xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: May 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Save Your Old Shoes!

May 25, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

We have all seen footage of people around the world devastated by poverty, disease, and natural catastrophes. In the face of such tragedies, we often feel too helpless to make any kind of lasting impact. But one thing has been proven time and again: long-term recovery takes place with the sum effect of smaller efforts, joined by people partnering in unison. Together, we can make a difference.

That’s why I was delighted when Sheree Hausmann came to me offering to spearhead a new effort by St. Paul’s. She read about a ministry called Soles 4 Souls, which receives used footwear and delivers them to countries around the world. Every 9 seconds, they give a pair of shoes to someone in need, and they are quickly approaching an astonishing 9 million pairs of shoes distributed.

In case you’re wondering why it’s important for people to wear shoes, particularly in impoverished areas, here’s some compelling evidence:

· In rural areas where people walk through volcanic soil, such as in Ethiopia, going barefoot can lead to podoconiosis, a preventable but disfiguring illness that causes swelling and ulcers in the feet and lower legs.

· Many school-aged children in Africa suffer from a disease called schistosomiasis, caused by parasitic worms in contaminated fresh water. Within weeks, children suffer from fever, chills, and muscle aches.

· About 42% of Nigerian children are infected with tungiasis, caused by fleas which burrow into the bare skin of the sole or toes, and cause gangrene, tetanus, or even death.

· Hookworm is a rampant intestinal parasite that plagues over 1 billion people in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. It causes anemia, abdominal pain, and weight loss.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg of all the diseases that can be greatly reduced, simply by wearing a pair of shoes! Just think about it: rather that throwing out an old pair of shoes, bring them to the church, and literally save a life. It’s that simple!

Here’s some frequently asked questions:

What kinds of shoes will they take?
All kinds! Flip-flops, bedroom slippers, athletic shoes, work boots. If it is designed to be worn on the feet, bring them in!

What sizes will they take?
They will take any sized shoe, even for little children.

What if the shoes are in horrible shape?
It doesn’t matter. Even if the shoes are dirty, falling apart, and punctured with holes, Soles 4 Souls can dissemble the shoe and take the usable material to create basic footwear.

What if it’s missing its pair?
It doesn’t matter! Again, this company strongly believes in making use of any kind of shoe that comes in, even if it has lost its “Sole Mate.”

Where do I bring them?
Just bring them to the church. We’ll have a collection box in the narthex where you can drop them off. Periodically, Sheree Hausmann will deliver the shoes to the local collection site in Orange City, where the shoes will be processed and sent out for delivery worldwide.

Will my donation be tax-deductible?
If you’d like, contact the church office and let us know if you’d like your shoes to count toward your financial giving statement. We’ll secure a statement from Soles 4 Souls.

Finally, this will be an ongoing mission project for the church. There will be no timeline or deadline to receive shoes. We’ll continue to take them over the course of the upcoming year. That means that as you continue to clean out your closets, keep the church in mind. We’ll make sure that your contribution makes a big difference.

For more information, visit souls4soles.org.

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

We join with Christians around the world in celebrating Trinity Sunday, and marking the work of the Godhead in our lives. We will also spend our prayer time commemorating Memorial Day, and acknowledging those who have died in service to this country.

We begin our summer worship schedule on June 6, with worship starting at 9:30, and Sunday school suspended throughout the summer. Also, Phyllis Parrott will be coordinating sign-ups for after church coffees from June through August. Please contact her to bring in refreshments.

Following the worship service on June 6, the Building Committee will be giving an important update on the status of the upcoming renovation and capital campaign. You will have the opportunity to give the committee critical feedback that will guide its recommendation later this year.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Decision Fatigue vs. Divine Diversity

May 18, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with too many choices? You’re not alone. Satellite dish owners flip through over 1,000 television channels. Sirius/XM radio subscribers can listen to 200 stations. Feel like a pork tenderloin sandwich here in town? Five restaurants sell them. How about ice cream for dessert? Blue Bunny sells 84 different flavors, including 28 varieties of chocolate alone. Then after dinner, brush your teeth, using any one of 26 national brands of toothpaste. After negotiating the daily barrage of choices, it’s a wonder we don’t just collapse into our beds at night. (Firm mattress? Plush? Pillow top? Latex? Innerspring?)

Psychologists have coined the term “decision fatigue” to describe our weariness with too many choices. It emerged from a landmark experiment 25 years ago by Columbia University professor Sheen Iyengar. Dr. Iyengar and her research team invited people to survey two tables of jams. The first display had twenty-four flavors to choose from, and the other had only six. As the team expected, more people were initially intrigued by the group of twenty-four varieties. But when it came time to choose which jam to actually purchase, people preferred to select out of the smaller sample of six jams.

