Standing Up for My Rural Flock

I have friends who have been up in arms since Trump became president. They spend their time writing about the injustices and stupidity coming from our government. They spend time protesting and fighting for the rights of those Jesus calls in the Bible “the least of these.”

Most of these friends are fellow pastors who, like myself, know that, yes, we must fight for those being overlooked and treated unfairly. I see their passion and hear their anger and I pray.

Not for them to be victorious. I pray for justice for all to come…and for the scales to drop from all our eyes.

I am a country pastor. I came to this call quite accidentally. My Calvinist friends are quick to argue with me when I say this. They point out that nothing is accidental with God. True. Nothing is. But that still doesn’t mean we in our limited understanding of God’s crazy ways can comprehend all that God does. And so, I am an accidental country pastor.

I was called to a little white church years ago not realizing that this was more than a call to pastor a church. This was a call to start living again, to heal a broken heart and to allow God to reveal the who I really am.

I traded in my designer heels for a pair of good old barn boots. Mud season can be a real bitch in this part of the country. I admit, though, I have held on to my Kate Spade handbags. I am thinking that perhaps Miss Spade should make a line of rural handbags? Ones that complement the caked mud against black rubber…

Back to my point. I am a pastor serving rural America, an area in which prayed for someone like Trump to take office. An area where people feel his election is God’s grace being poured on the land—finally.

And I can see why they rejoice. I can see why they are turned off by clergy who they say are so “liberal” and don’t get it.

Maybe we clergy don’t truly get it?

I can see this because as I live and serve and pray for those who call little white churches, faded clapboard houses and sagging old red barns home, I hear their frustrations of being treated as “the least of these.” T

hey lament how they are overlooked by the decision makers in “the cities.” They don’t appreciate how those with higher education seem to talk down to those with a high school degree.

They are tired of the Roman Empire laughing at poor little Nazareth.

After all, can anything good come from Nazareth, the backwoods biblical village that Jesus hailed from?

We know the answer is yes. Something good did come from Nazareth.

The truth is this country is made up of many Nazarethes. And the people I have been called to shepherd have been tired for a very long time of being ignored, joked about and not treated fairly.

I moonlight as a reporter for a local paper. Just the other day in an editorial planning meeting, a colleague spoke about how a school in a village in the same county as which I serve God’s children has a big problem. They can’t get substitute teachers. No one wants to come.

You want me to go where? There? Where exactly is it? I think I heard there are rednecks in that area? My friend saw a few Confederate flags hanging from trailers. No, thank you. I don’t want to be there for the children who need a teacher.

It was the same for the little white church God called me to. Friends in Manhattan and north New Jersey where I then lived asked if I had this desire to preach to cows.

What’s up there for you? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Turns out there was something amazing in rural America for me. My relationship with God grew stronger as did my realization I had a passion to advocate for churches that no one seemed to know about or care about.

I thought about the school struggling to get substitutes. I thought about the churches struggling to get pastors who just weren’t just using them as a stepping stone to the next “bigger” church in their preaching career.

I thought back to a newspaper story I did in December where a man of a local American Legion explained why his colleagues were cutting ties with a larger national organization in their mission to collect Christmas toys for children. He said they collect so many toys but had to drive down to the “big city of Albany” to drop them off. And then, those in the city would decide what those in rural America needed.

“They don’t know our needs. We wanted our children to get what they deserve…more toys,” he said.

We want our children to get what they deserve…not just more toys. And so, the vote went to Trump because people were tired of not being heard. I’m not saying that this was the right vote or not. I’m just presenting the truth of what I see in my work as an accidental country pastor.

So, when I see protests and angry notes on Facebook from clergy friends about the unfairness of the actions coming out of Washington D.C. my heart cries. Yes, voices need to be heard. Definitely. We need to make sure the rights for all are protected and that new laws are made to help those who are in need. I’m not arguing against that.

But as pastors in the cities make their protest signs, I wish they would also pray for the little white churches in rural America who struggle to find shepherds. Pray for the schools who no one wants to teach in. Pray for the children who are in need, who seem to get overlooked. And I am not just talking about toys at Christmastime. Pray to understand why the country voted the way it did.

For the snide comment “can anything good come out of (insert a rural community)” has been heard for too long.

I know I am putting my heart out there and some might be angry with my words today. But I welcome all comments, even those who disagree with me. I just want to share and get a conversation going.

For when we don’t have the opportunity to talk to one another, we miss the opportunity to discern a new path that God is asking us to venture out on.

When we are prevented from talking to one another all because our differences are too great, then we thwart the work of the Spirit.

For our open and honest conversations, I believe, are indeed sacred offerings lifted to God.

Lenten Prayer for Today: Lord, I pray for all those who are feeling discarded and not heard. I pray for your Spirit to heal divisions. I pray for especially for all the churches, schools, businesses and household in rural areas who have felt rejected for far too long.

 

A picture of the little white church painted for me when I first came to rural America to serve God’s children. Life in the country may be different than the city, but we are all seeking the same thing: to be heard and loved, to know all of God’s children are worthy.

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Stay Out of It

Stay out of it…

That was the advice from my mom the other night as we talked politics.

Just stay out of it. Don’t get involved, etc., etc., etc. Let the women march. Let others say what they want on social media. Let folks in the backwoods of Vermont fire off their guns in celebration of the recent inauguration.

Now my mom is not one to step aside from righting a wrong. Growing up she was always the one supporting me to write a letter to the school board if I, as a student, saw something wrong. Speak up and act to change things, rather than complain about things. That was her motto.

