Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 30

Church family,

Although it is tempting to think that the social unrest we are witnessing, and the response of the church to are, are relatively new concepts. They are not. Certainly the social issues that we are seeing on the news, or reading about on-line, are quite loudly presented to us, but they are, in fact, not new ideas or new struggles in our country and world. We have long struggled with prejudice and violence toward each other. I suspect that since the very first sins were committed by one person to another, Creation has wrestled with how to address unrest and evil. The church has debated how do we combat systemic evil and systemic issues that seem to go unaddressed for generations, and many of their response, many of our responses, seem to come up short. We offer blanket statements designed to placate but not heal. Judgments are given without listening fully to the other person. This is a serious church-wide issue.

Right along side of how to we address this unrest in our world, we have the opportunity each day presented to us to address smaller issues that need our attention and forgiveness. Consider this “smaller” issue that I dealt with today. . . 

Luna and I went out for a run before it got too hot today. I took her down Plains Church toward Franklin. She was energetic but minded herself well enough. Until a large white SUV shot past her—far closer than he should have been. The driver was going much faster than the speed limit mandated. I shouted at Luna, “Hey what are you doing?” To which her ears dropped and she shot back across the road to where she was supposed to be. But the speeding driver, the one who did not make room for us, and was driving too fast, stepped on his brake because he thought that I was yelling at him. I waved and smiled at him, and bend down to talk to Luna. I hoped he would then realize I was upset with her (not really) and drive on. (Actually I told her that it wasn’t her fault that he drove like that. And I rubbed her nose a bit). 

For the rest of the run, I was irritated at that guy. Why did he have to go so fast on a road of hills and blind bends? Why couldn't he leave for work 5 minutes earlier and thereby drive safer? Why is everyone is such a hurry today? As I ran, I suspected that I need to forgive him because I didn’t know what was going on in his life. . . I bet that you have had that experience too. . . Wondering why someone acted as they did and judging them for it?

Big issues or little ones, they both need a response from us. Former Presbyterian pastor, Majorie Thompson, in her book, Forgiveness: A Lenten Study wrote this section that I think helps us begin to think about how to respond: 

"The Christian faith is indelibly marked by the invitation to receive, and the imperative to offer, forgiveness. Forgiveness is the fountain from which new life flows in a wounded, strife-weary world. It can be reasonable argued that the idea of forgiveness is more central and distinctive to Christianity than to any other religion. . . Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross of those who crucified him is a profound embodiment of what he taught and reveals its centrality." 

I agree with Thompson, forgiveness is central to following Jesus. So it needs to be offered freely to others. I wonder where you might extend that level of forgiveness, as Jesus did to you, to someone else today?

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 29, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 29

We remember names like William Wilberforce and John Newton, but do you remember Hannah More? The middle-class daughter of a school teacher, Hannah was a contemporary of Newton and Wilberforce. She joined their work to end slavery in England and advocated for women’s rights in the 18th century. Perhaps she is best known for her work in creating Sunday school in the churches of England. This program would spread to the new colonies and take root here for 200 years. I have fond memories of my Sunday school time—something we can thank Hannah More for beginning. 

Hannah’s work was also grounded in an “internal principle that bears very practical fruit in the conduct of [our daily] lives.” In her work, Practical Piety, she writes:

"Prayer is the application of want to Him who only can relieve it, the voice of sin to Him who alone can pardon it. It is the urgency of poverty, the prostration of humility, the fervency of penitence, the confidence of trust. It is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling of it; not figures of speech, but compunction of soul. . . Prayer is the desire; it is not a mere conception of the mind, nor a mere effort of the intellect, nor an act of the memory; but an elevation of the soul towards its Maker; a pressing sense of our own ignorance and infirmity; a consciousness of the perfection of God, of His readiness to hear, of His power t help, of His willingness to save. . . Prayer is the guide to self knowledge, by prompting us to look after our sins in order to pray against them; a motive to vigilance, by teaching us to guard against those sins which, through self-examination, we have been enabled to detect."

I know that this is a long quotation, but I assume that you also agree, that Hannah's words speak powerfully our relationship to prayer, and to God. There is not a single aspect of prayer that Hannah does not address in the above paragraph. From internal disciples and reflections, to the outward displays of prayer-at-work-in-us, Hannah covers it all. She sees it all happening when we approach God in that manner. And so I wonder about how you would address and speak about prayer in your life? 

We all say that we want to pray more, or pray more often, or pray longer, or become prayer-warriors for God. Maybe if we begin to see prayer differently, see it for what it is and can be, we might spend more time praying? 

