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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Wisconsin’s new governor, Governor Walker, has caused a great deal of controversy with his proposed budget cuts.  I do understand that the state is in financial trouble and cuts in spending are needed.  I would not want to be the one responsible for choosing what to cut, nor do I have a lot of creative ideas on how to save money for Wisconsin.  Even though I don’t live in southeatern Wisconsin, I was angry that Governor Walker refused to accept the federal money to build light rail between Milwaukee and Madison, a project that not only would have helped transportation but would have created hundreds of new jobs.  The recent brouhaha about limiting the rights of state employees, teachers and nurses to collectively bargain and requiring them to pay more toward their pensions and health care coverage as well as cutting medicaid eligibility has been front page news.  I am still working on digesting that issue.  However, today I received a disheartening letter that I can identify with personally, both as a citizen and a poet.  The letter (see below) states that Governor Walker intends to decommission the committee that selects and supports a state poet laureate and cut the funding.

I can remember when the poetry community of Wisconsin rejoiced over the creation of an official Wisconsin Poet Laureate by Governor Thompson.  My friend and outstanding poet, Ellen Kort, was named our first poet laureate.  She traveled and worked extremely hard to create poetry events and to promote the understanding and enjoyment of poetry all around the state, including schools and prisons.  She was followed by an equally outstanding poet, Marilyn Taylor, who continued to further education about poetry.  More special poetry events were created.  Last fall, I was proud to be at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets meeting when our third state poet laureate was announced, again a very talented poet I have known for some time, Bruce Detlefson.

It seems that Governor Walker has decided that eliminating the state poet laureate, and thus the $2000 funding of the position, is necessary to help trim the state budget.  But why does Governor Walker have to stop naming a poet laureate?  He should continue to support this position and allow private citizens and organizations, like the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets for instance, to fund the position. I realize that this blog’s readership is small, but I want to encourage those of you who are reading this right now and agree with me to let Governor Walker know that we still want a poet laureate!  Why must the fine arts always be the first to be cut when times get hard?  Music, art and literature don’t support life but they surely make life worth living!  Stand up and support the arts with me.    Cathy Conger 

The following is the letter I referred to above from Les Smith, president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets: 

Dear Fellow Poets and WFOP Members,

As you may or may not be aware, our new governor has opted not to continue the Poet Laureate Commission and has ended its annual $2000 funding, effective immediately. Please note that this does not strip Bruce Dethlefsen of his post as Wisconsin Poet Laureate. Bruce was named to that position as one of the final acts of the previous governor, and his term as Poet Laureate would continue for the full two years. Without a Poet Laureate Commission, however, there will be no one to review or appoint new Poets Laureate after Bruce’s term ends. Consequently, the Poet Laureate Commission has decided to continue its own existence, and its members are currently in discussion with possible umbrella organizations to give them a home. They’ve promised to reveal more information once things are settled.  

Obviously, they are committed to continue naming new Poets Laureate in the future, with or without governmental approval. There are wrinkles to be considered, however, so they are being careful as they move forward. For further details on the Poet Laureate Commission’s situation, I refer you to this post on Cathryn Cofell’s Facebook page,  http://on.fb.me/he32af, or to Jane Hamblen’s statement on the Verse Wisconsin Facebook page.  As for the WFOP’s role in this, you may recall that we have donated more than once to a fund to support the program permanently, and that we have given further to meet added expenses incurred by our Poets Laureate. The WFOP board intends to continue that sort of support in the future, believing that is your desire. (We will, of course, report to you any such giving, and will bring any large expenditures before the membership for a vote, as always. Given that the annual honorarium has been ended, I suspect we may wish to contribute to that fund when the need comes up early next year.) 

In closing, I would like to speak personally about the situation. On the one hand, I might credit Governor Walker with making this decision in keeping with a no-nonsense attitude toward budgeting. On the other, I suspect that he could have found some way to continue the program, even if he felt funding was unwarranted. From what I have learned of his history, however, I suspect that the governor does not view the “liberal” arts with a friendly eye. Personally, I would suggest that you spread the news of his decision now, far and wide, while the topic of his budget bill is hot. Whether people agree or disagree with that bill, I believe most will see this decision to discontinue the Poet Laureate Commission as an unnecessarily frugal, if not downright foolish, abandonment of Wisconsin’s arts community.  Thank you for your time and efforts on behalf of Wisconsin poetry. 

