Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Wonderings--October 25

On the advice of a friend, I took some extra time this morning for a bit of self-care. My friend noticed that I seemed a bit tired and suggested the following action to restore my soul: 

First, leave your cell phone on your desk (check. . . that was easy). 

Second, go around the church to the large side yard opposite the cemetery (not far away and easy to get to). 

Third, find a spot and sit down. I found the stone benches and table under the cover of a large tree. Sighing I sat down and instantly felt the cold of the stone on my legs. 

Finally, listen and observe. 

The air was cool. Closing my eyes, I felt the warmth of the sun on my eyelids and I smiled. Slowly and deliberately I breathed in and out. No thoughts filled my mind, just the gentle ring and falling of my chest; the dryness of the breath coming in cool and out warmer. 

After a few minutes (I think) I began to hear something--popping. It was all around me. I didn't know if I was hearing a bird or squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. But in my heart I knew that my question didn't matter. The gentle popping was coming from around me. Opening my eyes I scanned the trees slowly to see if I could spot a furry-friend who was at work in the trees--nothing. 

The popping continued. 

I looked slowly around to see if the leaves were blowing in a breeze that I couldn't feel on the ground but was present high up in the treetops and therefore knocking something out of the trees--nothing. 

Realizing that something was happening, I closed my eyes and returned to my peaceful state. Breathe in. . . breathe out. . . The popping continued for some time until I reached back for my journal and wanted to document what I was experiencing. And as soon as I did: the popping stopped. 

After writing three sentences, I looked around at the now silent yard before me. Something was different. I sat perfectly still for a long moment. Where was the popping? What had I done? Closing my book and returning it to its place behind me on the table, I closed my eyes and listened. In and out I breathed. . . The popping came back, but this time with company. 

I heard crickets out in the distance and birds chirping around me. The natural symphony began again but this time richer than before. 

When it was time to return home for lunch, I rubbed my knees and stood. Walking away I wondered: how many times do we interrupt a blessing for practicality? What lesson can you learn from my story in the side yard of the church?  


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Wonderings--October 19

This morning I walked into the sanctuary, switched on the lights, and sat down. It was 9:30. In five minutes I would be joined by six children from our 4-year-old program and about a dozen 3-year-olds. The would sit in the second pew of the sanctuary and together we would have chapel of the next 15 minutes. 

Chapel is hard for me because I only have a few minutes and I want to faithfully present the gospel to these kids and help them continue to grow in their faith. Yet it is also a joy. The children are lively and energetic. They point at the pictures that I show them and want to 'touch' Jesus on my iPad at every moment. The energy is infectious and I leave chapel feeling my heart warmed and blessed as they wave and say 'thank you.'

Today was another chance to teach them.

Scrolling through my notebook on my desk I found the next set of stories that I wanted to share with them. Mentally thinking each story through, I settled on the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus tells the crowd, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Great lesson1 

I would leave out the adultery part and state that she did a very bad thing. Emphasis would be added and we would speak about forgiveness and how God forgives us when people around us don't want to. It was a simple lesson and straightforward. . . until it wasn't. 

As I got to the part where I would make the subtle change, the children began to recoil in anxiety. (She did a bad thing remember). The would tuck their noses into their coats or sweaters. They sat back in the pew to be away from me and furrowed their brows as I read and talked to them. I could see it in their eyes that they were getting worried. 

"What would happen to the woman," their eyes begged me--again she did a bad thing!

As we finished the story, the tension was broken. God forgives us. God welcomes us. Jesus loves us. But for those few moment when the whole picture was in doubt, that conclusion was also suspect. 

Now as I sit here and think about the children I wonder about the seriousness of God's word and the redemptive nature of the gospel. We know the good news and can speak about it to others. But do still feel the tension that lives in the original narrative? 

I wonder if you stop and linger over God's words when you have a devotional time with Jesus? Do you pause and let the gravity of what is happening in the text truly shape your heart? Or do you just rush on by that tension because you are busy and need to get moving? 

The children taught me a lesson today about lingering with God. I wonder what their experience said to you? 


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Wonderings--October 18

I started writing this blog as covid-19 gripped our world. As I watched and listened to leaders and news outlets comment on the pandemic-that-was-to-come I felt something in my heart twinge. . . It sounded like everyone was enjoying the suffering and casting out of despair and pain. Don't we know the phrase, 'everyone loves a tragedy.'

