Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good Sharer

After I got married and before we had children, I used to joke that I hoped to have boys. My reason for this is that I wanted boys like their father. I used to say "I want to contribute to the supply of emotionally well adjusted men- there's a shortage."

Of course, once I became pregnant, I didn't care either way. Our first child is a girl (Shannon) and our second a boy (Jacob). They are both sweet, precious children, as I regularly tell them. They each have their own gifts and personality. And my son is so very much like his father. In his five years on this earth, I have never seen him refuse to share, especially with his sister. He is also thoughtful. If Jacob goes to the bank or anywhere there is free candy and Shannon is not there, he always asks if he can have one for his sister too. Then he takes it home to her. No matter who he is playing with or what he is eating, of someone asks for it, he shares it. Conversely, little else upsets him as much as when he feels denied a turn or if someone refuses to share with him.

Several weeks ago, he came home from school hungry. This is a regular occurrence because, he says, he is too busy talking to his friends to eat. He packs up what remains, brings it home, and finishes it here. So when he asked for a granola bar, I said "didn't you eat one in your lunch?" I could have sworn I packed him one. He replied "no." Then he modified his answer and said "well, actually, there was some confusion at lunch. Lee and I weren't sure if the bar came out of my lunch bag or hers, so Lee ate it."

I smiled. Of course Lee ate it. Because if Lee wanted it, then he would give it to her. That's his first instinct.

I feel like Jacob's generous heart is a gift from God. He regularly reminds me that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive. Sometimes I am simply awed by how God's grace is shown to me in the faces of my children.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I have finally crossed over- I am going vegetarian. My thinking is that if I am public about it, it will create a form of accountability, which is a good thing.

I have been considering the switch for years. I liked the term flexitarian to refer to my eating habits. I have several cookbooks and a magazine subscription that have taught me a lot about being vegetarian, even as I continued not to be one. I am not going vegan (which is avoiding all animal products), so I'll still eat eggs, dairy, etc.

There are several things I find persuasive about being vegetarian....the health benefits, the environmental benefits and the moral implications. It was the moral implications that finally sent me to this point.

Several years ago, I heard a professor of Christian ethics talk about being vegetarian flowing with her desire to have a consistent ethic of life. So if I value life, this extends to animals as well. That apparently settled into the back of my mind and stayed firmly lodged there, because when I heard a radio program talking about meat eating, it brought this lecture to mind. The radio interviewee made the point that culturally, we vary about what we call food and what we call a pet. Pigs are just as smart as dogs.

I am not a pet person. And I love pork products especially. I could have always lived without beef and poultry. It was ham and bacon that were my sticking points. So when I began to think about eating something as sentient and intelligent as a dog, that started really working on me.

Combined with the fact that I have been focusing on paying close attention to my sin as I have been working through the Ignatian spiritual exercises with my spiritual director, this was the last straw. Every time I think of biting into meat, I think of flesh tearing, and life being destroyed.

I am still not decided about sea food though. There is not the same level of sentience involved, and that is what I am finding most persuasive.

I actually thought that I would always toy with the idea, but never actually be able to do it. It feels like an act of grace to be in this place....that the Spirit is empowering me to make this choice.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I received this email from a member of our church family who had not been in worship the previous Sunday. Amy MacDonald is a school teacher in a local middle school. Reading it blessed me and so I share it now with you:

Dear Pastor Amy:

I want to share this story because it was a blessing to me, and I think you will agree:

I was driving down Bridge Street in Elkton this morning on my way to the Town Point service when I saw a man with a broken foot on crutches making his way down the sidewalk in front of Jake's Burgers.

As I drove past, I felt that gentle nudge that I should go back and offer him a ride. So (for once!) I immediately obeyed and turned around. He said yes, he would like a ride; he was going to crutch out to Route 40 and hitchhike to Rising Sun. I asked him where he wanted to go, and he told me Route 276 across from the Nazarene Church to his mother's house.

As we were driving, he asked me where I had been going. I told him that I was headed to church, but felt that God wanted me to help him instead. He then offered that for the first time in a very long time, he had attended a praise performance nearby in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago. When I asked him how he broke his foot, he said he had fallen off a ladder at work and had no insurance. He said he didn't have a car but he did have a scooter. However, he was riding his scooter without a license and got a ticket. We then talked about our children and realized that his youngest son goes to my school!

We drove in silence for a bit, then he said he had said a prayer that someone would give him a ride but he didn't really think it would happen. I told him that now that it had, I hope it would add to his faith that his prayers will be answered if he really believes that God loves him.
When we got to his mother's house, he thanked me profusely. I felt that gentle nudge again, so I gave him my weekly tithe to help while he is not working.

It is true ... it is SO way cooler (as my students say) to give than to receive :)

The other Amy

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Accidental Gardening

It has been an interesting season of gardening. As is typical for any garden we cultivate, it is currently composed of about 3/4 weeds with a few plants bearing produce mixed in. This is the natural result of avoiding the task of weeding.