No, my mom doesn’t step aside from righting a wrong easily. So, her advice to me the other night I realized was one of motherly concern for her daughter. Her daughter whose first career was that of journalist and whose second incarnation in life is that of pastor.

Journalist plus pastor equals trouble at times for both callings are spurred on by a passion for truth telling and for a desire for advocating for the underdog.

“But mom, I can’t just stay out of it,” I said quietly. “To do so would be going against everything I am.”

More importantly, to stay out of things, to keep silent, to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, whatever body part you want to use as a metaphor, to do any such thing is going against all Jesus is. Jesus whose inauguration speech in Luke’s gospel, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, outlined his policies: proclaim freedom for the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free. There was no mention of building walls, but rather building bridges of love so that all could cross over each other’s “side” and finally understand one another and begin working together to make a better life for all.

Frederick Buechner, a writer and theologian who lives just up the windy mountain road from me here in Vermont, once said when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he wasn’t telling us to love them in a “cozy, emotional” way. On the contrary, Jesus, said Buechner, is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our well-being to that end.

Do I want more job opportunities for those I love here in rural America? Yes. Do I want relief from the burgeoning medical insurance my husband and I pay each month, a payment that is so high, provides so little in return and means we must dip into our savings to help pay for it? Yes. Do I want a better country, a better world, a better future? Yes, yes and yes. But not at the expense of others.

For if I forget there are indeed “others” also trying to live and build a good life, then what kind of person am I?

To stay out of what is happening nowadays is to be like all those in the crowds who followed Jesus but didn’t go all the way to the cross with him for fear of jeopardizing their comfortable lives by upsetting the powers to be or even worse, upsetting friends and loved ones.

I sit here in the home that I have cried to God to return to. God turned to me and heard my cry. And for that I will be forever grateful. I sit here in my 18th century home with the wide plank floors that slope and stare out the window at the snow covered Green Mountains of Vermont so thankful to be brought back to an area in which fills my heart and connects me ever more closely to the divine.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a reporter once again and for the opportunities to continue being an accidental country pastor as well.

My heart is full, but heavy as well. It is concerned. I can’t pretend all is well with the world, just because all is well here on my little fledgling farm.

There is work to be done. There is good news to proclaim. And that good news is not going to be easy to proclaim.

Then again, it never was.

 

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The old stone well covered in snow is a beautiful sight here on the farm. But as the accidental country pastor reflects today’s news headlines, there is the realization that there is work to be done beyond the farm. 

Walking Humbly

A week ago our country voted for our next president. A week ago there were people (and media) who thought the outcome would be in their favor. There were people who prayed hard for their candidate of choice. There were people who watched and waited. As the watching and waiting continued into the night, people became dazed and confused. They cried and wailed. They rejoiced and danced. A week ago there were people…

I’ve been quiet for a week trying to decide if I should share what’s on my mind. And if so, how best to share the thoughts swirling around trying to find a place to finally settle down and rest.

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A sign at the farm down the road from the Accidental Country Pastor’s Vermont home. No matter who is in office, it will be long four years for we need once again to remember with God there is always sunny side to hope for and work towards.  

You see I am a pastor in rural America, serving God’s children in a place where many feel their voices aren’t heard. I am the kind of pastor who has lived in the big cities and so I have friends who are now heartbroken over the electoral count. I also have friends who are not so heartbroken. I am a pastor who has the ability to listen to both sides and hear what “the other” is saying. I am pastor who often finds herself straddling two worlds. I am a pastor who now puts herself into the heartbroken category. But I put myself there not because of who won or didn’t win the election. I put myself there because of the behavior I’ve seen and words I’ve heard from both those who lament and from those who rejoice.

A week ago there were people…let me emphasize “people.” For that is what we are. We are not winners or losers. We cannot—nor should be—so easily categorized. We are people of a loving and sovereign God who since the beginning of time has been urging us to be better than we often are. And yet in a week’s time, I wonder about who we have become. It seems this election has brought to light a problem I had an inkling was already part of our society. The problem of how we react and treat each other when things don’t go our way. Years ago I heard a pastor say that we don’t have to like one another, but we do have to walk hand in hand with one another. Is our nation capable of grasping the hand of the other?

Since the election I have been thinking a lot about the prophet Micah who said it well when he said, “Do what is right, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

Now more than ever we—you and I—are being called to do what is right. We can’t just leave it to others to make our lives better. We need to be part of the bettering of our world. I have often seen complacency in churches that I serve where the work of a brighter future is often left in the hands of the pastor—the church’s elected official of sorts. But it is the work of all people that matters and moves us forward. We can still wake up to a new day and know we can do our part to make it a just world for all. To do so, though, means we place ourselves in the one category that should only exist. The one of brothers and sisters in Christ.

We can choose to love mercy and realize its healing power. For when mercy is either received or extended it removes the scales from our eyes and we begin seeing each other as the brothers and sisters in Christ I just mentioned, the ones who want the same things in life you want. To be heard, to be loved, to be safe and to have your daily bread.

And we can, no, we MUST walk humbly with our God. For the one we are to glorify, the one we are to place our trust in, is God. Human leaders are just that. Human. Flawed and broken…no matter what political party they pledge allegiance to. But God is God, steadfast in love and immovable even though the mountains around us will crumble and fall.

A week ago there were people…

Tired of struggling to make ends meet.

Worried about how to afford healthcare for their family.

Scared about what rights might be taken away.

Frightened about how they and their children will be treated if not white and privileged.

A week ago there were people…those people are still here. Those people are you and me. They are our neighbors and the strangers on the street. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s time now for us to do what is right, to love mercy and to keep walking humbly with our God.

For the savior we need is not in Washington D.C.