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Archive for February, 2010

Last Wednesday Joe Biden, vice president of the U.S., was at a press conference.  The commentators had a short conversation about what was on his forehead.  At one point they mused that it was possibly a bruise from skiing.

It was Ash Wednesday.

They were ashes.

Ok a few ground rules here people.

-You don’t make fun of a mark on a Catholics head on Ash Wednesday.

-You don’t offer a hamburger to a Hindu.

– You don’t rip a head scarf of Muslim.

-You don’t serve pork chops and asparagus wrapped in bacon to a Jew (I’m looking at you McPherson College).

I’m not asking for a 3o page paper on all of the world’s religions, I’m just asking for some basic knowledge.

Bonus rule for religious literacy– If you’re going to introduce legislation making it mandatory to have the 10 Commandments in public buildings, and someone asks you to name them the 10 Commandments……YOU BETTER KNOW MORE THAT 3 OF THEM!

Click here- Stephen Colbert interviews congressman Lynn Westmoreland.

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Ask a pastor

Last night we had a two hour long youth group time.  It was “ask a pastor” night, and I was the pastor. It went an hour longer than normal because the kids were asking so many really good questions. From evolution to the rapture.

They had so many questions that they demanded that we do a lock-in next week so that they can ask more questions.

That’s right, a lock-in…for theological questions.

____

Memorable great quotes from the night.

– “Wait, there are two creation stories in Genesis?”

– “Wait, Jerusalem is a real place?”

– “I just want to know everything there is to know about Jesus.”

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Lenten thoughts

I’m praying a modified version of the Rosary this Lent Season.  Here are a couple of random but initial thoughts after the first week.  Some of these might not be very surprising for some of you, but this is what has floated to the top this week.

1. The anchoring effect is surprising.  I’m a person who get’s easily distracted and can float from one project to anther without fully finishing something.  This is mainly because my something will come into my mind and I’ll drop everything to pursue it.  However, when I’m on bead 36, I have physical reason to keep going with the praying and not get pulled away.

2. Praying “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is much shorter than “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

3. I didn’t know the beatitudes as well as I thought I did.  I’ve had to intentionally re-commit them to memory.

4. Over the course of the whole string of Beads, I say the Lords Prayer 53 times.  With that much repetition different parts of the prayer come out over the course of the whole prayer time.  Somedays, “forgive us our debts/sins/trespasses” floats up.  Others, it’s “Your kingdom come” that has come out.  I’ve noticed a deeper prayer/message that shows up because of the repetition of the smaller prayer.

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SCC + WDC = ?

In a the landscape of the still fledgling denomination known as Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA), there are a number of clear signs that the merger of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church is not complete.  Quite frankly, even though the merger was official about 9 years ago now, we’re not even close being of common mind and goals.  We share a denominational structure, and that’s about it.

In Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas there are two overlapping area conferences of Mennonite Church USA.  South Central Conference (SCC) and Western District Conference (WDC).  SCC is the former Old Mennonite (MC) conference and WDC is the former General Conference (GC) area conference.  As MCUSA was being formed through the late 90’s, WDC and SCC also had talks about coming together.  These talks fell apart about the same time at a joint conference held in Dallas, Tx. The reasons for this are many and varied.

I find myself in something of an interesting position at this point in my life.  I grew up in Goessel, Ks, a GC stronghold in central Kansas.  I grew up as a strongly loyal WDC kid.  After going to Bethel College, I worked for Buhler Mennonite Church in Buhler, Ks another strong WDC church.  I then finished up schooling at AMBS in Elkhart, In.  After the graduation, my process of finding a church to work at led me to Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church in Harper, Ks.  PVMC is one of the key churches within South Central Conference.  While I have since found out that I am actually related to about half of the church, Harper and PVMC were not in my sphere of consciousness until I applied for the job.  Since that time, I have come to learn the history and culture of both PVMC and SCC in a way that I had not previously understood it.

This merging of my own worlds has led me to do some re-examining of the relationship between WDC and SCC.  The main question that I’ve been wrestling with is, “what would need to happen in order for there to be a truly life giving merger of these conferences?”  These thoughts are a work in process, but I felt like I needed to at least get them written down somewhere.

