xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: January 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who Are You Fooling?

January 30, 2013,

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Among the many unexpected joys during my continuing education event in California last week was a stop at the Fingerhut Gallery of Laguna Beach to see an exhibit called “The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss.”   It showcases commissioned reproductions of some of Seuss’ works that had not been published in any of his books. 

One of the pieces that caught my attention was a watercolor titled “Fooling Nobody,” painted in 1968.   At first glance, the point of the picture seems simple:  The creature below is attempting to conceal his true nature by displaying a false self in the form of a headpiece.   Despite his best efforts, he fools no one.  The point seems obvious enough.

However, given that both the creature and headpiece are equally animated, determining which is the true self and which is the false self is a bit more ambiguous.  Is the real creature, in fact, the smaller being, attempting to hide his self-consciousness and insecurity by projecting a more confident image?  Or is he instead the bold, unfettered, and free creature, having to tame himself into a more timid, amenable, and composed person?  It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine which is which.

I think that’s why I like the painting so much.  Perhaps Seuss was denigrating neither timidity nor bravado, but the inability to embrace our weakness and find balance in our personality.  Most of us are so intent on hiding our weaknesses that we will do anything to repress them and convey the opposite to others.  We are weak, so we project strength.  We are angry, so we project calm.  We are foolish, so we project wisdom.  We are selfish, so we project compassion.  We are constantly trying to compensate for that which we fear is deep inside us. 

The problem is that in our efforts to repress the shadow side of our personality, we can become the very thing we are trying to escape. 

Carl Jung, the great pioneer of modern psychology, coined the term enantiodromia from the Greek words “enantios” (opposite) and “dromos” (running to) to explain how, in our efforts to run away from our weaknesses, we become the very weakness we are avoiding.  It states that a superabundance of any force inevitably produces the opposite result. 

  • A person, wishing to hide his foolishness, pursues knowledge, to the point where he becomes ignorant about emotional and relational matters. 
  • A person represses her anger by projecting such extreme composure that she frustrates a loved one that attempts to engage her. 
  • A person avoids his inner pain through so many pleasurable experiences that he becomes desensitized from any kind of enduring joy. 
  • A person dealing with feelings of abandonment strives to be so involved in the lives of loved ones that her smothering drives people away. 

The list could go on and on, and eventually touch you in the deepest part of your own struggles.  All of us, without exception, have shadowy elements to our personality, which we would rather not acknowledge for ourselves, let alone others.  However, denying that they exist only amplifies their destructive power, and our best efforts to project a more positive face before others…well, fools nobody.

A better option than denial is surrender.  It comes from the courage to name our shadows and dare to ask what in those weaknesses can be redeemed and reclaimed for your personality to become whole. 

  • Can anything be redeemed from the shadow side of anger?  (Perhaps a righteous fervor against injustice in the world.)
  • Can anything be redeemed from the shadow side of foolishness?  (Perhaps a humility that grounds a lifelong curiosity.)
  • Can anything be redeemed from the shadow side of irresponsibility?  (Perhaps a freedom that comes from childlike, uninhibited playfulness.)
  • Can anything be redeemed from the shadow side of pain?  (Perhaps an embrace of the cross, and an invitation to the cruciform life.)

In a moment of great candor, Paul acknowledged to the Corinthian church a “thorn in his flesh,” a weakness that caused him great debilitation and difficulty.  Yet, because he was able to name his weakness and surrender it to God, he was able to extract from it a redemptive quality that made him more whole and complete:

“(The Lord) said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.’  So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me.  Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.”

The cure for enantiodromia is a balanced self, one in which a person embraces, rather than ignores, the shadow side of their personality.  That is my prayer for you, as I trust it will be yours for me.  Let us become weak, so that in Christ we may be strong.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

Youth grades 7-12 are invited now to register to attend our annual ski trip on February 23.  Permission slips are now available in the church office and must be signed and returned this week.  This Sunday will feature our Super Bowl snack sale to support the trip, and you can participate by bringing snack items to the church before the service. 