Why not begin this new week by returning to prayer as Hannah More sees it??? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 25

Today I wonder how you might define the word “care?” Take a moment and think about that definition. Get it clear in your mind (or as clear as you can. I will wait) . . . Ok.

Many things in our day invite us to ‘care’ about them solely or primarily—and they are worthy issues to give our attention to on a regular basis. Societal unrest. Racial tensions. Political elections. Governmental policies and changes. The covid-19 crisis. The environment. The rise and fall of the economy. The future education of our children. The health of our families. . . the list goes on and on. I am invited to care about things big and small on a daily basis. 

Even things that are not culturally important can draw my ‘caring’ nature toward them. While I try to focus on the multifaceted nature of the first list of things “to care about,” there are other items my mind is drawn to regularly—as I am sure your mind is drawn to them as well. Sports teams and scores. Social media posts. Entertainment news and stories. Neighborhood gossip. Even small things, such as these, invite me to think upon them for a season. With all of these issues and passions before us, our minds begin to cloud up, eyes glaze over, and our focus can be lost, or at least diminished. 

However, whether it is big issues or little distractions, I have my pick of where to place my passions each day and what to care about. I cannot think about my favorite sports team while at the same time caring about the social unrest outside of my home effectively. Like I said, there is only so much ‘bandwidth” in our brains. 

I hope at this point, that you have noticed that I have not said anything about caring for God, for the needy, or about my Christian faith walk and response. I have not talked about caring for personal time to reflect biblically on the revelation of God for us. Those spiritual choices are present as well, and with so much socially to think about, God and God’s mission can be relegated to the periphery if I am not careful in how I care. I can become distracted or lost in what to ‘care’ about.  

So go back with me to your definition of ’to care”. . . 

The Henri Nouwen Society offers their definition of ‘care.’ I invite you to read through this quotation slowly, deliberately. Because of its length the temptation might be to read it quickly or skim through it (you might think that there are other things to care about today then taking the necessary time to read the paragraph). Doing so will only limit the impact of the following words. 

Sit with them and see what reflections God offers to you today: 

"To care is to cry out with those who are ill, confused, lonely, isolated, and forgotten, and to recognize their pains in our own heart. To care is to enter into the world of those who are only touched by hostile hands, to listen attentively to those whose words are only heard by greedy ears, and to speak gently with those who are used to harsh orders and impatient requests. To care is to be present to those who suffer and to stay present even when nothing can be done to change their situation. To care is to be compassionate and so to form a community of people honestly facing the painful reality of our finite existence. To care is the most human gesture, in which the courageous confession of our common brokenness does not lead to paralysis but to community." 

I wonder if your definition of ‘care’ needs some reworking? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 24

While reading exerts from Wendell Berry’s, The Art of the Commonplace, I came across a long section that I want to share with you. 

This book is a collection of Berry’s agrarian essays written and complied over a number of years. I was first exposed to Berry’s writing in my doctoral program, and to be honest, I found him hard to read. It is not that his writing is necessarily challenging for the reader to complete. Instead, the implication of what Berry writes can be hard to think through fully. It is always not easy to complete one of Berry’s essays desire to read more immediately. His pacing is deliberate and his message, if you linger with it, challenges the reader at many levels—so is the case for me. You have to sit with Berry, perhaps even sit with just one paragraph.  

In this book he writes,

When else in history would you find ‘educated’ people who know more about sports than about the history of their own country, or . . . people who do not know the stories of their family and community.” 
The implication of these words being that, in Berry’s mind, we are losing track of our history and our heritage—to say nothing about losing track of our historical faith tradition(s) that we hold dear. Reflecting only on that section can take us down many “rabbit holes” of reflection. He continues, and gathers ’steam’ for his point in the next section: 

The higher aims of [life] are money and ease. And this exalted greed for money and ease is disguised and justified by an obscure cultish faith in “the future.” We do as we do, we say, “for the sake of the future” or “to make a better future for our children.” How can we hope to make a good future by doing badly in the present, we do not say. . . We do not need to plan or devise a “world of the future”; if we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us. . . We have the same pressing need that we have always had—to love, care for, and teach our children.” 

Certainly there is a lot happening in Berry’ mind in these quotations that carries with it a diverse application for us—and I do encourage you to sit with that section and think through those words. Linger over them. But the overall presenting concept that I want to think about, which ties to that previous sentence, is: presence. 