This past autumn, we had also saved all of the leaves from our yard to use in our compost pile. It is working out well. We are just about through the leaves of last autumn in time for this autumn.

Because of the giant leaf pile that has lived in our yard this year, the area around the compost pile became even more overgrown that usual. Several weeks ago, I went out to dump kitchen scraps into the compost pile- a job my husband is far more faithful about doing often, God bless him. Imagine my surprise and delight to find acorn squash, butternut squash, and white gourds growing out of the pile!

I guess there is something to be said for letting nature take its course. Our compost pile may not be the most efficient, but it certainly does the job of recycling. And now it would seem that it also does a good job of planting an additional garden for us!

It feels like being surprised by grace, a physical manifestation of the truth that I see repeated over and over and over again in life: God is able to bring good out of piles of refuse.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Maine Event- Volunteer in Mission Trip July 4-11

We are home from our mission trip to Kingfield Maine. Nineteen of us went to the United Methodist Economic Ministry and worked on three projects. But of course that is not the real story. The real story is that God was wonderfully present, knitting us together with the folks we served, and bringing us closer to Christ and to each other.

If you want to read our blog, we wrote on the Peninsula-Delaware VIM Blog. The links are below.

Seeing God in Maine by Miles Dissinger

Maine Event: Our Last Day by George Blakeney

Maine Event: Hola from Kingfield Maine by Sue Thompson

Maine Event: Work Day Two and Three , Maine Event: Work Day One , The First Entry by me, Amy Yarnall

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

All Means All: Reflections on Orthodoxy

The United Methodist Church is currently engaged in a debate about amending our constitution. Without getting too far into the tall grass, the General Conference that meets every four years voted to recommend several changes in 2008, and they must be ratified by a popular vote taken at our Annual Conference Sessions of 2009. One amendment in particular is referred to as "All Means All." The Peninsula-Delaware Conference is my home conference, and the vote was 189 in favor and 199 opposed. The final vote will not be known for many more months as sessions are held around the world.

The amendment in a nutshell is to remove all of the categories previously listed as folks we would not discriminate against for membership. The list as it now stands includes race, color, notional origin, status, and economic condition. The amendment would instead say simply that we don't discriminate. (See below for full proposed text).

This seems simple enough. In fact, I think it really is simple enough. Here is why: basic, orthodox Christianity states that we are all sinners, saved by grace. We preach, teach, and believe that "all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." When someone comes to faith in Christ, orthodox Christianity teaches that baptism is the appropriate way to enter into covenantal relationship with our Lord and Savior. Since profession of faith and baptism mark the start of a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ, the United Methodist Church does not practice baptism apart from church membership. To claim faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is by definition to enter into a life of discipleship. Simply put, Orthodox Christianity does not discriminate about whether or not someone who professes faith in Christ can be baptized and become a member of the Church. If a person has faith, there is really nothing more to say other than "welcome to the family."

The United Methodist Church has been doing battle over homosexuality and the church's response to it for more than 30 years. This amendment is the most recent battle zone. And I find it the most frightening. I say this because we are now down to debating whether we will refuse membership to a gay person who professes faith in Christ. I do not believe that homosexuality in and of itself is a sin. I know many committed and faithful gay Christians. Sexuality in general can be the grounds for sinful behavior. But how God created a person- gay or straight- is how God created them.

Even for folks who believe differently- that homosexuality in every form is sinful and a choice- this still should be debated within the bounds of orthodoxy. The church long ago wrestled with questions of how to address "sinful" behavior among church membership over something far more controversial than homosexuality. It wrestled with this issue over martyrdom. It was called the Donatist Controversy.

Here is the basic story: when people were choosing between professing their faith in Christ and dying for the faith, or denying their faith and living, there were folks who did both. When persecution would end, folks who had denied the faith to save themselves would show up in church again. Imagine being a person who had lost a loved one, sitting in church next to someone who had denied the faith instead. A split developed, and an alternate church, the Donatist Church, was born. For a time, on the continent of Africa, it was larger than the Orthodox Christian Church. The Donatist Church was based upon a sinless clergy, and members who did not sin. Guess what? That proved to be impossible. No surprise there.

St. Augustine was the early Church Father who gave voice to the teaching that ultimately emerged: we are all sinners saved by grace. We are all in need of forgiveness. There is not a person alive who does not need the forgiving, healing love of Christ. And there is no way a Church can stand based upon purity. Unity and forgiveness are the basics of Orthodox Christianity. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:13)

As St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Who are we to judge that someone who is professing faith in Christ is not worthy to be baptized into membership? Who are we to say that one sin is greater than another, and the basis for excluding and judging?