Sincerely, Lester Smith

President, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (www.WFOP.org)

I have always told my children (and anyone else who will listen) that the learning of any body of knowledge is never a waste.  I believe that the greatest lesson I learned at my alma mater, St. Olaf College, was that learning is the most powerful tool we have throughout life, next to the ability to love.  How often did you ask, when you were a student, “What do I have to know this for?” ?  How often have you heard it from your children or your students?  Perhaps you will never find a use for an obscure mathematical equation from high school physics class (however, there is a very good chance that you will at some point) , but learning it, applying it to a real life problem, and knowing where to find it again if you need it, are skills that “grease” the mental pathways that allow you to learn other things faster and easier.  And as an extra bonus, life-long learning has been proven to help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease!

Today I read an interview with Jody Kleppe Horner, president of Cargill’s Meat Division and a member of the Board of Regents of St. Olaf College, published in St. Olaf’s alumni magazine.  Mrs. Horner was asked what she had learned in college that had helped her most in her 26 year career.  She said it was the ability to problem solve in the broadest sense and the passion, dedication, and hard work required to perform at a professional level.  Then she shared her favorite quote, which I would like to pass on here. It comes from philosopher Eric Hoffer:

“In times of change, the learners shall inherit the earth while the knowers, previously successful, will find themselves perfectly equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”   Eric Hoffer

 

We all must be continuous learners and problem solvers, staying open to new ideas and opportunities.

My father, who lives in Pittsburgh, PA  has a brother named Bob who lives in Mound, Minnesota.  In their retirement, they have enjoyed countless exchanges of goofy stuff through email and regular mail.  With the realization that I was a poet, a few years ago, they decided to include me in their nonsense.  Uncle Bob wrote some poetry which he sent to me.  My father thought I should respond in verse.  Here is the humorous result!

 ROBERT B. NO LONGER POET LAUREATE OF MOUND, MINNESOTA

 

There once was a poet named Bob

who was chosen as Mound=s poet snob.

AWill it fatten my purse?@

Bob responded in verse

and now he is out of a job.

 

MOUND MAYOR REINSTATES BOB AS POET LAUREATE

 

Have you heard of our poet profound

whose erudite verses astound?

Said the mayor of the city,

ABob=s rhymes are so witty,

we must make him Laureate of Mound.@

 

 

From the Saucer

 

I haven=t made a fortune.

It=s probably too late now.

And yet it doesn=t matter.

I=m wealthy anyhow.

I have family who loves me

and friendships by the score.

I=m drinking from the saucer

for my cup can hold no more.

 

When troubles have besieged me

and my faith has lost its voice,

I=ve learned pain in life=s expected

but misery=s a choice.

In the good times and the trials,

I=ve reaped more than I have sowed.

I=m drinking from the saucer

for my cup has overflowed.

 

I praise the Lord who=s given me

His strength when I had none.

And may I bear my neighbor=s load

in turn when he=s undone.

Then we=ll thank our God together

for the blessings He=s bestowed

As we=re drinking from the saucer

`cause our cups have overflowed.

 

Copyright February 2011

True Love

True love is neither physical nor romantic.

True love is an acceptance of all that is,

all that has been,

all that will be,

and all that will never be.

True love is how you stay alive

even after you’re gone.

by Cathy Conger 

copyright 2011

Discipleship and the Church in America
Two weeks ago I received the newsletter from the Green Lake Conference Center in Green Lake, Wisconsin. The conference center is a part of the American Baptist Church. I have been attending the Christian Writer’s Conference there nearly every summer since 1990 so I am on their mailing list. In the newsletter, Pastor Ken Giacoletto, president of Green lake Conference Center, wrote an article on the direction of the church in America that caught my attention. He began the article with a list of some major trends that have emerged in his conversations with the many pastors and church leaders that come to Green Lake.

1. Pastors of all size churches are experiencing burnout at an ever increasing rate.
2. The pressure to attract people, the seeker-driven church, is moving many churches to a “come and see” marketing strategy as opposed to “go and serve” mission strategy.
3. Mega churches find it difficult to provide the next generation of leadership since so many who attend the mega church do so because of the charisma of the founding leader.
4. Pastors are realizing that while there may be growth in the seeker-driven church, they are concerned that people are not growing as deep disciples of Christ.
5. Finally, a nagging question-What difference is the church making in society?

