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September 2023

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

Galatians 2

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

24 September 2023

In March of 1939 the German passenger ship the St. Louis left Europe with some nine hundred German and Austrian Jewish refugees on board, hoping to escape the Nazis.  They initially sailed to Cuba, where they were denied entry, told that their visas were invalid.  They sought refuge someplace else.  Any place else, in fact.  They sailed up and down the Atlantic, but no nation would receive them.  Finally, the ship had to turn back and head for Europe.

The captain of the ship ordered that the ship sail as slowly as she possibly could, holding out hope that someone would come to the rescue of these people.  Finally, the captain decided that if he must, he would wreck his ship rather than take these victims back to face concentration camps, torture, and inhumane death.

In the end, a few European countries took in these refugees.  For many unlucky enough to end up in the Netherlands, Belgium, or France, they were subsequently caught and murdered after the Nazis invaded those countries a few months later.

We must remember that not only did the Allies abandon the Jews on board the St. Louis, no Allied country bombed the railways to the camps or the camps themselves.  History has proven that this wasn’t out of ignorance or infeasibility.  As the Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim wrote “never in all human history was a people as radically abandoned.”

Fackenheim invites us to use our imaginations to conduct an experiment.  He wants us to imagine that the State of Israel had come into existence in March of 1939, while the St. Louis was traveling up and down the Atlantic Coast.  Receiving the news, the ship’s captain now shouts “full steam ahead.”  Fackenheim writes, “Their anguish turned into sudden gladness, his passengers break out into dance and song, and do not cease dancing and singing until they reach the beaches of Netanya and Naharia, where joyful, tearful Jews await them by the thousands.”

This, beautiful, historical “what-if” captures what Judaism means by “salvation.”  Salvation isn’t the rescue of individual souls.  Salvation is, according to Emil Fackenheim, “the sudden removal of a radical threat – a removal so astonishing that the more it is explained the deeper the astonishment becomes.”

And it is this idea of salvation that I believe captured the imagination of Paul, the apostle.  This “sudden removal of a radical threat” he had experienced in Jesus on the Damascus Road, and the experience forever changed him.  And it is why he is so angry in this letter to the Galatian Christians. 

Paul is angry because he realizes that people have misunderstood the gospel.   And in their misunderstanding they are about to undo the astonishing act of rescue that God has brought about.  These misunderstandings are threatening the very salvation of humanity that God has given to us.

So, what exactly is going on?  What has gotten Paul so upset that he perceives the possible ruin of the Christian movement?

Using our imaginations, I’m going to construct a story that will help us to perceive what’s going on with Paul and the Galatian Christian.

So, imagine with me if you will, two loyal and faithful members of the new church in Lystra, Urbanus and his wife Olympas. When Paul came through Lystra, he stayed in their home, and they became good friends.  During his time there, they had learned much from him about Jesus and the apostles and had celebrated the freedom they found in their new faith.

But recently an issue had arisen in the local church, well after Paul had moved on to other places of mission.  This new issue arose because of one of the legal realities of the Roman Empire—that all citizens are supposed to worship Caesar.  Only the Jews, of all the citizens of the Empire, were exempt from this requirement.

Now, some troublemaker had gone to the city magistrate and asked him about these new Christians.  These new Christians were not worshipping the emperor.  Some of them were Jews, but some of them weren’t.  Nor did it seem that these Gentile Christians had converted to Judaism— they seemed to be participating in some new religion.  They didn’t follow the Jewish teachings and rituals.  And most tellingly, these Gentile Christians had not been circumcised.  

Thus, a debate arose centering on the question—were these Christians a new branch of Judaism or not?

Let’s imagine Rufus, an elder of the church, known for his gentle spirit.  Let’s imagine that one day in the church council meeting he proposed a solution.  He said,

Now some of the people in this church are Jews. As such, they are circumcised and continue many Jewish practices, while they are also believers in Jesus Christ. 

Many others of us are Gentiles, for whom these Jewish traditions are alien.  We respect and admire the roots of our faith and respect and admire those who continue to practice the rituals of their traditions.  Paul taught us that we Gentiles did not have to first become Jews in order to become Christians.

