The Season of Harvest


The following post was written by Rev. Ed Moore.

My nephew Ned became an Eagle Scout toward the end of summer, and most of the family gathered in a United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania to witness the award, support Ned and, of course, celebrate. Though Ned didn’t expect a gift, I presented him with a family artifact I’d curated for many years: the Lou Stanley Memorial Compass.

Lou Stanley was a classic West Virginian who lived near our home when I was growing up and occasionally worked for my father. Right out of central casting, Lou rolled his own smokes, wore a Freddy Krueger hat years before anyone heard of Freddy, drove a ’37 Chevy pickup (“Put a ’39 rear end in it,” he once allowed), confessed to having run moonshine “back in the 30”s,” dealt in guns to earn some extra income, was hygienically indifferent, and spoke what even then was a vanishing Appalachian dialect. But Lou was a kindly soul, and one day presented me with a U.S. Army Corps of compassEngineers compass dating from World War I. Solid brass it was, with a thick lens, engravings attesting to its provenance, and a beautifully etched dial that spun freely – when unlocked – and unfailingly pointed true north. I kept that compass safe and secure for years, long after Lou had driven the ’37 up to the pearly gates and flicked some home rolled ashes at St. Peter’s kiosk (Peter probably let him pass after exacting a promise he’d dunk himself seven times in the river of the water of life).

Who better, I reasoned, to curate the Stanley Compass for the next few decades than Ned, an Eagle Scout, and rising millennial Moore? So now the artifact belongs to him, and it has fallen to my brother Will, his dad, to convey the oral tradition of Lou Stanley in all its colorful, multisensory, detail. This will require many evenings by the fireside and, for Ned, an expanded appreciation for the Appalachian Mythical Tradition. I’ve no doubt Ned and Will are both up to the challenge.

I confess to some mixed feelings as I parted with the compass: I had come to think of it as my own, a piece of property belonging to me. But then I remembered that my life this side of the vale is impermanent and that, like Aaron’s staff (see Numbers 17), the Stanley Compass had the power to reinforce critical, tribal memories. Ned will understand his dad, three uncles, and his own West Virginia lineage better after Will answers the question, “Father, why is this compass different from all other compasses?” Each time Ned watches its dial spin to true north, he’ll recall whence he came.

Serving in what United Methodists call Extension Ministry (more tribal stuff, different tribe) for the past six years has honed my understanding of this important aspect of The Calling: the privilege of sharing what’s been learned in the journey. My spiritual attic is filled with things analogous to the Stanley Memorial Compass, many of them stored away as sacred reminders of lessons hard – or joyfully – learned in the thirty-five years since I was ordained Elder. It has been a privilege to sort through these as I’ve worked with the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke, dusting off the more significant among them and bequeathing them to pastors with whom I’ve served these last six years.

If we think of life’s journey as a succession of seasons, then retirement might be the season of harvest, when we take stock of what we’ve stored up across the years, sort out the more grace-ful artifacts, then give them away. We won’t have lost them – I can still recite the Lou Stanley narrative easily – but will have, in the act of giving, enriched the recipients’ lives by trusting them to curate the gifts. Isn’t this what we experienced years ago in baptism? In ordination or licensing by the church? Every time we stood behind a pulpit or the Lord’s Table? As we were trusted, so now we trust others . . . just as Mary Magdalene, entrusted with seeing the risen Lord, gave away that Good News as soon as she could. That’s church, thanks be to God.


Rev. Moore is the Director of Educational Programs for the Clergy Health Initiative and an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Receiving the Gift


snowy sunriseOn December 1, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his young fiancée:

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious … The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”  – as recorded in Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

It is striking how Bonhoeffer reminds us what Advent is for. He allows the Holy Spirit to prepare his heart for the birth of Christ. His posture is one of receiving and welcoming. How blessed it is to receive, maybe even more so, than to give. “I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas,” Bonhoeffer writes. In spite of his own unjust imprisonment, the losses of good friends to war, separation from those he loved, and dealing with evil all around him, Bonhoeffer believed it would not just be an endurable Christmas, but an exceptional one.