For Berry it seems that too few of us linger in the present moment. Our lives are lived at a face pace; society, our jobs, or our personal expectations forces this upon us often. Therefore we sacrifice the sacred time with family and friends where story sharing and communal listening can occur. We rush quickly into judgement so that we can move onto the next big thing. The cost this focus us to pay is great. 

I wonder if today you could be present, deliberately present on a sunny morning such as this, and by doing so, offer room to love, care for and teach someone you love? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Pastoral Thought-_June 23

As many of you know, a few years ago I was found to have torn the root of my meniscus completely off the bone in my right knee. The only presenting symptom at the time was a nagging pain that would not go away—at first. Slowly I became unable to bear a lot of weight on that leg. Leaning toward my right side, lunging if you will, was very painful, if not impossible for me. It was a downward spiral. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. My surgeon, who I highly recommend, tied the root of my meniscus back to the bone with screws and metal fibers that hold things in place. I now have three minor scars on my right knee. 

The recovery was hard. I was unable to extend my knee fully out in a locked position for more than a few seconds without shooting pain. I could not bend my knee very far. Crutches and a large black brace were my constant companion for weeks as I torqued the brace down more and more to provide support and stability. I sat as often as I could but even that hurt. WhenI sat, my foot needed propping at a certain angle to relax the strain on my knee. 

Eventually it was time for Physical Therapy (or as a colleagued coined the term that I know use—Physical Terrorism). It was so hard. I started walking around the church and neighborhood slowly to try and speed my recovery. There was a lot of limping in my day and a lot of deliberate choices to force my knee to move the way God designed it. Nine months later, I was done with PT and back to life. 

I try to remain fit. I try to ride our spin bike, walk the dog, and yes, as I have said before, I even run a little all to make sure my knee remains strong. But I am very, and I cannot stress the word ‘very’ enough, careful in everything I do—even if it doesn’t look like it. My stride is short and my feet barely leave the ground when I run. I worry that something will snap in my knee and down I will go. When I was working through PT, Jennifer asked me about how hard PT was compared to my heart surgery recovery. I said there is no comparison. The knee work was more than I thought I could bear. 

But I keep pressing on. I keep running. I keep going. I know that I need to. It is hard, no one told it wouldn’t be. However, I can see the results coming in my stride and my cardiovascular health. This reminds me of something I read today from The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish. He wrote:

To bear with [or to ‘Be With”] one another, we have to be willing to do things that are against our natural instincts.” 

It felt unnatural to run. I hurt. I did not want to do it. I needed a lot of ice—at first. I heard the words of my surgeon who said that if my knee continues to deteriorate at the pace that he found, then I will need a complete knee replacement in less that three years. Traditional knee replacements only last about 20 years so I will need 2 of them in my lifetime. So I have to do things that might be against my natural instinct in order to be able to “bear with”—both physically and spiritually—my life. 

And so, I wonder, what thing, what practice, what relationship has God placed before you that seems to flow against your natural instinct? Perhaps that “thing” is there for a specific reason. . . Perhaps you are being called to address it so that you can ‘be with’ or ‘bear with’ the other person? I know what mine is. I wonder, do you know yours, and what response does God ask? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 22, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 22

As we begin another week, I want to comment upon Sunday’s worship service because something special occurred as we gathered to celebrate how God is with us. As you know, we are slowly welcoming more and more people back into our sanctuary at Plains. We hope that the coronavirus is behind us, but yet are still aware that things can, and often do, change suddenly. Seeing a familiar face open the back door, an act which casts more sunlight into the room each time, is a symbol of how we feel as each family returns to worship. It is a blessing to be sure and one that we do not take for granted.

So on Sunday, Tim begins with the service with announcements; Ruth begins playing the choral call to worship. We sang “Sanctuary” together as we will for the entire month. We said our opening prayer and the then it happened. . . The first hymn was sung, “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” At that moment I noticed what I want to reflect upon. . . Your voices. You sang loudly. Passionately. Fervently. You sang: 

Come, Thou Font of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace. . . 

It was so loud and so clear. The sounds of praise only grew as the song continued. Your voices swelled as I heard: 

Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of God’s unchaining love!

This reminded me of something that the poet Rumi wrote. He said: “When you do a thing from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” 

There was a river of passion and joy flowing through the sanctuary for the remainder of the service. You may not have known it. In fact, I bet that you did not think anything different was happening during the service. It was just a normal Sunday. But God was at work in worship. Denise’s Children’s message, the rest of the hymns, all of our prayers, the stories of God at work, they rang out with joy and passion. They came from your soul. Even when you asked for prayers and expressed pain, your soul was actively reaching out and responding to God. 