The girls and I will be traveling down to Florida to finally celebrate Christmas with my family (now that post-holiday airline fares are finally back down to a reasonable price).  We will be leaving on Monday, February 4, and returning on Wednesday, February 13.  A guest minister will be preaching on February 10.  In the event of an emergency, please contact the church office.   The Mid-Week Message will resume during the week of February 18.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Prayer for Inauguration Day

January 21, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

With the eyes of our nation focused on Washington D.C. and the inauguration of President Barack Obama, here is a prayer I wrote which you might choose to offer today.

A Prayer for Inauguration Day

Gracious and Holy God, whose mind conceived a world resplendent with beauty and goodness, whose heart envisioned a people governed by your love, and whose timeless eye has witnessed the rise and fall of history’s kingdoms, we pray to you as a nation humbled by the burdens of freedom. 

This precious gift you have granted to us - the free will to choose our own destiny, to enjoy the triumphs of our prudence, and to live with the consequences of our mistakes – bears a responsibility to appeal to wisdom beyond ourselves, and to serve an interest greater than our own.

And so, O Lord, on this day in which we inaugurate a new term for the leaders of this land, clarify our commitment to you and the aims of your kingdom.  Remind us that our primary citizenship is defined neither by borders or ideologies, but by a Love that called us into being, and calls us into service. 

Grant to our President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden a wisdom to discern the common good from political expedience, the way of justice from the way of disparity, the embrace of self-evident equality from the division of harmful self-interest, and the currency of love from the gluttony of greed. 

We are a people in need today, for too many yet sleep in hunger and wander the streets without shelter.  There are those whose finances are depleted by a worrisome economy and crushed by the burdens of unemployment.  We are engaged in wars too costly to calculate, and families are separated from loved ones serving overseas.  Our cities are marred by the bloodshed of violence, and there are those whose inability to access affordable health care prevents even a basic standard of life.  We yearn for the day when every valley will be raised up, every mountain brought low, and all our rough places plain. 

Yet, in all things, and even throughout the course of this inaugural day, remind us that our hope and promise rest not in manufactured systems of power, but in you alone.  Forgive us, O Lord, for relying on our government to grant us that which only you can provide:  security from all harm, an ethic of love, and a mutual embrace of one another as your children. 

Therefore, call us together, as your holy people and the living body of your son Jesus Christ, to live out your bidding as builders of your kingdom.  As we pray for our President and all of our elected officials, lead us into new endeavors to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you.  Show us more opportunities to put your love into action here and abroad.  Empower us to effect change, both in and through our systems of government.  And may the inaugural words of your son Jesus Christ be true in its telling today: 

“Today, the Scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

In your holy name we pray, Amen.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

Later this afternoon I will be flying to Laguna Beach, California, for a continuing education event called “CraftLab” with noted author and preacher Rob Bell.  It is a workshop reserved for only fifty people, who will work with Mr. Bell to brainstorm creative ways to conceive, construct, and deliver sermons.  It takes place Tuesday and Wednesday, and I’ll be back in town Thursday night.  In the event of an emergency, please contact the church office.

Once again, the youth group will be hosting a snack sale on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, to raise money for their upcoming ski trip.  All youth wishing to come on the trip are expected to assist with the sale and provide items.  If you are interested in contributing items for the sale, please bring them to church that morning.  For more information, contact Lisa Sampson.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com <http://mdevega.blogspot.com/>  
To unsubscribe from this e-mail distribution list, please reply to this e-mail and write "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.
Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/cherokeespumc.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Time I Ran Away from Home

January 15, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Leave it up to family to keep you humble.

I am sending this message to you from Florida, where I am spending the week with the Florida Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to interview candidates for ministry.  Prior to beginning our work, I spent some time celebrating my fortieth birthday with my parents, my two brothers, and their families.

