Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 26

If you read yesterday’s “Pastoral Thought” then you heard me speak about the Henderson Leadership Event that Pittsburgh Theological Seminary hosts each year that I participated in. Yesterday I enjoyed listening to Parker J. Palmer speak and reflect on a number of important issues related to church today. Overall Parker’s words have been very helpful to my spiritual development and growth as a Christian and a leader. I find that he offers words tot he church that we often do not spend enough time considering. 

Often in our spiritual walks we rush so quickly toward answers and solutions to the problems we face, but Parker reminds me that sometimes it is enough to just sit with the problem or struggle. 

But before Parker took to the “Zoom stage” on Tuesday we heard from Valerie Kaut. . .  

Monday Afternoon the director of the Continuing Education program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary introduced Valerie to those in attendance. She is an activist, writer, and author. Valerie, according to her biography that she shared as we began, also stated that she has been a public defender and an advocate for the voiceless. As she began her talk, Valerie offered us the following thought that has been rooted in my heart. She wanted us to see that an opponent is not someone fear but instead an opponent can be someone who is wounded. (This is not a direct quotation from her, but instead, it is my words that summarize her point.)
An opponent is not someone to fear, but someone who is wounded.

The power of those words still speaks to my heart. . . For the next hour and a half Valerie invited us to look for the people in our lives who God has placed there—intentionally. Look for those who are before us, or around us, those who can come alone-side of us in that wounded-place and offer support to our souls? She referred to them this way: Who do we have in our lives who can serve as a “Spiritual midwife”—someone to help us through the pain which seems too great, or too traumatic, or too unreconcilable? 

When we consider how we might re-engage our local community as the quarantine-season is sending, I find that the ability move away from a posture of fear, and toward one that acknowledges wounds, can be quite helpful and necessary. Let me explain with an example: 

I know someone who works at a restaurant in their local hometown. This pandemic has been hard on one of their co-workers—a person we will call “Sally.” Sally has been frustrated and angered because she has to wear a mask at work. She has readily offered her political view on the masks to anyone who will listen. This has caused a lot of people to roll their eyes and avoid Sally. But that only makes matters worse for her. . .  

For three months now Sally has refused to wear a mask at work. She refuses to be vaccinated. She believes that both are unnecessary and only signs that the government is attempting to control her life and she says that covid-19 is not a real thing. 

Now, whether you agree with her or not, consider how might your interactions with Sally differ if you saw her not as opponent to help realize the error in her ways. But what if you saw Sally as someone who is deeply wounded and needs care? How might that change in perspective change how you speak and listen to Sally?

An opponent is not someone to fear, but someone who is wounded. . . I wonder if this idea might help us as we serve and work outside of the church today? 

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 25

Today I spent some time listening to Parker J. Palmer lecture at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Henderson Leadership Event. His word, like much of his writing, are deep and require us to take time to digest and consider. Each summer PTS coordinates a discussion and keynote on a common topic that the church faces—or an issue that the church will face. Today, as Palmer spoke abut how to “Stand in the Tragic Gap,” he concluded with the words of a familiar voice in the church—a voice that I am familiar with in my faith journey. He presented us with the words of Dorothy Day. 

Dorothy was a journalist whose Catholic faith influenced much of how she saw the world and how she called the church to address the issues, both socially and theologically, of the day. It is no surprise to me that Parker’s work brought him into academic conversation with Dorothy. They share much many themes in their work. I appreciate Parker’s honesty and faithful reflection to issues that the church, and he himself, are dealing with. 

And as he read the words of Dorothy Day, they felt applicable to the church now as we continue to move into the post-quarantine season. Here are her words: 

“People say what is the sense of our small effort? 
They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. 
A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. 
Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. 
No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. 
There is too much work to do."

I understand that Dorothy was speaking to a Church that was unwilling to act in a different cultural season—they did not have deal with covid at all. But her words are applicable to us as we unmask and re-engage our community. Each person that you speak to, and with each conversation you have at work or in the home, you are working to build the church and build the church’s message in the larger community. 

