The Other Book In The Pew

I was trying to make space in my garage over the winter break and came across some boxes labeled “downstairs books” that had remained unopened since we moved to Florida. When I opened them I found, amongst many other books, several hymnals from the Church of the Nazarene. It was at that moment that I realized I probably had a problem. For whatever reason, at some point, I thought it was an excellent idea to collect hymnals (Marie Kondo would be so disappointed in me). I would have collected United Methodist Hymnals too, but there’s only one and it was published in 1989. 

Yep, 30 years ago the UMC received it’s first and only(ish) hymnal. Several things have contributed to the lack of new hymnals. The prevalence of good projectors that can display lyrics and liturgy, the cost of physical books, the availability of lyrics and information online, and the increasing number of new songs.  In one sense, as soon as you publish a hymnal it’s already out dated. While the UMC hymnal was published in 1989, it was approved in 1988. The latest song that mad it’s way into the Hymnal was “Hymn of Promise” by Natalie Sleeth in 1986. (For a modern comparison, if we released an official hymnal this year, Good Good Father would be just as old).  

I’m old enough to remember singing out of hymnals on a regular basis. My dad was a minister of music for my entire childhood and I don’t think there was ever a Sunday when a hymn wasn’t sung in some form. I still love several hymns, and whenever I actually attempt to piddle around on the piano, it’s usually to the hymnal. But even with my deep connections to the hymns, I’m ok with the fact that my kids will likely never sing out of a hymnal in their life. 

Even just typing that seems weird and like a violation of some deep, universally understood rule. But the more I think of it, the less sure I am that there will ever be a need for them to sing out of one. I’m sure they will learn the great classics, they already have been exposed to parts of the hymnal I never used as a child (the Great Thanksgiving was new to me when I became a Methodist), but I’m not as worried about them learning all the ins and outs of hymns as I am them appreciating the poetical and musical complexity of them (and whatever other songs we sing in church). Take lyrics like “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise / Thou mine Inheritance, now and always / Thou and Thou only, first in my heart / High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art” (6th century) and compare them to “Jesus is the rock and he rolls my blues away / bop shoe bop, shoe bop whoo” (1974). We can do better than that. Which is why I’m grateful for the modern songs that still embrace theologically accurate, poetical, and beautiful melodies. 

In the end though, it’s not even about the music or the poetry. It’s about the God that the songs are glorifying. It’s been 30 years since ink met paper and formed our hymnal, but we could sing for a thousand more years and still have new songs to sing about God’s love. Our worship isn’t limited to what is inside a book, but rather basking in the presence of a limitless God. 



Three Tips For Keeping That New Year's Resolution

Every year, millions of people make New Year’s resolutions to try to change their lives in some helpful way. This often takes the form of weight loss, exercise, or reading more. By and large, these attempts fail within weeks and almost never make it the whole year. While I’m sure you aim to be the exception and not the rule, here are some practical ways you can hold true to what you have promised yourself you will do.

#1: Add before you subtract.

Almost any nutritionist will tell you that a good diet isn’t necessarily about denying yourself the foods you love, but rather about adding first some healthy items before you indulge in those. For example, rather than snacking on chocolate and buttered popcorn (my favorites), you could reach first for sweet snap peas or a piece of good fruit and then maybe a smaller portion of that thing you love. That way you get what you want, but you eat less of it and are still satisfied and have enjoyed some healthy snacking along the way.

This concept of adding rather than subtracting is helpful in other areas of life, too. Rather than trying to subtract your Netflix habit down to zero, maybe try some active stretches before you let it roll to the next episode. Instead of cutting out screen time and social media entirely, maybe try reading your Bible some first and then letting yourself go to Instagram afterwards. That way, you’ll learn to enjoy these healthy habits and still indulge instead of denying yourself to your breaking point. No more battles of willpower; just healthy additions that make the reductions more bearable.

#2: Start small and gradually increase the goals.

Let’s say you want to jumpstart your prayer life, so you’ve set a goal to do a quiet time for a half hour each morning. That’s a great goal! But at first you’re going to find this goal next to impossible. Going from 0 minutes to 30 minutes will make you feel like you can never win, and you’ll probably find yourself falling asleep more than connecting with God.

Instead, try starting small. Let’s say start with 2 minutes every morning of solid prayer for the first week. Then, in the second week, increase to 4 minutes per day, and so on. By April, you’ll be doing your 30 minutes per day, but it won’t be a total shock to your system.

#3: Grace first, second, and third.

