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Archive for March 2016


I just returned from meeting with a colleague who is a genius. Together we tried to figure out how to tackle a project that could help the church we both love. We have a great idea. It is a worthy project. Money is a challenge but not a prohibitive one. In the end, though, the greatest encumbrance is time. There is only so much of it in a day. The phrase that came up again and again was that “we have no margin.”

For me, that phrase comes from Richard Swenson’s book Margins in which he addresses our overloaded lives. In the opening chapter, Dr. Swenson, who is a physician, describes our dilemma:

The conditions of modern-day living devour margins. Marginless living is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you are twenty minutes late getting out of the hairdresser’s because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids at school, because you ran out of gas two blocks from the station and forgot your wallet.

Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the stairs, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of the day.

Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds more than you can lift. Margin is having a friend to carry half the load. Marginless is not having time to finish the book you are reading on stress; margin is reading it twice and sharing with friends what you’ve learned.  

Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.

Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.

Marginless is hurry; margin is calm.

Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.

Marginless is reality; margin is cure.

As I read Dr. Swenson’s book, I couldn’t help but think how much we are like that pizza commercial from some years ago, the one with toppings right to the edge. I haven’t tried it, but I keep wondering how you pick up a piece of pizza with toppings from edge to edge. There is no handle.

That is exactly what happens with our lives. When we fill them from edge to edge with activity, there is no handle for the Holy Spirit to lead us, move us, shape us, change us, renew us. God might have a great idea of something you need to do, but, with no margins, who has time to listen to the Spirit, let alone do what might be our life’s calling?


Michael Piazza
President, Hope for Peace & Justice



Today’s Newsletter HERE

cross made from hands

A Word to the Church

The leadership of the United Church of Christ, concerned with the political rhetoric aimed at the marginalized people of society in this election cycle, spoke out in support for and solidarity with a Holy Week statement released by The Episcopal Church. The UCC national officers and  Council of Conference Ministers, in testimony to the ecumenical relationship between the two churches, expressed gratitude to The Episcopal Church  for “the courage to speak, and for granting us the kindness of joining them in this statement.”

Here is the text of “A Word to the Church” from The Episcopal Church House of Bishops for Holy Week 2016.

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.  Immediately after this was released Wednesday, March 16, the United Church of Christ officers and Council of Conference Ministers unanimously and enthusiastically expressed support for the statement from the House of Bishops.  “This clear, powerful statement written by our friends and partners in The Episcopal Church expresses something that we, too, feel very strongly about,” said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. “Rather than write our own statement, we affirm the unity of our vision and voice and join them in making our feelings known. What we are seeing unfold across the landscape of America in this election cycle frightens us; and requires those of us with the agency to do so to lift up those concerns and remind ourselves that our faith asks bigger things of us.”

“In the eloquent and faithful word from the Episcopal Bishops, the UCC Council of Conference Ministers discerns a prophetic and gospel-based message with which we resonate,” said the Rev. Rich Pleva, Iowa Conference minister and chair of the Council of Conference Ministers. “The CCM is deeply concerned that a spirit of division and disparagement in public discourse threatens the fabric of our diverse society.  We are especially mindful that as people of faith – particularly Christian faith – we are enjoined to attend to the welfare of ‘the least of these.'”

The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, and his staff — the Rev. Margaret Rose and Canon Chuck Robertson  — appreciate this ecumenical affirmation.

“In this Word to the Church I believe that we are speaking as followers of the way of Jesus and as those who love this country and the deepest and most noble values of it,” said Curry. “Times of great testing, times such as these, must summon forth not the lowest and the worst within us, but the highest virtues and the “better angels” of our nature.”

The Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ are part of Churches Uniting in Christ.  At a recent CUIC plenary in St. Louis, these communions re-committed themselves to challenging racial injustices and the myriad of issues that come as a result.  “Taking this action in concert with sisters and brothers in The Episcopal Church demonstrates that this concern is not merely that of a single church,” said Pleva. “We hear the voice of God’s spirit in the letter and are proud to add our voice to theirs in commending this message to the whole of the UCC and to people beyond our respective churches.”