You may think that ’small talk’ in a Starbucks, or at the grocery store, or on the street waiting for the school bus is meaningless. But from my perspective you would be incorrect.  

These conversations are necessary. They are helpful. They re-unite us to each other and help give us words to reach out  in faith. When we gather together as the Body of Christ do we not affirm that we share a common mission and hope? If that is the case, then Dorothy’s words have a strong meaning for us.

“There is too much work to do. . .” And I would add, it is necessary work indeed. 

I wonder if you will find some time to notice the small efforts that you make, or the places where you can make them again? Then by noticing these moments, will you in fact share how God has been at work in your life? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 24, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 24

This morning I was reading an article from the website The article detailed an encounter that the author, Daniel Epstein, had with Richard Rohr. For those unfamiliar with Rohr’s work, he is a Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a spiritual writer, speaker, and teacher, Richard’s work has been very influential in the church as we seek to encounter God personally.

Richard has been criticized for being too conservative in this theology as well as too liberal. 

As a teacher who stands in the middle and calls all of humanity to come together around the infiniteness of God, I find his work helpful as I navigate and consider the post-quarantine church and my role in it. From my perspective there are far too many people proclaiming (and ultimately judging) how I live out my faith in public. Too much criticism and judgment leveled against me because I wear my mask, or because I do not, while I walk through Target or Giant Eagle. Too many people are quick to offer a label without taking the time to consider the nuance of post-quarantine life and wonder about their role and mission in it. 

Does anyone who offers these judgments stop and consider the substance of my faith walk as diligently as they do about whether I wear a mask or not in public??

I wonder what God has to say to us as the church as we move back out into society and begin our evangelistic work again? 

In this article Rohr is quoted as saying the following: 

“To throw away your measuring tapes, your scales, you’re weighing and this – because you’re trying to weigh the infinite. . . . But you can’t weigh or measure or calculate or dole out the infinite. There’s enough to go around. It’s a worldview of abundance. And we understood God in a worldview of scarcity. And so we see our politics based on a worldview of scarcity. There isn’t enough healthcare to go around, there aren’t enough homes to go around. Everything is: there’s not enough. And this said, I’m getting political now, but people have way more that they need or ever could use in their lifetime. So that – We would throw away our weighing, our counting. Stop counting who’s worthy, who’s not worthy. And if you look at so many political arguments, that’s at the bottom. Who’s worthy of this and who isn’t worthy. And they try to weigh worthiness. It ends you up in a hole, a dead end. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid. Because I’m not worthy and once I’ve accepted and forgiven that, then I can forgive everybody else’s seeming unworthiness.”

I hope that today you will take some time to consider in the infiniteness of God that is present and accessible for you. I am not worthy of God and neither is anyone that I come into contact with each day. But when I put away my desire to judge someone, regardless of the issue that I am wrestling with, I can create space for God move and act. I wonder what Rohr’s words might say to you today?

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 19

Last night the time came for action. . . Memorial Day with all its symbolism and meaning also culturally signifies something else that brings joy to many families—the opening of community pools! 

So with Memorial Day weekend only about 10 days away, it was time for action. After dinner I asked the family to help me begin the process of opening the pool. It is a lot of work and so having help will be necessary. I also know that it will take a few days to fully be ready (not to mention I need plenty of time to ‘warm’ the pool up). Off we went into the yard in our bare feet. . . 

First, JonMark and Autumn helped me remove the pool cover carefully. We loosened the clip that holds the tarp onto the surface of the pool and slowly walked it around the pool. It was during this time that I began to get my first inclinations that this was going to be a much longer process of opening than I anticipated. Last year Emma helped me with this work and I remembered how it went. At that time, I wanted Emma to know how to care for the pool so that she would help me in the process. So as she helped me remove the cover in spring of 2020, At that time, the water was still very clear. I felt that the preparations that I made in the fall of 2019 were bearing fruit. 

That conclusion did not apply this time. 

In 2021, the pool water was very dark. It was dirty. I could see many leaves had somehow blown into the pool and were resting at the bottom. Pollen and smaller particulates were sitting on the top of the water unable to be absorbed. Not to worry, I thought, the filtration system will handle this! 