Professor Iyengar said the study “raised the hypothesis that the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory, but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.” [1]

Debilitating is a strong but appropriate descriptor for what happens when people are paralyzed by a plethora of options. Our defense is to streamline our choices and stick with our decisions with as much consistency as possible. We think that “black and white” seems clear, and that “gray” is too unsettling. As much as we claim to enjoy the freedom of choice, we are just as prone to over-simplification, stripping away any ambiguities and complexities.

It’s one thing when we’re dealing with ice cream and toothpaste. But it’s just as true when it comes to weightier and more consequential matters:

· We approach political decisions with either blind party adherence or single-issue loyalty, rather than thinking for ourselves or embracing the complexity of an issue.
· We subject ourselves to television talk shows that espouse balanced opinions but more often bring in polar opposite viewpoints, often from the extreme right and left.
· We too often assume an “Us vs. Them” mentality, in a number of contexts. We tend to draw circles to define who is “in” and who is “out,” and usually draw those circles around ourselves.
· We reduce our understanding of the Christian faith to a handful of simple, handy platitudes, rather than pushing ourselves to deeper exploration of the mysteries of God.

Against this backdrop of over-simplification, we encounter the story of Pentecost, the Bible’s antidote to decision fatigue. Often, we read this text and move quickly through the unpronounceable names. But work through the list of people carefully. They’re there for a reason:

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

The text says it clearly: God loves diversity and complexity. When the Spirit touched the earth and the church was born, Luke went to great lengths to describe just how multifaceted and varied the body of Christ is. There would be no room for simple labels, or easy-to-manage categories. The sounds of people speaking in indeterminate languages was a glorious cacophony, the sound of a Spirit that works not in tidy boxes, but with wonder, amazement, and surprise. The advance of the gospel would not be clean, neat, and tidy. It would have to negotiate the intricate nuances of different cultures and the constant flux of changing times. The church’s need for adaptability is as true today as it was then.

Of course, it’s not the only place where the Scriptures embrace complexity. Want to know how the world began? You’ve got different creation stories to choose from in Genesis. Want to know what happens when you die? You’ve got a plethora of perspectives among the Hebrew scriptures, the gospels, and the epistles. And how about learning something about Jesus? Well, for goodness’ sake, you’ve got four different versions to choose from. It should therefore be no surprise to us that when the church was born, God declared that complexity is a divine characteristic. And when we are tempted to settle for easy answers and convenient labels, God challenges us to expand our viewpoints, widen our gaze, and become all-inclusive in our love for others.

This Sunday, join us for the holy day of Pentecost, as we experience the power, imagery, and drama of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. To mark the occasion, we invite you to wear red, the liturgical color of the day. And be sure to come with an expectant heart and open mind, to see what God will reveal to us.

See you Sunday,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

[1] “Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze.” New York Times, February 26, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/your-money/27shortcuts.html

Join us at Sanford Museum Park at 11:45am this Sunday for a brief dedication ceremony for our new Peace Pole. This was a joint project between St. Paul’s and Immaculate Conception Church and is a wonderful testament to peace in our community.

Following the 9:30 worship service on June 6, the Building Committee will be giving an important update on the status of the upcoming renovation and capital campaign. You will have the opportunity to give the committee critical feedback that will guide its recommendation later this year.

We are participating in a new community missions project called Soles 4 Souls, which delivers used shoes (of any style or condition) to people in need around the world. You can bring them to church, and Sheree Hausmann will collect them and deliver them to the regional collection site.

Join the Cherokee school community in congratulating Jan Cook on her retirement, at a reception on Wednesday, May 19, from 3:45-5:00pm at the Washington High School Commons.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Graduation and Ascension

May 11, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

This Sunday afternoon, the Cherokee community will gather at Washington High School to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2010, including eight from our own youth group. We’ll cheer as they walk across the stage, receive their diplomas, and have their tassels turned to signify a new era. I’m certain that the school did not coordinate this weekend’s graduation festivities with the church’s liturgical calendar. But there does seem to be a connection between the commencement addresses typically heard at graduations with the speech that Jesus gave the disciples on the first Ascension Sunday.