In a 1978 Christmas Eve homily, Arch Bishop Oscar Romero preached a similar message:

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor.  The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas.  Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”

May you have an exceptional Christmas!

-Kelli Sittser

Photo by Flickr user Rachel Kramer, via CC

Childhood’s Faith


The following post was written by Rev. Ed Moore.

Last summer Mary and I moved from Burlington, NC, where we’d lived for six years, to Harrisonburg, VA, so she could begin her new position as Dean of the School of Business Shenandoah Valleyat James Madison University. This was something of a homecoming for me, since I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley.

In one of those ironies life occasionally tosses at us, I learned that our new home would be only a mile or so from Massanetta Springs, a retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church USA, where I’d attended summer camp for a number of years in my childhood (we EUB’s – Evangelical United Brethren – leased the space for a couple of weeks each summer and remained immune to predestination). Now I drive through Massanetta several times a week, after an absence of many years.

I’ve had some of the experiences one commonly does when revisiting a place from childhood. The old hotel at Massanetta looks smaller than I remember it; trees newly-planted when I attended church camp are now mature; the hillside where most of the cabins are located appears steeper; the swimming pool less challenging. Memories formed in childhood and early adolescence had clearly been filtered by the mind, a common occurrence.

Not long ago I pulled into a parking lot at Massanetta and watched a group of kids playing basketball (boys and girls together; the EUB saints of old would have been mortified). As I watched, an unexpected feeling surfaced, a yearning at once deep and troubling. I found myself wishing for the faith I’d had when I was a kid at church camp, the enchanted faith that easily believes timeless truths abound in the Bible; that the parting of the Red Sea really happened; that there is an upward trajectory to the human story that will one day culminate in John’s vision of the New Jerusalem; that the tribal doctrines of my denomination (EUB’s again) came straight from the mouth of God; and that the basic goodness of people and noble institutions could simply be assumed. I longed for the faith which began to erode with my friends’ coming home in coffins from Viet Nam, with classes in intellectual history and biblical criticism in college and seminary and (true confessions) with my early experiences in the pastoral ministry. Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt, I think, a similar longing when she recalled her “childhood’s faith” and “lost saints.”[i]

Advent will soon begin, wisely set by our ancestors to commence in the darkest part of the year. There’s more than just metaphor in this. We need to be reminded that the enchanted faith of childhood must yield to the world of adults with its complexities, ambiguities, flawed heroes and ethical dilemmas. The baby soon to be born in Bethlehem literally incarnates this Truth for us, in his own journey from the manger to Pilate’s judgment hall. I wonder if Jesus ever longed for his lost angels, who rocked the heavens when he was born, then opted out of the Passion.

Those called to preach the Good News this Advent and Christmas enjoy the great privilege of proclaiming a faith that does not deny the power of darkness, but, instead, meets it head on when it appears most potent, and claims there is, indeed, a Light that begins with Mary’s labor pains and cannot be put out, all the might of Rome – and the world’s sin – notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s mere resurgent enchantment that makes me wonder if even Pontius Pilate dwells in that light at last.

[i] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43. “How Do I Love Thee?” is the popular title.


Rev. Moore is the Director of Educational Programs for the Clergy Health Initiative and an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Photo by Flickr user Richard Bonnett, via CC

Update: Pedaling to Stop Traffic


The following post, written by Mark Andrews, is an update to the article he shared with The Connection in April, where he previewed his cross-country bike trip.  Rev. Andrews is a Spirited Life Group 3 participant and pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory.


What a summer! On June 1, my wife, Denise, and I embarked on our journey across the country, me on my yellow, triple-crankset, Schwinn bicycle and Denise in our car, driving as my support along the way. We began at the waterfront in Edenton, North Carolina and ended at Sunset Bay State Park in Charleston, Oregon. The purpose of my expedition was mainly to take some time away from the parish, to refresh my spirit while pursuing one of my bucket-list items, but I also used this trip to raise funds and awareness regarding United Methodist Women’s efforts to stop human trafficking. While I fell short of my $40,000 goal, there has nonetheless been over $16,000 raised thus far — no small change!