So under Luna’s watchful eye, and while JonMark cooked on the grill, I began the process of re-installing the pool pump and filter system. Power was supplied to the unit and the water began to cycle quickly and smoothly. After a couple hours I noticed that the water was not getting much cleaner. . . "That’s a problem," I said to no one in particular. But again, I can fix that. I inserted our vacuum robot (who we have affectionally named Wall-E) into the pool. For the remainder of the evening, and into this morning, I would head out to the freezing cold pool, empty Wall-E’s basket, and he would begin again. He is an efficient cleaner. 

Progress is very slow, but I am patient. The pool is far too cold to swim in so I have time to clean it properly before balancing the water’s ph and alkalinity properly. 

But I could not escape the theological reflections as I worked either last night or this morning before coming to the church. 

I anticipated that the water would be just as clear as it was last spring when Emma and I opened the pool. I had little doubt that my work of preparation was good enough to satisfy the need to keep the pool clean and clear. Yet, I was wrong. I miscalculated. Something was amiss in my equation out back. . . Was the issue chemical-based, did the tarp have too many micro-holes in it, did the strong winds of the fall and early spring blow too hard and thereby help leaves find their home in my pool? The answer to all of this is: yes. 

Perhaps I was not as attentive as I should have been in the summer of 2020 to the levels of chemicals in my pool? Perhaps I needed a better plan to close the pool? Perhaps it is something else. . . I don’t know. But again the answer is: yes.

You see I can do everything correct to care for my pool or my soul. I can lay out my plans and practices just as I have been taught by individuals who are more knowledgeable than I on the subject. And yet, when the cover over my heart is opened, when my mental exercises need to bear fruit in the public space, I can find green water laying there needing a lot of attention. 

This makes me wonder about the state of our hearts as we continue to transition toward Pentecost and a time of renewal and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. How will you handle these moments and challenges when they are exposed in your life? What steps are necessary, for you, to help clean your heart and your life? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 18

In his beloved little book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen wrote these five little words that have been with me all day and apply to my faith journey. I have always appreciated how Nouwen could simply, and clearly, say so much to the church in very few words. In his book, Nouwen wrote: 

“Taken, blessed, broken, and given.” 

They are five simple words. Five words that I have ready over and over again. I have said them out loud today and muttered them in prayer. These five little words express so much to the church as we continue to transition out of the pandemic and back into our community and ministry. While primarily applied to missionary work that reaches into its community, “taken, blessed, broken, and given” feel to my heart like the needed response to covid for us. 

For have we note each of us, been ’taken’ in by Christ? Redeemed. . . Adopted. . . Predestined. . . Loved and supported by the act of Christ’s incarnation, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection.

When I consider this truth, and I remember that Jesus made those choices for me, I can only conclude that I am truly ‘blessed.’ God willingly came down to earth for us. God willingly endured so much. Jesus chose this life when he could have chosen something else. 

And yet, covid has made me feel “broken”—as I know that it has made you feel broken at times as well. I have felt wounded by what happened to me buy this virus and how I was unable to live, serve, and care for others as I did before 2020 began. Most of you have expressed to me some form and level of grief in your own life because of covid. 

But that does not diminish the work of Jesus, or his presence, or his choice in my life and in yours. I may have felt broken by what our world became during the covid pandemic, but those feelings have begun to change as restrictions and recommendations also have changed. . . 

As they change, I begin to realize again that I am ‘given’ by God to my community. You are ‘given’ by God to your community. We are given to them because together we have endured much of the same thing—covid. As we have a common experience in society, we then can have a common interaction with God in Christ that can be shared in our community

I wonder how the words “taken, blessed, broken, and given” might journey with you today? I wonder who do you know who might need to hear them? 

Rev. Derek 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 17

This weekend the Christian Church will celebrate Pentecost. Many preachers will remind their church families that Pentecost marks the birth of the New Testament Church and its ministry. Christians everywhere will be invited to not only consider the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives, but reflect on what Acts 2 calls them to do personally. 

