Monday, November 29, 2021

Wonderings for November 29

Finally Advent is here! For the next 26 days we will gather together as families and friends and live into the anticipation of what is coming--the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (and of course Santa)! And I wonder about the practices you will elevate during this season. . . 

As I sit here this morning, my MacBook is softly playing Christmas music for me. This morning's playlist is a combination of hymns and popular Christmas carols set in a loop for me. As each one begins softly my ear attempts to identify it. 

Hark the Herald Angels Sing. . . 

Angels We have Heard on High. . . 

Sleigh Ride. . . 

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. . . 

On and on the songs go. My ear hears them. Identifies them. And then catalogues each song in my mind as I smile. This final step helps me to remember the stories of my life that are associated with each song--the good and the sad. 

Invariably my stories of Christmas end up in one of two places: the church or my Grandma and Grandpa Koptish's home (These are my mother's parents). 

For instance, I can feel the hymnal resting in my hands as I do not need it to proclaim these songs in the context of worship. Eyes closed I sing each with love and joy. Candles on the advent wreath burning. Wearing my Christmas ties that my father bought me (I have 6 of them. . . the perfect number if you think about it).

I remember Grandma and Grandpa's. The record player in grandpa's desk playing each song. Bing Crosby. The Carpenters. I can hear them all in their front room. Their tree usually sat across the room to the right of the room.  It was a full tree, but short and squat one. I have never seen lights like their lights on a tree. They were so different. Memories so rich that I had to lean back and smile today. . . I have fond memories of their home and Christmas with them. 

Then with each memory I thought about the idea of new memories that will be formed here at Bethesda. The joy, the anticipation of worshiping the newborn king in our sanctuary for the first time. The Christmas Eve memorial time. Knowing that I/we will make some wonderful memories as we sing our Christmas carols together. 

One of my Doctoral instructors suggested a book to me years ago that came to mind today as I heard the Christmas music today and as I thought about my memories. In his book, You Are what You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K.A. Smith wrote: 

"In this way the gospel isn't just information stored in the intellect; it is a way of seeing the world that is the very wallpaper of our imagination. Stories that sink into our homes are the stories that reach us at the level of our imagination. Our imaginations are captured poetically. . . We're hooked by stories, not bullet points."

As The Little Drummer Boy plays, I have a fresh group of memories flood my mind. As Advent begins, and we make new memories together, I wonder what stories come to your mind of Christmas and what places are you being called to share them? 

Blessings

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Wonderings for November 24

 Have you ever been tempted to give up? 

This morning that temptation came home to me. Let me explain. . . 

Like most people, every now and then I sleep in a bad position. My alignment is off and I wake up with a horrible headache. This happened today for both Jennifer and myself. At about 5:45am I rolled over and could feel the beginnings of a headache taking root in the back of my head. As this happens at different times in my life, I have a series of remedies that I can fall back upon that often help remedy the situation for me. 

First, I went to get some Advil from the hall closet. After taking a pair of them, I will often get an icepack for the back of my head to help alleviate the tension that is causing the headache to grow and keep me awake. Unfortunately neither remedy worked. . . So I proceeded to the next steps.

Yoga. Knowing that I slept wrong and knowing that my muscles are bound up in a bad position, I will practice some yoga to loosen the muscles gently and effective. I only made it through nine minutes of the practice before I needed to stop. My head was killing me now. This wasn't helping either and I was getting frustrated. 

Well not to worry, I then headed for a very hot shower--or as I say it to Jennifer, "a screaming hot shower." I soaked my head, neck, and back and found some relief for the tension. But the relief was short lived. So there is one more thing to do: coffee! 

My migraine doctor has suggested a hot cup of coffee at times to help beat back the headache. But like I said already, that didn't help. 

Now let's go back to my first question: have you every been tempted to give up? 

This morning I have felt that temptation whispering in my ear. . . 

I arrived in my office a little before 8am. I knew that I had a lot of writing to today (including this post) and so I decided to just push through it. Sometimes that is how we confront issues that arise in our day--just push on. 

But then I sat down. More specifically I sat down in my favorite IKEA chair in my study here at Bethesda. I rocked back and forth and could feel myself shifting my perspective. I could feel the gentleness of God coming close to my heart.  

I read my morning devotion and again leaned my head back onto the top of the chair and closed my eyes to pray.