Upon first getting permission for my leave, I was filled with giddy delight, but as the day for departure approached, I began feeling anxious about what I had gotten myself into. Was I physically up to the challenge? What if I failed? What would I say to my congregation? I began to worry about the challenge to which I had committed Denise and myself.

I started off the trip the way I do most projects, trying to get it all finished as quickly as possible. After the first two days of riding almost 190 miles, we arrived in Durham, North Carolina at our daughter’s home, physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do too much. Lovingly fed and refreshed, I resumed the journey at a more moderate pace the rest of the way.

There were some more long-mileage days, but I averaged about 65 miles, or 100 kilometers, a day — fewer in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, more on the flats of the Kansas plains. But each mile brought “signs and wonders” at the beauty of the United States and the marvels of creation. Traveling on back roads and through small towns granted me a perspective on this country that one misses when driving on interstate highways. Never having traveled extensively, every day was an adventure, as I discovered Mark in mountainswhat was around each curve in the road, or exulted in the vistas just over every mountain and hill.

Denise and I learned to trust in the providence of God for safety, weather, food and lodging. My bicycle had no mechanical problems. I never even had to change a tire! We found a place to sleep every night, whether in a city park in a tent, in a church fellowship hall made available through the hospitality of its people, and a few hotels. There were a few dangerous and anxious moments in the journey, but all of them were overcome by God’s mercies.

What I enjoyed the most was the simplicity of each day. A recent book detailing Paul Howard’s epic bike ride is entitled, Eat, Sleep, Ride. That title pretty well summarizes the gracious gift this experience was for me. What seems so out of reach these days is at the same time what we need most — Sabbath, solitude, silence and simplicity. These were all characteristics of my time of renewal. I hope to incorporate what I learned this summer into my daily life and my weekly observance of Sabbath-keeping. And I’m still pedaling when I can.

-Rev. Mark Andrews

Photo taken by Denise Andrews in the mountains of Montana

Too Much


This poem was written by Beth Richardson, a UMC pastor in the Rocky Mountain Conference (Colorado), and is posted on her blog, All the Wonders.  It provides beautiful language for the thoughts I’ve been having about the many sad news stories of late.


Too Much

Some days
It seems like
Too much to bear

Too much sickness
Too much dying
Too many stories of terror and sadness

How can I bear it.
These people I love
Are crazy with grief and fear.
This world I love
Has lost all sense and reason

I watch, I weep, I wait.
I wait for you to show up
With your healing,
Your comfort,
Your wisdom

Come quickly.
Come, soon.

by Beth A. Richardson

Embrace the Shake


In this inspiring TED talk, multimedia artist, Phil Hansen, describes how a physical limitation actually helped him become a better artist.  He uses his personal story to encourage us to look to our own limitations as a source of creativity.

Click on the image below for the 10-minute long video.

Phil HansenFor other TED talks to “kickstart your creativity,” click here.

 -Katie Huffman

Image courtesy of YouTube


The Power of Self-Talk


Have you ever realized you were talking to yourself and then abruptly put a stop to it so the people around you didn’t think you were losing your mind?  Apparently, most people engage in this kind of self-talk.  Some people talk to themselves out loud, causing others to raise an eyebrow and cross to the other side of the street; some people talk to themselves silently and no one else is the wiser.

Whether it’s under your breath or aloud, you can positively affect your mood and behavior with self-talk, but HOW you do it is key.  Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal says there are two types of helpful self-talk:

  • Motivational– pumping yourself up before a stressful task or encouraging yourself to complete a task, such as saying, “Come on!  You can do this.”
  • Instructional– talking yourself through a task, step-by-step so that it becomes ingrained, such as a golfer talking through each component of their swing (“eye on the ball, head down, etc”).