At Plains we will celebrate Pentecost as we traditionally have. As Tiffany, our liturgist reminded us, we will wear red to worship on Sunday morning. After the service, we will gather on the front porch by the nursery school doors and enjoy cupcakes, drinks, and fellowship. As of now, the weather looks clear and we are ready to gather! Communion will be served in our traditionally-safe method during worship. As part of worship, Acts 2 will be read. I will wear my favorite red stole over my robe this weekend. 

Pentecost is a day of great joy and excitement for the church. 

But as we lead up to that time of joy and celebration, I want to spend some time thinking about the implications of Pentecost with you and help you consider if God is inviting you into a new practice or behavior?

In his book, The Challenge of Easter, British theologian N.T. Wright wrote these words: 

“Our task, as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to the world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to the world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to the world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to the world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion.” 

Reading Wright’s words draws me into considering how I might live, not just through Pentecost, but also in a post-pandemic world. While much of Wright’s work is time consuming to read, the Christian who dwells with him can find themselves changed and challenged in equal measure for he does speak about our on-going mission as the church. 

So as we lead up to Pentecost, I want you first to consider how are you called to announce healing and deliverance in this current cultural climate? 

Among the constant chatter and criticisms that we read about, the positive nature of God’s healing can help soothe the suffering of our community. In my experience they are looking for something to trust in. They want to believe that God is listening to their private struggles. I wonder if God might be calling you today, to share that powerful Pentecost message with them? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 13

Today my morning devotions took me back to a cherished voice in the Church’s history. Her words have spoken great truths to me since I began to train for ministry. Today I read exerts from the work of Jeanne Bouvier de la Mothe Guyon. She is known better in church history as Madame Guyon. 

Born in 1648 in a small town that was near the French city of Orleans, Madame Guyon wrote extensively about mysticism and her own personal religious experience. Following th death of her husband she pressed in deeper into her work and found God waiting for her along each step. Throughout her life the church supported, and condemned, her writing and reflections on prayer and spiritual exercises. At times she was deemed too progressive and then too conservative for the church— an interesting claim to make. 

She remains an influential voice in the Christian church to this day and someone who we can learn a great deal from.

My attention was drawn to her work entitled: Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. In this reprinted work, she writes these words for the church to consider on the topic of abandonment, or surrender, to Christ. I encourage you to read them over multiple times because Madame Guyon’s meaning can be hidden if we read too quickly through what she is writing. She wrote:

What is abandonment? If we can understand what it is, perhaps we can better lay hold of it. Abandonment is casting off all your cares. Abandonment is dropping all your needs. This includes spiritual needs. Let me repeat that, for it is not easily grasped. Abandonment is laying aside, forever, all of your spiritual needs. All Christians have spiritual needs; but the believer who has abandoned himself to the Lord no longer indulges in the luxury of being aware of spiritual needs. Rather, he gives himself over completely to the disposal of God. . . All your concerns go into the hand of God. You forget yourself, and from that moment on you think only of Him. By continuing to do this over a long period of time. . . your heart will be free and at peace. 

I find her words provocative and yet challenging to me. 

It feels like Madame Guyon beckons me to travel with God to a place that feels almost inaccessible to my heart. As someone who worries and over-thinks a great deal in my day, and as someone who obsesses over much, giving over all that worry about, and all that I am to God, feels utterly challenging. It almost feels impossible for me to live like this. I can, and I suspect that you can as well, see the benefit in living in this way. Yet this understanding does not make abandonment or surrender any easier to employ as a practice. 

As a people who are trying to live out their faith, we are needy more often than we are humble. We claim to embrace a posture of faith and reliance upon God, but if that is the case then why does Madame Guyon’s words sting so greatly when we consider how to adopt and apply them? 

Certainly I am not the only person struggling today with giving all of my needs and desires over to God. I wonder what our faith will resemble and become if we take the lessons Madame Guyon speaks of and apply them to our lives?

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 11

Is fear rational? 

Ok, ok, I know, that question has been asked and analyzed in countless volumes. Both inside and outside of the church, we have wondered about the rationality of our fears. This analysis has attempted to identify the root or source of fear in humanity, and it still a work that is left incomplete because fear is hard to come to grips with in totality. Yet we try to construct an answer about the rationality of fear. We take those conclusions and attempt to adopt them into our lives so that we can become more productive, but that is very challenging and often a work that takes a long period of time. 