If the government authorities determine that we are not exempt from worshipping Caesar, then this church and our very lives will be in danger.  We will have to choose between execution or doing something that runs contrary to our faith.  We would place each other, our families, even the future of this church at risk.

Therefore, I propose that those of us who are Gentiles undergo circumcision.  Doing so will be a sign of respect and solidarity with our Jewish members and the faith tradition of Jesus himself.  It will also spare us the danger posed by the civil authorities.  I propose this as a compromise solution to the situation we find ourselves in.

Imagine, that while on their way home from this meeting, Urbanus and Olympas discussed what Rufus said.  There appeared to be great wisdom in his proposal.  What he suggested seemed to be an acceptable compromise that would ensure everyone’s safety and keep everyone in the church happy.  After all, whether one was circumcised or not wasn’t really that big a deal.  In the spiritual sense, of course.  It wouldn’t affect one’s beliefs.  And seemed like a simple solution that would avoid the possibility of greater problems down the road.  A potential conflict had arisen and had been quickly and easily avoided with a reasonable compromise.

Now, imagine, that a couple of weeks later, Olympas wrote a letter to Paul, just like she did every month or so.  She would write to keep him up-to-date on the church and its ministries.  In this letter, she recounted that Phoebus had joined the church, that Junia’s daughter had been born, that Rachel was getting married, that the new program to help feed the people over on the bad side of town was really going well, and she recounted the church council meeting and Rufus’ speech.  

Olympas did not expect the letter she received in response.  And this letter was addressed not only to her and Urbanus, but to the entire congregation, and also to all the churches throughout Galatia.  “What is this all about?” she wondered.

After a brief and hurriedly scribbled greeting, the letter began:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. . . there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Needless to say, Olympas was herself astonished.  Paul was in a tirade, one rant after another: about his authority as an apostle, recounting his life story (which she had heard before), attacking other leaders of the church, calling people hypocrites, attacking her and others for abandoning the faith, going on and on about what it meant to be a Jew, and strange tangents about law and faith and all sorts of topics.  She was puzzled.  What in the world could this be in reference to?  What had she said in her last letter that so angered Paul, her dear friend and teacher?

Then, finally she got to it,

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

Oh!  That’s what he’s angry about.  Rufus’s solution to the problem of our exemption from worshipping Caesar.  Now, she was puzzled as to why Paul would make such a big issue of this? Why did he think that this idea had the potential of destroying the church?

            In the letter Paul says it is better to face the possibilities of persecution and hostility, because that is what Jesus himself did in going to the cross.  And, it is through Jesus’ suffering that we truly overcome the powers of this world, he writes.  True freedom comes from the cross, not from avoiding persecution through compromise.

So, Paul’s saying that circumcision itself is not the central issue.  Circumcision is, actually, irrelevant to God’s grace.  You are not excluded or included from God’s grace based on whether or not you’ve been circumcised.  What’s really at issue is that if they take this course of action, then they risk the new creation found in Jesus.  They will be throwing away the grace of God. 

So, what is this grace that Paul is writing about?  

Let’s go back to the story I opened with -- the Jewish refugees on the St. Louis waiting for an astonishing rescue. In other words, waiting for salvation.

Paul preached that without Jesus we are ourselves refugees.  We are exiles living under a curse.  We are exiled from our authentic selves.  We are exiled from genuine relationships and true human community.  We are estranged from God’s will for the creation.  We are abandoned, and stand in need of an astonishing rescue.

Paul believed that that astonishing rescue came in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The one he believed to be the long awaited Jewish Messiah.  Jesus signaled that God was breaking into the world in a new way, bringing about a new creation.  And in that new creation all would be free, and all would live according to righteousness and peace.  God’s new creation is people, people living together in genuine and loving human community.

So, what is at issue, according to Paul, is how you become one of those people, how you become part of God’s chosen people.  Some thought you were only part of God’s chosen people if you followed certain rules.  Some argued that only the circumcised were God’s chosen people.  Others thought it was based upon culture or ethnicity.

