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This is a copy of the text of my column that appeared in the Nebraska City News-Press last week regarding the issue of bullying in our schools.

As you may know I, and eleven of my fellow community members, are running for a seat on the Nebraska City Public School Board. A few weeks ago, one of those candidates, Matt Watkins, asked a question, “What is the one issue you would like to see the school board address?

The overwhelming response was the issue of bullying. Matt has said that one of the main reasons his kids are now attending Lourdes Central Catholic was because of bullying and the response to that bullying. I know bullying happens everywhere, and it doesn’t stop with kids. I’ve seen church members be bullies, I’ve seen board members be bullies, there are presidential candidates who are bullies, there are state senators who are bullies. I’ve seen bullying at every level of human from 5-80 year olds, I’ve seen in corporations, small businesses, non-profits, you name it. Bullying is a problem.

It’s a problem because the bully, for the most part, feels inadequate. All they know how to do is harass, belittle, and intimidate. There are as many reasons that people become bullies, as there are bullies. I would also venture a guess that if we took a long look and were honest with ourselves that each and every one of us has been a bully in someway at sometime in our lives.

According to StopBullying.gov:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

I would disagree with this definition but only because I would not limit bullying to “behavior among school aged children”. Other than that I think it’s spot on.

I will admit that I have been a bully in the past, I will also admit to having been bullied in the past. I’m not proud of any of it, but it is part of my story (and I’m not just talking about when I was a kid). I’m also sure that they are related. After being bullied, when I got the upper hand I became a bully, because I felt like I had to take control or assert my dominance or show how important I was. Luckily, I had people in my life that would tell me to cut it out.

Now, as a parent, I want to know if you see my kid bullying other kids or your kid. If my child is exhibiting any of these bullying behaviors I want to know about it. I want their teachers, staff, and administrators to tell me, I want their Sunday School teachers to tell me, I want other parents to tell me.

Don’t demonize my kid, do let me know that there is something I need to address at the home. It’s hard enough as a parent to raise kids, it takes a community to raise positive and well adjusted kids. Some kids (and some adults) in our town have a good support system that will help them learn and grow. (Sometimes that support system makes the problem worse, but that’s another column). A lot of kids (and some adults) don’t have the support they need to grow. It’s up to us do better, as a community.

We can do better by speaking up, we can do better by teaching rather than punishing, we can do better by engaging rather than gossiping. We can do better to stop bullying in our schools and in our community.

 

 

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Over the past couple of weeks several people have asked me why I was running for School Board in Nebraska City. Here is my answer:

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve never done before; I filed to run for an elected office. I am running for a position on the Nebraska City Public School Board. There are a lot of reasons that I choose to put my name in the hat, but they all boil down to a sentiment that I heard growing up. “You may lose your friends, you may lose your money, you may lose your home…but the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education.”

In the past couple of years the school board and the administration of Nebraska City Public Schools have be working hard, not only to provide the best education possible, but also provide as many options for learning as possible. With the announcement of the purchase of the old clinic building on 14th and the old Food Pride building on Central I’m looking forward to see what’s next for our students. My hope is to do my best to clear the way for our students, all our students, to have an opportunity for success. An opportunity to pursue education after they graduate from high school, if they want, at a four year school, a two year school, a trade school, or in the military. I also hope to help set the stage for our students to be successful in the classroom, on the athletic field, the performing stage, and, ultimately, in our community.

We are blessed with many caring teachers, administrators, and staff. I have done my best in the short time that I have lived here to get to know them. Whether that’s been serving as a chaperone for After-School programs for Hayward and the Middle School, working with United Against Violence to host a Kids Day Out, or meeting with teachers, principals, and even folks in the Central Office to find out what they need. I have tried my best to listen and to learn. My hope is to help lift those great, skilled, and caring educators up so they can do their job. My role on the School Board will be to insure they have the infrastructure they need to succeed. It’s all part of the puzzle and we have to work together in order to insure that our students, and our community, have something that no change in the stock or agricultural markets will take away, a solid well-rounded education.

