothenberg, Sara Berg, and Jenny Newman (that's me!) from Sixth Presbyterian Church.  Also along for the journey were Jennifer Novelli, Executive Director of Building New Hope, and her son, Alessandro.  Mark Swift, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Washington, Pa., also was along for the adventure. We were excited to be joined by Building New Hope board member Therese Tardio during our time at El Porvenir. 

Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017: Part 1, Granada 

Our first full day in Nicaragua was spent in the colonial city of Granada.  We visited the teachers and students of two educational programs supported by Building New Hope.
In addition to purchasing, roasting, and selling coffee locally from El Porvenir, our friends at BNH support two supplemental learning projects that serve approximately 150 students living in low-income neighborhoods in Granada and staffs local educators.  The organization provides scholarships each year for students to attend high school.  We visited the classrooms of Escuelita Yo Puedo and Quinta Los Chavalos and learned about how the educational system works in Nicaragua and the great need for supplemental learning programs for students.  We concluded our day by visiting sites in Granada including the historic town square, Granada Cathedral, the San Fransico Convent, and the Isletas de Granda.  

David at Escuelita Yo Puedo

Teaching and sharing with the students of Escuelita Yo Puedo about Pittssburgh

David and Alessandro in the court yard outside the classroom

Our group with the teachers of Escuelita Yo Puedo.

Quinta Los Chavalos 
Students learning how to make bracelets at Quinta Los Chavalos 

Visiting with the teachers and students of Quinta Los Chavalos 

Grananda Cathedral

San Fransico Convent and Museum

Boat tour around the Isletas de Granada