This weekend, Mike and I are taking a handful of Plymouth students to the Fall Youth Retreat at La Foret. Our theme for the weekend will be Folklore and Wisdom, where we will explore big truths within all different kinds of stories. I was tasked with developing a discussion workshop, specifically around our faith stories. The Bible contains several different kinds of stories, and I wonder how some of these may be compared to “folklore.” I wonder how some of these stories have changed over time and been misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misused. I want to look at one story in particular, Jacob Wrestles God (from Genesis 32, CEB):
22 Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23 He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. 24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” 27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.” 29 Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.” But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” 31 The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.
In Godly Play, we are encouraged to approach the stories of our faith with wondering questions. This story stirs up several wondering questions for me. I wonder if these events literally happened exactly as written here? I wonder if that matters? I wonder why it mattered that Jacob’s thigh was injured and that he limps now? I wonder what this story means? I wonder what this story means for you? What wondering questions do you have?
For the last few weeks, we have been talking about what we mean when we say, “We are Plymouth.” I believe Plymouth is a place where people can wrestle with God. I believe Plymouth is a place where transformation can happen. We spent some time in youth group this weekend talking about our Plymouth community. The students agreed that our Plymouth community is deeply valuable, but they also expressed that its value is in the intangible. We may not always be able to articulate who we are or why that matters. But within loving community – like Plymouth, or La Foret – we have a great place to be working that out.
Brooklyn McBride is Plymouth's Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth. Brooklyn has served in local church and student ministries for the past several years. A native of northern Colorado, Brooklyn has professional experience leading in worship, youth, and children’s programs. Read her full bio here.
From Hal's Desk... where Ron Is Sitting
One of the blessings that arrived in my life long before I knew what it meant was the gift of generosity. I didn’t plan it, it just happened, and I find myself deeply grateful every day.
I grew up around generous people. My Mom and Dad were givers. She was an Avon salesperson and he worked in a factory and we lived close to the edge financially, but they found ways to give. There were always strangers at our table, she baked and cooked for others and showed up to volunteer. They supported the church and they shared with other organizations because they had heard Jesus say that the only thing we would ever have was what we were willing to give. We never had much, but we always had enough. To this day, I don’t know how they pulled it off, but because of their love, I grew to believe that being generous was the right way to live.
Over the years with the love and support of my spouse, I have developed my own pattern of generosity. Several years ago, we made the decision to become tithers. We set aside a percentage of our income each year to support the work of organizations that reflect our personal beliefs. Our churches are at the top of the list. We belong to two congregations—full members of one and associate members of the other. We pledge to both. We also support the congregations where I have been honored to serve since retirement. Then we support the work of our UCC Conference and make annual gifts to several parts of the national United Church of Christ. We support the colleges we attended and the two seminaries I attended and a dozen or so organizations working to make this world a better place: like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity. We have an estate plan which means that after we make our journey into the love of God, we will continue to support the things that have been so important to us in this life.
Each year we make a couple of gifts to organizations that we believe represent an attempt to address systemic racism and offer reparations for past injustices. These gifts have helped us support the historic Black Colleges related to the United Church of Christ and the Franklinton Center at Bricks, NC, a center in the struggle for Racial justice. We support the American Indian College Fund as well.
Am I bragging about how generous we are? If you want to read it that way, go ahead, but then what do you do with the words of Jesus about not hiding your light under a bushel?
What I want you to know is that proportional giving that makes a difference in your life and enables you to discover the joy of generosity, makes sense in my life and the life that I share with my beloved. Our lifetime of work has enabled us to have a better retirement than either of us thought possible. We both know that circumstances beyond our control could change that at any time and that no matter how we might fool ourselves, we can’t take any of what we have with us except what we have shared. That is a central part of our faith.
So dear Plymouth friends, please hear me when I say: God is good and God is calling us all to the simple joy of generosity!
P.S. I will be with you for about another month and would love to get together. Just give me a call. I work Sunday-Wednesday but am always available other times as needed. Let me know.
...A Few Thoughts on 9/11 and Church Life Post Pandemic (I HOPE!)
From Hal's desk... where Ron is sitting
As some of you know, Charnley and I lived in Manhattan during 9/11. The terror and the pain of that day caused immediate trauma for so many. We witnessed things which we will never forget. Twenty-one years have not dulled the memories of those first few hours. In the weeks that followed, the staff and members of the congregation I served spent hours in worship and conversation, seeking healing. Rumors abounded and anxiety and tension found a home in too many hearts.
Several weeks after the disaster, the Red Cross sponsored a workshop for care givers. They invited clergy, front-line medical personnel, and others in the helping professions to spend a day reflecting and learning together. One speaker shared a powerful insight into what we were seeing in the lives of those whom we sought to help and in our own lives. This person said: “No matter what ‘it’ is in a person’s life, whether it’s an addiction, a medical issue, a psychological issue, a relationship problem or just a stress point; whatever ‘it’ is, will be worse in the days to come…… Understanding that fact will help you help others and help yourself. Be patient, be forgiving, be understanding with everyone in your circle, including yourself.”
Let me suggest that these words of wisdom are relevant today. At one point, we experienced some serious tension and conflict in a small congregation where we were members. Objectively, the issues involved were minor, but several of our fellow members allowed those issues to snowball into conflict. All I could do was remember what that wise Red Cross teacher had said and remind myself that what was bothering these people had more to do with the anger and grief and pain of the pandemic than with the issue itself. It helped put it in perspective. It suggested ways to be loving and helpful.
Have you noticed any negative energy in your life or in our shared life as a congregation? After one month among you, I haven’t seen it, but……. Just in case, let me suggest that we need one another more than ever and we need safe space and faithful space and forgiving space and patient space. That’s why Plymouth exists as an outpost of sanity and occasional saintliness. That’s why we name Jesus as the one among us, helping us treat one another as God’s image bearers.
Now, If you find yourself having trouble doing that, cut yourself and the other person a little slack. Do your best to behave and believe in the power of good intentions. There is a biblical image of our belonging that suggests that we don’t belong to a church, but that we belong to one another and that together we belong to Jesus. That sort of thinking could save your life and one way or another make this a stronger congregation!
Thank you for the joy of being among you again.
P.S. By the way, I am available if you need to talk. Call the church (970-482-9212) and you can be forwarded to me.
Rev. Ron is our sabbatical interim minister through Nov. 16, 2022. Read about him on our staff page.