Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Not in My Backyard

Now that I'm back in the Midwest, I perked up my ears this morning when I heard a story on NPR about social services in Des Moines. Growing up here in the Kansas City area I'm pretty sure that I had never gone to Des Moines. I still haven't really been there, but I did drive through it on the way out from NY. I was surprised at how close it is to my new home in St. Joe. Although the city is significantly larger, it is similar in a lot of ways to my new city--both have midwestern sensibilities, both have what could be called a downtown area and more suburban areas, both have significant needs in their communities in terms of poverty and homelessness.

I was interested to hear in the story--but not surprised--that folks in Des Moines want to keep things like homeless shelters in the downtown area and away from the suburbs--even though there is a growing need outside the city center. The "not in my backyard" syndrome is true of every city I've ever lived in. Everyone thinks there should be things like homeless shelters but nobody wants "those people" to be where they live. St. Joe is much smaller, but it will be interesting to find out whether or not the same dynamic is at work here.

Also, I noted the remakrs of one of the people interviewed who mentioned that many of the homeless and impoverished folks they work with lack the safety net of a family. This idea struck me, because over the last month, I have gained an even greater appreciation for my own family. We could not have made the move to MO with me recovering from surgery without the help of our families. It just could not have happened. The thought had occurred to me as to what exactly I would do without the help of my family. That's frightening to think about.

It seems obvious to me that one of the key roles of the church is to be family for those who do not have one--or who do not have a family willing or able to be there for them in times of need. One of the refrains I heard from folks when I interviewed for this position as minister was that First Christian is like a family. I've already seen evidence of that fact. I'm eager to see more of it and to discover new ways for us to be family together and for others who need one.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Dialogue Column Jan. 30

For those outside of First Christian Church, St. Joe, our weekly newsletter is The Dialogue. I thought I'd post it here for all those who aren't on the mailing list. Also, since I'm told bulk mail around here can take as long as 10 days, FCC folks may be interested as well. Here's this week's column--my very first one. It's sure to be a collector's item.

Through a Glass Darkly by Rev. Chase Peeples

Well, the Peeples family is finally in St. Joseph and what a welcome you have given to us! I am deeply grateful for the help church members have offered to us. From unpacking boxes to dropping by meals to giving me rides, First Christian people have shown love to us. I especially appreciate this assistance since I continue to recover from the eye surgery I had a few weeks ago.

Many of you have graciously asked how my recovery is going. I am glad to report that it is going well. Thankfully, my retina continues to be doing what it should, but full recovery will take some time yet. As of now, I still can see very little out of my right eye. So, if I pass you by in Hyvee without saying hello, please don’t take it personally. I’m not ignoring you. I really didn’t see you.

Jennifer and I have joked that our lives simply were not stressful enough with a new baby, starting a new ministry and moving across the country. Just to make things more fun, I had to go and have emergency surgery to reattach my retina! I had planned on coming as your minister and helping you to discover new opportunities for service to people in need, but I never expected that I would be the needy person you would be helping!

Over the last few weeks, I have tried hard to discern what exactly God might want me to learn during these circumstances. Over the ten days I spent laying face down, I had hoped that a great spiritual epiphany might occur. Other than having a new appreciation for things like being able to read or watch TV, no deep spiritual insights came. (Although, come to think of it, perhaps gratitude for things I take for granted is a spiritual insight. Hmm…)

It is more than a little frustrating—not to mention embarrassing—to arrive as the new minister but to be unable to drive or see across a room. On doctor’s orders, I’m prohibited from lifting anything over 10 pounds or doing any other strenuous activity. Although I joke about milking my recovery for all it’s worth, it really is difficult to simply sit while others do things for you. Besides, it just looks bad when Jennifer and I walk out of a store and she’s the one struggling with two kids while trying to carry the groceries. I can just hear it now: “That new minister is a male chauvinist pig. He makes his wife do all the work!”

I have consoled myself with reflections upon the two chief spiritual examples provided to us in the Christian scriptures: Jesus and Paul. Both underwent sufferings that far exceed my recent ones, yet they wasted no time pretending they had it all together or were free from difficulty. Instead, both sought to reveal their vulnerability so that others might see the work of God in them. By no means do I wish to compare my eye problems to the troubles faced by Jesus and the apostle, but I do offer it as an example of how the grace of God works through and in spite of our physical and spiritual weaknesses.

It is tragic that the face Christianity often presents to the world is one of people who supposedly have no problems and live perfect lives. The good news of the Gospel is that God works in the midst of life’s messiness and is present in the lives of imperfect people. Perhaps if more Christians were honest about their own vulnerabilities then those who have dismissed the faith might see its relevance. Better for Christians to reveal that they are real people with real problems who choose to believe and to serve anyway than to offer up the fa├žade of being somehow above or apart from the problems normal people face.

What would happen if we as a church were to display such humility and vulnerability to our community? Are their people in St. Joseph who are looking for a community of faith that practices such honesty and humility? I believe there are.

Perhaps those ten days laying face down in bed were worth something after all. I’m still not convinced, but I’ll continue to share with you my reflections. In the meantime, please know of my gratitude towards you and my excitement at being your new minister.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

P.S. If you are wondering about the title for my column, go and read 1 Corinthians 13:12. (If you were in worship on Sunday, you heard Keith read it.) It is appropriate for my recent circumstances and might even say something about other circumstances too.

Hello Saint Joe!

Well, I'm here in St. Joseph--so is my family. I finally have made my way to the internet and can post some thoughts. At the moment, my head is spinning with all of the newness--new job, new town, new house, new school for the kids, etc. I'm also grateful for the warm welcome I and my family have received. Given the fact that I'm still unable to lift anything even moderately heavy or strain myself in any way, it was quite a relief to have folks from the church helping us unpack last Thursday. We've also been treated to delicious meals delivered by church folks. Jen is relieved not to have to worry about meals right now. Add to these gifts rides for me since I can't drive and some great gift baskets and you have a minister and his family feeling very loved.

I can't wait until I can actually see so I can drive around St. Joe and get to know this town.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I'll Be Seeing You...(sort of)


Okay, the plan was for me to move to Missouri and then pick up blogging again. No such luck. Almost two weeks ago my retina detached resulting in me getting emergency surgery and then having to lay face down for ten days straight. At present, I am vertical but I can't see out of my left eye--sorry for the typos!
We're giving this moving thing a try again this weekend and hopefully no emergency surgery will be necessary.
I have, however, been eating very well. Folks from The Congregational Church of Manhasset have been providing wonderful dinners. All this laying around and the large amounts of food--they can roll me to MO!
I keep waiting for some deep spiritual insight to come to me with all of this time to myself laying face down, but frankly, nothing came to me. As is the case I guess when anyone loses mobility, I realize how much I take for granted just doing normal things. I've been instructed not to lift anything over 10 pounds--that means I can't pick up wither one of my boys. I grieve that connection with them. Also, I have to watch as my family--including parents from both sides--do the normal work I would do, not to mention finishing packing for the move. Sure, it's fun for a while, but when that while is over I do wish to be helping too.
I'm looking forward to seeing what this great country of ours looks like the rough only one eye--if you happen to be driving on Interstate 80 in a few days I'll be the guy squinting at you.

Grace and Peace,
Chase