Super Duper Deluxe

My Column for the Elgin Review 11.20.19

We were in the furniture store on the square after buying our first home. The salesman was showing us the washers and dryers. Wanting to be sure we could wash the fluffy comforter for our bed we were deciding between the super-duper sized drum and the super-duper-deluxe when I started laughing. My husband and the salesman, not sure what I found so funny, looked confused. Stifling my giggles, I said, “six months ago we were washing our clothes on a rock in the Zaire river and now we’re being so serious about making the right decision between super-duper and super-duper deluxe. It’s crazy!”

Being in Zaire in my mid-twenties changed me forever. Things I grew up taking for granted, like washing machines and dryers, I no longer take for granted.

The past couple warm spells I spent hours washing the windows of the parsonage. The windows are as old as I am, and the storm windows were hard to figure out, but they’re very well made, and do their job and I’m thankful for them. In Zaire, we had crank out windows, missing their cranks and there were no hardware stores to go buy more so the only way to open or close them was from the outside.  Before Zaire, I took windows for granted. I don’t anymore.

We’ve invited Mike’s girls and my brother to join us for a pre-Thanksgiving/Mike’s birthday dinner next Tuesday at our apartment in Lincoln before we head to Minneapolis to celebrate Thanksgiving with two of our sons and my cousin’s family. Glenna, our youngest, laughed thinking about me cooking a Thanksgiving meal in our little-bitty kitchen in the apartment. I remember Zaire, where we had a little-bitty electric stove with dubious wiring and nothing else and I’m thankful for the apartment kitchen.

Other experiences have given me reason not to take things for granted. A hard marriage and difficult divorce make my marriage to Mike that much sweeter. A cancer diagnosis two years after we married, makes my clean bill of health now that much sweeter. And so on.

As we close in on Thanksgiving, it’s not things like appliances and windows and functioning kitchens for which I’m most thankful, but I am thankful for them.  I’m most thankful for all the people around me, for all the love and joy and laughter that are mine.

There’s an old hymn with which I have a love-hate relationship. The melody is singsongy and becomes an ear-worm playing on a continuous loop in my head after I’ve sung it. The words and sentiment are simple:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done,

Count your Blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings see what God has done.

(Johnson Oatman, 1897).

This Thanksgiving I’ll be counting appliances and windows and itty-bitty kitchens and a happy marriage and good health and family and friends and you, my new neighbors, among my many blessings. What and who will you not take for granted this season? What and who will you count as blessings this Thanksgiving?

You are always welcome to join us at Park Congregational United Church of Christ at 9:15 every Sunday morning to give God thanks for all the blessings of life. We’re 10 miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south.

I love hearing from you. beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

 

I’d like to get to know you

My Column for the Elgin Review June 5, 2019

“Cross Man” was a novelty to my sons. We moved back to Nebraska fifteen years ago and the boys were the perfect “drop them off at the movie theater and pick them up when the show’s over” age. Often, I’d hear more laughter and conversation in the minivan after the movie about “Cross Man” than I did about whatever movie they’d seen. “Cross Man” stationed himself on a downtown corner near the theater most weekend evenings. He held a heavy, large wooden cross, and intrusively asked passersby if they’d repented of their sins and if they knew where they would spend eternity.

I cringe a little remembering “Cross Man.” His intentions were probably pure. He must have believed he was doing God’s work. But I think he was missing the point, and caused others to miss the point, too.

Missing the point when it comes to our relationship with God is, in its essence, the very definition of “sin.” The word we translate as “sin” means “to miss the mark” like shooting an arrow and missing the target.

When Jesus was asked about the most important thing to live by, he said “there are two things, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t accost people and issue dire warnings to them about the ways they were sinning. Jesus met people where they were, just as they were and established relationships with them. Jesus spent his days loving people into relationships with God. When people were loved, they learned love, and as a result, they turned their lives around so they could live in the same kind of love they’d experienced through Jesus.