To be fair, I think I know where the confusion lies. For those who believe homosexuality is a sin, the confusion lies in the definition of justifying grace and sanctifying grace. Justifying grace is the grace that brings us into relationship with Jesus Christ. Justifying grace is saving grace. If someone professes faith in Christ, orthodox Christianity is clear about the Church's response. (Even if the UMC is currently confused.) The response is that we baptize them and welcome them into a life of discipleship (church membership).

It is sanctifying grace that we live in after we have become disciples. This is the grace that makes us more holy, more like Christ. This is the grace that continues the work of transformation that is begun in prevenient and justifying grace. I understand that folks who believe that homosexuality is a sin are concerned about a person continuing to live in sin, without repentance or effort to leave their sinful ways behind. But it doesn't change our basic doctrines. If someone professes faith in Christ, then they are saved. The Church's response is baptism and therefore discipleship=membership. What happens after this is the substance of church ministry.

I firmly believe that once we profess faith in Christ, are baptized, and commit to a life of discipleship, sanctification is a serious matter. In fact, it is the only matter. It is the grace by which we live our very lives for the rest of our lives. However, even if a person believes that homosexuality is a sin, it is still orthodox Christianity to baptize them in the Spirit of love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Every person in the church is leading a life of sin as well a life seeking after holiness. We don't debate whether to deny an active alcoholic baptism and membership. We choose instead to believe that they, and we, are all better off seeking after grace. We are all sinful broken people.

Of course, there is a lot of fear driving this debate. Fear of people who are different. Fear of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Fear that the authority of Scripture will be undermined if we accept gay Christians. The truth is that the authority of Scripture requires a more thoughtful and studied approach than the homosexuality debate typically comprises. We already have a more studied response to slavery (very well supported biblically), women in the church, and divorce. We cannot simply say "homosexuality is a sin because of this verse of Scritpure." That is superficial.

Here is the bottom line for me: this is not a debatable point. People on all sides of the "homosexuality debate" claim Orthodox Christianity as their own. There is no way to make the case that ANYONE who professes faith in Christ can be refused the grace of God and God's church. It is simply un-orthodox. I know folks who believe homosexuality is a sin who say they wish that gay folks would come to their church so they could teach them about repentance and the power of Christ. I find that they understand orthodox faith, even if I do disagree with their position in homosexuality.

So I find it enormously disheartening that the vote count is currently razor thin, with a slight advantage to passing this amendment. If this fails, it will be a testament to a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian faith. And that is more disturbing than I can find words to express.


If approved the constitution would read:
Inclusiveness of the Church- The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and that we are in ministry to all. All persons should be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon baptism be admitted as baptized members. All persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ, shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Seeing God in my Kids

Jacob showed me God a few weeks ago...

We were reading a book together about Easter. He sighed and said "Mommy, I can't wait to die." I turned to him and smiled and asked him "you mean you can't wait to meet Jesus in heaven?" He said "yeah." I went to explain that it would probably be a long time before he goes to heaven, and that by then several of his family members would already be there to meet him.

I was struck by his complete lack of fear. What a gift; no wonder Jesus talked about having faith like that of a child.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Word From Winkler

Jim Winkler is the Chair of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. This is our denominational witness on Capital Hill, advocating on behalf of the church and resourcing local churches for social justice witness.

I receive the email "Faith in Action" each week. Every time I open it, I am blessed by the writing of this man.

I have attached a link for this week's reflection "What might have been"
I commend it to you as worth your time. His overall focus is poverty. The issues range from unions to civil rights to the economic crisis being the result of Washington believing that "what is good for Wall Street is good for America" to the idea that there are three big challenges of our nation relating to three myths.

I found this to be the most thought provoking part of his writing:

The economic crisis is a good opportunity to change things. For me, Christianity is a way of life summed up by the passage in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Why is it that the God of Love so often, it seems, has to fight an uphill battle against the God of Law? The God of Love is not only nurturing and sustaining, but requires us to face up to three great myths that have damaged and distorted our lives: white supremacy, male superiority and American exceptionalism. The damaging effects of these myths have made it difficult for love to express its full power.

I bet that "American Exceptionalism" is a term that has been coined for a while, but this is the first I have encountered it. It gives a name to something that has been driving me nuts for years. Who says we are the best nation on earth? Why are we any better than the rest of God's creation? I find this arrogance is maddening.

Happy reading!

Poetic Blessing

On Sunday afternoons, I sleep for a very long time. By the time I have led three worship services, I am tired. My family is very gracious about letting me sleep for 2-3 hours.

Several weeks ago, I awoke from my nap and my daughter Shannon had written a poem for me. It made my heart happy. Here it is...