We’re humans. We’re going to fail in small and big ways, no matter how dedicated we are to our goals. When that happens, remember that perfection is not the goal. In fact, as I recently read and am trying to commit to my heart, perfection does not equal worthiness. Instead, practice the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG) by forgiving yourself in the same way God has forgiven you. Remember what C.S. Lewis wrote: “[God] wants [us] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with [our] stumbles (The Screwtape Letters).

And that’s the truth! God isn’t interested in our perfection because that has already been accomplished through Christ. God is instead interested in our faith, which turns our hearts toward Him and gives us the will to walk forward, even if only we hobble and fall down. God’s grace is there for every wobbly step, and we should be accepting of that grace, even when we disappoint ourselves.

I hope these practice steps help you begin accomplishing your goals well and faithfully, and here’s to a great new year!

Blessings,

Lori

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Lori Ferguson serves as Children's Director at NUMC, and has been at the church since 2015. When she's not planning or teaching, she enjoys spending time with her grandkids. Read more about Lori here.

So That...

    As a borderline millennial, I am in the unique position of seeing the humor in some of the crazy things millennials do and also the crazy side of what some of the older generations accuse the millennial of. One of my personal favorites are companies blaming millennials for killing the fabric softener and laundry detergent industry. One large company even said that millennials don’t know what fabric softener is used for and so that’s why they don’t buy it. Here’s a bit of a confession, I don’t really know what fabric softener is used for, so they weren’t completely wrong. But, if I were going to take a wild guess, I would say that it softens fabrics. I’m aware it probably does much more than that. I would assume it also conditions the fibers of your clothes, helps them to last longer, and because of the “softening” makes them more comfortable to wear. Confession #2- I have never bought fabric softener in my adult life. When I have used it, I can tell that the towels seem to be a bit more fluffy but that’s about it. And because having fluffy towels is low on my priority list, I (like most millennials) choose not to spend extra money on fabric softener. Millennials also are more likely to wear clothes more often between washing. This can potentially sound way more gross than it is, but according to cleaninginstitute.org you can wear a pair of jeans three times before you need to wash them. 

    In short, millennials aren’t against people using fabric softener or washing their clothes after every individual use, they just have a different expectation of how much money it should cost to wear clean clothes. It can get all sorts of confusing. There are some who have very different definitions of clean, there are some who make their own laundry detergent in 5 gallon buckets for less than $20 a year, and then there are some who are actually against the chemicals in some laundry detergent products. It’s not like millennials planned to take out an industry or to change expectations, but many of them came to the same conclusion for a variety of different reasons. 

    Why is any of this important? Well, it’s not. At least talking about fabric softener isn’t really that important (unless you’re in the fabric softener business). But what is important is that for all of their quirks, millennial are at least good at asking “Why?”. Why are we spending tens of thousands of dollars on a college education that no longer provides the job opportunities that it did 10 years ago? Why haven’t wages gone up proportionately with the cost of living? Why are kids eating tide pods? Asking why is extremely important.

    Almost as important is the phrase “So that…” For every “Why” there should be a “So that”. Why do you brush your teeth? So that my teeth are clean, healthy, and more importantly so that they don’t fall out. Why do we have a thrift store as one of the ministries at our church? So that we can have money to pour back into our community, helping meet their financial needs and point them back towards Jesus. Hopefully you can see the pattern by now. For everything we do at the church, someone is eventually going to ask us why we do that. Why do we eat bread and grape juice once a month? Why are we doing a fall festival on Oct. 28th? Why do you need Jesus? These aren’t just trivial questions, there is a lot of complexity, depth, and beauty in them. There is a reason why we do everything we do, and ultimately that reason is so that we can be better followers of Jesus. But sometimes you have to work to get there. Sometimes you have to ask a lot of whys and get through a lot of so thats, but the important part is that you are thinking about it. 

    

Lone Ranger

God made us want and need one another. Beginning in Genesis, God created man and woman to need and complement one another. Numerous scriptures give us encouragement and instruction on caring loving and including one another, but this is not an easy task.

In America, we are marketed to be individualistic. 
We are told to: 

  • Just Do It
  • Have it Our Way
  • Go for the win even if the cost is great
  • That we deserve to have to do and to be individuals
  • We can do it on our own if we work hard enough and we are often pitted against one another for a prize. 

Sure most of these phrases are marketing campaigns meant to entice us to buy a product. However, they generate an idea. They generate the concept that we can and should make it on our own to succeed. This has become a significant part of our American culture. 

How often have you heard these phrases?

  • That is someone else’s problem
  • It doesn’t concern me
  • That is personal, no one else’s business but mine
  • To each his own 

All this to say we live in a culture that encourages individual ideas and work over a community. It is fostered, strengthened, and fortified by many of the events we attend, the products we buy and the choices that we make day in and day out.