Studies of the early church, which operated in the middle of a pagan Roman culture, calculate that it grew at a rate of about 16% a year, until it had taken over the Roman culture. The Roman culture at that time was not so different from our own in America today. So how was the early church able to grow so fast? Did they mimic the culture around them in order to attract people to faith? Did they build grand buildings which brought people to “come and see”? No. They did just the opposite. The early church that Peter and Paul established tended to use the one on one relationship to bring people to faith in Christ. They took discipleship very seriously; it was the foundation of a strong church. Jesus said to the Jews who had believed, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31. It is interesting to note that there was no church “building” until the church was nearly 200 years old! Are there lessons to be learned from the early church? I offer here a few.

1) The church in America has concepts and principles ingrained that may work well in business, but do not always apply to building the church. Most businesses operate on a one, two, or five year plan. Goals are set, targets are met, and failure or success is easy to measure. But the church’s vision goes beyond our lifetime. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20. The early church had a God-sized goal; it took them 300 years to change the culture. Maybe we need to have a God-sized goal in the church today, a goal that goes beyond our abilities and beyond our life expectancy. Would we not then rely on God and not on our own wisdom and talents?

2) Perhaps we will also have to abandon our cultural idea that “bigger is better”. Bigger may work in business, but it doesn’t necessarily build disciples who are totally committed to Christ. When you study the Bible over a period of time, you can’t help but realize that raising your hand and saying a prayer may be all you need to be “saved”, but becoming a true Christ follower takes a lot more work. . Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me, will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25. As Pastor Giacoletto writes,
“This is really not a faith for the lazy. Jesus had a good idea when he decided to work with twelve.”
Billy Graham once said,
“I think one of the first things I would do would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve men around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price. It would cost them something in time and effort. I would share with them everything I have, over a period of years. Then I would actually have twelve ministers among the laymen who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two churches that are doing that, and it is revolutionizing the church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time not with the crowds, but with twelve men.”

The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I Timothy 6:12
“Study to prove yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” II Timothy 2:15
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.” II Timothy 4:2

3) The strategy of mimicking the culture around us in our worship is controversial. Should we set our worship apart from the culture or put Christian words to the current secular style? Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18-19
I know I am treading on toes, but, for example, I attended a mega church last summer where we were directed to sit in the overflow room where our only tie to the worship service was a giant TV monitor in the room. I did not feel I was a part of the body of Christ that day. TV monitors in church so the masses can see the pastor - they serve a useful purpose, I suppose, or they wouldn’t be there, but after looking at a screen all week long at home and work, what about if we were to look at each other instead or gather in smaller groups where the preacher is able to speak more intimately with the congregation? I guess this goes back to the “bigger is better” question. Maybe someone has been able to gather the statistics to show how many people come to Christ and become disciples from hearing a Christian rock band in a huge stadium. Maybe it’s a lot. After all, large numbers have been coming to Christ in huge stadiums during the Billy Graham crusades. Still, of those, the majority who stay with the faith and bear fruit down the road are those who are discipled in a local church or home group. The point is that we should be constantly asking the question: What is true worship? Shouldn’t we be leaving church on Sunday knowing that we have encountered a Holy God, worshipped Him in truth and left with a charge to Go and Serve?

4) Here’s something else to think about. Are we measuring success in the church the way they did in the early church? Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last.” John 15: 16
Pastor Giacoletto writes,
When I am talking with a pastor who is frustrated with his or her ministry, I always ask the question, “How many people in your congregation are totally sold out to Christ?” The answer is generally 3-5%, which is, coincidentally, the percentage of tithers in the average church. As the discussion goes further, it usually gets to why the number is so small and the answer is that if the pastor pushed the congregation to serious discipleship, he/she would probably lose people. Really? Do you think that you really have them then? I always end by asking the pastor, “Would you rather have the 400 people in your church with 3-5% committed or would you prefer to have 50 who are totally committed?”
They always choose the 50.”
I would like to be one of the totally committed, the hardcore “we will follow, we’ll do anything, we’re all about going out to make disciples”, wouldn’t you?

Finally, I think we all want the church to make a difference in our society. Often it seems that going to church is no different in the world’s eyes than going to Kiwanis or any other social club (actually, organizations like Kiwanis are making a difference). Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35 . Jesus told his disciple Peter, “I tell you that you are now Peter (meaning `the Rock’) and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18.
I know my own congregation is always striving to make a difference in our community (and in the world through missions), but it can be frustrating. Many Christians in America are saying, “We have this beautiful facility, we have all these people that come on weekends, and we raise thousands of dollars to keep it all operating. But on Monday morning we look around our community and not much has changed. We’re not making a difference in schools, hunger, crime, government, etc.” Just tweaking what is not working isn’t going to do it. Only when Christians are radically and fully committed to Christ will we see change and even then, it is God’s doing, not ours.

