A Fall Season Like No OtherDon't Let This Difficult Year Keep You From Celebrating the Things That Bring You Joy

A Fall Season Like No Other
Don't Let This Difficult Year Keep You From Celebrating the Things That Bring You Joy

pumpkin variety

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Fall’s welcome arrival in late September heralds the return of everything pumpkin. Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin scented candles, pumpkin decor; anything and everything you can imagine is guaranteed to be touched by the pumpkin spice fairy.

I’ve even seen pumpkin-flavored goods taken to extreme levels, like pumpkin spice protein powder, pumpkin spice salsa, and (shudder) pumpkin spice kale chips.

Despite my avoidance of most things pumpkin other than coffee or pie, many people enjoy their daily fix of pumpkin. They also realize that the return of pumpkin spice on every menu and grocery shelf in the U.S. means that cooler temperatures, beautiful and bright fall leaves, and big family gatherings are here once again.

But, let’s face it, this year is going to be different than any fall we’ve enjoyed in the past. COVID-19, and the strict social distancing, mask-wearing, and limits on group gatherings are going to severely limit some of the fall festivities we’ve grown accustomed to celebrating.

We’re already seeing talks of Halloween being “canceled” this year; the CDC has recommended that traditional Halloween activities, like door-to-door trick-or-treating, be avoided to stop the spread of the virus.

Churches that celebrate trunk-or-treat or fall festivals will also have to rethink their plans this year.

And Thanksgiving? Well, I don’t imagine most of us want to think about alternative plans for a holiday that is traditionally celebrated with large family gatherings and shared meals.

So what does it look like to celebrate fall traditions in the middle of a global pandemic?

At a recent staff meeting, someone brought up how different this year’s fall celebrations will be and how they are usually excited to decorate their house with fall colors, pumpkins and spooky Halloween decor. But why should they even bother putting up decorations this year if there’s nothing to celebrate?

As we all pondered this common feeling about the upcoming season, someone brought up the idea of celebrating for yourself; as in, if decorating your living space with fall decor gives you joy and lifts your spirits, then do it for you.

If buying all the pumpkins and ornamental gourds at your local nursery makes you happy, do it.

If pumpkins spice everything gives you a burst of positivity in your morning coffee, pour away.

Don’t let the things we can’t do affect the things that we still can do.

We can’t celebrate the way we used to, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate at all and we can’t find joy in this wonderful time of the year.

One thing that I look forward to every fall is camping season and the beautiful color changes we experience throughout our beautiful state. And guess what? I can still do that! The pandemic has not stopped me from getting out and enjoying the peace and quiet of a secluded nature walk.

Remember to celebrate the little things that bring you life and meaning, and make a point to celebrate fall in a way that brings you real joy and happiness.

Weathering the Unpredictable Storms of Life

Weathering the Unpredictable Storms of Life

storm

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

A few months ago, my wife and I decided we needed to take a much-needed vacation somewhere out of state.

With flying being out of the question, and not wanting to spend a full day of our vacation driving to a faraway beach, we decided on Galveston, Texas as our vacation destination. There isn’t as much to do on Galveston Island as some of the nicer beaches in Florida, but a week away from work — and on a beach — was still a vacation, regardless of where we were.

However, Mother Nature and her two destructive friends, Marco and Laura, had different plans for us.

As soon as we arrived in Galveston, we were being told we were going to have to leave. Anticipating the massive evacuation from the island and the traffic that came with it, we rebooked our AirBnB and headed out the next morning.

Thankfully, we found an available Airbnb in nearby Austin, Texas where we could spend the rest of our vacation week.

And although Hurricane Marco weakened, and Hurricane Laura thankfully did not end up being as deadly as anticipated — despite making landfall as a Category 4 storm — the unpredictability of the storms created a very stressful week for residents of Louisiana, Texas, and even Arkansas.

That unpredictability, and the stress that comes with it, can be a hard battle to fight.

It can feel like everything is out of your control. In the case of a rapidly strengthening hurricane charging through the Gulf, it very much is beyond anything you can control.

