Friday, December 4, 2015

Welcoming the stranger

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  -Hebrews 13:1-2

I have grown weary of reading about the acts of violence in our country and around the world.  I have grown weary of reading people's blogs and writings on refugees and whether or not they should be welcomed.  And yet here I am writing.

The hospitality to refugees is a puzzle to me and yet not so uncommon.  When I was in high school our community, church and my family welcomed many refugees and gave of time and resources to get them a safe place to live and jobs.  I remember my mother getting some of our furniture recovered to give them employment.  I don't remember anyone having a problem with welcoming these strangers.

I have seen in many churches how people lump groups of people together.  If you are a teenager you are up to no good.  If you are old you don't know anything.  If you are a single parent on public assistance...  You get the idea.  I have to wonder and even assume that is what people are doing when they say they don't want to welcome refugees for fear they may be terrorists.  I understand (I think) but that doesn't make it acceptable.

The other night we were working in the book "Five Questions of Christmas".  The author had helped us take a look at the question Zechariah asked the angel who had just told him his wife of old age would have a child: How can this be? We considered this a matter of not trusting God.  We say with God all things are possible. But when we are asked to believe in something we know to be impossible we don't trust God.

Then it hit me. How many of us who seek to be faithful and Christlike say we trust God's will for our lives and even propose that we are willing when God calls - how many of us might have a different answer when something difficult is asked of us?  I know I am apt to be there.  You want me to do what God?

Living the Christian life is not easy for anyone. We are asked to do difficult things, love unlovable people and give up control. I also wonder if the state of the church (decline) is because people have not really been willing to do those things in the past? present? 

As a pastor a day does not go by that I do not get interrupted in what I am doing to be with someone when they need me or even when they just want to chat.  Being a pastor has taught me a lot about being present and available for others.  I am often asked to love the unlovable or those people who have the most ridiculous demands or who gossip about me and others... I still am called to love them.

I have come to accept "it is not about me".  It is about a world created by a God of power, might, compassion, love, forgiveness... Each one of us has received freely the gift of God's love and blessings as well as many do overs we don't deserve. It is not about me and  it is not mine to judge. I responsible for springing in to action for those in need and seeking to bring about glimpses of God's preferred future for God's people.

Thank you for sticking with my rambling.  Perhaps I am the only one who needed this but I do pray this might be helpful.

Have a blessed holiday season.  May love always win big time.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Winter has finally arrived and settled in here in Ottumwa Iowa.  The good news is there are more eagles in town because of the open water on the river.  The difficult news has been every Sunday this year has been snowy, icy, extremely cold,  and we even cancelled worship once.

A colleague of mine (who I happen to live with) suggested there  a conspiracy for our churches to have low attendance so far this year. I don't believe that to be true but I have been thinking about a conspiracy the church might take on.

A conspiracy of kindness, grace and love for those in our community. What if each person in the church were to find at least 3 random acts they could do for different folks every week especially during Lent.

Ottumwa, Iowa has shy of 25,000 people living here.  I have well over 250 active people in my church times 3 a week would be 750 random acts.  If my church alone were to work on this at 750 random acts per week it would take us 33 weeks to saturate the community.

It takes 21 days to make a habit stick.  33 weeks of this kind of conspiracy and we could not stop ourselves.

As the church we often ask the community for things such as attendance at fund raisers.  I would love to see a conspiracy of kindness, grace and love.  If other churches and Christians joined us we could really get people's attention and get them asking about the "conspiracy" of love being shown.

Just a thought or two.

Grace and Peace to you,
Leila Disburg, pastor
Willard Street UMC in Ottumwa Iowa

Monday, January 12, 2015

Time to blog again

I have been back in Iowa for 2 1/2 years and it has been longer than that since I last blogged.  Often when life changes such as a move - old ways get lost. I feel as if this is the time to begin blogging again.

I still hold the same vision of my purpose and the purpose for the church which is to help others see glimpses of the Kingdom of God or God's preferred future.  It seems to be needed more today than ever before.  The church appears to have been left behind by the world.  There is violence everywhere. Wars continue.  There is an unrest.

I believe my main purpose is to help the world see that there is hope. Often after Christmas it is difficult to hold on to that hope as we march in to the new year.  That moment that happens at Christmas Eve worship when everyone is holding a lit candle, the lights are turned off and silent night is being sung - that moment is magical.  The light of Christ reflected on the faces is full of hope.  If we could only hold on to that the rest of the year.