___________________________

1- We must find a shared telling of history. Specifically, the past 15-20 years.  An example.  In the early 2000’s Bethel College Mennonite Church went through a process of discerning what their response to homosexuals in the church should be.  The end result of that process was the addition of a welcoming and non-discriminatory statement in their bulletin.  I remember when it happened but didn’t think much of it.  The polity (church structure) of WDC is such that each individual church has a high level of autonomy, meaning that this decision was simply representative of that churches own decision process and that they had the authority to do that.  The conference was not really involved, nor did they need to be.  What’s more, it certainly didn’t represent the conference as a whole.

Fast forward to this past summer.  Shortly after I began at PVMC, I was having a conversation with my conference overseer and this particular event.  She made the point that Bethel College Mennonite’s decision came just before the joint conference in Dallas where the merger talks ultimately fell apart.  As she recounted the story, Bethel College, and even all of WDC, had made this this statement as a flaunting of their power as if to say, “we can do whatever we want and you can’t do anything to stop us!”  As she told the story, the Bethel College Mennonite welcoming statement was an intentional affront to SCC at a critical moment.

Reconciling our history (this story and many others) and finding a way to tell it that everyone can agree is accurate is a key step.

2- Repentance and forgiveness. Both conferences must admit that they have hurt each other, both intentionally and unintentionally.  We must genuinely ask for forgiveness from each other.  In addition, we must both be ready and willing to extend forgiveness to each other.

3- Hold up the value of the other conference. Both WDC and SCC have rich histories that need to be sufficiently honored and valued.  On a more basic level, however, both conferences simply need to be able to say that the other conference has something of value to offer the other conference.

4- Create a new conference. In the way that it was necessary to create a new denomination, not simply have the GC’s join the MC’s or vice versa, the merger between WDC and SCC would need to form a new conference.  Bluntly put, both WDC and SCC would cease to exist and a new organization would take it’s place.  This is not to say that the history of both conferences would not be preserved.  On the contrary, the new conference would be the keeper of stories and history of both SCC and WDC.

______________________________

So what’s the chance of this happening?  Even though these suggestions are basic and sound simple, for many people in both conferences, they are things that they are unwilling to do.  Having worked in both conferences, I can safely say that there is a feeling on both sides that, basically; if you want to come join what we’re doing that’s great, but we’re doing things the right way.  Even the idea of admitting that we’ve done something wrong is a hard pill to swallow for people in both conferences.  Not to mention the hard work of reconciling and preserving history.

Is it possible to for these conferences to come to this kind of productive place?  Yes.  But it will take a massive amount of humility on the part of both conferences.  And humility, at least in the case of this relationship, is a trait that everyone involved has been pretty short on.

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This past Sunday I put a bit of a spin on the whole Lent thing.  There are a lot of people who “give up” something for let.  Many times it just seems trendy and false.  There’s often a show to it.  Never mind the fact that most people give up something that they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

The point of fasting is to create space for God to speak and to bring you closer to God.  If you’re always hung up on the thing that you gave up for Lent and never get to spending time with God, then you’re missing the point.

So I challenge people not to give anything up for Lent.

Instead, I challenged them to add something for Lent.  Prayer time, Bible reading, an act of service, etc…  What ever it is, it needs to be something new and something that brings you closer to God.  After you’ve figured out what you’re going to add to your routine, then you can think about what you might need to take out of your routine to make that happen.  First focus on God, then focus on letting something go.

What, you may ask, am I adding?

Well, a few posts ago, I talked about re-thinking the practice of the Rosary and adapting it with more Anabaptist language. There was a lot of interesting discussion around this topic and I’ve given it some more thought.  I’ve continued to modify it somewhat and I’m going to try to do it on a regular basis (meaning, daily-ish). We’ll see how it goes.  Hopefully it’ll be worthwhile.

Here’s what I’ve come up with, at least for this Lent season.  I’ve made some changes to the “Glory Be” and the practice of praying at the large beads.

Anabaptist Rosary 2.0

1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles Creed.”
2. Say the “Beatitudes.”
3. Say three “Our Fathers.”
4. Say the “Beatitudes” (so far I’ve skipped this)
5. Pray B1 (see below); then say
the “Glory Be”
6. Say ten “Our Fathers,” while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the “Beatitudes”
8. PrayerB2  then say the “Glory be to the Father.” Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the B3, B4, and B5 in the same manner.
9. Say the ‘Commission’ on the medal after the five decades are completed.