But Paul was a radical, with a universal, maybe even somewhat pluralistic view.  Paul said God’s chosen people are simply everyone who has faith.  You aren’t required to do anything, or follow any set of rules, or be a certain race, to be part of God’s people.  All you have to do is have faith.

So Jews can be Christians and remain Jewish, and Gentiles can be Christians and remain Gentiles.  In fact, it was vitally important for Paul that the church be big enough to include people from all these diverse cultural backgrounds.  Paul thought that this racially and culturally diverse community would itself be the great witness to God’s grace.  That this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church was the sign that God’s new creation had been born.  The testimony that God’s dramatic rescue of the world had occurred.

Thus, if the Gentiles were circumcised, they would rob the church of its cultural and ethnic diversity.  They would rob it of its freedom.  They would thwart the freely given grace of God.  And they would be giving evidence that God’s great rescue of humanity had in fact failed. 

So, the lessons for us today are obvious.  Those who think Christian faith is all about following set of rules, are denying the Spirit and gratifying their own flesh.  Those who shun racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the church have fallen away from grace.  Those who deny women leadership roles have disobeyed the truth.  Those who exclude and threaten God’s LGBT children are teaching a false gospel. 

Let us, therefore, follow Paul, in proclaiming the radical, amazing grace of God. 

Being Real

Being Real

Acts 22:3-16

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

3 September 2023

            “Being a person is hard work; it is anxiety inducing and stressful.”  So writes religion professor Chris Stedman in his book IRL: Finding Our Real Selves in a Digital World.

            The book grapples with how the digital world shapes our identities, particularly how we struggle with being real online and how our online selves match up with our analog selves.  One of his key points is that we are still in the early years of living with these technologies, still figuring them out, still experimenting and learning from our mistakes.  Which is one of the reasons that being online can be difficult.

            But the main reason, he says, that being online is difficult, is because more fundamentally, being a human is difficult.  Regardless of whether we are online or not.

            Stedman’s book is a rich discussion of a lot of topics that I know many of us deal with in our personal and professional lives.  And the discussion is relevant to all we’ve been learning in recent years about the impacts of these new technologies on mental health, loneliness, and our need for belonging.  Which is one reason that we’ll be using his book as a prompt for conversation in the first unit of our revitalized Wednesday night program, which begins on September 13.

            But what does digital identity have to do with the story of Paul on the Damascus road?  I hope you’re asking yourself that question.

Chris Stedman argues that our struggles with these new technologies and the difficulties surrounding our digital selves actually have the potential to teach us some lessons in how to be human.  And one way it does that is through uncertainty.  He writes, “Uncertainty may thus be the greatest gift of the digital age.”  The internet is messy and it reveals the messiness of our lives and the lives of other people.  Which causes us discomfort and anxiety along with excitement and exploration.

And Stedman thinks all of this is a good thing.  Because we are learning how little we are in control of things, how vulnerable we really are, and how interconnected we are and everything is.  Which is causing anxiety and growing pains, but also creating the potential for real human growth and development. 

He writes,

If we put ourselves in situations in which we can be surprised by ourselves, we will continue to grow and change—a core aspect of what it means to be human. . . .  What’s important is an openness to surprise and to things uncharted, or we become unable to navigate life without a map.

            So, Saul of Tarsus was a religious zealot.  An extremist, who used violence against his opponents to enforce what we believed was the right way to live and worship God.  He modeled himself on those figures in Hebrew history who were religious warriors, fighting on God’s behalf against idolatry, foreign influence, and impiety.  Because this, he believed, was the way to righteousness.  This was holy living.  This was how you were justified before God.

            The Book of Acts tells the story of Stephen, one of the first deacons of the church and the first Christian martyr.  Stephen was basically lynched, taken by a mob and stoned to death.  And Saul of Tarsus was there.  A witness to it all.

            And then the next time we hear about Saul, the Book of Acts says, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.”  Which makes it rather clear how fanatical this man was.  The very worst kind of fundamentalist.  Sowing terror in his wake.