It did not take long into our dinner before my loving younger brothers turned the meal from “celebrate” Magrey into “roast” Magrey.  Forget respecting your elders.  Throw pastoral deference out the window.  And that pedestal on which some of you may place me?  It’s more like a dunk tank to the two of them.  They were quick to offer their most embarrassing memories they had of me:

“Remember the time we played baseball in the front yard and you bruised your ribs crashing into our neighbor’s bushes?” one of them said.

“How about the time you hit your head so hard on the metal frame of the sliding glass door that we saw electrical sparks fly off your head?” the other one chimed in gleefully.

“Do you remember that time you thought you were a ninja and you kicked a gigantic crack in the wall?”  Their laughter had hit high gear.

And as it turned out, my brothers were not the only ones who jumped into the fun.

“Remember when you were little and couldn’t pronounce your name?” My mom loves to tell this story.  “We’d say, ‘What’s your name?’  And you’d say, ‘Mah-GAH-bah-gah.’”

“And you were so afraid of the dark.  One night, when we turned off the lights for you to go to sleep, you screamed in panic, ‘I CAN’T SEE MY FACE!’”

“And then there was the time you took swimming lessons, and you were so afraid of the water that you threw up on the side of the pool!”

“Oh, and remember the time you ran away from home?”

Okay, let me explain that one.

I was about three years old when I visited my parents’ family in the Philippines.  Over the few months of my extended visit, I had gotten to know several of my younger, school-aged cousins.  Every morning, they walked to school, leaving me behind until their return in the afternoon.  Naturally, the concept of school was quite foreign to a kid my age, and I wondered what they did during the day when they were gone.  So, one day, curiosity got the best of me.  I got up early one morning and, unbeknownst to my parents, walked right out the front door, joined up with my cousins, and followed them to the Silonay Elementary School.

My parents, realizing I was nowhere in the house to be found, began to panic.  Eventually, one of my mother’s sisters found me at the school and brought me home.  “Guess who I found at the school,” she told my mother.  “And he’s still wearing his pajamas.  And, look.  There’s a giant rip in the seat of his pants.”  There’s no reason to admit to you that last part of the story, except it was true, and it adds to the comedic embarrassment of the whole fiasco.  Overnight, I had simultaneously become a runaway, a fashion icon, and a streaker, all at the age of three. 


There’s more about the story that I don’t recall, like what my parents said to me when they found me.  And I certainly don’t remember what I told them.  But as I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, I kind of wish I had been able to quote for them this passage from Luke 2:49:

“Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”  

On second thought, maybe only Jesus could get away with talking to his parents like that. 

We are in the midst of a new sermon series called “The Boy Who Would Be King,” chronicling the childhood stories of Jesus in Luke’s gospel.  There’s very little that we know about his life between ages one to thirty, so any story about Jesus as a youth must be there for a reason.  Of the four gospels, Luke is the only one to tell us stories about Jesus as a boy and his developing understanding of who he was.  In John’s gospel, Jesus is clearly aware of his divinity from the very beginning of time.  In Mark, and to a certain degree Matthew, the divinity of Jesus does not come into clear focus until the moment of his baptism.  But in Luke, these tender years of Jesus’ adolescence were incredibly important, as he “grew up and became strong….and God’s favor was on him.”

Why study Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ early years?  It’s simple:  they echo our own spiritual journeys.  We, too, are called to a steady, developing maturity in our faith.  We need to “grow up,” and “become strong,” and “be filled with God’s wisdom.”  And, there are some watershed moments in our lives when we have to leave the cozy confines of the life we have been living and spend time in diligent, rigorous spiritual pursuits.  In short, it is necessary for us to spend time in our Father’s house.