Commencement speeches often seize the significance of the moment and challenge the listeners to rise to the occasion. They call the graduates to see themselves as part of a global community, wherein they are part of the solution for the world’s ills. The speakers widen the graduates’ gaze beyond their own social circle, and tell them, in offering their unique gifts and abilities, they can be part of something greater than themselves. Here are some of the more notable ones offered in recent history, and listen for these common elements:

This is the straight truth. The righteous truth. It's not a theory; it's a fact. The fact is that this generation -- yours, my generation -- we're the first generation that can look at poverty and disease, look across the ocean to Africa and say with a straight face, we can be the first to end this stupid extreme poverty, where, in a world of plenty, a child can die for lack of food in it's belly. (Bono, University of Pennsylvania, May 17, 2004)

My good friends, we are all waiting. We are waiting, if not for the Messiah, as such, we are waiting for the messianic moment. And the messianic moment is what each and every one of us tries to build, meaning a certain area of humanity that links us to all those who are human and, therefore, desperately trying to fight despair as humanly as possible and--I hope--with some measure of success. (Elie Wiesel, DePaul University, June 15, 1997)

Whether our world is to be saved from everything that threatens it today depends above all on whether human beings come to their senses, whether they understand the degree of their responsibility and discover a new relationship to the very miracle of being. The world is in the hands of us all. (Vaclav Havel, Harvard University, May, 1995)

And then, there is this speech, offered 2,000 years ago, during a commencement ceremony on a mountain top. Assembled were students of Jesus’ traveling seminary, who had spent more than three years learning, practicing, attempting, failing, and trying again. For this simple band of common people, the world had changed. They were no longer fishermen and tax collectors, they were world-changers-in-the-making. And their time had come. When Jesus stood before them, before he took off into the clouds, he gave his address:

This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Like all great commencement speeches, Jesus seized the moment. He told the disciples that there were challenges ahead, and that they were to carry the gospel of God’s love to the furthest reaches of the earth, beyond their small social circles. But along the way, they would not be alone, for the Spirit would come upon them. They would receive the Spirit’s power and comfort to achieve great things for the Kingdom, and participate in God’s ongoing project: the healing of the world and redemption of all creation.

This Sunday, we’ll celebrate the lives of these young men and women who forge ahead into an exciting new future. But we will also hear Christ’s commencement address for ourselves, calling us to new commitment and challenge.

See you Sunday!


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

Ahoy, mates! Sign up your children for another exciting Vacation Bible School! “High Seas Expedition” takes place from June 14-18 (please note the correct date; previous announcements were incorrect), 9am-12noon, at a cost of $7 per child (ages 3 through completed 5th grade.) Register this Sunday at the VBS table, or simply drop by the church office. Scholarships are also available for anyone in need. The deadline for registration is now this Monday, May 17.

Plots are available now and you can sign up by contacting the church office, and you can begin planting your flowers. Help turn a portion of our newly acquired property into the beautiful New Life Gardens of Piety Hill.

Help keep the north lawn trimmed and clean every week throughout the summer. A sign-up sheet is available outside the church office, and we will provide you with the lawnmower and the gas. For more information, contact Al Henn.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Chrysanthemums and Curve Balls

May 4, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

People who know me well understand that I am a pretty lousy gardener. If Midas had the golden touch, then I have the rotten touch, at least when it comes to plant life. Nevertheless, the gorgeous sunshine and balmy weather has prompted me to think a lot about gardens lately, and even induced me and my family to do some yard work last weekend. Hopefully, we’ll soon have geraniums, marigolds, tomatoes, rosemary, and strawberries to enjoy. But if that happens, rest assured it will be despite my efforts, not because of them.

As we were working in the yard on Sunday, I thought about how nice it initially must have been for Adam and Eve. They didn’t have to work to enjoy the beauty around them, because flowers didn’t fade and plants didn’t whither. It must have been paradise, I thought to myself. All the splendor, without the sweat.

Augustine was fond of saying that Eden, before the fall, was a place of perfect balance. You could eat but not gain weight, play but not get sore, have sex without lustful urges, and live out your days without getting old. That’s the view of Eden the church has carried for centuries: a view of static flawlessness, without the possibility of imperfection.

That’s a tempting idea, except of course there’s the issue of that fruit. That whole business about a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Why, we wonder, would God have placed even the possibility of sin in such a perfect place? Why introduce the potential for a problem, in the midst of paradise? And to spin the dilemma out further, might God be even indirectly implicated for the presence of sin in the world today? Was Eden such a perfect place after all?

John Hick, in his book Evil and the God of Love, offers a counter-point to the classic Augustinian view of Eden, and helps us to negotiate these troublesome theological landmines. Rather than defining Paradise as static perfection, Hick suggests we view it as a place where “souls could be formed.” [1] Choosing to follow God and turn away from evil builds stamina for the soul, increases our capacity to long for and love God, and moves us toward full maturity, similar to how muscles can only grow when their fibers are torn. Giving free will to Adam and Eve – and all of us – was not a flaw in the plan. It was integral to the plan.

Like a seed struggling from its casing and growing against the odds, our faith can only be formed by engaging the threatening elements around us and within us. And if Hick is right, then Paradise is not an ideal locked in the past to which we long to return. We can live in Paradise now, in the midst of a garden where our souls can be strengthened every day, through patience and discipline.