I wonder could that feeling last throughout the week? 

Like I said, you may not have known that you did it. Sunday may have felt like an ordinary Sunday. But it was not and I was blessed to witness it. Can it continue? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pastoral Thought

Church Family, 

Every week is a little different. Sure we have a “similar” routine to our days, but I think you would agree, that every week is a little different. They each seem to have their own rhythm to work through and with. For me this week was one of those times when I could affirm this to be true. . . let me explain.

On Wednesday, Jennifer and I were waiting for a package to be delivered. We ordered something from Ikea and the schedule delivery date finally arrived. Excited I waited for the phone call that announced the “delivery window” we should expect. That call never came. Instead, I received a text message from Emma stating that our item was in the house before lunch. JonMark helped bring it in (the driver was forbidden by company rules to enter the house during covid-19). At lunch, I opened the package and attempted to set it up. But something didn’t seem right . . . After careful examination, and thought, I determined that I was missing something. 

So I tried to call Ikea—that call was unhelpful. They could not resolve my issue over the phone. I needed to come in. So I sighed realizing that later in the evening, after my already full day was complete, I would have to go back and figure this out. But I was tired and I was busy. I was not excited about this at all. But I went back to Robinson. 

Traffic was heavy on the highway. People we skipping across lanes like rocks across the water—which I don’t like. I was generally irritated for a variety of reasons. I had too much to do on Wednesday evening, and this trip was an unneeded detour in an already busy day. But the drive offered me something that I needed—space to think. 

Austrian Physicist Fritjof Capra wrote: 

"During these periods . . . the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight." 

His words echoed in my mind as I drove to Robinson, and then home. I listened to a couple sermons that I downloaded on my phone. I spent time mediating on a passage of scripture as it was presented on a podcast that like. The solitary drive became a means to enter deeper into God’s abundance and grace. 

In a human sense, y trip was fruitless. It turned out that I did not need to go to Robinson to fix my issue, and adaptive answer was sitting right before me if I looked. But if I had not spent the 90 minutes on this trip, then I would not have spent the needed time with God that my soul craved. I was delighted and joyful to be driving and thinking. My creativity was pinged. In fact, I longed for more time to think and reflect in that way when I got home. 

I wonder, in your busy, unique, week, where does God provide the space so that you can reflect and think? Perhaps, like me, the space is present in a way that you don’t realize in initially, but it is there, if you can look and enter it. When you stop in your day, something can happen.

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 17

Good morning Church Family,

This morning I was sitting in the prayer chapel in the woods thinking about a lot . . . 

As many of you may know, I listen to a lot of podcasts each day. Some on preaching. . . some on sports (yes even Soccer!). . . and some of my podcasts are news based. They all come together to help me shape my world and interests, and hopefully, the more I listen and think, the more I grow as a person. So there I was sitting in the woods, thinking, and remembering what I just listened to. I was trying to make sense of the world I was living in and locating how God is at work in our community. It felt like trying to identify, and lock-in, on a moving target. The longer I sat, the more confused and bewildered I felt. I went to the chapel for hope and I left unchanged. . . Have you been there recently?  

Retired US Army General Stanley McChrystal was tasked with “winning the war on terrorism” by President Bush. This was not a small ask of him and his forces, but it was a job he embraced passionately. As part of his work, McChrystal realized that he needed to get people across departments, and military divisions, talking more frequently. They needed more interaction, more sharing, and more data. They needed to share all that they knew so that, together, they could pool their resources and find a way forward in Iraq. So he set out to redesign the military in a way that was more collaborative and adaptable. At the end of the road, Gen. McChrystal was successful in bringing about resolution to the war in Iraq before being transferred to Afghanistan to attempt to duplicate his results. 

At the end of this his time in Iraq, he realized something that I think is applicable to the church as we continue to work through covid-19 and all the social unrest that lives outside of the church’s building proper. It is the same thing that I thought about sitting in the chapel this morning. He wrote: 

"Big Data will not save us because the same technological advances that brought us these mountains of information and the digital resources for analyzing them have at the same time created volatile communication webs and media platforms, taking aspects of society that once resembled comets and turning them into cold fronts. We have moved from data-poor but fairly predictable settings to data-rich, uncertain ones."

