What the Cross Means to Me

30 12 2013

By Kees Compier, assistant to the Council of Twelve Multinations Team

The word “cross” brings to mind various images from the different churches I have visited in many parts of the world. Most had a cross with a Jesus on it who was dying, who was in pain. Others had crosses that were empty.
In a way both spoke to me. The suffering Jesus reminded me of all the forms of pain humans experience.

I remember as a little boy falling with a basket of milk bottles in my hand. (I had looked over my shoulder at something and walked right into a light pole—do not laugh!) The bottles broke on impact, and a large piece of glass was stuck in my hand. My mom and dad had to take me to the emergency room so they could remove it and stitch me up.

At the time the pain seemed unbearable. So looking at a cross with a dying Jesus on it I cannot even imagine how much pain he must have endured.

Growing up you realize there are other forms of pain than just a piece of glass in your hand. There was the pain of losing my father when I was still young. Or the pain of taking my mother to a nursing home because Alzheimer’s disease had become so advanced she could no longer live on her own. And there was the pain of seeing my daughter struggle with depression and not knowing what we could do for her.

But then there were the churches with empty crosses. My home congregation in Rotterdam, Netherlands, had a large white cross on the wall at the front of the sanctuary. And the tower next to the church had an even larger cross at the top. The empty cross spoke to me of hope.

Growing up I was taught the stories that tell us about the Jesus who overcame suffering and death, whose resurrection symbolized a victory over death. So I have often thought of the empty cross as the symbol of hope, the kind of hope that can help us overcome pain and suffering and look beyond it to a different and a better future.

It symbolized the hope found in others who reach out to us when we need their help. I remember lying, hooked to various machines, in a hospital bed after a major surgery and not having the strength to push the button that would give me morphine.

A friend who visited me for hours that night sat at the end of the bed. He realized I could not do it myself and came over to help. No words were exchanged, but from then on I just needed to look at him, and he knew I needed another shot. (Do not worry. There was a time limit on the machine).

So many times in my life, hope could be found in others reaching out to my family or me.

The empty cross also invites me to let go of things that keep me from being the best person possible. Thus, the empty cross is a symbol that invites me to give up the things that keep me from serving the best way I can.


Where Do the Mermaids Stand?

28 12 2013

By Andrew Fox, Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England

Dunfield House, a large, centuries-old mansion in the beautiful Welsh border country, is where British Isles camps and retreats are held. Each year an event called Open House invites people who may not have been to Dunfield for many years.

This year’s event lured several families that had a parent who had attended camps at Dunfield as a teenager. These parents were excited to return, bringing partners and children.

During the final worship I got to share a favorite story from the book, Learning Styles, by Marlene LeFever. In the story she tells of playing a game with characters from the fantasy world, “Giants, Wizards, and Dwarves.” It was a large-scale, noisy version of “Scissors, Paper, Rock,” played with 80 7- to 10-year-olds.

As Marlene yelled out, “You have to decide now which you are—a giant, a wizard, or a dwarf!” she felt a tug on her trouser leg. A small child looked up and asked in a small concerned voice, “Where do the mermaids stand?”

After a long pause Marlene said, “There are no such things as mermaids.”

“Oh, yes. I am one,” replied the child.

She did not relate to being a giant, wizard, or dwarf. She knew her category: mermaid.

“Well, where do the mermaids stand?” asks the author. “All the mermaids—all those who are different, who do not fit the norm.”

Sometimes we find just the right thing to say. This was such an occasion. “The mermaid stands right here by the king of the sea!” So adult and child stood hand in hand, reviewing the wizards, giants, and dwarves.

“It is not true, by the way, that mermaids do not exist,” concludes LeFever, “I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.”

As I reflected on this story I thought of Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18–19. Maybe it could be rephrased this way, “My mission is to bring peace to the mermaids of this world.”

But Jesus didn’t just speak his mission; he lived it. He shared his peace when he invited himself to the home of the hated tax collector. When he asked the ostracized woman at the well for a drink. When he healed the untouchable leper. And when he blessed the supposedly insignificant children.

In the British Isles, we are very blessed to have a place such as Dunfield House, where we can meet friends and experience peace. But the world holds many “mermaids” who have never experienced a place of such peace.

At the end of our Open House we each left challenged to Pursue Peace on Earth by seeking mermaids in the places where we live, to Invite People to Christ by welcoming them into our congregations and families, and to witness to them that they are loved.

Living out Mission in an Unlikely Venue

26 12 2013
Iowa State Representative Scott Ourth

Iowa State Representative Scott Ourth

By John S. Wight,
senior president of seventy

If I could give any new legislator a guide, I’d give them Sharing in Community of Christ and say, ‘Here, this will tell you how to do your job.’”

With these words, Iowa State Representative Scott Ourth expressed how strongly he feels about the church’s Mission Initiatives and Enduring Principles. Ourth, a seventy from Ackworth, Iowa, was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 2012. In an environment often identified as little more than cutthroat partisan politics, Ourth has a different outlook.