Now there is a reason that I do not touch a stove that is red on top. It is the same reason that I do not walk into on-coming traffic. The result will be some form of pain and as a human I have been trained to avoid painful stimulation. I fear them, and for good reason. 

But what about the irrational fear? How does the irrational fears that I am confronted with affect my ability to engage my community or live faithfully? So let’s think about this for a moment together. . . 

Last night, Luna wanted to chase one of her favorite toys around the house. This is a common behavior for her. So she trotted over to me and dropped it in my lap. She then took a few steps back, sat down, and waited with her ears up. Eyes beaming with anticipation. Muscles poised to fetch, Luna was ready to run, and she assumed that I was willing to play. As she sits there I am presented with a choice. . . And it is not the choice ’to play or not to play.’ She is a persistent girl. 

Option 1: do I throw the toy down the steps while trying to avoid hitting the television? I have done this many times. I loop the toy over the TV and down the steps to the basement. She runs down both flights of steps. Runs back up them both. And after a few trips is a little tired and breathing harder. Yet this is a risky option to make. The risk is that I will indeed hit the TV, or the chandelier in the foyer, with the toy. (I may have hit both objects before much to Jennifer’s annoyance). So that is not an ideal choice.

Option 2: do I throw the toy down the hall with my left hand because the angle is better? Now of course, I could as I said before resist her pleading to throw the toy, but she will literally sit there for hours waiting. She walks over picks it up and sets it back down until I relent. So I throw the toy down the hall and she scampers after it gleefully. But I am not left-handed. So occasionally the throw goes off course and it hits the closet door, or the wall, or worse the toy can go into the kitchen. 

If by chance the toy goes into the kitchen, we have big problem. Panic will set in for Luna if this happens. If her favorite toy crosses the threshold of the kitchen it may just come into contact with the most dreaded of all kitchen items: the broom! (Insert scary music) 

That cannot happen. . . 

Jennifer and I have a blue broom that sits next to the refrigerator. We use it to sweep up regularly in the kitchen. But if one of Luna's toy hits the scary broom, she will back up suddenly. Tail between her legs and crouch down defensively. Slowly she will creep toward her nemesis and gently pick up the toy and then back out of the kitchen with the same level of care and obvious fear. I mean seriously, who is not afraid of a blue kitchen broom!!! The answer of course is no rational human is afraid of a broom like this, but Luna is. 

You see the broom has fallen over before when the toy strikes it. When it does that broom makes a loud crashing sound and that is enough to scare a 70 pound German Shepard away. Luna is afraid of the broom and what it represents. For two days her ‘monkey’ has been laying under a couple of the broom bristles and she won’t risk picking it up. It seems that all hope has been lost to save monkey from a fate worse than death—the broom. (All hope is indeed lost, until I sweep the kitchen and monkey is freed). When I need the broom to sweep off the porch, I carry it in front of me so Luna won’t push past me to go outside and chase her stick. And this work every, single time. 

Her fear is completely and totally irrational. There is no conceivable reason why Luan should be scared of the broom. But yet she is afraid. It has altered how she interacts with that corner of the house ad how she does something that she loves to do. If the broom is left in the foyer after sweeping the porch, Luna has a hard time walking past it to go outside. She is afraid and it affects her life completely. 

So as I watched this scene unfold in front of me last night, I wondered about the places in my Christian walk where I have irrationally placed roadblocks in front of me? I wondered about the things that I have experienced that limit me as Luna is limited by the broom? 

I have my own big, scary broom, and I wonder how will I engage those fears today? I wonder what exists in your life that limits how you life faithfully? Could it be as easy to address as a kitchen broom? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 10, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 10

I recently read a parable that I wanted to share with you that impacted my thinking as we continue to move through the pandemic. This is a shorter form of a Cherokee story/parable that has been passed down across many generations. The lesson is clear and yet I find myself thinking in new directions as I re-read it. 