At that time, it sounded like only bad news was being sown. I heard more and more leaders in the church speak hopelessly and faithlessly and I worried. . . and I wondered. How can I help, Father? 

So I started writing. 

As a pastor wiring is what I do often. I sit and I write. I jot down thoughts in notebooks and post on social media. I write in the margins of books that empower my soul and capture my imagination. So in the beginning steps of the pandemic, when I worried the most and was anxious, I wrote. 

I thought, "If I could just offer a tiny word of hope to the church that God has called me to serve then maybe I can help; maybe we will be okay." Was this naive, maybe, but it was what I felt called to do.

I offered words of spirituality and contemplation. I reminded myself that, as my doctoral teacher would say, 'the most powerful word in the Bible is "with." ' This act of writing became my practice; my source of contemplation and reflection. It helped my spirit grow and breath again.  

Yet as you realize by reading this, I haven't written in quite some time--and there are many reasons for that. Death has come into our family again. The slow and painful process of saying 'good-bye' has been with Jennifer and I and her family. 

I stopped writing because my children needed help in their own ways. So I listened and I tried to 'be with' them. 

I stopped writing because I was too busy. 

Now it has been almost three weeks since I wrote. Three weeks since I put my faith into practice and thought about how God is 'with' us. And you know, that break has not been healthy for my spirit. 

While not practicing the one little thing that God asked me to do, I stopped practicing my faith in my own way and my spirit became dry. I got tired. I became complacent and my attention was drawn away from my faith practices and toward practicality. Now practicality is necessary at times, but I wonder if I, if we, sacrifice faith for practicality? I wonder if as we stop doing what God asks us to do, I wonder how we might dry out as Christians? 

And so, today, I write. . . I wonder what God is asking you to begin again? 


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Wonderings--September 29

As you might remember I have been thinking a lot about how we care for one another as a church. With hurricane Ian bearing down on South Carolina and the presenting issues and that this storm brings us, combined with the day-to-day needs of the Body of Christ, our friends and family, the call from God to be caring and present has seldom been more necessary. 

We like to say that there is no time like the present when it comes to caring for each other, but seldom is that more true than in times such as this. I appreciate seeing the Body of Christ step out of its comfort zone and sacrificially dwell with their community as Jesus taught us to do.

I doubt that a day goes by where you have not had an opportunity to care for another person--family or friend. Caring for each other can be quite a diverse and personal task. But part of our willingness to care, is the mindset that we bring into the act of support and care when stop and think about those whom we care for. 

My friend, Graham Standish says this to us as he thinks about how we treat each other: 

"Christianity may be a faith that recognizes the sinfulness of people, but it never, ever advocates for treating people as though they are sinful."

I encourage you to re-read Graham's statement because it is quite profound if you take a moment and realize what he is saying to us. 

We are called by God to care for each other--and at Bethesda we do a wonderful job of living faithfully in this calling, but notice how you might labels and thinks about those whom we care for. . .  Do we love them?  Do you think of them as part of Christ's body or are they just another face in the crowd that you have to think about? 

Perhaps today as the storm prepares to wreak havoc on this community, and your need of care becomes greater, take a moment and think about what Graham has to say to the church. . . maybe that reflection will help you as you strive to be faithful to God in a new way? Notice how we think of the people of our community? What lesson is God trying to teach you as you care for another person?


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Wonderings--September 28

The summer of my Junior year of college I worked as a church camp counselor. The days were long; the kids great. The work was hard but I believed in it. The camp where I served was also the camp where I built my Eagle Scout project so this place meant something to me. 

A few times during the summer I went up to the chapel that I built and I just sat there and dwelt with God. It was a bit of a trek getting to the chapel. I was always out of breath when I go there. This was because I needed to build the chapel on top of a very steep hill with a great view.

That summer flew by! 

But as I think about it now, I remember the preparation time for the summer was also very involved. There was a lot of inventory to take and supplies to run to various locations which are spread out all over the property. As the four counselor for the summer we had to clean and clean and clean every building and make sure we had every supply for every conceivable accident or emergency (we were 30 minutes from any doctor's office).

I also remember the times that I retreated into the field adjacent to my cabin to be alone and rest. There in the tall grass (which I am allergic to) I lay down often in the sun. I'd spread my arms and legs out and look up into the clouds and let my imagination run wild. Breathing deeply I would consider whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was silly and sometimes I sat in stillness listening to the grass blow as an act of prayer. Either way, that time in the field was a blessing to me.