“I have a bully pulpit for bringing this stuff (Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives) into a very secular place,” he said. “I ask myself if a particular measure can help bring peace” rather than if it simply will further the party’s position.

Ourth described his role in the legislature as “the greatest job” because “you get to help people every day.”

“I can apply the gifts God gave me and what I like to do to help people along the lines of the Mission Initiatives,” he explained. “For example, I have been fighting hard to fund mental-health redesign. That’s getting rid of suffering. I have opportunities to bring hope and compassion into those lives.”

Other areas where Ourth sees opportunities to apply mission principles include child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, and Medicaid expansion.

“We’ve got to take care of people,” he said. “It relieves them of this heavy burden that an act of nature brought down on them. That sort of thing strips them of their self-esteem and leaves them with no hope, no joy, no peace, no love. The simple act of pushing a green button (voting in the legislature) assures that people in my state will receive the help they need and deserve.”

Ourth is quick to point out that he doesn’t make decisions based on intellect alone.

“I guarantee you that I am given the ultimate guidance (the Holy Spirit) not only on how I vote, but how I have conversations on the floor (of the legislature),” he said. “Community of Christ has prepared me to be in any community.”

Ourth believes everybody can apply the Mission Initiatives and Enduring Principles, wherever they find themselves. He suggests that individuals first become intimately familiar with them and how they can be lived in their specific situation and location.

“You have to decide you want your life to be a stewardship,” he continued. “You have to find how the tenets apply where you are.”

The next step he suggests is that a person must be “willing, prepared, and ready” to develop relationships and then take action.

“You have to learn to discern the needs in the lives of people,” he said. “Your radar is up and ready. You search for those in need, and you’re deliberate about that. You have to practice. With practice comes insights and intuition.”

Ourth added that people learn by trying.

“You have to make yourself available,” he said. “You become the go-to person. It’s the ministry of friendship, integrity, and example of upright behavior.”

Perhaps Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c sums up Ourth’s thoughts about how each of us is called to live out the Mission Initiatives:

This covenant entails sacramental living that respects and reveals God’s presence and reconciling activity in creation. It requires whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering.

Christmas around the World

23 12 2013

Community of Christ members are rich, poor, and in between. We live in big cities, tropical jungles, deserts, and on sun-washed islands. But each year our multitude of cultures comes together as an expression of Unity in Diversity to worship, rejoice, and experience Blessings of Community. We all bask in the promise brought by a newborn infant. As we enjoy pictures from last year, join us in looking with anticipation to Christmas this year!

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Send Us Your Advent, Christmas Photos
As you enjoy Advent and Christmas this year, we’d like you to capture your memories in photos and send them to us for consideration in next year’s Herald and at http://www.CofChrist.org. Photos should be at least one megabyte, though bigger is better. They should not be taken by cell phones. Please include caption information, including the name of the photographer. Send your photos to Herald@CofChrist.org. Thanks, and merry Christmas!

To Seek Justice…

20 12 2013

(Written shortly after a Christmas past)
By Jane Watkins, Florida USA Mission Center financial officer

The strings of Christmas lights are gone from almost every home in my neighborhood. Our Christmas tree is but a distant memory. The decorations are almost all packed away.
It seems the only thing remaining is the extra five pounds each of us seemed to put on with all those goodies!

Hopefully we still have the story of the Christ child near to our hearts. The unlikely story of our Savior lying newborn in a manger never ceases to amaze. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, sleeping in a cattle trough! If ever there was a time for peace, that time is now. The words of Micah 6:8 NRSV echo from nearly 2,750 years ago:
…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

It sounds so simple: Seek justice, love mercy, and be humble. At our mission center conference in November, members voted to give $500 to the Florida Council of Churches. As members in the National Council of Churches (NCC), our congregations now can enjoy the benefits of aligning with an organization that fights for justice throughout the USA.

Our dollars enable good works to occur in places difficult for us to access. That is precisely the benefit of our covenant with one another: We can be together where we cannot be alone; we can do together things we cannot do alone, as witnesses to the Living Christ.

Check some NCC accomplishments and note how its efforts align with our Mission Initiatives and Enduring Principles.

The NCC works to end poverty! It led the National Food Stamp Challenge, mobilizing more than a dozen members of Congress, religious leaders, and people of faith to subsist on the national average weekly food stamp allotment: $31.50. Many then were better able to understand the realities of living in poverty.

The NCC is working to protect and restore God’s land and creatures! It calls for national chemical policy reform. It also provides tools for enriching our self-understanding as stewards of the Earth. It affirms the need to protect God’s creation from harmful substances that disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.

The NCC hosted history-in-the-making! Through its Women’s Ministries Program, it held the first public press conference for Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee. In doing so, it witnessed to churches’ engagement in the global valuation of women’s leadership in peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance.