“The United Church of Christ continues to live into the ecumenical and justice commitments that are a core part of our identity,” said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations. “We look forward to finding ways to lend the bold public voice of the UCC to these and other social injustices as we seek to ensure that all can live with human dignity.”


March 17, 2016
Written by Connie Larkman

Today’s News HERE


easter changes everything




I grew up knowing that church required everyone to put on their Sunday best. Nice clothes were a good start.  Shined shoes, ironed shirts and skirts, tied ties, vests or jackets.  Stain free, hole free, certainly denim free.  Bright and shiny, you were put together and your wonderful self was what people could see.


And…your Sunday best wasn’t complete without the smile, and the pleasantries to go with it. The answer to the question of how are you, was to say while smiling, of course, “Great, thank you.  How are you?”  You were to say this, even if life was falling apart and you’d never been worse.  After all, it’s Sunday and you’re in church.  The holy place where the saints of God sit.  Never mind the wisdom of Luther, who said truthfully that we are both sinner and saint.  Only one half of us got invited through the doors of the church.


How we got this expectation of bringing only the Sunday best, is unclear. Maybe it’s a warped idea that to worship God, we’ve got to be pristine, faultless, guiltless, and it’s easier to pretend we’ve got it all together in a spiffy new shirt and a big smile.  Or maybe the Sunday best dates back to a time where church was the place where you networked with the big wigs, and needed to impress the person in charge of your next point of business.  Or maybe it came from the stories that said Jesus was perfect and demanded that of us too—and we casually forgot the stories where he calls a woman a dog, where he gets angry in the temple and throws tables over, etc..  Or maybe it was just wasn’t safe to be anything less.


However we got this idea of the Sunday best, it still lingers in our pews. Sure, denim and t-shirts are allowable now, even commonplace.  But still the show up and smile, tell about life through rosy glasses with the folks in your pew, act as though you’ve got it all figured out and under control, for most of us, I’d suspect, THAT, is still all too alive and well.

And, it’s killing us.

But I’m equally convinced, that wherever there is any remnant within ourselves or in our communal life together, that only our Sunday best is welcome….that is a place where we will be stifled, wounded, and unable to see a way towards healing or towards wholeness.

This goes for church life, home life, life with our friends and neighbors. I’m not saying run around and tell everyone your deepest darkest secret.  But I am saying it’s time for us to have the courage to be real, and honest with one another and honest with ourselves.

I’ve become convinced in recent months that one of the most significant reasons that our faith communities cannot really engage in some of the hard conversations that we need to be having, is because we refuse to let anyone see us in less than our Sunday best. We don’t want to talk about race or racism or privilege or oppression because then we’d have to actually admit to ourselves that there are times that we’ve messed up, that there are times we participated in creating and perpetuating problems, or that there are times we’ve been anything other than our most loving selves.

But y’all, we’ve got to have these conversations. We’ve got to engage one another, we’ve got to learn our history, get our own prejudices in check, and ultimately leverage whatever racial privilege (and whatever other privileges you may have) to change the oppressive junk that permeates our culture.

How do we get there? We’ve got to ditch our Sunday best and get comfortable being real—real with God, real with others, real with ourselves.

The only way to get comfortable being real (and vulnerable) is to practice. For Lent, the congregation I serve has taken up the practice of the Examen.  One person called it “a fearless inventory of the everyday.”  Another said “the exercise is the sacred opportunity for examining yourself and your life, in gentle compassionate ways.”  I say its an opportunity for us to learn to at least be real with ourselves about what we do, why we do, where God is at work, where we need to make confession, and where there is hope.

So I pass it along to you as a tool and resource for the work that lies ahead. Because we can’t go running with a banner calling for justice, if we haven’t figured out our own stuff has contributed to the mess.  And, in order to see it, we’ve got to ditch the Sunday best.  We’ve got to have the courage to get real with ourselves, with God, and with each other.

