Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gifts Given and Received

At the beginning of our voyage, just after Epiphany, I pondered what gifts we might bring to the Christ child we found in the people of Nebraska.

Reflecting upon our trip, I am confident that gifts we brought to them were: a gift of open mindedness; a willingness to learn, to hear their stories, to understand their way of life and their relationships with each other, their land, and God. An extension of this gift is that we will bring this understanding back to the city with us, to share with our families, friends, and future congregations this experience of rural life that is so often misunderstood by those who have not been there.

The magi who brought gifts to the child Jesus in turn were given a gift to bring home with them: the gift of having experienced God incarnate, the ultimate expression of love in the person of a little boy.

Like the magi, we also return with an unanticipated gift to ourselves from Nebraska. Pastor Mike asked us over our last two days in Nebraska, “Where have you seen God at work among these people?” The answer was challenging, only because it was hard to think of times when we did not experience God in the people we met. We experienced God in their hospitality: in sharing their homes and lives with us, we were welcomed. It was Matthew 25:35 personified: they welcomed us as they would have welcomed Christ. We experienced God in their relationships: in the responsibility they feel towards their families, friends and neighbors, the closeness of the community, the pride in their work, the respect for the land, the dedication to their church, and the devotion to God that is inherent in each of these. God is love, and if the ultimate example of relationship is love, then the people whose lives we were blessed to share in embodied the love of God. I am certain we received the greater gift.

Bearing gifts we traversed afar… and like the magi, we also experienced God incarnate: in the remarkable people and beautiful countryside of an unexpected Promised Land… Nebraska.

Many thanks to all of you who have followed our adventures on this blog. It honors and humbles me to have been the teller of our tales. I wish you all Godspeed. Until we meet again…

Spiritual Treasure Seekers

Friends and followers, I give you for a last time the 2011 Spiritual Treasure Seeking team of LSTC’s Rural Immersion adventure in Nebraska:

Thanks for reading the blog, everyone!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

10 Things I Learned from Our Nebraska Trip

One of my favorite quotes is from the great Negro League baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, who said,

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”

Yesterday, I did some of the latter, and quite a bit of the former. Much of it involved considering what I had learned in Nebraska. Somehow, seemingly on their own, the thoughts coalesced into a list. This is by no means comprehensive (if you want comprehensive, read the whole blog). I give you the list, numbered but in no particular order of significance:

1. Bruce Springsteen’s song “Nebraska” is far more depressing than the state actually is.

2. When people say that Husker football is the “official religion” of Nebraska, they’re not kidding.

3. The odor from a feedlot will stick to your vehicle for days.

4. Most churches have big worship spaces, big fellowship areas, and big kitchens.

5. If getting dirty is a real problem for you, think twice about doing rural ministry.

6. Rural and small town ministry can be way more fun than people who don’t know what they’re talking about say it is.

7. Even people from the country have a hard time pronouncing the word, “rural.”

8. Nebraska has potentially the coldest temperatures of any place one can reasonably expect to visit.

9. Jeans and boots are perfectly acceptable clergy attire for nearly every ministerial occasion outside of actual worship services – and may work even in some of those.

10. A person’s life, love, work, church, friends, and family are often intertwined – and that can be a beautiful thing to behold.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Farewell, but Not Really Goodbye

Argh! The last day! How can it have arrived so soon? Didn’t we just get here?

The troops met up at Immanuel-Zion in the morning to speak to parishioners during the Sunday School hour, during which we expressed our profound gratitude for the hospitality shown to us, explained personal highlights from the trip, and described how we had witnessed God at work during our journey (like Steve Bygland bringing us CAFFEINATED coffee this morning!!!). Expect reflections upon the latter category (minus the coffee) later in the week.

Immanuel-Zion's sanctuary before worship.

The “Breaking of the Bread” and “Sharing of Peace” during a celebratory worship service with the IZ folk preceded the “Breaking of the Doughnuts” and “Sharing of Goodbyes” after worship. Many of us were close to tears as we smiled, laughed, and exchanged well-wishes with some of our host families and many others who had helped to make our adventure so memorable and inspirational, including and especially, Pastor Mike and Alison.

Patricia with her last host family, the Lees.

Lyn Bygland, Patricia, Alpha, Kaila, Steve Bygland, and Becca pose for a farewell photo.

Then, for the last time, we piled back into the van (which I swear still smelled like the feedlot) and made the two hour trip back to the Omaha airport, pondering the transition ahead of us.

Lorin, Alpha, and Patricia ponder how the journey just completed may impact the journey ahead.

It felt so strange to think about plugging back into our very urban existences after ten days visiting churches, driving and walking through corn and soybean fields, and enjoying overwhelming rural hospitality. It was unreal to watch the sea of lights rolling away in every direction as we descended in to Chicago-Midway airport, to realize as we exited the plane into the terminal that there were probably ten times as many people in the airport as there were in the county we just left… and upon returning to campus, it was bizarre to hear a siren for the first time in ten days. Welcome home!

We have two free days for working on final projects, then two days of classes for presenting the projects and collectively reflecting on our trip. Pastor Mike and Bev Adam will be flying out to join us for the two class days.

You, my faithful and diligent readers, can expect at least two more blog entries later this week: one related to the upcoming classes and our projects, and a final wrap-up entry. Stay tuned!

Green and Red

SATURDAY, JANUARY 15 – Rising early again, with a full but less hectic schedule planned, Lorin and I and our host family, the Krohns, had a lovely breakfast at the Albion gourmet coffee shop, the “Brewed Bean.” Yes, even small rural towns can have a gourmet coffee shop!

The major activity for today is the Nebraska synod’s Rural Ministry Taskforce’s annual Faith and Farming workshop, with the theme, “Green Before ‘Green’ was Cool.” The event brought several dozen pastors, farmers, and other interested folk to Zion Lutheran Church in Albion for a day of presentations and breakout sessions centered on stewardship, conservation, ministry in rural congregations, and agricultural genetics.

Patricia (front, in red sweater) and others engage in dialogue during Kadi's class on Stewardship and Tithing.

Our gang and the attendees at our fourm to close the workshop.

Late in the afternoon after the workshop, our group visited via teleconference with the new senior pastor at Zion, David Frerichs, who begins his call there next month. He shared with his perspective on taking a call in a small community after spending the last 8 ½ years in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was clearly excited about coming to Albion, and we all enjoyed his enthusiasm.

After dinner at Subway – yes, they have one of those too – in high anticipation we headed for the Boone County high school to watch the varsity girls and boys basketball games.

We have heard consistently about how much rural communities love their high school sports, and we saw that love personified in the gymnasium.

The Boone Central faithful pack the house.

The stands were packed and there was electricity in the air as we watched the lady Cardinals pull out a victory over their previously-undefeated opponents. The boys’ team, which has struggled this season but came out strong against the number 2 team in the state, ultimately fell to defeat. Several of us enjoyed the nostalgia of attending high school games. We had also heard that it is a meaningful gesture for a pastor to at least make an appearance at the high school sporting events. Most if not all of us enjoyed ourselves so much that we didn’t think that would be a problem at all!
The Boone Central girls get it done against West Point Catholic Central.

The boys won the first half with scrappy play and accurate shooting, but couldn't hold it together to finish the game.