Now, I am not saying that my devotions cleared up a headache. Point of fact it did not. I still have the headache as I write now, but there are times when we are tempted to give up on our faithful work because the presenting issues of the day make life feel too challenging. My presenting issue is certainly a harassment to my plans--but in actually nothing more. 

Instead this is becoming a day where I can lean back onto God more and more. I can trust in Him more and more. I can affirm, vocally, that I cannot do this without His help. And in my confession and prayer I know that God will come and God will help.

I know that you too have been tempted to give up, to pack it in, but I wonder what might happen if you brought God into the discussion and the pain? Perhaps the two of you might discover something. . . 

Blessings

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Wonderings for November 23

Some times we are just too tired. . . Too tired to make that last phone call. Too worn out by the world or our work to answer another email. We are too exhausted to spend another few moments in God's word. We close our eyes to pray and can feel sleepiness edging its way across our minds beckoning us to just let it happen. . . For me, last evening, I was too tired--too tired to cook.

You see, shortly before 5pm Emma left for work. Jennifer and I would have a quiet evening to finish some projects around the house as we excitedly get ready to welcome our family to South Carolina on Wednesday evening. But we were hungry. I walked into the kitchen and looked at the chicken that Jennifer defrosted for me to use in my dinner preparations. Shoulders drooping I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. So I went to my normal 'well' of tools. 

"What kind of chicken do you want?" I asked Jennifer across the house. The question was intended to learn how Jennifer wanted the chicken cooked and help me plan. On the grill out back? Diced in something? Pan fried? Baked? At least if she answered me I would have a direction, I thought. 

She shrugged. "Whatever you feel like," she replied. (This was not going well).

After another moment looking around my cupboards I said, "I'm too tired. Want to order something?" 

We then discussed it and joyfully settled upon pizza. We hadn't enjoyed much pizza since we arrived in York. 

Looking around we selected a chain-restaurant. With excitement I announced to Jennifer that they would even deliver! Things were looking up! The evening was saved! So we ordered dinner. But I made a more mistake. I didn't look at the expected deliver time. To my shock and dismay I looked at Jennifer and told her the expected time until dinner: 

60 minutes.

Well I wouldn't starve I confessed so we went back to work settling into our house as we waited for the pizza delivery guy to show up. 

About an hour later I looked at the tracking app that I have for our pizza order. In red the words said: "Driver delayed." I groaned out loud. Luna cocked her head at me in confusion. A few minutes later I stood on the front porch because I was notified that the driver was in my area. 

I was out on the porch because I didn't want the dogs to go nuts when the guy arrived on my porch unannounced. German Shepherds don't like strangers and a pane of glass between them can be a bit unnerving for an unsuspecting guest. 

For 15 more minutes I returned to the porch regularly expecting to have my pizza delivered. Finally, I had the pizza in hand and we enjoyed our dinner. But that whole experience got me thinking: 

My expectations, and my projected response to the events of my evening, was so great that it dictated how I lived my life for nearly an hour and a half. My every thought was consumed with thoughts like: 

"Will he find the house?"

"What does contact-less delivery look like for dinner?"

"What if he doesn't show up or gives up?"

"When will he be here?" 

On and on my expectations fluttered into, and out of, my mind Again, it was only pizza. But I couldn't help but consider how that attitude permeates into my Christian life and faith walk? How often do my expectations fall out of line with what I expect or desire in my day? How often do we become so worked up with the events of our day that we lose the necessary perspective that helps us live faithfully into who God calls us to be? 

I wonder what steps you can take today that will help keep your expectations in life? And I also wonder, what it might look like to bring God into that moment? Perhaps He has something to teach you that will help you continue to live faithfully?

Blessings

Rev. Derek


Monday, November 22, 2021

Wonderings for November 22

This morning I awoke to the sound of light rain mixed with the hum of the fish tank that now sits on my dresser. As I blinked my eyes open, my ears began to notice other sounds in the room around me that greeted me. . . 

Bianca's gentle snoring at the foot of the bed. 

The rattle of the heater coming on and going off that chased away the cool morning. 

And then there was the sound of the rain outside my window.  

After having sipped some freshly ground coffee, I sat down to read my new book--Wintering

I have wanted to read this book for years. I first heard about the book on a podcast (On Being) where the author gave an interview that still sticks with me. As I heard Katherine May speak about the subject of her book, and how she felt called to write it, and how it shaped her life, I knew that it would be a helpful text to have in my library. For I too have been through my own Wintering season (as I suspect you have as well). 