Sadly, I find myself in a sort of spiritual stupor these days. I admit to being way too inward- focused. I feel lazy, as if I’ve lost my passion. My spiritual fire needs to be stirred, and kindling added, if I am ever to become the deep disciple that God desires. Have you been there? Jesus’ words to the church of Laodicea speak to me right now. “I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16. That shakes me up! I guess that is why Pastor Giacoletto’s article spoke to me. Perhaps you are one of those totally sold out disciples that God is using mightily, but you feel pretty alone out there. I thank God for you; I’m ashamed that I haven’t joined you. Perhaps others of you are in the same place I am right now and need to hear this message. I thank God for you too, because you are one more person that God can use if you will put yourself out there and let Him. I pray that by this time next year, we can look back at ourselves from a totally different position as world-changers through the power of the Holy Spirit.

*Parts of this D-mail were taken from the article , 7/24: Living in the Holiness of God by Ken Giacoletto, published in the Green lake Conference Center 2011 Special Edition vol43

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the church in America. I pray that we wake up and reach out to our nation so they know that You are alive, that You are the only God who can save them. Lord, I don’t like to think about being persecuted for preaching your word, but I hate that the church is ignored in this nation. I hate that the few who do speak out have to endure ridicule all alone while most of us in the church pew go about our pitiful business. Lord, help us change. Help us to be sold out so that our voices and deeds will make a true difference. I pray for those whom you have called to disciple other believers. Lead them and guide them as they raise up another generation of godly laborers. In Jesus’ name, Amen

D-mail for the week of February 10, 2011
Scripture
: “The Lord gives His people strength; the Lord grants His people security.” Psalm 29:11
“She is clothed with strength and dignity.” Proverbs 31:
“Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”
Hebrews 10: 35-36

SECURE WOMEN. ISN’T THAT AN OXYMORON?

“It doesn’t have to be”, says Beth Moore, author of the book, So Long, Insecurity. Of course, women throughout time have wrestled with insecurities. But in the last few decades the insecurities of women have gone viral in our culture. The women’s movement sought to erase the insecurities women felt in relationships with men, and in that area, it’s been reasonably successful. However, it seems to me that now there has been an exponential growth of insecurity between women. Women are supposed to support one another, but it seems that nobody’ clapping, and everybody is a competitor. That is not to say that many of us don’t have secure, genuine, long term friendships, girlfriends who are among out greatest treasures in life. Most of us realize though, that intimidation in various arenas can suffocate the life out of any of these friendships. It also turns potential friends into competitors. It’s time we girls help each other out.

So what insecurities am I talking about? How about irrational jealousies, obsession with what people think, constant comparisons with other women’s personalities, talents, bodies, financial situations, spirituality, mothering ability, etc.? In her book, Beth Moore shares the results of a survey that she sent to over 100 men on the subject of insecurity among women. She says, “The guys who participated in our survey were at no loss for words when it came to describing women’s insecurities, though their appraisals included far more than critiques. The majority spoke with affirmation and respect toward women, and many owned significant responsibility and regret for fueling the fire of female insecurity.” One survey response said,
We as men have failed to assure women that they are God’s most beautiful creation. A woman’s insecurities could be drastically reduced if men would love like Jesus did.
Overwhelmingly, however, survey participants noticed that women seemed most insecure in the area of appearance. They wished that we women weren’t so self-conscious about our appearance. One guy wrote,
Most obvious is when women are around women; they try to size each other up and look for reasons to not get along. They seem easily intimidated, whether by physical beauty, character status, or whatever makes them feel that the other woman has more going for her, and a barrier goes up. Another wrote,
Insecure women ask a lot of “Am I?” questions, either directly or indirectly: Am I beautiful? Am I loved? Am I a good mom?