            Saul gets authorization to travel to Damascus so that he can round up the Christians there and drag them, bound, to Jerusalem.

            But, God intervenes, and on the Damascus Road everything changed for Saul, who became Paul.

            Many of us learned this story as the “conversion of Paul,” but scholars have begun to resist that description.  The Swedish Lutheran Bishop Krister Stendahl began to change our understanding of this story, and of Paul, with his groundbreaking book Paul Among Jews and Gentiles. 

Stendahl argued that what Paul experienced was not a “conversion” but a new “call.”  A conversion generally means that one has changed one’s religion.  But Paul hasn’t done that.  For one thing, at this point there aren’t two religions Judaism and Christianity as we now understand them.  Those developments still lie in the future. 

Stendahl also points out that usually when there is a conversion, the person is having some inner spiritual experience that leads to the change.  But for Paul, that isn’t the case.  The Book Acts records no inner spiritual struggle Paul was experiencing.  And the various times Paul himself writes and talks about what happened, he never describes some inner spiritual struggle. 

So Paul wasn’t having any doubts about what he believed.  As Stendahl writes, “He experiences no troubles, no problems, no qualms of conscience, no feelings of shortcomings.”  He believed and practiced his faith with absolute conviction and certainty.

Until God intervened on the Damascus Road.

And the way Paul and the Book of Acts describe what happened is as a call by God for Paul to embrace a new mission.  Paul is struck blind—which probably also has metaphorical implications—and must begin to see again.  And see in new ways.  See differently. 

He doesn’t change his religion—Paul still is a faithful, law-abiding Jew, who believes in the same God, the same scriptures, the same religious tradition. 

But, boy, has what and how he believed changed. 

The French philosopher Alain Badiou writes that Paul’s Damascus Road experience is simply an event, that happened.  It can’t be fully explained or understood.  Nor are there any causes that lead up to it.  It is simply a new “founding event” that forever changed its subject, Paul.  And the event itself is the authority for all that changes and all that he does and teaches.  Paul, in his own telling in the Book of Galatians, went to no one to explain the event or give it a sign of authority.  He does not return to Jerusalem for three years, but instead goes into the deserts of Arabia.  About which we never learn any details. 

When he returns he claims to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, who met the resurrected Jesus face-to-face, and who has now been authorized by God to preach to the Gentiles, to the non-Jewish nations, the salvation of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. 

The guy who persecuted and murdered Christians is now claiming to be one of their leaders.

The guy who believed that he could be justified before God by exercising violent extremism, is now preaching nonviolence and peace.

A guy who believed in killing your enemies, now says you should love them.

A guy who hunted pagans, now wants to welcome them into the fold.

And the guy who sought religious authority for what he did, now says he needs no other authorization than that given him by God, and he is going to go out into the world and fulfill God’s mission.

And, truth is, the other disciples and followers of Jesus do NOT know what to make of this.  He was their enemy, and now he says he isn’t.  And he doesn’t seem to want to follow any rules or structure or guidance, but he’s just going to do his own thing and that thing, is going to burst open this movement in ways that none of them really anticipated.

The Anglican bishop N T Wright tells us, “I think Paul even glimpsed something of the dark humour of God through which a fanatical right-wing nationalistic Jew should be the one to take to the pagans the news that the Jewish Messiah welcomed them on equal terms.”

And what exactly is that new mission God has sent Paul to be as apostle for?  The creation of a new, global, multi-ethnic, inclusive, loving and peaceful Jesus movement.  Here’s N T Wright again, “Paul believed that it was his task to call into being, by proclaiming Jesus as Lord, the worldwide community in which ethnic divisions would be abolished and a new family created as a sign to the watching world that Jesus was its rightful Lord and that new creation had been launched and would one day come to full flower.”

The French philosopher Alain Badiou and other contemporary European thinkers find in Paul the most radical political thinker of freedom.  Beverly Roberts Gaventa writes that “Paul’s theological horizon is nothing less than the cosmos itself.”  And the late Ted Jennings, who came here once to preach and teach us about Paul, claims that in him we discover “one who is seeking to illuminate the most basic issues of our common life as human beings who dwell together on a planet in peril.”