The reality however is that we live in a broken world. We are broken people. Often we like to hide our brokenness pretending we are perfect and all is good.  If only we could claim our brokenness and boldly show the world how we have survived.  Hope would be given to others just knowing they are not alone.

There is an art form used with broken pottery called Kintsukuroi.  The broken pieces are put back together with a mixture containing gold dust.  The result is often times a piece that is even more beautiful than the original piece.

This art form is a reminder that each of us are made more beautiful through the brokenness we have experienced if we have let God use those breaks.  God does not cause our brokenness but God can help us to turn it to something other than a jagged edge.

The most beautiful people I see wear the scars of their brokenness.  In those broken places they have grown stronger and wiser and closer to God's preferred future for the world.

Where are you broken?  How has God used your brokenness?  How could God use your brokenness to bring hope to others?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Watching the Mountains of Snow Melt

Here in Anchorage we are finally seeing signs of the snow melting and even some bare pavement.  I have been wearing my Keen sandals as an affirmation that better weather is coming.  The town and homes still have mountains of snow.  In previous years it takes until the end of the summer for the larger piles to melt.

It has been interesting to watch how a large pile of snow melts.  The melting happens on the bottom and inside and so you see streams of water running out from under the mountains of snow. The snow can be melted much more than you realize just by looking.  If you are the kind of person who notices how high the pile was you may notice the piles of snow getting shorter.  My dog has been climbing the  mountains of snow in the back yard and hurt his knee because the snow looked firm on the top but when he stepped - his leg post holed and he tore his ACL.

Whenever I have tried to make significant changes in my life it has felt like what I have observed as the snow has melted.  I make changes and inside I feel like they are large leaps of change.  However, often on the outside no one even notices.  That can be frustrating.  Working diligently to improve oneself and it isn't visible.

We are going to have to be patient as the snow melts.  It probably will not disappear as quickly as we would wish.  The same is true for each of us as followers of Jesus - we answer God's call to journey forward and be and do more than we have done in the past.  We will need to be patient as the change will happen gradually and perhaps others will not notice at first.

The comfort we have is that we are being faithful.  We know that God is not going to give us instant gratification just because for a week we have been reading the Bible daily or setting aside time to pray.  Like the melting snow, God works in our lives from the inside out as we seek to be faithful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is it about being a grandparent?

In case you have been living far away and haven't heard - I AM GOING TO BE A GRANDMOTHER.  My oldest daughter Meghan is due March 24th and is ready to meet this kid as she says.

I have not been this excited in a while.  Why?  Why is it so exciting to think about being a grandparent?  My father actually asked me why I was so excited to be a grandmother.  I did not have a formed answer.

Watching your children grow from baby, toddler, grade school, teenager and finally an adult is an awesome experience.  Once they reach the adult years and you can have a different relationship with them -  you begin to feel as if they have arrived.

Then seeing your children have their own children completes the circle of life.  I have been thinking a lot about my own grandparents and what do I want to pass on to my grandchildren.  I have heard that having grandchildren is better than being a parent because you don't have to do the disciplining.  I am determined my grandkids will enjoy spending time with me.

One of my grandmothers passed the faith on to me.  She sang, read from the Bible, taught Sunday school class and never hesitated to talk about how Jesus wants us to treat other people. My biggest hope is to do the same for my grandchildren.

I began to feel guilty the other day because I realized that I don't have the same sense of excitement at the thought of meeting someone new, getting to know them and sharing God's love with them.  I am not out of my head excited to get the opportunity to witness to others.  The thought of sharing with others about Christ can sometimes make us very nervous.

As I live in to actually being a grandparent I am hoping to take notes on how I pass on the Christian faith and how I can transfer that to sharing the faith with those I don't know.  Pastors share about the faith every week as they lead worship, teach and preach.  Remember that the worship crowd are usually those who are already converted or at least are open to the Christian faith. 