Finally over the weekend I purchased the book with an orange dust jacket. In the prologue Katherine wrote these words for us: 

"There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world and sometimes they open up and, you fall through them into somewhere else. Somewhere Else runs at a different pace to the here and now, where everyone else carries on. Somewhere Else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere Else exists at a delay, so that you can't quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already teetering on the bring of Somewhere Else anyway; but now I fell through, as simply and discreetly as dust shifting between the floorboards."

As I finished that paragraph, I leaned back and I sighed. . . Those words are why I bought this book in the first place. For how many of us have felt ourselves fall into Somewhere Else? We fall and have to trust that in the falling God will be there to catch us. But even in that confession, and the resoluteness of it, times do arise when confessing that God is coming for me can be hard. 

But as I think about this, that place, that spot where we feel that we are falling into Somewhere Else, is an invitation into ministry and mission. 

You and I are not the only people who have fallen into this state. Many people in our community, in our offices, or in our homes, fall into Somewhere Else and they need our help--the need God's help! I wonder if today God might be bringing someone to mind who you can partner with, sit with, or listen to. Perhaps together you both might find God? 

Blessings

Rev. Derek

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Wonderings for November 18

We live in a busy world... I know, that is not terrible shocking or helpful. That sentence might have just triggered a slight eye roll from you. 

At every corner of our days we find things cramming up against us, pushing us toward productivity, toward functionalism. We find ourselves being asked to cultivate ways to live and exist that make less waste and achieve better results. The schedule is so cramped, or can become so cramped, that finding space for prayer and reflection can be quite challenging for most of us. 

You see, even though we are called to prayer, and even though Jesus taught us how to pray, we neglect it because the day is so full that time cannot be allocated to practice the spiritual. And so, because our days are so full, and because we are tempted to add one more thing to the ever-growing list, the temptation becomes so great to push aside our spiritual lives. 

But as we push aside who and what God calls us to be, we can become less welcoming.   

As a sophomore in college I encountered an Eastern Orthodox Monk named Father Michael. He was old. His beard gray and it hung down past his collar bone. Father Michael's toothy smile encouraged me as I discerned much of what God was calling me to become. He was helpful in my growth spiritually and I learned many lessons from the authors that he placed in my hands. 

In one of the first classes that he taught he offered us these words: 

"You may put the door to your home anywhere, however, when someone finds it, they must find it open."

His words were simple. They are clear. But if you stopped to consider them there is a lot happening below the surface of that sentence that leads us back to our ever-filling days. 

For I know many people who "put the door to their home" in a place where no one can find it. They have been so beaten up by the world, so pushed by their employment and supervisors, so pressed down upon by what they read and watch on the news, that they retreat in order to spiritually breath. . . And while that choice is valid at times, some of these same folks do not re-enter the ministry of the church because they have adopted some bad spiritual habits.

 I have equally busy days. We are trying to support Jennifer as she settles us into our home. I am working to help move Emma into a new school. I am learning names and faces and feeling the rhythm of ministry here at Bethesda. But in all of that, I too feel the temptation to be less hospitable to God, less spiritual because the functional needs of my life are great. 

It is then that Father Michael reminds me: "They must find it open."

And so I take a truck load of recycling to the town center and stand there for an extra few minutes listening to the guy who works there share about his day. I stop in at a gas station for a drink and make a point to listen to the worker and try and find a way to be encouraging and welcoming as God is always at work in our lives. 

I wonder if today, you too might just be so busy. . . so pressed. . . so tempted to move the door to your spiritual home away from others? Perhaps leaving it accessible to them might provide a chance for you to serve God in a new way? 

Blessings

Rev. Derek


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Wonderings for November 17

It is interesting to me to notice what defines a place as home. Noticing what little, small, things make home feel. . . well. . . like home. This morning the last member of our family finally made York her home. Let me tell you about it. . . 

While sipping my morning coffee, I could once again hear Luna 'sniffing' behind Emma's door. She was ready to face the day. Now last night I could tell that Luna was getting more comfortable and relaxed in our new home because she repeatedly fell asleep with her monkey in her mouth. Every few minutes I would look out from the kitchen where I was unpacking boxes and there she would lay asleep on our living room rug. Breathing gently monkey and Luna were one.

Today was better still for her. . . . 

I opened Emma's door a little after 6:30 and invited Luna out into the hallway. She trotted down the hall toward the front door. She had no idea what I had planned as she scurried around the front yard sniffing. Then I said it: "Luna," she looks up while turning her head slightly to the side, "Where is the stick?"