The NCC is committed to growing new leaders! Through a partnership with New Fire, a network of young-adult leaders, it has invested in the next generation’s participation in and leadership of the ecumenical movement.
I’m proud our mission center voted to support this organization.

Living, Loving, Sharing

18 12 2013

By Janné Grover, Integrated Formation Ministries

My friend, Martha Owaga of Nairobi, Kenya, invited me into a deeper understanding of Christ-like discipleship and generosity. It happened at a time I least expected to learn something about discipleship.

I had met Martha only a couple times, and we hadn’t shared deep, personal connections. I work for the church on one continent, and she works for the church on another continent. We are sisters in Christ, and between us there would appear to be no need for invitation to Christ.

This unexpected encounter with the Spirit took place during the closing service for the International Leaders Meetings following the 2013 World and USA National conferences.

We gathered in the Continents Room to begin worship. Before the service, we were told there would be an opportunity to give. I made a mental note to stop by my office on our break to get money for the offering. As part of the worship experience, we were dismissed by sections to journey up the Worshiper’s Path to the Temple Sanctuary.

As my section was dismissed, I unexpectedly felt a feeling of isolation. I couldn’t figure it out because I was surrounded by people.

Somehow, Martha sensed this…or maybe (probably) this is just her nature. She asked if she could walk with me.

It was a simple gesture, but in that moment, Martha was the presence of Christ inviting me on a journey of friendship and mutual support. If that were the end of this story, it would be enough. My eyes and my heart were opened to how important a small gesture can be to another.

Martha and I sat together during the worship service. We exchanged smiles as we struggled with the devices used for translation. Then we were invited to come forward and place our offerings in a basket on the rostrum.

My heart raced. I had forgotten to stop for money. As Martha waited for me at the aisle, I waved her on with a smile. She took a few steps then walked back, took my hand, and said, “We will go together.”

Her kindness and compassion overwhelmed me. But as we walked forward I began feeling uneasy, wondering what I would do when we got to the basket. Once there, Martha placed her money in my hand, and together we put it in the basket. Feelings of humility, worth, and gratitude flooded me as I witnessed, through Martha, what it means to be a generous disciple.

She did not do this out of obligation. It was not rehearsed or contrived. She wasn’t trying to place an imaginary checkmark next to the title of a Mission Initiative. It was genuine love flowing from the heart of a compassionate disciple into the life of someone in need.

It invited me into a deeper understanding of what it means to live, love, and share as Zion. Martha embodied the love of Christ. Her actions were a natural extension of Christ’s love for all, and the divine encounter transformed me. All the language describing discipleship and mission was lived out through simple acts of friendship and generosity.

More than ever, I became aware of how encounter with the Divine and others shapes who we are as disciples. Invitation extends naturally from living, loving, and sharing as the body of Christ.

How Dare We Let Them Down?

16 12 2013

By Deb Crowley,
Michigan USA/Canada Mission Center

Doubts crowded my mind. What had I been thinking when I volunteered to serve on the staffs of not one, but two, senior high church camps?

The staff of the Michigan USA/Canada Mission Center had decided to volunteer at 2012 summer youth camps in an effort to develop relationships between youth and church leadership. It had been more than 30 years since I had counseled at a youth camp. And while I fully supported and valued these camps, working with teenagers just wasn’t on my God-given gift list!

The social awkwardness I experienced as a teenager crept into my psyche and fed my fears. Could I even relate to them? While living and working in the “adult” world, it had been easy to get out of touch with what music speaks to them or to know on what topics we could find common ground.

How do you teach a theme class relevant to developing disciples of Jesus Christ that’s engaging and has enough variety to hold their attention? But as each week ensued, relationships grew.

The kids shared powerful stories of life struggles—alcoholic parents, the burden of serving as surrogate parents for younger siblings, the weight of guilt from not helping prevent a friend’s suicide, suicidal thoughts of their own, difficulty in resisting peer pressure while living in bad neighborhoods, and loneliness from parental absence caused by work schedules.

They also felt sadly that their church community had little to meet their needs and their desire to draw closer to God, read the Bible, and go to church.

They shared their joys and struggles, supported one another through listening, crying together, praying for one another, and listening some more. They allowed me to hear their stories and accepted my offer of prayer, words of encouragement, and hugs.

The majority felt no connection to a church family. That first saddened, then angered me.

How dare we, as a church, let these young people down? We have work to do! As a diverse community of old and young we hold in common the need to be loved, to love, and to be found worthy. Love is not bound by age. Love is a universal language.

In the end, these youth became my mentors. Their acceptance, openness, and desire to build relationships with God and each other were inspiring. They readily accepted my meager offerings. They gave their all in every activity. And as we grew together, the Holy Spirit blessed each one. How could I ever have doubted?

I am richly blessed for having experienced a taste of the peaceable kingdom—full of youth!