I invite you to consider your relationship to those outside the walls of the church.  How can you walk with them and find opportunities to share the faith?  How can we, the church, become more adept at sharing our experiences of what God has done in our lives, in the lives of others we have known and in scripture.  I hope to gain new insights as I become a grandmother.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Early, On-time and Late Arrivals

     Growing up my parents were always early wherever we went.  We were the first at church and early to the theater and movies.  I don't remember objecting to my parents early timing.  I actually grew up thinking that is just what one does when you go somewhere.
     I get especially anxious if I realize I am going to be late.  I think I am being rude by arriving late or even on time.  I guess there was an implied message in the way my parents approached our arrivals.   I also think it was a part of the time I grew up in - people arrived early for events and got the opportunity to see and talk to others.
     Compare that to what I have seen happening just in church attendance.  Since about 10 years ago it has been common practice for me to walk up the aisle of the church before worship begins and see the church sparsely populated.  Often by the time I kneel, pray and turn around the church is filled with people.  
      This past Sunday was classic at Anchor Park UMC.  I walked in, kneeled to pray and as I began the worship service the pews were very empty.  As I stood up to preach (later in worship) I noticed the church was full of people.
     What does all this mean?  What did it mean when I was growing up and we were always early?  What does it mean today that the tendency is to arrive after the starting time?  What does it mean that as the years go by people are arriving later and later during the worship service?
     I don't have any answers.  I am not upset about this change in behavior.  I find it interesting and am wondering what it reflects about our world and what is happening in people's lives.  
     Those who analyze human behavior have been known to explain why an individual may be consistently late to everything in their lives.  The excuse, I mean explanation is that arriving late is a form of control.  A time may be set for something to begin but the individual is not going to allow someone to tell them what to do - therefore they arrive late to show who is in control.
     Can this be true for our entire society?  This is not just a behavior by a few who are still dealing with childhood issues.  Perhaps things are so hectic in our lives that arriving late is our only option.  I know occasionally I will try to get one last thing done at the house before I leave only to realize it took me longer than I anticipated and I arrive late.
     When my spouse and I go to the movie we are always the first ones to arrive.  We figure that movies are expensive and we want to see it all including the previews and ads.  Maybe movie theaters have trained society to not worry about arriving at the start time because we know there will be a lot of previews before the actual movie starts.
     Another thought I had was the coolness factor.  It was "cool" to arrive early when I was growing up.  Postmodern society may not value early arrivals so it has become "cool" to arrive late.   We know it doesn't pay to arrive on time to the doctor because you always have to wait. (no offense to doctors - just the reality I have experienced) 
     There is a problem with getting in to the habit of late arrivals.  Late arrival becomes a problem for events that definitely start on time.  Things like school, courtroom and airline flights tend to fairly rigid in their start times.
     Whatever the reason I do find it interesting how the world has changed in this way.  If you have an explanation write me a comment because I would love to hear.  Know that I am not upset but just acknowledging a current reality that I find interesting.  Late arrivals definitely impact how we think about organizing our time as planners.
     There is one thing I know for sure - God loves the early, the on-time and the late arrivers.  May we grant one another grace in behaving as we have been created.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What A Difference!!!

     I was just reading a wonderful devotion written by a colleague in Iowa using the "transitioning" weather as an image for "transitioning" in life.  It was very appropriate for Iowa but the devotion would be lost on Alaskans.
     In Iowa when the weather is "transitioning" it is important to stay tuned to the radio and TV stations for updates.  The day can begin with rain turning to ice turning to snow turning to a blizzard.  For Iowans when there is bad weather that usually means people are asked and warned to stay home and off the roads.  Tornado season is another time Iowans stay tuned to the radio and TV.
     Contrast that to Alaska.  I am not sure we ever know when the weather is "transitioning" and even if it does transition to ice or snow we are prepared for it and go out anyway.  In Alaska we also don't put much confidence in the weather forecasters because they are usually wrong.  If we stayed home in Alaska when there was snow we would not leave the house for many days and even months at a time.
     Two different parts of the same country and an image has two very different meanings.  I realize I will need to be "transitioning" very soon to the Iowa way of seeing the world.  Much the same as when I transitioned to Alaska 5 years ago.
     I do however thank God that I have a new perspective on the world because of my time in Alaska.  I imagine that as the years go by in Iowa I will still continue to smile and think of Alaska when Iowans cancel events because of a little snow.   God created humans and areas of the world to be different.  Thanks be to God. 
     May each of us understand how different a perspective can be depending on where we are living and our life experiences.  Neither is wrong - just different.