Do you remember the Bible story of the despicable little tax collector named Zacchaeus? Jesus saw him in a tree where he’d climbed to be able to see and Jesus hollered up at him. He didn’t say, “Short man, do you know where you’re spending eternity?” He didn’t demand to know if he would repent of his sins. Jesus said, “I’d like to get to know you better. How about I come to your house for dinner tonight?” It was a life-changing thing for Zacchaeus having someone of note paying attention to him. He was used to bullying and being bullied. Being seen, accepted and loved was like flipping a switch for him. By the end of his evening with Jesus, Zacchaeus was a changed man–not because Jesus convinced him of the error of his ways, but because Jesus loved him. And, because Jesus loved him, Zacchaeus was moved to love others. Which was, exactly the point of Jesus’ ministry.

Love is the power through which God draws us close to each other and close to God. Love is the way–not judgement, not dire warnings, not shame.

At Park Center United Church of Christ, it’s not that we are unaware of the ways we have “missed the mark” but, our aim, our focus, is on loving all of our neighbors and loving God.

You are always welcome at Park UCC ten miles west of Elgin and 1/2 mile south.

Unlimited Calling

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE published 11.13.19

“Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!” said the scraggly-looking fellow I found standing inside my study at the church when I got back from lunch. It was years ago in a county-seat town in Illinois where the church building was on the highway just off the town square. We got a lot of transient folk stopping by looking for assistance with food or a night’s stay in a motel, or money for gas to get them a little further on down the road. Startled by the man standing stock-still and silently dripping rain water onto the carpet, I asked, “May I help you, sir?” “Uh. Uh. Well, uh, I’m lookin’ for the pastor.” He said.  I extended my hand to shake his and said, “I’m Becky Brown, I’m the pastor here. How may I help you?” And, instead of shaking my offered hand, like a character from a looney-tunes cartoon he hit himself on the forehead and shook his head like he was rattling rocks inside, blinked his eyes wildly and said it, “Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!”

The man had been to a lot of churches asking for help, but apparently, I was the first female pastor he encountered.  My gender, though shocking to him, did not interfere with his mission. Gladly, he accepted the help I offered and went on his way, still shaking his head like he’d seen some sort of apparition.

In the thirty-plus years I’ve served in ministry since that rainy afternoon in Illinois, I’ve encountered a good deal of sexism in the church, rarely so unmasked. Often it comes cloaked in subtle ways; the ministerial colleague who keeps standing up to assert his dominance in the middle of a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, the dismissive “I can tell you are emotional about this” response from a male leader to a clearly stated concern, the, “well, I knew you were a strong woman the first time I met you” backhanded questioning of my femininity as an excuse for the bad behavior of another man by a male church leader, introducing me by my first-name while at the same occasion calling my male colleagues, “Reverend” or “Doctor” or “Pastor” as appropriate, and so on.

It’s curious how such diminishment of women occurs in the church when it was women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. It’s time, past time, for the church to repent of sexism—overt and over the top, and covert, subtle and masked.

The United Church of Christ, of which Park Church, where I serve here in Elgin, and First Congregational Church where I serve in Neligh are part, was the first Mainline Protestant denomination in the United States to ordain women to ministry in 1853. In the United Church of Christ, women in leadership are not novelties.

If you are looking to be part of a church where your gender does not determine nor limit your calling maybe Park Church is the right church for you. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning. Ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in the United Church of Christ. I love to hear from you. Beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

 

My Season of Unfortunate Events

My Column for The Elgin Review in Elgin, NE published November 6, 2019

This past Saturday I stood precariously perched with my left foot on the edge of the bathtub and my right foot on the lid of the toilet trying to maneuver myself to get one foot out the window and the rest of me to follow. Laughing, I thought, “I guess this is just my season of unfortunate events.”

The parsonage is half a year older than I am. The house has reached its’ sixtieth birthday, and I will in February. By sixty, things begin to wear out. On Saturday morning, it was the door knob mechanism on the bathroom door, after my shower, with me stuck inside the bathroom. The good news was Mike was home from Lincoln and could come to my rescue and I had taken clothes with me into the bathroom before my shower so I wasn’t trying to climb out the parsonage window wearing only a towel.