My children are just starting out in the education system here in Nebraska City and we have been very excited with their teachers, the paraprofessionals, and the support staff at Northside. I hope that having young children in the system I will be able to give voice to parents, who make up a key piece in the education of their children. I also want to show my children that it is far more important to get involved than it is to sit on the sidelines and hope for someone to listen to you.

When I was in seminary, I found myself complaining about some of the administrative decisions of the faculty and staff. Someone said, “What are you going to do about it?” I decided right then and there that I would no longer sit on the sidelines and complain or judge the actions of the decision makers. I would become a decision maker. I ran for student government and served as vice-moderator and moderator of the Student Government Assembly. I meet monthly with faculty, twice yearly with trustees, and almost daily with other students. I think we were able to get a lot done and make some positive change.

Now, I know that being the student body president of a small school is very different from serving in an elected position here, but that started my commitment to be a positive influence in my community and I think this is the next step.

I would really appreciate your vote in the upcoming election.

If you have any questions or want to share your thoughts I love to connect on social media. You can see more of my writing and thoughts on my wife’s and my blog (nebraskabolt.wordpress.com) or follow me on twitter (@ggbolt16) or show your support by liking my Greg Bolt for Nebraska City School Board facebook page.

In his book Rewilding the Way – Break Free to Follow an Untamed God, Todd Wynward asks many questions about the state of Western Christianity and the state of our planet.  One of the most intriguing for me was: How can Christians who have a spouse and children that they want to care for and support also radically follow the call from God through Jesus in the times in which we live? This is a question that I often ponder as a Christian who loves God deeply and who also loves my spouse and children deeply.

The book offers biblical background, historical examples and modern day prophets that point to these questions.  I think I was hoping for a more prescriptive approach vs. a descriptive vision because I tend to like lists and steps vs. dreams and stories but that is a difference of style than a critique of the content.  My only wish is that the examples had been a little more broad.  If I’m unable to move to New Mexico or the East or West Coast and not interested in becoming a Mennonite, the stories that relate to my circumstances become thin.

Overall, the book offered me glimpses of what the way forward could be, introduced me to people and movements I knew little about and provided another perspective on what Christianity in the future could look like.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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This is a spoken word piece that I wrote a few years ago that I revisited recently, it’s entitled “You Said Don’t Be Afraid”

You can listen to the audio by following this link

You said don’t be afraid

It is finished?

It can’t be finished…It can’t be over

You said follow me and I did,

You said pray with me and I tried,

You said trust me and…well that one was hard.

How can I trust you now?

You were the one; you were the Christ, the Messiah, the one who fed us, who healed us, who challenged us
All that you said seems a lie,
You’re dead, just like the criminals next to you,

Just like all that have come before you,

You were executed just like your cousin John. He even said you were the one.

You were supposed to be different,

You were supposed to change everything

You were supposed to fix it.

You said don’t be afraid.

How can it be finished?

Do you know how hard it has been to stand with you?

Do you know all the trouble you’ve caused me?

I had to watch you on trial

I had to watch you be humiliated

I had to watch you take it

You didn’t even fight back

You didn’t even stand up for yourself

I had to run for my own safety

I had to hide who I was

I had to watch you be whipped and beaten

If you were who you said you were why didn’t you do anything?

And now you’re dead

What now?

I can’t go back

I can’t start over

You spoke of freedom but everywhere I look there are chains

You said don’t be afraid

I was supposed to have an easier life

I was supposed to have a seat at the table

I was supposed to be part of something.

I was supposed to be a part of the change

I was going to be special

I was going to be safe

It was going to be easy

I was going to be able to be open about who I was

It was going to be different

You said don’t be afraid

But how can I not be afraid?

You’re dead

They won

And now they are coming for me.

I guess you’re right

It is finished.