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we dig deeper into this unusual story, and discover together what it means to “mature in wisdom and years,” and to have God’s favor upon us.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

Luke 2:41-52
41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.
42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom.
43 After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it.
44 Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends.
45 When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them.
47 Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers.
48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked.  His mother said, “ Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you! ”
49 Jesus replied, “ Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house? ”
50 But they didn’t understand what he said to them.
51 Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart.
52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Water from Home

January 8, 2013

Dear St. Paul's Family,

It's funny the memories that come to mind on the eve of one's fortieth birthday. I've been spending time over the last week reminiscing over all the people, places, and life stage events that have marked my four decades on this earth.  As those memories converged with my preparations for this Sunday's sermon, my thoughts converged on a certain mundane object:  a yellow Tupperware water pitcher.

Until 1995, when I was twenty-two years old, I had never lived more than thirty minutes from my childhood home.  I attended the same school for twelve years, gone to college in my hometown, and even moved back to live with my parents for a year after graduation as God was calling me into ministry. Then, in 1995, my family loaded up my belongings in a cargo van and drove me nearly 1,000 miles to my new residence for the next three years, United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

After my parents and two brothers helped me unpack my boxes and settle into my on-campus apartment, I felt a pit in my gut as I watched them drive away for their long trek back to Florida.  My first year in seminary was a time of rapid, jarring adjustment, a mixture of theological maturation, career discernment, and, of course, profound homesickness.

Soon after my family left, I noticed they left in my refrigerator a water pitcher that my mother had filled with kitchen tap water prior to our trip up to Ohio, for us to drink along the way.  It was water from Florida, water from my family, water from home.  I'm still sheepish to admit this now, but given that I turn forty tomorrow, I'm a bit less reluctant to admit some of the more childish things I believed and did when I was younger.

So do you want to know what I did?

For a whole year, I refused to drink the water from that pitcher.  It stayed in the back of my refrigerator, right where my mother left it.  It was my singular connection to home, to my roots, and to my identity.  So, I chose to cherish it, preserve it, and let it remind me of who I was.  Whenever I was homesick, I merely had to open the refrigerator, and know that despite all the traumatic change happening around me and within me, I always had a bit of home right there with me.  

We tend to journey through life in an arc, not a straight line.  The older we get, the more we realize that life is not a succession of past-present-future, but of growing up at home, leaving home, and eventually longing for home.  For some of us, that home is a return to a physical place, with loved ones who have always been part of our journey.  For others of us, even most of us, home is the experience of discovering who we really are, who we are meant to be, and who we have been all along.

For people of faith like us, those moments of epiphany are symbolized by another kind of water.  Not that which is contained in a yellow Tupperware pitcher, but that which is given freely to us as an outward and visible sign of our membership in God's family.

Whenever we are homesick, longing to return to an experience of unconditional love, we need only remember our baptism. Whenever we struggle with our identity - who we are and why we are here - we need only remember our baptism. Whenever we feel lost on a wayward course, feeling alone and discouraged, we need only remember our baptism.  Whenever we wonder if there is a God, and where that God is in the midst of our hardship, we need only remember our baptism.  And when we feel stretched by the pressure to please everyone around us, including the harshest critic within us, we need only remember the baptismal words of God:  “You are my child, my beloved, and in you I am well pleased.”

Join me this Sunday for a service in which we will remember our baptism and reaffirm our baptismal vows.  Together, let’s head for home.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

Thank you, St. Paul's UMC, for your faithful stewardship over the past year! We are grateful to announce that we have finished 2012 by paying all of our expenses, including 100% of our apportionments, and it looks like we will again achieve third-mile status in our giving to local and global missions. Thanks be to God for your generosity!

Several important lay leaders of this church have been very active over the past several weeks negotiating with our insurance company on a final settlement for our kitchen and dining hall.  We started with a $400,000 gap between what they were offering and our estimates for construction, and now we are still $250,000 apart.  Today, our insurance company is bringing in a third-party, independent claims adjuster who specializes in church facilities.  That person will be accompanied by our own architects and our own lay leaders as they conduct a walk-through in our damaged areas and come up with another estimate.  Please be in prayer for that meeting today.  Thank you for your patience throughout this time of transition, and thank you for your prayers as we work to bring this to a resolution soon.