The large beads follow the 5 basic open prayers with one adaption. (B stands for ‘bead’)

B1- yourself and close to you

B2- neighbors

B3- church in all places

B4- world

B5- your enemies or other concerns

Here is the text for the various prayers.  The main change is the “Glory be” which comes from the Anabaptist Prayer Book via Lois Kaufman via Rachel Miller Jacobs.

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED – (Willard Swartley’s version from Covenant of Peace)

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.  Lived obediently to his Abba.  Lived and taught love, peace, and forgiveness.  Healed the sick, cast out demons, forgave sins, raised the dead, confounded the powers. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. Triumphing over the powers, he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

OUR FATHER

Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen.

BEATITUDES

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

GLORY BE TO THE FATHER

Glory to You, Source of All Being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

COMMISSION (Matt 28:19-20)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

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A while back I read an article about the development of Television.  The new form of media was initially heavily subsidized by the federal government, not because they thought it was essential for communication or entertainment, but because of the massive new opportunity for advertising and supporting the business community.

Translation: the reason TV exists is not for the shows, it’s for the commercials.

Fast forward to yesterday and the 2010 SuperBowl.  As many of us know, this is the most watched TV event of the year, and as such, acquires the highest price for commercials.  It’s a time to debut new commercials and to build up drama and controversy about which ones will or will not get played.  It’s even a legitimate marketing strategy to create a commercial so racy that it intentionally gets banned.  That then draws people to your website for the video…along with whatever you’re selling.  And no, the content of the commercial and the actual business of your company don’t have to be connected in any way.  GoDaddy.com is a company that sells website domain names and runs computer servers for people to rent.  (They’re so benign that even my two websites, alanstucky.com and mennoshirts.com are hosted through Godaddy.com)  They’re a tech company, but their commercials feature attractive women dancing around to a catchy tune.

Probably the most surreal experience of commercials this year comes from Hulu.com.  They are a website that consolidates most of the commercially produced online video content into one website.  I can watch things from Fox, NBC, and the SciFi network all in the same place.  (It’s the single reason why I don’t care that I can only get 1 TV channel….70% of the time)  This year, Hulu was advertising a special section of their website that would have all of the commercials all in one place.  In an event where the explicit reason for watching (the football game) has become less and less important and the real reason for watching (the commercials) has become more obvious, Hulu has finally cut out all of the cultural theater and has brought out the real reason for watching any of it.  In an even more amazing feat, Hulu’s “adzone”, as they’re calling it, is sponsored by Coca-Cola and features Coke ads in between the real ads.  That’s right, commercials while you’re watching commercials.  What’s more, because of the ability to embed online video content, hulu will get people (like me) to spread around these advertisements  for free.

All of this may be readily apparent to anyone reading this blog, but I just feel like someone has to name the absurdity of it all.  Will it stop me from watching the Super Bowl and participating in this cultural distortion?  Well, it didn’t this year.

Click here for Hulu’s Adzone.  You can find any ad you want!

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MMA – Mixed Martial Arts

Normal person’s translation – beating the tar out of each other via a combination of karate, boxing, judo and all kind’s of other forms of pain inducing and blood drawing butt kicking.

Then I heard a little bit on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”.  It was about Christian MMA.

Yep, you heard that right, beat’em up for Jesus.

www.fight4christmma.com

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I know that I’m not really old enough to be complaining about being too old.  That being said, I am beginning to notice various changes in my life, mostly revolving around issues related to hair (especially nasal) that I find new and disturbing.

As with most people who are getting older, time feels like it is beginning to speed up, and thus out of my control.  This week, I heard a story that actually gives serious scientific reasoning to the feeling of an increasingly fleeting nature of the passage of time.  So, we might all be getting older and feeling it’s effects, but at least it’s not just in our heads.  Or is it?

Click Here to Listen to the Story

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Merry Christmas?

So I know that this is pretty late, but I’m going to post it anyways.  Katie and I finally got around to sending out hard copies of our Christmas letter.  If you haven’t received one, well……there are a multitude of reasons why.  Most of them are our fault not yours.  Anyways, if you’re interested in our semi-annual review of the Best-Stucky household, here it is.

—————————–

Dear family and friends

For those of you who have been keeping track, this letter is actually our first Christmas letter in two years.  While there are plenty of reasons why last years letter didn’t get written, most of them probably revolve around our lack of initiative.  The real reason, or at least the excuse that we’re going to use, is that last year, we were deep into our search for a church and were unable to disclose our future plans.  But we are now happy to publicly announce that we are living in Harper, Kansas, where Alan is the pastor at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church and Katie is a nurse at Harper Hospital.