Let’s face it. It’s all about ego, that sin as old as mankind called PRIDE. We are all intimidated from time to time because people and situations nick our pride. We compare ourselves with the photos of celebrities with their perfect figures and perfect skin and make-up, forgetting that they are all made up by beauty experts and the photos are all air brushed! But we cannot blame the media or our culture for all of it. Our constant propensity to compare ourselves with other women is wrecking our perceptions of ourselves and others. Isn’t it weird that most of us aren’t in a public place for five minutes before we look around at the female players in the room and judge where we rank? The worst place for me has been at college reunions (does everyone have a PhD or CEO after their name but me?) and at the beach (I cannot really enjoy myself if I am surrounded with skinny women walking about in bikinis). Don’t get me started on shopping for clothes! Now that I am a grandmother, I suddenly notice that half the stores at the mall are marketing towards the under -30 crowd. Am I destined to dress like my grandmother did in the 50s? Our culture offers us a very small window in which to feel good about ourselves. Shouldn’t we refuse that offer and instead look for a reasonable ethic to live by? This youth-obsessed movement would lose half its steam if we quit puffing breath into it.

The women’s movement has shot its wounded and we have fallen down dead too many times! If intelligence is high on our list, we will try to assess whether or not the women around us are smarter or not. Same with physical appearance, age, talent, giftedness, spirituality, and success. Our insecurity constantly leads us to draw wrong conclusions!
Beth Moore uses a math analogy to describe this.
“If security says 2+2=4, insecurity says 2+2=9. In other words, she is this = I am that = I’m a loser. Or sometimes insecurity can play out the opposite: she is this + I am that = she is a loser! ” For instance,
I tried to talk to her, but she didn’t seem interested. She hates me. Or, she’s really gorgeous. I’m ugly. Or, Look how she dresses. I have the fashion sense of a clown.
Why must we continually sip on a cocktail of ego and competition?

Fortunately, pride is easy to spot. Of course, insecurity can be the result of outside forces, such as coming from an unstable or abusive home, suffering a significant loss, or enduring a dramatic change in our lives, but ego is the most common. Thankfully, Jesus has given us a way out of sin. It’s called repentance. A clear heart and a clean path are only a confession away. When we live in Christ, we can be hurt without also being insecure. We can be disappointed without also being insecure. We can be shocked without being insecure. We can be humbled without being insecure. Beth Moore writes,
“Insecurity is more than a complex emotion. It is a lie about our God-sanctioned condition. While something may cause us to feel sad, confused, angry, or threatened, we have the power to choose whether or not it gets to assault our security… Recently someone I love shot me with a poisoned arrow aimed right for the center of my heart. Just as my soul was about to wilt like a weed, I steadied myself and remembered who I am in Christ. Then I thought these words toward that person: You don’t get to go that deep. I refuse to let your words go all the way from my ears to the core of who I am. Nope, I’m not doing it.”

We must catch ourselves in the act of unhealthy thinking and switch tracks. In Galations 5:26 we find powerful words to whisper to ourselves when we’re tempted to enter unhealthy competition with others. I especially like this verse from The Message translation:
“We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

Besides not comparing ourselves with other women, what else can we do to fight for security? We can 1) start personalizing other women. In order to view someone as a rival, we have to depersonalize her to a certain extent. If we view a potential rival as an equally broken person with real problems, pain, hopes, dreams and disappointments, we will have taken a huge step away from rivalry. To help other women in this cut-throat culture, we can 2) be sensitive not to trip another women’s insecurity switch. If you have more financial means than someone, don’t suggest you have lunch at an expensive café. Do you have a great figure, but know that your friend is very uncomfortable in her body, don’t throw a pool party. If you have the world’s greatest husband and you know your friend is on the brink of divorce, stop talking about husbands. Don’t allow others to peck at the weak one in your barnyard. As we trust God for our security, 3) we must be examples of secure women. Most women will never believe that a secure woman is a real, live possibility until they meet one, as Beth Moore says, “face to face, problem-to-problem, threat-to-threat, chase-to grace.” II Corinthians 4 says,

The God who said, `Let light shine out of darkness’, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

If you are having problems with insecurity, I challenge you to read Beth Moore’s book, So Long, Insecurity. Since I won’t be here for Valentine’s Day, let me tell you that God has a Valentine for you. He loves you with an everlasting love and in His eyes (as well as mine) you, my dear sister, are LOVELY!

PRAYER:  Lord, I pray that you will help me to believe what You have said about me rather than what others say or what the media proclaims. I pray for healing for those who have lost their security through experiences of abuse or continuous instability in their lives. Show them that You love them unconditionally and always. May we trust not in our own reliance or in flesh and blood, nor in our husbands, our health, our jobs, our families, our friends, or our bank accounts, but in You. Amen