And all of this because of the event that occurred on the Damascus Road that forever changed a religious zealot into an apostle of openness.

So part of what happened to Paul is he learned how to be more human.  To be real.  And that to do so he had to give up certainty and embrace vulnerability, to be open to wherever God would lead and to possibilities he had never before imagined.  And that in this adventure through God’s grace is how one is saved.

Back to Chris Stedman and our current struggles with being human and being real in a digital age.  He writes:

I’ve come to believe that making more space for people to be messy, complicated, contradictory, imperfect—to feel real—is not just fundamentally important to ensuring that we live in a world of healthy individuals.  It’s important to society as a whole.  Allowing people to be more fully human changes the way we talk about difference and increases our ability to understand one another.  It helps us recognize that we all enter into these debates with biases and baggage, and that we’re going to screw up but also, hopefully, grow when we do.

            And that, I believe, is an essentially Pauline project.

            This autumn we will go on a journey through the life and work of Paul, as he bears witness to the world of how we can become real.

Late Forties: New Life

This is the fourth, and last, post in a series reflecting on my forties, as I near their end.

2021/47--A Transition Year


Vaccination!  Much thanks to Darryl Brown for informing me that clergy were being inoculated along with social workers, therapist, chaplains, and others at the tail end of medical worker inoculations in January 2021.  What a blessed day that was, full of possibility and newness.  I went walking on the Field Club Trail afterwards and was almost dancing.  And by my birthday, at the end of February, I was fully inoculated.

By the end of February, Michael had moved out, and so began a period of creating something new.  First up was cleaning and reorganizing and redecorating the house, buying to replace the items that he had moved, filling the house with plants, finding new art for the walls, etc.  And while I was processing many emotions, there was also a sense of possibility and the fun of all these new things.  In the spring I had a few friends over for a house blessing.

47 birthday

Earlier I had invited a few of my straight, single, female friends over to explain online dating to me.  It seemed that pretty much everything about dating had changed in the fifteen years since I'd last done it.  Plus, it was still Covidy, so not a lot of social life going on.  I did not want a serious relationship that year.  Instead there were a few short term, casual relationships.  Including one that was particularly nurturing and healing for me.  

At the same time I was rebuilding my social life and friendships.  And on my days and weekends without Sebastian, creating new routines.

Most of the major milestones of that year were related to my grieving and healing process--books read, podcasts listened to, tears cried, conversations with friends, therapy sessions, meetings with my spiritual director, praying, meditating, and thinking while out for a walk, etc.  It was not a linear process.  I made mistakes, had second thoughts, and experienced moments of deep heartbreak and pain, but there is nothing about that journey that I now regret.  All of it, every step in the journey, was important and had to be gone through.

With Jason

Looking back through my 2021 photos, they are full of fun memories.  Sebastian, Mom, and I were often going and doing fun things.  We took trips together as well--back to Oklahoma for spring break and to Kansas City the weekend he got out of Kindergarten.

On my days without Sebastian I took little excursions too--to Lake Okoboji, to our church campground in Burwell, and my first flight since April 2018 to the OU-Texas game that fall.  

Big Tex

Another highlight was that my hometown of Miami, Oklahoma hosted their first Pride, and I had to attend.  I enjoyed spending the day catching up with old friends.

Miami pride

The theme of the year was reconnecting with family and friends, and so the camera roll is filled with visits to and with all sorts of folks.  For me it was important to go back to my sources, of who I had been before my marriage, to help me find myself again.  And it seems that those plans worked.  That summer we spent time in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Mom's time living in Omaha ended that September, but her trips here, or ours there, have been quite regular ever since, as she has helped me be a single Dad.

Mom & Sebastian

At Christmas time, Sebastian and I performed our first duet on the piano.