Some tips for constructive self-talk:

  • Keep it short and precise.
  • Be consistent- do it regularly so it becomes automatic.
  • Use third person language instead of first person- addressing yourself by your name or “you” instead of “I” helps you be more kind to yourself, kind of like taking on the perspective of a good friend.
  • Don’t be too confident- Being too confident may cause you to under-prepare or not take something seriously enough.  Instead, say something like, “You worked really hard to get ready for this sermon.  You can do this!”
  • Don’t be too critical- Being too critical may cause a cycle of shame and perceived failure.  Instead, focus on maybe what didn’t go so well and how you might fix it in the future.

To read the whole article and see some illustrated examples of constructive self-talk, click here.

Click here to read The Science of Self-Talk

-Katie Huffman

Remembering God’s Gift of Water


Question: Are we forgetting how important water is?

Clean water is a goal for many Americans.Is God’s gift not good enough?
I have had some interesting conversations about water lately. As a Wellness Advocate, I have learned a lot about the importance of water for our physical health. Today I want to share a short reminder about why water is not only important for our health, but also why it is especially essential to us as healthy Christians.

Water is mentioned a total of 722 times in the Bible, more often than faith, hope, prayer, and worship. In the Bible, it doesn’t take long for water to be mentioned. Right away in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Water is such an essential component of life, it was created on the very first day.

In Revelations water is mentioned again, and it is almost the last words of the Bible.  Revelations 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Water flows throughout the scripture, and this should remind us of its importance…both spiritually and physically.

St. John Damascene summarized, “Water, then, is the most beautiful element and rich in usefulness, and purifies from all filth, and not only from the filth of the body but from that of the soul, if it should have received the grace of the Spirit”. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith– Book 2: Chapter 9). Water has the power to heal, as can be seen from the stories of Naaman – the Syrian cured from his leprosy in the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the annual miracles at Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-9). Water has the power to purify, to provide deliverance, and it can also destroy evil and enemies as in the stories of the Flood (Genesis 6:17) and the flight of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 14:1-15:21).

Christ of the Abyss--Cristo_degli_abissi70 to 75% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Roughly 70% of an adult’s body is made up of water, and about 85% of the adult brain is made up of water. Water is essential to life, and all living things need water to survive. So why do we as God’s children, sometimes take this gift…His gift of water for granted?

Jesus, the source of Living Water, extends an invitation to all who thirst. We take communion to remember His body…broken for you, and His blood… shed for you. We remember that water and blood poured from Jesus’ wound (John 19:34), while he was crucified. Water is given to us by Our Lord Almighty. Let us remember this, and honor His blessings daily. My father never drank water, and he spent the last 3 years of his life on kidney dialysis. My brothers and sisters, I challenge you to drink more water daily.

“O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love;
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.”
Taken from Sam Rutherford & Anne R. Cousin’s hymn The Sands of Time Are Sinking

10 Reasons to Drink Water (from
1.    Water is absolutely essential to the human body’s survival. A person can live for about a month without food but only about a week without water.
2.    Water helps to maintain healthy body weight by increasing metabolism and regulating appetite.
3.    Water leads to increased energy levels. The most common cause of daytime fatigue is actually mild dehydration.
4.    Drinking adequate amounts of water can decrease the risk of certain types of cancers, including colon cancer, bladder cancer, and breast cancer.
5.    For a majority of sufferers, drinking water can significantly reduce joint and/or back pain.
6.    Water leads to overall greater health by flushing out wastes and bacteria that can cause disease.
7.    Water can prevent and alleviate headaches.
8.    Water naturally moisturizes skin and ensures proper cellular formation underneath layers of skin to give it a healthy, glowing appearance.
9.    Water aids in the digestion process and prevents constipation.
10.    Water is the primary mode of transportation for all nutrients in the body and is essential for proper circulation

Cool Extras

  • Water Your Body, and Drinking Water are two free App for Android users that remind you to drink water daily and also help keep track of your water drinking habits.
  • Unicef TAP Project” For every ten minutes you don’t touch your phone, UNICEF Tap Project donors and sponsors fund one day of clean water for a child in need. Take the Challenge and help provide a child in need with clean drinking water.
  • How Much Do You Know About Hydration? Take the 15 question Water Quiz from WebMD.