We were certainly stressed about having to change our vacation plans. I cannot imagine how the people who lived in the path of the storm must have felt, having to leave their homes in a flash, and not knowing if they would be there when they returned.

When I feel overwhelming stress, I turn to one of my favorite verses of scripture for comfort.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (CEB)

Notice how it doesn’t say that awful, stressful, unpredictable things will not happen to you. It’s guaranteed that they will. And in 2020? Yeah, you can bet on it.

But what Jeremiah is trying to offer here is a bit of comfort in the midst of chaos.

The Lord will watch over you in tough times. You will not be forgotten or abandoned. Even when it’s tough and the pain doesn’t make sense, you can turn to the Word of God and know that you are protected.

I know that’s a hard thing to believe in, especially when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, a storm, financial ruin, whatever unpredictable thing it may be.

But I believe that it’s true. I’ve seen the light through life’s darkest moments.

I hope you will remember Jeremiah’s words, place your trust in the Lord, and don’t let the storms of life keep you down.

New Perspectives Can Lead to Changed Hearts

New Perspectives Can Lead to Changed Hearts

neon heart

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

For the past couple of months, I’ve been doing some real soul-searching about what it means to have privilege and how I have failed to examine that privilege in my day-to-day interactions with my neighbors who are people of color.

Like many others who identify as white, the catalyst for this examination was the tragic death of George Floyd, as well as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and a heartbreaking and embarrassing number of others in 2020 alone.

I tend to think that I pay close attention to injustices in the world and try to speak out against these injustices when I can, but something about these most recent deaths really took the conversation to a new level, not just in the United States but around the world.

Suddenly, you had all of these people on social media speaking out when they had never spoken out before.

That’s a good thing. I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty for failing to speak out before. I know that it sometimes takes a long time for hearts and minds to change. There should be nothing embarrassing about receiving new information and changing your opinion based on that. It’s called growth and it should be celebrated in our society, not shamed.

With this new examination of privilege and the brutality directed toward black and brown people in America came an explosion of book recommendations and authors who I had never heard of before. Names like Robin DiAngelo and her book “White Fragility,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and Ibram X. Kendi’s bestselling book “How to Be an Antiracist.” All of these books are featured on the ARUMC landing page for our Dismantling Racism initiative, which you can find here.

I’ve recently purchased many of these books, and I know some of you have as well. I know a lot of you have read Kendi’s book and it’s really challenged the way you view the world.

To that, I say: good. It should challenge you. It should convict you, and it should encourage you to think differently and think of ways that you can lift up black voices and tear down the sin of racism in your own community.

I have not yet read “Antiracist” but it is sitting on my bookshelf right now. The reason I haven’t read it yet is that I decided to start with Kendi’s first published book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

Although I wasn’t a history major in school, I’ve always loved history as a subject. I’m always in pursuit of knowledge, which is no surprise if you know the traits of enneagram fives, which is what I happen to be.

“Stamped” is a powerful book, but it’s also challenging. Kendi presents a history of racism in America, starting from the early 17th century — when colonists from England first came to the Americas — all the way to the modern era.

I felt strongly that I needed to read “Stamped” first in order to understand the basis for racism and white supremacy in America, which has been here from the very beginning.

I can tell you for a fact that much of the history told in this book was never taught to me in public school. Sure, we talked about slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement, but in a very basic sense, leaving out some of the most horrible parts of that history. My classes never explored deeper than a surface level understanding of these events.

But reading this book, and seeing all of the other amazing books about racial justice that people are now paying attention to, has been eye-opening and, at the same time, convicting to me.

It has challenged my understanding of the history I was taught and caused me to re-examine the “facts” about our nation’s founding.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to go make a point to go outside your comfort zone and read, watch and listen to media created by, and about, people of color.

I believe strongly that new perspectives often lead to changed hearts. And so often, voices of color are ignored or forgotten when we talk about history.

Pick up a new book, subscribe to a new podcast, or watch a movie or television series that’s outside of your comfort zone! I’m certain you’ll be surprised by what you learn.

And check back often on the Dismantling Racism page where we will be sharing important resources to create a Church that more accurately reflects the diverse and beautiful Kingdom of God.