We can have all the data we want. We can understand every aspect of what is taking place inside and outside the church. But if we do not have a way to take that learning back to God, to spend time with God, and listen to God, then we will still find ourselves living in uncertain times with uncertain results. This makes me wonder about how you address those same moments in your day? You may feel confused, bewildered, and unable to lock-in on the subject. Perhaps the answer is not more data or more reading, but more time with God. . .  

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 16

There are times in our days when we come across something that holds us in one moment. At first glance, we might falsely believe that what we are reading holds no long-term benefit to us. But it does, if we are willing to press in a bit. . . and linger. . . Perhaps that thing that we find, or that we read, or we hear is clear. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps what we find thing “thing” inviting us to spend some significant time sitting in an introspective position when there are things in our days that could draw us away. But whatever it is, and however you experience it, God can speak to us through it. 

Such are the words, for me, of A.R. Ammons. In the poem entitled, Tape for the Turn of the Year, he writes: 

don’t establish the
the squares, triangles, 
of possibility, 
and then
life into them, trimming
off left-over edges,
ending potential:

When you first read the poem I suspect that you felt a little bewildered or confused by what Ammons says. The poem is quickly worded. But if you lingered, I bet you heard God. 

The words of this poem speak hope to me. They speak of an unrealized possibility or potential that lives in me and in you. If you linger with them long enough, if you allow your day’s pacing to slow so you sit with Ammon, you might just hear words of revelation from God to you. . . words about potential and about mission. As I spend more time with Ammon’s words, I find myself wondering about how do I limit what life can be or become? 

Ammons invites us to take a long, hard, look at the “established boundaries,” that we set up, or that society hoists upon you, and consider what would life look like if we stopped saying “what cannot happen” and wonder “what could?"

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 15, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 15

I bet that you didn’t know this: I don’t care for beets. (Not the most revelatory thing to share on a Monday morning huh, but there it is). It is not that I do not appreciate the nutritional value of beets—because I do. God created vegetables in such a way as to care and support our bodies in powerful ways. I have read before that a good healthy diet includes something from every color of the rainbow (red—apple, yellow—banana, purple—beets . . you get the idea). It is just that, well, I don’t like beets. 

My dad enjoyed them so much that we would have them prepared in two ways—cooked in vinegar and cooked in their own juices (I think). Grandma would always make extra because dad and grandpa could eat so many. Dad would look at my sister and I aghast because we didn’t like them when they were presented and would only take the bare minimum of a helping. I learned how to cut them into smaller bites and swallow them whole so I wouldn’t have to chew them. . . a chocking hazard for sure, but I lived, and I didn’t have to taste those cursed-beets! 

Fast forward 35 years. . . Jennifer and I are having dinner with JonMark and his girlfriend Autumn at the Breakneck Tavern on Saturday evening. We haven’t been there before, and we were looking forward to trying some new food as restaurants are opening up slowly. JonMark and I wanted to share some appetizers because I skipped lunch (which we did). Fried calamari! Never had it before but it was good and I would get it again. Autumn enjoyed the calamari and we talked more about her love of food and cooking and she asked questions about what we liked and didn’t. Then it happened. The conversation turned to those little redish-purple things that I disliked as a child: beets. Autumn was shocked to learn that I am not a fan (her eyes actually got big when I revealed this). She asked me many questions about how they were prepared and offered personal feedback about how to prepare them in the future (Again Autumn is a great cook—which we knew).

Over the next hour or so, beets became the entry point for a conversation about familial roles and choices for her childhood, and ours. We laughed and talked and I thought of something Margaret Wheatley wrote: 

"I can’t think of anything that’s given me more hope recently than to observe how simple conversations . . . give birth to powerful actions that change our lives and restore hope to the future." 

I am not running out today to buy a bunch of beets, but I did notice that evening that just being willing to enter into a conversation about something personal (my reflections and history with beets), when combined with the experience and learning of another (Autumn’s refection on the same topic), sparked something in that evening that I did not anticipate. Nothing revelatory, or transformational, happened at dinner—except the willingness to listen, be present, and dwell in the life of another person. I wonder, when you have had that opportunity in your life and how the conversation could be different? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Pastoral Thought

I have had an interesting morning today. . . As I do most mornings as soon as Jennifer leaves for work, I check my shoes to insure that they are knotted tightly, put Luna on her leash while she cries in joy, and go for a run. We have been doing it for a few weeks now. . . Luna and I running down Plains Church, onto Hope Rd, and then out to Forest Edge. She loves it and I am not exaggerating at all. (well let’s be honest, one of us runs, the other one trots because she’s fit and fast). She is so excited each morning as I hook her in and take her out to the yard. She bounds and jumps in joy. She knows what will happen and how much fun she will have even if she will be panting a lot when we get home. 