I first encountered this parable as I researched the podcast entitled “The One You Feed.” You can find this text on their website if you wish to share it with your friends and family. 

"A grandfather is talking with his grandson. The grandfather says, “In life, there are two wolves inside of us which are always at battle. One is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf which represents things like greed, hatred, and fear”. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”"

This podcast addresses questions and reflections about how to live a ‘better life.’ While this is not overtly Christian podcast, I find there is a great deal of applicability in this story that does shape our faith journey.

Indeed we are surrounded by the same choice that the grandson had in the parable. We are asked similar questions as we move into becoming a post-pandemic church. 

Will we choose positivity, faithfulness, and ministry? Do we see what is happening in our church as something that can help us reach our community with the redemptive message of Jesus? Or are we more apt to focus only on what divides or what isolates us from them? Do we dwell on what separates us from our brothers and sisters or do we examine how we can come together and serve God because we are all in this together? 

And so as you start your week I wonder, which wolf are you feeding? 

And if you decide that you are have primarily feed the ‘wrong one,’ (whichever wolf that may be), then what steps can you take that can alter that conclusion? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 6

I would like to invite you to consider a challenging question. It is a question that we might be tempted to answer quickly, and in answering quickly, we might also become upset by its implications. 

In preparation for this weekend I was working through a book that I read a few years ago while working on my doctorate at Pittsburgh Seminary. The book addresses the need for the church to continually be willing to innovate and adapt as the culture around it also innovates and changes. Luther Seminary professor Dwight J. Zscheile considered this idea in his book: The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age.  

Written in 2014, Zscheile had no idea that the Christian church would one day address the challenges of a global pandemic. The Christian church would be forced to worship and live a 6-foot intervals. Many of us would struggle to adapt and we would wonder how can we live faithfully in this new world. These would not be questions that we could answer quickly. Zscheile’s work could help the church as we meet the growing challenges of the culture. . . But remember, I started off by saying that I wanted to ask you a challenging question. 

In his book he tells the following story from Chris Trimble:

“At one point in history Polaroid was known as a highly innovating company. Its signature snapshots that didn't require darkroom development prefigured today's digital revolution of instant images. But Polaroid, like Kodak, has been marginalized in the world of digital photography. How did this happen? Trimble observes the Polaroid was too focused on its cameras. It loved its cameras more than its customers. He asks the church: do we love church life more than we love our neighbors?"

So here is the question: Do we love church life more than we love our neighbors? 

There are many people in our local community who are curious about what God can offer to them in their daily sufferings. Even if they cannot fully articulate the need, you and I have witnessed this come to life before our very eyes. Yet these very same people can be intimidated by how to approach the church. They worry that we may judge them. They worry that everyone inside is far too hypocritical and judgmental to be welcoming and inviting. They wonder if the church is closed off to its neighborhood or if we are out of touch with the current cultural climate. 

But if we desire to life faithfully and help these people find God then we have to be willing to engage them. We have to be willing to ask ourselves the hard questions about our own willingness to dwell among people who do not think or believe exactly as we do. We have to wonder what lesson is God teaching us that we can then pass onto the our neighbors—without judging their choices or lifestyles. It is truly a hard place to dwell and consider. 

I do not know anyone who wants the church to become like Polaroid—obsolete or out of touch. But if the church refuses to continually reflect on itself and its mission, then we do run the risk. I hope that you will take some time today and consider Zscheile’s words. And as you consider them, notice who God puts in front of your path. They might just be there for a reason. 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 5

While I enjoy rainy days, let me say this: enough is enough! 

My rationale for feeling this way is different that what you might expect. Sure, it has rained off and on now for three days. The grass is very high in most yards. The yellow dandelions have given way white plums as the seed pods prepare to be spread around our yards creating more yellow splotches of color soon. I do not look forward to moving the yard with its high grass. It is going to be a bit more work that normal to push the mower through shin-high grass. But it will get done and I have plenty of podcasts to distract me while I mow, hopefully, tomorrow.

No, my ‘enough is enough’ feeling relates to how I have to live around the rain. Let me explain. . . 