My husband is handy and by the time he left to go back to Lincoln on Sunday afternoon, the door was back on its hinges with a new door knob set and all new innards and should be good to go for the next sixty years. The whole episode cost us some time, some muscles stretched in interesting ways from climbing out (me) and in (Mike) the window and less than ten bucks for the new hardware at Bomgaar’s.

The season of unfortunate events, of which I hope Saturday’s climb out the bathroom window was its culmination, began with a speeding ticket on my commute back to Antelope County from Lincoln a week ago. I stopped in Stromsburg to stretch my legs and forgot to turn my cruise control back on when I returned to the highway. The audiobook I was listening to was really good and my foot got too heavy on the pedal and a highway patrol woman was sitting right there on the west side of Highway 39.  The good news was I wasn’t in Antelope Country so it won’t show up in the newspaper (why am I writing about it here?), and, while expensive and inconvenient, I have money to cover the ticket.

The second of the “bad things come in threes” unfortunate events started Monday.  I am one of the unlucky ones for whom the new Shingles vaccine knocked me out. Tuesday morning after the vaccine on Monday afternoon I was kaput. Low grade fever, chills, a really sore, itchy arm and oh boy! I was tired for most of the week–even still on Saturday as I climbed out the window. The good news was it wasn’t a bad week for me to be under the weather. I had time to cozy up in the parsonage, do some reading and a lot of sleeping.

The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible said, “For everything there is a season.” Some seasons last a long time, some are fleeting. Some seasons leave us in tears, and some leave us laughing. Some seasons find us living high on the hog, and some leave us broke, or broken.  That’s the way life is. None of us is immune to going through times of sorrow or testing and none of us live without joy forever.

No matter what season you find yourself in. No matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ where this past weekend they laughed with me over my season of unfortunate events. At Park Church we’ll laugh with you, cry with you and share all of life’s seasons with you in the love and grace of Christ.

We’re ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. Worship on Sundays is at 9:15 am. Set your cruise control and head our way soon.

I love to hear from you. My email is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

Barrier-breaking Love

My column for The Elgin Review May 15, 2019

I ran into a friend in the produce department of the HyVee near our Omaha home last week. It had been over a year since we’ve seen each other. She updated me on her kids, her husband’s health and their newest adventure. I filled her in on my new ministries and our pending move to the parsonage in Neligh and the apartment for Mike in Lincoln until he retires late next year. We talked about church. She told me she has been struggling with being part of a church for the past year or more.

My friend’s professional life involves answering a crisis hot-line.

“I’ve taken so many calls of people contemplating suicide this year. People are so divided and there’s so much hate out there. Folks are having a hard time, and, in the past month there have been even more after the United Methodist Church made their anti LGBTQ decision at their General Synod. Gay kids call and say, ‘even my church hates me. I might as well just end my life and get it over with.’”

I wonder how many of us who are actively involved in the church think about the decisions we make around faith and about the way we practice our religion and talk about God as matters of life and death? Surely it must grieve God that the body charged with sharing God’s abundant and unending love with the whole world has somehow managed to twist that message into its’ opposite, that only certain people are “in” that only the properly pious are privy to God’s grace.

If it grieves my friend to listen to teenagers who feel their lives are worthless, how must it grieve their Creator to hear that the life they’ve been given doesn’t feel worth living?

A long time ago, Paul, the apostle of Jesus, wrote in a letter to a church in Galatia, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

God’s message to the world in Jesus was a message of barrier-breaking love. God’s message to the world in Jesus was that the things that separate us from each other are the things that separate us from God.

I pray the day will come when no one ever again hears of a decision made by the church and feels less loved as a result.

I pray the day will come when all God’s children of every stripe, orientation and hue know how precious we are to our creator. I pray the day will come when every hurting, doubting, lonely human in need of community will find their way into a radically inclusive, love abounding, grace overflowing family of faith.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.