Today was. . .  let’s just say. . . different. 

Construction in Forest Edge is progressing quickly and Luna likes to go see the workers. She barks at some. Some she lets get close. A few even know her name. Others she just pulls hard against the leash and raises her hairs as if to say, “You stay over there." So yesterday, with more people around I decided that we need a new route to give her, and my shoulder, a break. Too much construction for me to run safely with her. So, Shadow Creek (The development across Plains Church Rd) was our destination today. She trotted as she does while making sure to stop at every. . . single. . . tree to sniff—and there are a lot of trees there. It was getting annoying to tug on her along while listening to some music and beckon her to follow. 

Then back onto Hope Rd and out away from home. But with the different route, Luna’s game as off. I tripped over her twice. I almost kicked her by accident. She lunged at cars in a way she does not usually. I rolled my ankle trying to avoid her as we were almost done. It was enough that I felt my anger bubbling up, I kept thinking I am going to lose my mind if you step in front of me one more time, dog! I wanted to reach out and smack her for not knowing what she’s doing even though I CHANGED THE ROUTE. She is just trying to adapt to a new area. (don’t worry I didn’t and I wouldn’t).

The final time that this happened I cried out in a raspy voice: “Luna what’s your issue today!” . . . .Ears went back. . . Soul crushed. I felt bad as soon as I said it. But I wonder how many people, and how many times, do we act the same way with those God places with us for either guidance or presence? We lash out when a different choice is possible. They are sacred in God’s eyes and our hearts. We would never want to hurt their feelings or bruise their soul if we were honest. And yet, when the moment comes, when we are worn out and the path has changed, we lash out. I wonder if a different choice is possible for you today when this moment arrives?  

I knelt in the street and petted her and let Luna lick my cheek. Then we went home for a cold drink and some breakfast. . . 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Pastoral Thought

Good morning,
Howard Thurman loved Jesus. He loved what Jesus’ work meant to the community in which he worked and lived as he loved seeing Jesus exceed the societal expectations of his day. Throughout Howard’s work, he “argues that within Jesus’ life of suffering, pain, and overwhelming love is the solution that will prevent our descent into moral nihilism. . . Jesus advocated a love of self and others that defeats fear and the hatred that decays our souls and the world around us.” So in that way, while Howard’s work for Christ is complete in this world, I find him speaking to me frequently in my daily life. Howard’s writing draws us into reflection and analysis of how we choose to live our lives and fill our days.

For instance, one of his more famous quotes is the very humble statement:  “It is very easy to sit in judgement upon the behavior of others, but often difficult to realize that every judgement is a self-judgement.

I cannot read that quote without having to stop and pause along my day—as I imagine you might as you read it. It feels like he is speaking directly to me, on this very day. For how many times do I judge what I am experiencing, listening to, watching, or reading without realizing that my judgment is self-serving in nature and design? This quotation puts the speaker, or the reader, or the presenter down while elevating my mind and my ability to know what is best for me. In that way, I find myself living in a bubble that I create and that I support. The logic continues. . . therefore since I have created and choreographed my world, and since I have made it in my image, no one has the ability to influence to challenge my world or my worldview. I am the master of this created-world. But that narrow worldview leads us into a place that we do not want to work or live.

Thurman wonders how a disciplined prayer life, based on Christ’s love, combined with humility, can transform the daily walk of the church into something more. I hope that you enjoy this little prayer and take some time to read, and re-read it, over the course of your day. As you do, notice where God is speaking and which lines of the prayer that bring out a call to change and humility. . .  

"Lord, open unto me
Open unto me – light for my darkness.
Open unto me – courage for my fear.
Open unto me – hope for my despair.
Open unto me – peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me – joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me strength for my weakness.
Open unto me – wisdom for my confusion
Open unto me – forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me – love for my hates.
Open unto me – thy Self for my self.
Lord, Lord, open unto me
Rev. Derek

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 9

Church family,

Sometimes God enters a situation that we feel is unresolvable. When that happens a miracle takes place on many levels. It is a miracle that we might not seek, or might not know we need. But when it happens, when God enters our lives, the miracle is transformational and personal. It is exactly what we desperately needed. 

Such is the story of Catherine of Genoa, a 15th century Catholic mystic and saint. After being forced into an arranged marriage by her older bother, following her father’s death, Catherine entered a deep depression. Her arranged union was marked with infidelity, loneliness, depression, and seclusion—all brought on by her husband and his choices. Then, on March 22, 1743, during her Lenten confession, God broke through Catherine’s isolation and brought the words of this prayer to her mind: 

O Love, was it possible that you have called me with so much love, 
And have revealed to me in a moment what no tongue could describe?"