The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Have you ever prepared for a presentation, planning out your key points, creating a PowerPoint, memorizing your wording exactly, and then the day of the event completely scrap your entire plan and just wing it?

That’s pretty much what I did a few weeks ago. My mom had asked me and my older brother to speak to her class at Crossett High School for career day. It was mostly a “here’s what I did with my life and make sure you go to college, kids!” kind of presentation.

If you know me, you know that speaking in front of large groups of people is by far one of the most uncomfortable things for me to do. After all, that’s why I went into print journalism instead of TV journalism.

But because it was my mom who asked me (and I know better than to say no to a request from my mother) and because I love my job, I agreed to do it.

So I spent the last month — yes, month because I am somebody who overthinks and overprepares for everything — looking back over my portfolio of writing materials and planning out exactly what I was going to say to these kids.

I had a full list, full of bullet points about what my entire educational experience, every job I worked, all the articles I had written, the exact things I was going to say, when I was going to say it, etc.

But, as I said at the beginning, the day of the presentation, something happened and I completely scrapped my PowerPoint and my talking points.

I was reminded that I usually do my best writing when I put my fingers to the keyboard and let the words flow out, so I did that with my speech as well.

I still hit all of the points I wanted to, but instead of reading accomplishments off of a script like a robot, I talked to the kids and asked them questions and connected with them in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to with a planned out script.

Many of the kids couldn’t care less about what I had to say, of course, but I could tell that some of them were really hearing me and contemplating my words. And maybe I convinced a few of them to pursue a career in communications!

One of the things I learned about this experience is that you can’t plan for everything, and sometimes you’ll do better by not preparing and just letting things happen as they will.

Our Church is kind of like that now. There are all of these groups working on plans and hammering out legislation and advocating for their causes, in the hopes that their plans will come to fruition and everything they hoped for will work out in the end.

But like with my speech on career day, things don’t always follow a script or a formula. We don’t know what will happen. As much as we plan, we can’t plan for everything.

As the saying goes, “the best-laid plains of mice and men often go awry.”

We’re only a few months away from General Conference 2020 and at the end of it, there will be people who get their way and people who don’t.

I don’t know that the legislation submitted at the beginning of the General Conference will be the same legislation we end with. Everything could change between May 5 -15.

But maybe we’ll be better off if we get away from the planning for a bit, let the Holy Spirit come in and give us hearts of peace and compassion, and just wing it.

I hope and pray that something better and fairer and more compassionate and more loving comes out of it than anything we’ve planned so far.

Finding Strength in Our Connectionalism

Finding Strength in Our Connectionalism

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

This month’s stories have made me realize how important our denomination’s connectionalism really is.

If you don’t know what connectionalism is — I’m not being snarky, I didn’t know either until I started working in the conference office — it is a significant piece of Methodist theology that ties every part of the United Methodist Church together.

Connectionalism manifests itself in some of our most common practices, including the appointment of pastors by bishops; our church, district, annual, jurisdictional and general conference meetings; the shared funding for our mission work across the globe; the shared ordination ceremony of our elders and deacons; the list goes on and on.

But on a much smaller scale, our connectionalism reveals itself through the work of the people serving our local churches.

The story of an eye clinic at Oaklawn UMC is one example of a pastor who has brought an idea from one church to another, carrying on the mission of providing health care services to people who cannot afford it on their own.

Another is the therapy dog ministry, which started at Quapaw Quarter UMC and was carried over to Pulaski Heights UMC thanks to passionate leaders who saw the program as a way to minister to their community through the power of paws and fur.

The sharing of ideas and ministries is a wonderful strength of our denomination, and more church leaders should be carrying these ideas over into the churches in which they are appointed.

There’s no reason that a backpack ministry that worked at your last church in the big city can’t be brought over to your new church in rural Arkansas as well.

Even though our denomination seems to be at an impasse, and plans have been made to divide us up, I believe that the ministries we have crafted and the people we have served through shared ideas can still carry on into whatever future lies before the United Methodist Church.

Our connectionalism is our strength. We should always remember that.