A few years ago one of my favorite columnists, David Brooks of The New York Times, departed from his usual fare of politics and current events to write a piece about baseball. He reflected on a book he once read called The ABC’s of Pitching, by H. A. Dorfman. Dorfman claims that the one thing that prevents ordinary pitchers from being great pitchers is not the lack of ability or potential. It is having a scattered mind. The secret to being a successful pitcher is the same as that required for other aspects of life, particularly the Christian life. You need mental discipline: “Self-discipline is a form of freedom. Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear — and doubt.” [2]

Brooks writes that the “assumption seems to be that you can’t just urge someone to be disciplined; you have to build a structure of behavior and attitude. Behavior shapes thought. If a player disciplines his behavior, then he will also discipline his mind.”

When a pitcher stands on the mound, it is tempting to have one’s thoughts consumed by many things: the crowd cheering, the score of the game, the pressure of the moment, the batting preferences of the hitter. But when it all comes down to it, the one thing that is most important is not the game situation, or the pitcher’s personality, or even his talent. What is at the center is the task. Doing what you know you have to do at that one moment in time. Not thinking about the next moment or regretting what just happened before. The task at hand ought to be your singular focus. In the end, that is the only thing you can control anyway.

“And by putting the task at the center,”
Brooks writes, “Dorfman helps the pitcher quiet the self. He pushes the pitcher’s thoughts away from his own qualities — his expectations, his nerve, his ego — and helps the pitcher lose himself in the job.”

So here’s the connection between gardening and baseball, two hallmarks of this beautiful spring season. Whether you’re growing the perfect tomatoes, tossing the perfect curveball, or living a Christ-like life, maturity takes time, patience, and constant attention. So hang in there. No matter what life tosses at you, keep your “main task at the center.” And may your soul be formed in the process.

Grace, Peace, and Good Gardening,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA 51012
Ph: 712-225-3955

[1] Hick, John. “Evil and the God of Love.” HarperSanFrancisco, 1978. I was introduced to this book by a sermon by Tom Long, at the 2006 Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta, GA.
[2] Brooks, David. “Pitching with Purpose.” The New York Times, April 1, 2008. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/01/opinion/01brooks.html)

So back to gardening. Anne Raver once wrote, “Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, let's stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another.” The Scriptures are filled with reminders that the land is a precious gift from God, and caring for it draws us closer to both God and one another.

That’s why I was delighted to hear of the plans by the Adult Class to turn part of our newly acquired 6th Street property into a community flower garden, called The New Life Gardens of Piety Hill. Over the next several days, the ground will be prepared for people in the congregation and the community to plant and grow flowers and ornamentals throughout the summer. You may even choose to offer your flowers and bouquets in the sanctuary for worship.

Plots are available now and you can sign up by contacting the church office. We anticipate that the ground will be cleared of rocks at this Saturday’s Clean-Up Day and the soil will be tilled shortly thereafter. That means you can begin planting as soon as next week. Here are some basic pointers to keep in mind:

Who can participate? This is open to all members and friends of St. Paul’s UMC.

How can I reserve a plot? Plots are 2 feet deep by 5-6 feet long, and a diagram of the plots is available at the church office. You can sign up for more than one plot, or share your plot(s) with someone else. Please register your designated area by contacting the office, then identify it in such away that others are made aware of your space.

When can I reserve and plant? You can reserve your spot now. Plant anytime after the area is tilled.

What can I plant? Anything ornamental and floral. In other words, no fruits or vegetables.

How will my plot be cared for? Those who plant should plan to revisit their plots for periodic weeding and, if needed, watering. Current plans are for some area sprinklers to be used during the dry seasons to minimize the need to carry water. We ask that everyone be in charge of their designated plot.

Join us this Saturday morning as we clean up the church building and grounds. We’ll go from 8am to 12noon, and we have a long list of things you can do to beautify our property. You can bring your own cleaning supplies and equipment if you wish, but we will provide ample materials as well. Then, we’ll have lunch afterwards. For more information, contact Evan Knapp.

Ahoy, mates! Sign up your children for another exciting Vacation Bible School! “High Seas Expedition” takes place from June 9-13, 9am-12noon, at a cost of $7 per child (ages 3 through completed 5th grade.) Register this Sunday at the VBS table, or simply drop by the church office. Scholarships are also available for anyone in need.

Help keep the north lawn trimmed and clean every week throughout the summer. A sign-up sheet is available outside the church office, and we will provide you with the lawnmower and the gas. For more information, contact Al Henn.

Join us as we continue our sermon series “The Seven Next Words of Christ” with a focus on Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” We will also be receiving a special offering for our Camp Fund to support those in our congregation and our community who will be attending one of our United Methodist camps at Okoboji this summer.