From that moment on Catherine entered into a visionary experience of God’s love that saw her work with the sick and the incurably ill as an expression of God’s love for her and for them. She would later write: 

“Love is God Himself, infused by His immense goodness into our hearts and ever on the watch for what is useful to us. Benign and gentle in all and to all, Love gives up its own will, and takes as its will God’s will, to which it submits in everything. Then God with His incomparable love enkindles, purifies, enlightens and so fortifies this will that it fears nothing but sin, because this alone displeases God. Rather than commit the slightest sin it would endure the most fearful torment and suffering imaginable.” 

I wonder what situation are you waiting for God, and God’s love, to break through today? Perhaps someone close to you needs to hear these words of love given to them by a God who is “love Himself?”

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 8, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 8

As a new week is upon us, I want to offer you the words of Thomas Kelly. As you might remember I have shared his story with you before. His depth, and the pacing at which he writes, draws the reader into a place where they can mediate not only on God’s word, but upon God’s presence, with them. I this exert, Kelly invites the reader to notice, or locate, God in “vivid intimacy.” 

I wonder where you can find that intimacy today? 

Our community is beginning to return to what we might feel is normal. Stores are becoming more crowded. The roads are filling with cars again. Offices are taking appointments. Parking lots are full. I no longer see so many people out my window walking their dogs or walking and talking as families. We are returning to a pre-covid-19 mindset. As we do the temptation is to fall back into old patterns of noticing God with us or considering God’s actions. We can become too busy, too pre-occupied, with our daily grind. But Kelly again, invites us to reflect and hear God knocking at your heart. I hope you will take some time today to be intimate with God again. . .

"The Quaker discovery and message has always been
that God still lives and moves,
works and guides,
in vivid immediacy,
within the hearts of men [and women].
For revelation is not static and complete, like a book,
but dynamic and enlarging,
as springing from a Life and Soul of all things.
This Light and Life is in all men [and women],
ready to sweep us into its floods,
illumine us with its blinding,
or with its gentle guiding radiance,
send us tendered but strong
into the world of need and pain and blindness.
Surrender of self to that indwelling Life
is entrance upon an astounding,
an almost miraculous Life. . . .
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” [Rev. 3:20]
In the silence of your hearts
hear Him knock."

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 4

As with most issues in life, the time comes where we need to return to prayer. 

My days are filled with things that can take me away from God if I am not careful—I suspect that you find yourself in those places with those temptations also. I read the news on either my iPad or iPhone each morning as I sip my coffee, and I don’t hear often from God there. And I wonder if I should look harder for God? I spent time watching the evening news which is not a religious program and am shocked when I find myself feeling sad or deflated when the program ends. Email from the PC(USA), or other religious groups that I subscribe to, contain threads that can make even the most devout Christian lose some amount of hope. 

This feeling seems to live in everything that we touch. And so, we need to return often to prayer as a way to ground ourselves in God. 

In those times, I am thankful for the writing of Heidi Neumark. She is a Lutheran pastor based in Brooklyn, New York whose work I found while working on my doctorate. In her book, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, she says: 

Time spent in prayer is worth it, too, even when it seems useless. . . 
Prayer is not a magic-carpet ride carrying us off to some utopia. 
It is an act of attention grounded here, alert to the connections wherever we wait. .  . 
The connections of prayer weave their own sacred carpet, 
joining the variegated threads of our lives one to another and to all things."

The context of Neumark’s words relate to a time when she found herself in a Bronx Court room with a sign that read: “No Eating! No Drinking! No Sleeping! No Reading!” She tried to sneak a little book about prayer into the room to wait her turn, only to have the security guard twice reprimand her for quietly reading a book. The story concludes as she realizes that she is allowed to pray even if she cannot read her little book about prayer. And so she prays. . . She prays for the situation that brought her here. She prays for the people she sees, and offer silent words of hope to God for them. 

And as those connections and prayers are sown together in a powerful way in that courtroom. 

I wonder how your day, which can be filled with things that distract your from God, could be shaped in prayer that could help you connect to your neighbors and to your God?

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 3

It is interesting to note how the conversation has changed. . . 