Last year at this time we had been living in the snowy tundra of Elkhart, Indiana.  After Alan was confirmed as the pastor we began to pack our bags and load up the rental truck for the journey back to the promised land.  When we pulled out of the seminary parking lot the truck was half full.  This would change when we made it to Dayton, Ohio. For those of you who know your geography, Ohio is, in fact, the wrong direction from Indiana, if you’re trying to get to Kansas.  The reason that we went to Dayton was because that’s where Katie’s grandmother lives.  She recently moved to a nursing home and graciously gave us some of the furniture and other odds and ends from the house.  As we have begun to set up a new house in Kansas, we have found ourselves eternally grateful for these items.

So we loaded up the truck and headed for Kansas.  The next day in the trip we made it to Columbia, Missouri.  On the way we stopped in St. Louis to see our good friends Sam and Rachel Voth-Schrag.  After a rousing lunch and conversation, we were on our way.  Also, at the stop in St. Louis we called the appliance store in Harper to let them know that we were on the way and which washer and dryer that we wanted, and that we would be in to pick them up.  Their response was, “well, we know the secretary at the church, we’ll just set it up and you can just come pay us later.” Yes, Harper is a very small town.

After a restful night and a plate of BBQ, we headed out the next day for Goessel, Ks.  As if the truck wasn’t full enough, my parents had been storing a large amount of our stuff in their basement for the previous two years.  We spent the night in Goessel and packed every free square inch of the truck with more stuff.

Finally, on a Saturday morning, we arrived in Harper to find a wonderful group of new friends ready and eager to help unload.  After 3 days of driving, it was truly wonderful to be able to simply tell people where to put stuff rather than having to carry every box ourselves.  There was even a pile of food in the pantry and the fridge was full.  We are still very grateful for the welcome that we received from the church that first day.

As Katie and I unpacked a few boxes and got settled in, we looked out the window to see a gorgeous Kansas sunset.  While the land in Kansas is often flat and uneventful, there are few things in this world that compare to the beautiful, dynamic and powerful Kansas sky.  After seeing our first real sunset it 2 years, we found ourselves overcome with joy.  Alan just started laughing and Katie twirled around in circles until she fell down.  At that moment, we had a sense that we were in the right place.

As much as it feels as though God has led us to this place, moving to Harper has been something of an adjustment for both of us.  While both Katie and I grew up in small Kansas towns, the adjustment has been more to the character of the town.  Both Goessel and Buhler are towns that were originally settled by Mennonites.  This means that the vast majority of people in town have similar assumptions of culture, ethics, and faith.  Harper on the other hand, exists because it’s at a crossroads of some railroads.  Yes there are two Mennonite Churches in town, and yes PVMC it the largest church in town.  However, there are a total of about 12 churches in town made up of about 8 different denominations.  That being said, for a town of about 1,500 people, there might be 300-500 people in church on any given Sunday morning.  Being Mennonite, or even just Christian for that matter, is something that can make you stand out a bit.

Alan’s work at the church is going well.  He is still getting used to the idea of being a solo pastor as opposed to simply a youth pastor.  The idea of preaching on a weekly basis is definitely something that is a new experience for him but one that is very rewarding.  Even though there are many new aspects of ministry that Alan is learning and growing in, he still is getting plenty of opportunity to engage in the world of youth ministry.  After spending the first couple of months watching and getting the lay of the land, he spent the summer helping the church to understand the world of youth and what it means to be involved in their lives.  Just before the school year began he led the youth sponsors in a training and planning retreat.  The weekend helped to give the sponsors a good footing and direction for the year.  There have been ups and downs in the youth group over the semester.  The group continues to grow in numbers from week to week.  While this is a sign that these kids are connecting with something that is happening here, the large numbers present some interesting challenges.  The Jr. High (6th-8th grades) has had between 30-40 kids each week.  While the group has lots of good energy, it’s is often very hard to get everyone quieted and focused for lessons.  As a result we’ve tried to break them up into small groups for the lesson times just to get a word in edgewise.  Biblical literacy has been another challenge.  Out of 50-60 kids, 6th-12th grades, about 1/4 would claim PVMC as their church.  Another 1/4 would go to other churches, and about 1/2 don’t really go anywhere.  This means that some kids can quote scripture while others don’t even know what a chapter, book, or verse is.  There are lots of problems that our group continues to work at but they’re mostly all good problems to have.