(image by Pabak Sarkar)

When my copy of Steeped arrived in the mail, I sat and turned through the pages, salivating at all the delicious foods pictured there.  The pictures and layouts had me dreaming of hosting tea parties and warm summer soirees.

 

Life happened and I only ended up having time to make three of the recipes in the book.  They were each from a different section of the book and each called for a different kind of tea.  I live in a small, rural town so I decided to make recipes with ingredients I knew I could find here.  I ended up choosing Mint Pea Soup, Smoky Tomato Soup with Parmesan Thyme Crisps, and Blueberry Scones with Rooibos Honey Butter.

 

Overall, the recipes were easy to follow.  I really liked the creamy tomato soup and the crisps added crunch and flavor that paired wonderfully with the soup.  The blueberry scones were easy to make and the honey butter made them extra decadent.  The mint pea soup ended up tasting mostly just of blended peas and wasn’t a favorite at my house.

 

While each of the recipes called for a different tea, none of the teas ended up being a dominant flavor in the end.  I kept searching for their flavor in each of the dishes but never found I could distinguish them.  I was hoping for more distinct tea flavors in the dishes.

 

I am looking forward to trying more and more of the dishes in Steeped.  Maybe one day I’ll actually get to host a tea party and serve one of the whole menus found in the book.  Until then, I have a beautiful book full of gorgeous food pictures and great recipes to add to my recipe book collection.

You can learn more about the book here: http://anneliesz.com/steeped-book/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

This I believe…

A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ.

It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

Elements of Encounter

IMG_1939This is the sermon, as written, I preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on October 4, 2015. The sermon text was Exodus 1:8-2:10; 3:1-10.

You can click on the audio here.

This week as I was preparing the sermon I came across these thoughts from a group of pastors in Scotland that call themselves “Spill the Beans”. In their most recent publication they say,

“Who are we in this story? Are we the Israelites, held captive to outside manipulating forces, or are we the Egyptians who wittingly or unwittingly are the cause of oppression?

So much in the words and images of our narrative today resonate with the circumstances and emotions within our own society in our current time.

We might reflect on the fact that the Egyptian perspective, metaphorically speaking, mimics our own outlook on life and our actions more than we think. In the first section of today’s narrative we are told that the basis of the Egyptian’s actions stemmed from ‘fear’ of being overrun and the coming together of a strong army who could attack them. It was not out of hatred, loathing, the need for revenge, or desire for more that the Egyptians decided on a strong response. It was more to do with the fact that they were scared that their liberty, within their own land, would be threatened by these foreigners who would come and take their top jobs, reduce their available wealth, clog up institutional welfare provisions, limit the opportunities for their own young, and ultimately threaten their own precious values.”

This story has echoes of the way the Nazis treated the Jews, this story has echoes of the way the slaves were treated in our country, this story has echoes in the current refugee crisis in Europe, this story has echoes of the way any powerful minority treats a powerless majority. Whether it’s in Apartheid South Africa, it’s the 1% treating of the 99% in the US, it’s the echoes that give rise to movements like the Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and on and on.

When those in power encounter fear they often seek to deal with the issues “shrewdly” but that quickly gets out of hand and becomes ruthless. When those in power encounter the injustice of the powerful they are often called to speak out, speak up, and take action.

Like midwives to the Hebrews, Shiprah and Puah, in our story. The midwives who refused to follow the orders of Pharaoh to kill all the male Hebrew children. Sometimes we are called to stand in the face of ruthless oppression even if it means severe consequences. Shiprah and Puah encountered Pharoah, a man who had the power to take their life, but they feared God and chose to follow God rather than Pharaoh.

There are many times in our lives when we have encounters that challenge us, that test our faith, that cause us to change our hearts, that push us to think differently, to respond in love rather than fear.

Whether it’s standing up to a friend who uses racial, homophobic, or insulting slurs. Whether it’s standing up for a friend who is being bullied. Whether it’s fighting unjust laws or demanding justice for others. We will have the opportunity to respond faithfully in all of these encounters.