-Dwight Tucker

First image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons; second image is Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, courtesy of Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Gardening for the soul


My grandmother passed on her love of gardening to my mom, and their summer vegetable and flower gardens remain some of my favorite childhood memories.  My grandmom loved to take my sister and me summer harvestdown to her garden in the late afternoon to collect roses for the table and corn for our Sunday suppers; I will always remember my mom’s joy at each summer’s first tomato, which she would carefully watch until it was an acceptable ripeness to pluck from the vine.

For my grandmom, the essence of gardening was captured in the simple verse she had hand-stitched on the sampler hanging in her kitchen:

Who plants a seed

beneath the sod

and waits to see

believes in God.

As simple as the poem is, there’s really something to it.  “Besides being a practical, life-nurturing task, gardening is also always a spiritual activity. In it we attempt to make room for what is beautiful, delectable, and even holy,” says Norman Wirzba, a research professor of theology, ecology and rural life at Duke Divinity School, in his book, In Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.

And I agree: for me, especially when grown at my own hand, gardens are constant reminders of God’s presence and power.

peonyWhile my mom and grandmom had the space to grow rows and rows of vegetables and flowers, in my adult years, I haven’t had the acreage for this type of gardening, so I’ve resorted to carving out small corners of my yard for flowerbeds and planting my vegetables in pots.  This year I’m proudest of my peonies, and I’m also planning to grow the makings for salsa: cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, jalepenos, chives, and basil.  Click here for 20 clever tips to help you be a gardener without breaking the bank, needing much land, or having all the right tools.  Can’t do your own vegetable gardening this year?  Click here to read about getting the most out of your local farmer’s market.

Wirzba takes gardening one step further and applies the analogy of gardening to tending to God’s people.  He says, “A caring, faithful, and worshipping humanity is one of the garden’s most important crops.”

A 2011 Faith and Leadership article on a struggling Dallas church shows both sides of this analogy.  Click here to read about how a dwindling church rebuilt itself through a community garden; in less than 10 years they generated 20 tons of produce for local food pantries, and this church ministry became a staple in the community.

This summer, as you are cultivating tomatoes in your own yard or tending to God’s larger garden, remember Wirzba’s words: “When we garden well, creatures are nurtured and fed, the world is received as a blessing, and God is glorified.”

-Katie Huffman

Inspired by Faith and Leadership’s 11/22/11 posts, “Norman Wirzba: Godly gardening” and “Growing in relevance.”

First image by Flickr user OakleyOriginals via CC

The Happiness Advantage


Shawn Achor, a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, spent more than a decade at Harvard University trying to figure out what makes people happy.  He outlines his findings in a TEDx talk (click on the image below).  His 12-minute talk, which is among the top 20 most viewed TED talks, is worth watching, as Achor is a captivating and funny presenter.  However, if you don’t have time to watch the whole piece, tune in at about the 10-minute mark and you’ll catch his practical tips for becoming a more positive person (or you can keep reading for a summary).

shawn achor_edschipul

In Western society, we think that working harder leads to more success and that, in turn, should result in greater happiness.  But Achor says that 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world and that you can train your brain to become more positive.  He calls this the “happiness advantage,” and he has found that when you’re operating in this mode, your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels all rise, not to mention your productivity and success!

Achor offers the following 5 tips for training your brain to be more positive, and he says that after 21 consecutive days of these practices, you’ll notice a difference:

  • 3 gratitudes (write down 3 things you’re grateful for that day)
  • Journaling (write about 1 positive experience from the last 24 hours)
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random acts of kindness (as simple as sending 1 email of appreciation/gratitude every day)

While Achor focuses on work success and productivity, it seems that this brain training could have a farther-reaching impact into other areas of life.  What do you think?

-Katie Huffman

Image by Flickr user Ed Schipul, via CC