Her eyes lit up and her trotting and sniffing became full on running around the yard in excitement and joy. I began to walk toward the church with her at my heels. Every few steps I would ask her, "Did you find it? Where is the stick?" And that would spark her excitement again. 

Finally behind the church, near the disc golf posts, we found a downed pine tree that I knew would be perfect for what I was looking for. As she ran past it I snapped off a fresh piece of pine and held it up. Luna was still running away, so I called her. "Luna where is the stick?" 

Back arched and head held high, Luna ran toward me whimpering in happiness. I launched the stick as far as I could and listened to the rustling of leaves as she ran to get it. Dropping it at my feet she cried again in anticipation and sat down--could I possibly throw it again?!? 

We made our way home. Me walking; Luna carrying her stick proudly. 

At the front door she stopped walking, stick still in her mouth. She looked back at me, and slowly lowered her head and released the vice grip of her jaws on that piece of pine. With a gentle thud the stick hit the ground next to the door and she sat down ready to go get a drink and have her breakfast. Luna was home and her stick proved it. 

Home is a funny thing--if you think about it. I think if you take a moment today and consider it, you will notice that home is defined by little, seemingly insignificant things (like where the stick rests). But without those things, home does not feel like home. 

Craig Barnes says it this way: 

"It doesn't matter what you move, how fast you run, or how many new identities you try on along the way, you can't escape the longing for home. . . "

And so, if we all long for home, I wonder what steps do we take to create and sustain home? And more than just what steps do we take, can we help others find ways to make their transitions easier? 

Blessings

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Wonderings for November 16

 This morning, I awoke for the first time in the new manse here at Bethesda. Bianca's gentle snoring welcomed me as I sat up to begin another day of ministry with this community. I switched off the gentle piano music that serves as my iPhone alarm, rubbed my eyes, found my glasses, and smiled. . . It was going to be another great day to serve God! 

As I walked into the hall (and stepped over Luna's favorite rope toy and ball), I heard her gentle sniffing at Emma's door. She knew that she was up and wanted to join me. We went outside for her morning trip around the yard and I felt the gentle coolness on my face. Heading back into the house, I was now a man on a mission!!!

Pacing around the living room, dinning room, and den, I searched our piles of boxes for my prize--a coffee cup. Nothing turned up no mater how long I looked and pleaded in my mind for one to magically appear in a box. 

I went downstairs to where the vast majority of our boxes still live and began to look them over. Luna followed me down and was sniffing and trotting around--so many smell and so little time. After looking through two rooms I could still not find my prize. Irritation was starting to creep into my mind, but I was pushing it away. I just wanted a cup of coffee. 

But I remembered how blessed I felt here as I sat up and resolved not to be too annoyed that I couldn't find a cup. Five or so boxes later I laid my hands on a single mug! Coffee was coming! 

The cup in question might have been one of Emma's Little Mermaid mugs, but I didn't care. It would hold coffee and I would use it. My mission was half over. Now I needed to find the coffee maker and then find the coffee. . . 

That process took 15 more minutes. I found the items that I needed and moved table closer to wall so I could plug in the little appliance (the kitchen counters are not sealed yet so I don't want to be too active in there). 

Coffee in hand, I sat down in the middle of the den to sip my coffee as the sun came through the windows. It felt good, but then I remembered someone else. . . Jennifer. Yesterday, she spent so much time unpacking with Emma's help that she quite literally fell into bed exhausted and sore. She was so pleased to be in the manse last night that she worked hard to make that happen. 

My morning coffee, in my dimly-lit den, would not have been possible without her. So I smiled, stood up, and quietly walked my hot cup of coffee back to her bedside. I wasn't going to wake her, but wanted to do some small thing to help her feel blessed and appreciated for all the work she's done on behalf of our family. The coffee was a little thing, but it was the least that I could do. She woke at the smell of it and sipped the coffee as we talked about our individual morning plans.

Marie Francois Therese Martin, better know in the Christian Church as Therese of Lisieux (her childhood home), wrote these words for the church in the early 20th century:

"Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love."

It was only a cup of coffee, but it was my single, small thing that I could do for her. I wonder: what small sacrifice or kindly word could God be asking you to make today? I wonder how that might bless someone else and change both of your days? 

Blessings

Rev. Derek

Wonderings for November 29

Finally Advent is here! For the next 26 days we will gather together as families and friends and live into the anticipation of what is comin...