Over the weekend Emma decided that I needed a small cactus to put on my desk. I am not sure why, but it’s fine. So while out shopping at IKEA, one was purchased. She re-potted it on the dinning room table while narrating how the roots were in such a poor state. She hoped that the plant would survive (spoiler alert: its fine). She lovingly water it and packed potting soil into a steel pot for me so that I could take it to the church. Since Sunday it has been sitting on the fireplace in our living room waiting to come over to the office. Finally on Wednesday, after forgetting for several day is a row (much to Emma’s frustration), my cactus was ready to go to its permanent home on my desk.

Now, each morning as I come to work I am carrying a cup of coffee in whatever Disney mug that I grab. It is my habit and one that I like and do not neglect. I like all of these mugs so it is not a big deal to pick one. Often I just pick the one that is closest to my hands. Today, happened to be a white one with a blue interior. On it reads a quote from Walt Disney. It says, “Its kind of fun to do the impossible.” If that is not foreshadowing then I don't know what is!

I also needed to carry the books that I finished recently back to the office so that they could return to their place in my library. Each was placed, by size, in my backpack and slung over my shoulder. It was heavy but not unexpected.

(Stay with me now…. I am almost there).

Finally, I needed to drop off the registration for JonMark’s car in the mailbox. As my hands were full, that letter was sticking out of my shirt pocket. (This story was exhausting to re-live). So let’s recap and take stock of my story and what I am carrying:

1 cup of coffee
1 cactus which is bigger than the cup of coffee
1 backpack with books in it
1 bill for the mailbox that has to stay dry
My mask 
AND my keys to open the door at the church

My hands, like many of our minds and hearts as we work through covid and re-establish our Christian faith and practice, certainly was full. . . 

But remember it was raining at 9am today! How am I going to hold the umbrella in the rain in my current state??? The slight breeze blowing from across the field toward the church made my grip on the large blue umbrella tenuous at best. (I guess I like a challenge sometimes) Can you picture me this morning. I am trying to walk across to the church, avoid the puddles, with my hands overfilled as I try to balance too much. The pot digging into my pinky-finger while I balance it on the cup of coffee. My mask fogging up my glasses making it hard to see but I do not have a free hand to lower the mask and improve my visibility. The umbrella bobbing back and forth in my hand. I am trying to walk briskly to end my suffering, and I am also trying to stay dry. I suspect it was a sight to behold. But I made it. 

I dropped nothing and forgot nothing.  

That little ‘event’ influenced my entire day—negatively. The event has been with me at every turn. I remember it, as I look at my cactus and finish my coffee, and I remember that the walk over here was trying. And here is my point: it had absolutely nothing to do with my Christian walk or my faith journey and yet I feel its impact on me. Something that did not have any spiritual aspect to it influenced my faith. Think about that. . . 

Sitting here I wonder: What things in your life have caused you today to lose traction in your Christian walk? What has impacted you in such a way that your faith is not able to be lived out as God intended? We can “make mountains out of mole hills,” but we also have to organize our days to complete what need to be completed. It is a delicate balance, but one that we are going to have to engage. So spend some time this afternoon thinking about those things that have cause you to lose traction in your Christian walk. What choices can you make that will help you faith be lived out differently? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 4

Today I have been thinking about a phrase that I heard recently while working out. The phrase was: The Art of Restraint. While not a new concept for us to consider, being able to restraint oneself is an important skill to master. We can read about in art, in poetry, and even in business. But what about the church, can we consider The Art of Restraint here? 

I encountered the idea of restraint from Peloton trainer Christine D’Ercole. Christine spoke about this idea during a recent on-demand class that I participated in. It was a class that I was hesitant to take initially, yet it was a class that I needed more than I knew as I pushed the ’start’ button. As I clipped into my bike I noticed that the muscles in my calves were sore. My right knee ached as it often does right on the scar where my surgery began. Even as I rode, I felt new pangs of pain rise and fall during the ride. My breathing was sporadic and raspy as I began. This class was a recovery ride, and I needed it more than I knew. 