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2022/48--A Good Year

In February, right before my birthday, I asked Michael for one last sit-down conversation to discuss whether divorce was really what we wanted to do, and it was clear it was.  From that moment I've had emotional clarity that I lacked before and was really able to fully turn toward the future.  We still had lots of legal and financial steps to complete.  There continued to be arguments, and warmer moments.  Custody issues would not be resolved fully for some time.  But these divorce-related moments became less the central narrative.  Now when someone asks me about my divorce I describe it in four statements: I didn't want it.  It was hell to go through.  I'm so glad it happened.  I'm a better version of myself.  Of course it took a lot of work to get to that point.

The central narrative was much more about Sebastian and the joyful, rich relationship we have with one another.  Everything else in life has, of course, been secondary to parenting him.  

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By the spring of 22 I was ready to try an actual relationship, but so far, no serious one has developed.  I have fallen for a couple of guys, but neither developed.  I spent many months dating a really sweet guy, even introducing him to Sebastian, but it just didn't develop for whatever reason.  Mostly dating these days is just difficult.  The Neil Patrick Harris mini-series Uncoupled did a fantastic job portraying what it is like to be gay, in your late forties, dating again after a long relationship.  

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2022 was a year of travel.  A spring break trip to Austin.  A work trip to New England.  And then all of my sabbatical trips last year--to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the grand adventure to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, home for my 30th high school reunion, and to the Boundary Waters with Robyn.  The three days Sebastian and I were at the Old Faithful Inn were among the very best time we've ever spent together, in our down time just playing board and card games together.

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2022 was also full of great shows and concerts, including the wonderfully fun Outlandia Music Festival, where I saw Wilco again and The National.

And I moved forward on a number of home improvement projects, completing some that had been in process for many years and doing some new ones of my own.  

2023/49--A Good Life


In January I traveled to St. Pete Beach for a clergy retreat where I connected with old friends, made new ones, experienced a time of refreshment, and came home with lots of good ideas for church.

First Central has come out of Covid even stronger and with more vitality than we had before.  Our attendance and participation have been excellent, and our programs for children and young families have experienced rapid growth.  It's an exciting time.


This spring was also hectic with work.  In the office we were experiencing staff transitions.  In 2021 my long-time Office Admin Sara Sharpe retired, and we had some bumps finding the right person then.  Which we did.  Only for her to depart this winter, and we had an even bumpier time finding the right person this time, which we've also done.  At the same time my Associate Pastor Katie Miller announced she was moving to Vermillion, South Dakota to become the pastor for First Congregational Church there.

Outside the office, I was running to Lincoln over and over again this legislative session to oppose vile and disgusting legislation that threatened bodily autonomy and the dignity of the human person.  With many shenanigans, those measures passed, which has been the dark shadow hanging over this year and giving a sense of foreboding for the future.  Apparently Nebraskans elected a Christian nationalist governor, and we have a difficult fight for democracy, liberty, and human rights ahead of us.  

Clergy at capitol
Clergy at capitol

I was rather exhausted by the time summer rolled around. 

With three parents of young kids now working in the office, we often had kids all over the place at work during the summer break.

Sebastian and I didn't travel as much this year, and so more of our attention was focused on activities here--attending shows, his participation in camps and classes, and lots of playdates with friends.  My life is now structured around the rhythms of being a full-time single dad.  While I miss some aspects of the weekends I had to myself for a couple of years, we're having a great time together.


Over Memorial weekend, we visited his birth mother and sisters, for a fun time together.

And for our summer vacation, he wanted to return to the Upper Peninsula to see his friend Thomas.  We added a few other stops along the way there and back.  This year he has embraced kayaking, which has given us even more fun to have together.


49 isn't finished--there are six months left.  But as I wrote the other day on Facebook on the occasion of my half-birthday, "Today I am six months from turning fifty, and the most surprising realization, as I head into the final six months of my forties, is how young and sexy this age actually feels."


Mid-Forties: The Momentous Years

This is the third post in a series reflecting on my forties.  The first is here and the second here.  This writing is prompted by my half-birthday last week and entering the final six months of my forties.  That day I posted on Facebook "Today I am six months from turning fifty, and the most surprising realization, as I head into the final six months of my forties, is how young and sexy this age actually feels. Never would have convinced me of that in my thirties, but a joy to discover."  So these posts should be taken with this context in mind.  And definitely read the last and final post, just so you don't make the mistake of thinking I don't have emotional distance now from the events described in this one.