–Laura Arnold, Pastor Decorah Congregational UCC

and Program Support/Adjunct Lay Education

for Iowa Conference UCC

March 11, 2016

Staff Blog




Today’s Newsletter HERE

palm sunday



Refugees and asylum seekers are ordinary people

facing extraordinary struggles.

refugee, hamid

 25-year-old Hamid from Afghanistan was just four years in Greece when he sat University exams.

He succeeded and now he is studying Business Administration at the University of Macedonia, in Thessaloniki, Greece.

“I was determined to study and get educated. I first went to a Greek school in 2007, without knowing any Greek. In the beginning, I didn’t understand a thing but gradually, thanks also to my teachers, I managed to become one of the best students in class.

My school years were not easy. Every morning I got up at 5:30 to go to work, came back at 16.00 and rushed to the night school from 19.00 until 23.00. Fortunately, I had friends to help me with the lessons and Ms Angeliki, the new ‘Mom’ I found in Greece, to help with all the rest. She cooked, cleaned and contributed to my rent so that I would concentrate on my studies.

When I found out I got into the University, I immediately called my ‘real’ mom in Afghanistan, whom I haven’t seen since I was 14. My family, which belongs to the Hazaras, lived under the constant threat of the Taliban, until, one day the latter tried to run me over with a car. My parents feared for my life, and sent me to Iran. At first I was crying all the time. It hurt too much being on my own. When things got tougher there too, I headed to Europe.

I was just 17 when I came once more close to dying, this time in my attempt to cross to Samos on a boat from Turkey, along with four more Afghans. I had never seen the sea before and although I knew how to swim, the waves terrified me. When the sea got really rough and the oars of the boat broke one after another, there was panic. I was rowing with all the strength I had in me. What kept me going was a 13-year-old boy who was constantly asking me ‘If I fall in the sea, will you save me?’ ‘As long as I am alive, you have nothing to fear’, I kept telling him. We are still good friends with this boy.

I love Thessaloniki, the town where I live now, but if I could, I would return to Afghanistan without second thoughts. My country is beautiful, there are amazing landscapes, natural resources and high mountains.

The only thing missing is peace…”

  ~ Stella Nanou/2014

Today’s Newsletter HERE

irish, raindrops poem


A little girl had been shopping with her Mother in Target. She must have been six years old, this beautiful red-haired child, with the freckle-faced image of innocence. It was pouring outside, the kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a  hurry to hit the earth, it has no time to flow down the spout.

We all stood there under the awning and just inside the door of the Target.   We waited, some patiently, others irritated, because nature messed up their hurried day.

I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I got lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world. Memories of  running, splashing, so carefree as a child, came pouring in as a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day.  The little voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance.  We were  all caught in “Mama, let’s run through the rain!”  “What?” her Mother  asked.

“Lets run through the rain!” She repeated.

“No, honey.  We’ll wait until it slows down a bit,” her mother replied.

This young child waited about another minute and repeated,  “Mama, let’s run through the rain!”

“We’ll get soaked if we do,” her mother said.

“No, we won’t, Mama. That’s not what you said this morning,” the young girl said as she tugged at her Mother’s arm.

“This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and  not get wet?”

“You don’t remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his  cancer, you said, “If God can get us through this, he can get
us through anything!”

The entire crowd stopped, dead silent. I swear you couldn’t hear  anything but the rain. We all stood silently. No one came
or left in the next few minutes.  Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say.  Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some  might even ignore what was said.  But this was a moment of  affirmation in a young child’s life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.

“Honey, you are absolutely right. Let’s run through the rain.   If God lets us get wet, well, maybe, we just needed washing,“ Mom  said.

Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars, and, yes, through the puddles. They held their shopping bags over their heads just in case. They got soaked. But they were followed by a few, who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars.   And yes, I did. I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.

Circumstances or people can take away your material  possessions.  They can take away your money, and they can takeaway your health. But no one can ever take away your precious memories…So, don’t forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories every day.

To everything, there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.   I hope you still take the time to run through the rain!

Dalna McKeon received this beautiful story from a friend and we thank you, Dalna, for sharing it with us.


Today’s Newsletter HERE

rain, flowers