Thinking about imagination I remembered something that I read recently. Walt Kallestad in his book Turning Your Church Inside Out wrote:

"Nothing is more powerful in an organization than setting free the imaginations of the people who love the organization and are committed to its health, effectiveness, and faithfulness. This is certainly true of the church. If the imagination pictures a different tomorrow, they will can begin taking steps to realize it."

Thinking about imagination I wonder what you imagine as possible for your local church? What is God going to do at Bethesda? Not in a general sense, but notice how your mind distills these hopes and dreams into something tangible and personal. My imaginative dreams are not yours, and even though they share the same God, there is diversity to be found. 

So take some time today and let your imagination direct you. Perhaps you will learn something from God that needs to be shared with someone else? 


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Wonderings--September 27

Yesterday afternoon I had the blessing of sitting with a family who had to plan a funeral. And while death is seldom known or expected (even when we have a terminal diagnosis before us), I could sense that this death, in this moment, was one that took a lot out of the family emotionally. They were here. . . but truly they weren't 'here.' 

They were in the in-between place of grief and numbness and feeling God's grace. 

There was conflict living beneath the conversation that we had yesterday afternoon. There was also the obvious pain that comes with the loss of a loved one to contend with; it could not be denied or avoided. Their stories this family shared vacillated between funny accounts and anecdotes to ones of confusion and hurt. 

I simply listened to them because when we hurt, we want someone to be willing to listen to the 'hurt' without judging it.

Around the grave we confront any misconceptions about our faith and the faith of the deceased. While death is something that all of us will address, when death comes it feels like an uninvited, un-sought-after companion. And yet even in that pain, I wonder if we can find God? 

Father Richard Rohr once wrote these words for us:

"Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God." 

We know that God is always in the room with us; always listening to our prayers--vocal and silent. We confess together that we are always closer to God than we realize in any moment. Even when we are in pain, or hurting, or numb, or confused, or feeling alone, or grieving the outpouring of God is close at hand. I wonder if we can get our hands around that blessing?

As I spend the entire afternoon listening to this family, certainly I could hear their pain and suffering. It was unmistakable. But in their pain, I tired to make sure that I reminded them that God's outpouring is present--when our faith is certain and when it is weaker than we might like. 

And so I ask you to consider Richard's words, and as you do, I wonder who you might know today that needs to be reminded of the outpouring of God that is close at hand? 


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Wonderings--September 21

This morning I read the words of Kathleen Dowling Singh. In her field Katherine was well-known for her wisdom on the topic of death and dying. As I read her words today, I wondered if what she was saying could be applicable to us as we seek to faithfully care for our community. 

She wrote: 

"Many of us still cling childishly to so much that is unreal and inessential. Many of us still cling to reputation, to imagined security, to unexamined habits of attitude and behavior, and to self-image. We have deep aversion to having all of our cherished illusions stripped away by life-in-form’s seeming indifference."

And again, although she is speaking about the challenges that come with agingI wonder if she is also speaking to you about something more personal? I wonder if her words address something in your heart that speaks about how you live out your calling from God in the community? Perhaps we can take a moment and notice how deeply her words cut us. . . 

Reading Katherine's words, I pause and imagine what she could be speaking about when she identifies things as "unreal and inessential" in my life.  I sign and think, 'there is a great deal that seems inessential in my day when I stop and consider it.'' My mind moves to the instances where I waste my time on things and practices that do not support my faith or bring glory to God. 

Certainly here is a place for rest in each day. I understand the necessity of letting your mind and body take a break as you scroll through social media or read a book. We cannot be, and we are not called to be, all things to all people. That is God's domain. 

But there are also more toxic choices that we make each day that keep us from serving the Body of Christ as God asks. I imagine right now you could think of a couple instances in your day that have already taken place where your mind was focused on that which was 'unreal and inessential.'

But rather than turn this into a practice highlights those poor choices, I wonder if we could find opportunities to turn back to God in each of these moment? I wonder what might happen if your focus was drawn back to God? 

Maybe today take some time and consider Katherine's words and ask yourself, 'what is God calling me to lay aside for him?"


Wonderings--October 25

On the advice of a friend, I took some extra time this morning for a bit of self-care. My friend noticed that I seemed a bit tired and sugge...