Katie is working here in town at Harper Hospital as a registered nurse.  She works full time with a mix of days, evenings, and nights, with both eight and twelve hour shifts. The hospital has 25 beds.  About 8-10 of the beds have nursing home residents.  The rest of the hospital has acute patients.  On Tuesday there are minor surgeries, and the emergency room is always open. There are 2-3 nurses working during the shift.  Katie is a staff nurse and a charge nurse who works with a wide range of patients including but not limited to cardiac, respiratory, gastrointestinal, orthopedic rehabilitation, medical, surgical, emergency, trauma, ambulatory infusion, geriatric, and pediatric. It has also been an adjustment to not have ancillary staff readily available like respiratory therapist, IV team, skin and wound nurse, and a pharmacist.  Katie enjoys the variety and challenge that come with working at a small hospital. Her coworkers are great at both teamwork and having fun, which makes for a good work environment.  Katie’s director of nurses had also been flexible with scheduling and time off.  Katie does work ever other weekend, but is normally scheduled for 3pm -11pm so that church attendance is possible.

Katie is active at church. On Wednesday morning she goes to the Piecemaker’s Quilting group for fellowship and quilting.  The group is about finish quilting the quilt for the 2010 MCC Relief Sale.  It has been fun to work on such a colorful piece of art.  She is also learning to appliqué with the 2011 MCC quilt.  Wednesday evening is youth group.  Katie helps with the Senior High youth group, along with four other sponsors.  The group has about 15-25 youth that come on a regular basis.  The kids are an energetic group who are seeking to learn about God.  The youth group has been preparing for and fundraising for a service trip that is planned for early summer of 2010 in which the youth group will go to Bolivia for 10 days.  Katie attends a young adult Sunday school class and had enjoyed the fellowship.

The church has a parsonage right next door.  The parsonage is a 3-bedroom house with a full basement and very large yard.  The church and house are on the highway on the East edge of Harper.  There is a front living room and a large kitchen, dinning room, family room all roll into one. The yard has several nice trees and space that has already been tilled for the makings of a garden next spring.  At the back of the house there is a cement patio with a picnic table.  Alan loves that space on the patio for his gas grill (which that he uses frequently).  Living next to the church has been good.  Alan’s commute to work is just as about as good as anyone could ask for.  So far the church has been very good about maintaining good boundaries and not intruding into personal time and space.

Earlier this fall we decided that as the winter season rolled in we need something warm and fuzzy to keep us company so we decided to get a couple of kittens.  We went out to the farm in the country where a couple from our church had a litter of five kittens.  We picked one because Katie picked her up and she was so nice and tame that she didn’t move for the 30 minutes that we were there.  The other one we chose because when we showed up, he was playing with a mouse and eventually figured out that the mouse was food.  It’s nice to have a cat like that around when you need it, but he’s definitely turned out to be more aggressive in general.  Once we got them home we put a couple of collars on them; a blue one and a black one.  The black collar has a big white buckle on it and made the kitten look just like a priest.  We happened to have been watching the British comedy series “The Vicar of Dibley” so we decided to give them the names Vicar and Dibley.  They’re really cute and we’re glad to have them around.  Although, right after we got them we thought we might have lost them for good.  The week after we brought them home we went to a seminar at Hesston College.  When we returned home on Sunday evening the kittens were nowhere to be found.  Finally, four days later, one of our neighbors was talking to another neighbor and it turns out that they picked up the kittens and took them out to a relative in the country for safekeeping.  It even turned out that they had put up posters in the grocery store but we just hadn’t been in that week to see them.  We were so glad to get them back.  Needless to say, we’ve been locking them up in the garage every night since then.

The last year or two has been something of a roller coaster as Alan has finished up school, gone through the process of finding a church and the ordeal of relocating 5 states away.  Ever since college we’ve known that all of our living situations would be fairly temporary.  We won’t be in Harper forever, but it’s really nice to be somewhere where we’re not planning to move next year.  After having gone through all of our transitions this last year, we’re also especially thankful for all of our friends and family who have supported us in many different ways.  We have been, and continue to be, blessed by everyone around us.  Thank you all.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless you all,

Katie and Alan

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