Two months ago, the tone of every conversation I had was one of anxiety, fear, hesitation, uncertainty. Repeatedly I heard questions asked that started with: “How will we?” or “How can we?” or even, “What if it takes years?” All valid questions; all questions that I asked myself behind a green and plaid mask as I walked around the community. There was a definite tone of absence and crisis living on the periphery that could not be ignored. Many of us would say that we did not have the language to address them—and I would label myself in that group. The whole thing felt too overwhelming.

Then a month ago, the narrative changed, albeit it slightly. Red became Yellow and the hope of Green was present. I began to hear words of hope, of expectation, words of imagination mixed with those first questions in an interesting way. The questions and reflections became more defiant and had a feeling of anticipation sprinkled in. Graduations were coming! Spring was here. Maybe on Pentecost we could. . . Hope began to “ring eternal” again. Those questions of doubt, became questions like: “How soon do you think?” and “When can we?”

Now with the protests and violence we witness, not just in Minnesota, but in Butler, and Pittsburgh, the tone has again shifted back to a place where feelings of pain and doubt resound among us. Just like when the Squirrel Hill shootings happened, the events of this past week feel more personal. The shoulders have slipped back down and chins have been downcast. And the church, you and I, are asking a lot of questions of each other, and of God. The crisis seems to be with us again.  

The Rev. Dr. John C. Welch addresses these crisis, and these moments, in this hopeful manner that I want to share with you. He wrote:

"Crisis come without invitation and at inopportune times. 
A crisis can wrench from its mooring the faith of even a strong believer in Christ. 
But the strength, courage, and patience to weather through are made possible
By allowing oneself to be placed in the care of our loving Creator God." 

My hope today, as you address those questions, and the crisis before us, is that you will find a way to place yourself in the arms of the “loving Creator God.”

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Pastoral Though--June 2

One of the joys from my D.Min work at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is finding new voices that speak truth to me. These voices call me to reflect on major issues and moments in my life, but more importantly, I think, they invite me to consider ordinary moments and choices differently. We are all comfortable at some level thinking about big issues and how we’d handle them. We can paint with a broad brush that ends suffering, rioting, and spreads the gospel effectively. But then when the mental-exercise is over, we find ourselves no different and life continues. But what if we could look at our day differently? What would we learn?

Today, I offer to you the words of the Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens from an essay he wrote entitled Uncertainty about the (Earthy) Future. The way in which Roger writes is helpful to me, and I hope this exert from an essay I read helps you as you face the big issues of life today, as well as, the little that come right along side. He wrote:

Sometimes Celtic Christians would set out on a journey in a small boat called a coracle—a vessel with no rudder, sails, or oars—to travel wherever the waves of the sea and the Spirit of God led. That image of sailing in a coracle provides a wonderful metaphor for life. Every day, when your feet hit the floor and slide into your slippers, and you shuffle into the kitchen to pour the coffee, you are already in a coracle, the Celtic tradition teaches—on an adventure into an unknown future, however known the journey seems, however well-planned the day. The Celtic notion of life as a journey invites a shift in perspective: each moment becomes a fresh, fathomless mystery, a wave you’ve never ridden, a surf you’ve never sailed. A boat never travels the same river twice. Every earthly future is uncertain."

We like to control, or think we control, a lot of aspects of our lives. But, as Roger tells us, perhaps we don’t. Perhaps we are not meant to. I hope you will take some time today and consider life in the coracle in which you sail. 

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 1, 2020

Pastoral Thought--June 1

Church family, 

Today I was reading a new publication from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary entitled, Toward Bearing One Another’s Burdens. The book is written in a way that invites clergy and laity to come together to care for people of their community in diverse ways. It asks the reader a number of questions in reflection and invites each person who reads the book to reflect on what they are learning as they read each essay. 

At the close of the one I was reading today were the famous words of St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th Century Carmelite nun and writer. She writes: 

Christ has no body now but yours. 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world.
Yours are the the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, 
Yours are the feet, 
Yours are are the eyes,
You are his body. 
Christ has no body now on earth but yours

You may have read part, or all, of these words before. Perhaps you have heard of them but did not know how to credit them with. In the time of covid-19, and looting and riots throughout many big cities, we as the church are given an important task. We do not just preach Christ with words (certainly we do this and are called to continue the practice). But in St. Teresa’s mind and words, we are also asked to be the physical body of Jesus in the world in which we inhabit. 

I wonder what the implication of that idea is for each of us? If we are not to be passive observers in this world, then what do these words call us to be and become when violence and separation are on the rise? 

Christ has your body to use. . . I wonder how he will use you? 

Rev. Derek

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...