Overall recovery rides are designed to help the body heal after hard workouts. They are best done on ‘off days’ when the rider needs to increase blood flow to sore muscles and joints but at the same time not overwhelm the nervous system with a demand for performance. From Christine's perspective, recovery rides are just as important as rides where the strain and load that is pressed upon the body is great. As we continued in the ride, with softer music playing, she wondered:  

Can we learn the art of restraint? 

I have the same question in the church. . . .  

For too often we believe (and wrongly so) that the kingdom of God needs us in order to be successful and continue advancing. Social media needs our input or our ‘hot take.’ We have falsely come to believe that because we have an opinion on a topic that it must be shared with everyone in order to do our part as Christians. While there is some degree of merit to this line of thinking, I wonder if we are taking something away from God when we make ourselves the first-mover or first-teacher. 

Many of us have convinced ourselves that we must all things to all people, while at the same time we have to be adaptive and forward thinking in we are going to live faithfully. When we combine the all-inclusive nature of the evangelistic needs of our culture, with the constant pressure and tension of forward-thinking so as to be ready for what’s next, where is the room to just come to God and rest? 

Where is the space to trust that God is indeed at work in a world that seems to spin out of control? 

Where is the space to dwell intimately with God, to recover with God, to heal with God, to trust in God, when you and I have no room in our days for that needed recovery and that restraint? 

Using Christine’s question, Can we learn the art of restraint?  

As I finished my ride, my breathing was slower and my muscles less sore. The tension in my calves was gone—as was some of the pangs that surfaced. Sure, I still worked up some sweat, but I was not out of breath. I was not tired or worn down. My restraint meant that I could walk upstairs, make breakfast, enjoy it on the deck, and not be so tired that I crave a ’screaming’ hot shower to soothe my body. I wonder what that might say for my spirit? 

Consider Christine’s question today as you encounter people who themselves are frantic and hectic. As you do, notice what may happen if you practice the art of restraint for them? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 3, 2021

Pastoral Thought--May 3

Long before masks, before vaccines, and viral strains. . . before social distancing and the challenges that accompanied it, before we were challenged about how we can safely gather together, the president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Sam Calian, wrote a book entitled: Survival or Revival: Ten Keys to Church Vitality. Under Dr. Calian’s leadership Pittsburgh Theological Seminary consistently grew and equipped ministers for leadership in the Post-Modern church. 

At the time of publication Dr. Calian had no idea that 23 years after the release of his words that they would continue to be so helpful in the church. When I am able to lead worship in a local retirement community here in Cranberry, I would see Dr. Calian sitting with his wife at every service. His gentle smile and blue suit were a constant. As I lead the service I would remember both the leadership that Sam offered to the seminary and the strength of his convictions that accompanied him. 

As we navigate the ever-growing complexity of the post-quarantine world, as we try to make sense of how our calling as the church is evolving and transforming, I take some degree of comfort from Sam’s words. He wrote: 

"Finally, we need to realize that preaching, singing, and praying will not unveil the divine mystery to us. Neither will traditional, nontraditional, or even a blended service do it. Nor will the pure study of theology reveal the divine essence to us. . . .The finite categories of human understanding can never capture God’s being. We are engaged in a journey of faith, our convictions are woven with doubts. The few answers [that] we have do not correspond neatly to every tragedy we face, nor will our ‘answers’ stand up to empirical and rational measurements."

These are strong words from Dr. Calian that could spark a lot of conversations in the church, however, it is the next sentence that I want you to remember today as you navigate around the community amidst ever-changing expectations and projections. 

“Yet we still hold on to our naked faith. Why? Because we trust in God.” (Emphasis added)

Indeed we trust in God. We trust in the God who has been with us since the very beginning of time. For that God, this God, is the same Lord and Savior who has seen us through or combined history. Global suffering will come. A viral outbreak unlike any that we have seen in our lifetimes has happened. Yet we continue to trust in God. We continue to hold onto God. We continue to take our mixture of doubts and faith and we bring them before God. In that moment, God does something miraculous for us and we are changed. 

So today, I hope that Dr. Calian’s words have been a source of comfort and grace for you. I hope that you can remember them as you share the gospel this week in a complex world. For we trust in God. . . and for today, that is enough. 

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...