This week, we got the news of another mass shooting at a school in Roseburg, Oregon. It was the 45th school shooting in 2015 and the 142nd since the tragedy of Sandy Hook. In the midst of this horrific tragedy came the story of Chris Mintz. Mintz is a 30-year-old, Army veteran who is a student at Umpqua Community College. While the shooter was still firing, he charged him. He was at least 5 times. A nurse, also a student, on the scene, who performed CPR on several victims, sat with Chris as he repeated, “This is my son’s birthday.” Thursday was Chris’s 6-year-old son’s birthday. The day that a man armed to the teeth walked in to his classroom and opened fire. Chris knew that he could be hurt or even killed but he allowed the love for his son and his commitment to others to overcome his fear and respond even if it meant his life.

Like Shiprah and Puah before him he used what little power he had to try and save as many lives as he could.

All of us have encounters in our life that call us to use what power we have to try and save as many lives as possible.

Too often when we are faced with these encounters we shrink from our responsibility because we are overcome by fear and, certainly in our world today, we are shown a lot to be fearful of. Economic collapses, drug addiction, the next generation, gun violence, ISIS, Iran, gluten are just a few of the things that we are told to fear on a daily basis.

We know something is wrong, we know something needs to change; we are lost and scared. We no longer know how to deal shrewdly with the problems of our world. We too often like Moses, respond rashly to injustice. Then we run saving ourselves but turning our backs on our neighbors.

As the psalmist says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.“

Even though Moses fled to Midian, God had a plan for him, God saved him from death as a child, he was raised in the house of Pharaoh to learn what it meant to be a leader, he was cast out to know what it felt like to be oppressed and lost. Then God found him, searching for his lost sheep. Moses encountered God in the form of a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, challenging him to speak for God’s people. Calling him to return to the place of his birth and free the Hebrews who had been enslaved for over 400 years. God persuaded him to speak truth to the God of Egypt, to give voice to the powerless by confronting the powerful.

We know the end of the story, so we know that eventually Pharaoh let God’s people go. But in this moment, in this encounter Moses did his best to avoid the challenge, the call from God. The great I AM spoke to Moses and Moses was scared. In the midst of his fear God said, “I will be with you.”

So often we get so wrapped in reasons why we can’t do something that we can’t hear the voice of God speaking words of peace to us.

Today is World Communion Sunday. Today we share the Lord’s Supper not only with those here in this room but with Christians around the globe. Christians who come to this table, this holy place and give action to the words of God, I will be with you.

World Communion Sunday started on the east side of Pittsburgh, PA at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in 1933.

In an article by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles published in the October 2, 2002 edition of the Presbyterian Outlook. Rev. Dalles relates that this initiative was, the pastor, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr’s attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.

Rev. Dalles also asks the question, “What was the world like, in the autumn of 1933—that first World Communion Sunday?” Surprisingly, not much different from the world this autumn of 2015. 1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety—fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future.

As a faith response to the fears of three generations ago, in 1933, a group of leaders at Shadyside Presbyterian Church sought to do something both real and symbolic, to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock. How, they wondered, might one church counteract the pessimism of the larger society? How might they succeed in eliminating the walls of separation between Christians?

So here we are, with what often feels like the walls closing in around us. Even in our own sleepy little town we have stories that feel like we are losing our grip on our safety, but still we encounter God. We encounter God through this meal; we encounter God through our interactions with our friends, family, and neighbors. We encounter God throughout our lives. Oftentimes that is scary, almost always it’s uncomfortable, and every time it causes us to risk something, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of God and our neighbor. So like the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, like Moses’ response to the burning bush, like the 30 year old Army vet, Chris Mintz in Roseburg let us use these encounters to respond to God’s call with the sure and certain knowledge that God is whispering to us, “I will be with you.”

May it be so.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/30950/313418-elements-of-encounter.js?player=small

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