2019/45--Setting the Stage

Birthday party

A highlight of that year was Sebastian's fourth birthday party.  He was in preschool, clearly not a toddler anymore, with a huge group of friends, and what a great time we all had.

The most notable event of the late winter was the massive blizzard and flooding that impacted the entire region.  As a member of the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, our organization was on the front lines in response.  And I took some leadership in the response of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ.

In June I began my term as Chairperson/President of the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Conference of the UCC.  I had been looking forward to this opportunity with the hope of moving forward with a number of initiatives, particularly to rally folks to more engagement.  The storm and response had also created an opportunity to build upon.  I'm quite proud of the work we did during my term--on climate change, anti-racism, and officially becoming open and affirming.  However, my time as chair was not what I expected it to be, and was instead filled with much stress, as we handled the pandemic and a very difficult situation with staff.

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In July our whole family attended the UCC General Synod in Milwaukee (even Mom and Nash!), followed by a camping trip in northeast Iowa (without Mom) in a beautiful location. 

Pikes peak

Late summer we experienced one of the best periods in our family life, and what to me felt like one of the best periods in our entire relationship.  Michael and I took a weekend away to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary (that had fallen earlier in the summer), and, a few weeks later, we had a great date night seeing Hamilton.  In those weeks we had some fun family excursions to the Iowa State Fair and to Pioneer Village. Plus, we really enjoyed the All Church Retreat together.

Bumper cars

And, then, late September, it all fell apart.  Michael left.  And we were separated.  This wasn't public, and we didn't even tell our families.  

An aside on pastoral ministry.  My husband walked out on a Saturday and the next morning I went ahead and led worship and preached.  I  warned my associate Katie that I might not be able to do it, so she was ready to take over.  I did do it, and felt so strong for having done so.  Only to have a church member come to me at the door and criticize the sermon for being too short. 

That fall I was preaching a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer, in the very traditional way of taking one phrase at a time and exploring it.  Which became for me a pretty powerful spiritual experience--to spend every week researching this prayer and preparing a sermon as I was wrestling with such profound personal emotional issues.  At the time I thought, "this would make an interesting book," though I had no extra energy to create it as I was going through the experience.

We decided to work on the marriage and entered counseling again (the fourth time actually).  Thanksgiving played a healing role in all of that, as we showed up in Oklahoma with our families and pretended everything was normal. But going through those motions and being in the place we had fallen in love, helped.

The actual separation ended, and by New Year's it left like we were on the road to recovery.


Pandemic, of course. Which swallowed everything about that year. For everyone. 

I was doing the full-time childcare, while almost everything about how I do my work changed, and I needed to provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care for hundreds of other people. There were days I thought I was going insane (not a unique experience, of course). 

2020 garden

One of the best parts of being home was all the gardening and landscaping we did that spring.  And I've never enjoyed my front porch so much.

The highlight of 2020 was my team at work.  We were each other's "bubble," even before anyone was using that term.  Everyone rose to the occasion doing more and different and backing each other up.  Even Sebastian's fifth birthday "party" was put on by my staff.  We all became even closer than we were before.

Covid worship

Then, Omaha erupted in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and James Skurlock. And during one of the protests I was tear gassed and shot in the back of the neck by a pepper ball. I still feel that today in both my body and my soul. 

Protests 2

Eventually, we began to regather for church. It was small, with lots of safety protocols, but oh so good.

Fortunately Mom moved to Omaha in September to help with remote schooling and allow me more time for work. I started writing again--a book on moral vision. Weekends Mom, Sebastian, and I would go do fun outdoor activities.

Mummum school

Apple picking

Michael sometimes worked eighty hour weeks that election season. Finally in mid-November we had time to talk and acknowledged that we needed to restart the process of repairing the relationship. 

The day after Thanksgiving, Mom took Sebastian and Nash to give us some time together, and that's when he said he wanted a divorce.