Roses are Red Violets are majenta
Easter eggs are yellow and
blue and pink. And your my Easter
egg rapped in gold. I love you mom.
Don't you know why your so
spaicale. Because your just what
I need for Easter nothing
more your as spaical I could
Amagen. You are the best one
I could ever meet. Your so
spacial to me mom. Do I love you?
yes I do. Why would not I love you
Your the best I could ever meet mom.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I am sitting in my kitchen going over my preparations for worship tomorrow. It is Palm/Passion Sunday. The lectionary calls for reading two entire chapters of the gospel of Mark (14-15). This typically takes about 15 minutes. So I am trying something new, perhaps biting off more than I can chew: I am going to retell the story and weave reflections into the story as proclamation for the day.

Reading and reflecting upon Jesus' suffering and death feels somehow dissonant today because it was such a wonderful day. We had a fabulous pancake breakfast at Town Point to raise funds for our mission trip this summer, followed by our Walk-a-Thon from Town Point to Jacob's Well to Trinity. It was a great day to walk 7 miles; and an even better day to walk 3.5 since Ray and I split the caring for the kids and walking responsibilities. (A true team effort.) The sun was shining, and we concluded with a picnic on the front lawn of Trinity. Between breakfast sales and sponsorships, we raised a few dollars shy of $1000.

We are going to Salem Twp. Maine to do home repair ministry in a rural community with a weak economy. Today I saw signs for the "Maine Event" which is just fun, I think.

My hope is that this trip will take us deeper into the heart of Christ, and draw us more deeply out of ourselves and into the relationships and service that Christ reveals. For it is in giving life away that we receive life. As John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said: "grace received and not passed on loses it efficacy."

As I sit here feeling so content as I read the passion narrative, I would like to hope it flows from the abiding peace that comes from focusing beyond self...because after spending a day enjoying the simple beauty of a spring day filled with beautiful people I love, its hard to know where it is flowing from... and I am not sure it really matters.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Random Reflections on the week...

Well, I finally slogged through my back email. I have been struggling to get below the 150 mark for weeks. I finally got down to the bottom of the pile so to speak. I figured I would go for a final catch up move and write a blog entry! Joy!

I was honestly surprised to see that some of my back email went to DECEMBER. Yikes. Naturally, it was e-news stuff that is out of date now. Even more frightening: there are now 13 email floating somewhere in the distant past (before August 08) that are unread and I cannot find. Good grief. I love the gmail function of storing my email so that I can search for things later, but this is definitely the down side.

On a different note....
The leadership retreat on Saturday was truly a blessing. Twenty of us gathered with Anita Wood and used "Spiritual Exercises for Church Leaders" as a guide for the day. It is always a blessing to come together to draw closer to God and to each other at least annually with our fabulous leadership. I am so grateful to God for this community of faith.

More gratitude...
I am also grateful for the flexible scheduling that is my life. I overslept this morning (rather significantly! guess I am not 100% recovered from sinus infection yet) and I can work until 11p.m. to make it up.

It has been a week full of warmer weather, sunshine, and lots of grace. And I am grateful.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Spirit Working on Sermon Series

I had been mulling over a sermon series on the shared purpose of Christians. We all have the same purpose... how we live it out varies according to our gifts.

Our shared purpose includes: loving God passionately and our neighbor as ourselves in response to God's love for us (Matt 22). Being equipped for ministry in the world by our spiritual gifts (Eph 4) Being in ministry with the overlooked (Matthew 25). Caring for Creation (Gen. 1). All of this leads to making disciples through relationship (Matt 28).

During my mulling, Pam Downey, our youth director, came and shared a fabulous idea for an image. She wrote this:

I believe the Holy Spirit is a piece of us - kind of like a jigsaw puzzle - and if we could all just put it together we would see the picture laid out before us and maybe, just a little bit, blaspheming the Holy Spirit means removing yourself from the puzzle and therefore leaving it incomplete which means there are two parts that can't touch, and you've broken the chain.

But I've put that together with a Scrabble analogy as well - specifically if you take away one of the components of the game - specifically the letter E (letter E = 12 of the 100 game tiles - over 10%)
A) the game's not impossible - but you've made it far harder than it has to be
B) how many words are you now unable to make (ex. peace, hope, love, friend, health... culminating of course with Jesus)

The idea that the Kingdom comes clearer when the puzzle pieces God has given us in each of our lives are used for their intended purposes is a really cool image.

Then today I came across this quote about Martin Luther King Jr.
"For me, one of King's most salient teachings was his conviction that each of us holds some of the truth. He believed that our processes of listening and speaking to one another became the hallowed communication by which our lives are transformed, and be which we understand the power of love Jesus spoke of."
Dee Dee Risher, Reclaiming the Dreamer, The Other Side Magazine Jan/Feb 2003

It seems the Spirit is working to bring this altogether. So we are going to use a video project focusing upon each of the five themes to create a short video for each week in worship. Patrick Donnelly and Gina Troy will be using their gifts to make this happen.

I'm excited for worship! The series begins next week, January 11.