The Bible is very clear about our need for one another. Remember how we started this talk, God not only made us for one another but to be with one another. 

As Christians, we are encouraged to:

These are just a few of the verses about how we are to care and love one another. So clearly, we are meant to do Christian life as a community. 

I don’t know about you, but as I look at the list of one another's, I am deeply convicted. I regularly play tug-of-war with the individualism ideology that has become a filter in my life. I want others to see that I am able and capable and usually on my own.

However, this is a lie and a recipe for burn out. We are always better together!

Now sometimes it won’t feel or look that way.  Initially, it is easier to manage many things when we only have to check-in with ourselves, but it is always more prosperous, and more loving, and broader reaching when we work together. 

The church is meant to be a community. The core of Christianity is about relationships. First with God and then with others. It is that simple. We were never meant to go it alone, to be a Lone Ranger, to be in or out of the spotlight on our own. 

The church is where we grow and learn, and serve and be. It is what Christ died to save. His church, not mine, not yours, but His and ours. 

Closing Considerations

  1. Count how many times today you filter your choices with the construct: how will this affect me? 
  2. Read the “One Another” in the New Testament this week. Then lean into at least one of them this week. 

Blessings, 

Lori

Lori Ferguson serves as Children's Director at NUMC, and has been at the church since 2015. When she's not planning or teaching, she enjoys spending time with her grandkids. Read more about Lori here.

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The Last Straw

I would never have thought that something that weighs one sixty-seventh of an ounce would cause so much hatred. If you’re like me, ounces are already confusing (why are there 16 in a pound, it makes no sense. And don’t even get me started on why fluid ounces are completely different). Then you throw in a horrible fraction on top of that, and it’s hard even to quantify what it means. For the record, it means that it’s 1/1072 of a pound, or in other words, you would need 1072 straws to make one pound. That’s right. I’m talking about straws.

You’ve probably seen in the news or on Facebook that several cities and companies are moving away from the plastic straw. What was meant to be a small step towards protecting the planet and especially ocean life has turned into a huge debate. Here are some of the facts that have emerged. 

    There are roughly 7.5 million plastic straws around America’s shoreline.

    There can are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the entire world's coastlines.

    There are nearly 9 million tons of plastic trash that ends up in the ocean each year.

    By piece, straws make up only 4% of the plastic waste produced. 

    By weight, they make up only 2,000 tons of the 9 million tons of plastic waste each year.(Source)

If you were to do a little bit of math, you could figure out that American straws account for less than 0.1% of the straws in the oceans, and 0.00000022% of the total weight of plastic in the ocean. If you are pro straw, those are some good numbers for you. So basically, the argument has become something along the lines of side A saying “American’s throw 7.5 million straws into the ocean each year, we should do something about it” and side B saying “That’s only 0.00000022% of the plastic waste, it’s not a big deal”.  

Straw debates might also include something about money or people needing them. Plastic straws are super cheap, usually about half a cent. A paper straw is five times as expensive at two and a half cents. So yes, your straw budget would go up five times, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s still cheap (and yes I just used the same argument from above about percentage wise it’s not a big deal). And it's true that kids and some people with particular disabilities need straws to drink. Paper straws meet that need, but even if there were no straws provided, you can purchase metal or reusable silicone straws from Amazon for less than a dollar a piece and bring them with you.

    I struggled with deciding where to go from here. I thought about the old story about a girl throwing starfish back into the ocean (the bottom line is even though she can’t save them all it makes a difference for the ones she can save), I thought about rehashing the “what would Jesus do” thing that I kind of covered in this blog post from a few months ago. However, I think I need to talk about buts for now. 

    At its core, this issue is about whether or not using plastic straws is the best thing for our planet. There is no way to say that it is. Everything that follows that simple question becomes a “but.” BUT paper straws taste gross (they do taste different). BUT people with disabilities need them. BUT plastic straws are the cheapest. BUT I like my straws. BUT they don’t even make up a significant percentage of the ocean plastic waste. All of those things might be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that plastic straws aren’t good for the sea turtles in the wild.

    This principle applies to so many other aspects of life that matter more than a piece of plastic that’s .42 grams (see how much easier metric is). Here’s some simple questions for you. Is spending time with your kids more important than spending time on your cell phone? Are we supposed to love our neighbors? Should we spend time with God? The answer to all of those is yes. When it becomes that simple, it’s like a punch in the gut when you want to add on a “but” to justify playing candy crush instead of playing with your kid. Or trying to explain why an extra 10 minutes of sleep is more important than praying to God. When life gets complicated, make it simpler by asking the fundamental questions. You still might not find the answer you’re looking for, but you’ll find something along the way.