Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 30

As the rain and thunder roll down this afternoon, and I found a little ‘anxious’ shih tzu, the one who is afraid of thunderstorms, running around me feet,  I noticed the words of the book that I was reading. They stopped in my mental tracks and invited me to gaze into rainy afternoon and wonder if the author, Richard Rohr, is correct in his assertion?

He is what he wrote in his book The Universal Christ: 

At this point, at least in the United States, it appears that our cultural meaning has pretty much shrunk down to this: it's all about winning. Then, once you win, it becomes all about consuming. I can discern no other underlying philosophy in the practical order of American life today. Of itself, such a worldview cannot feed the soul very well or very long, much less provide meaning and encouragement, or in gender love or [build] community. 

When I read Rohr I find that his wisdom and perspective on the issues that affect the church are right on point. There is deep wisdom in what he says and writes. When he looks at the culture of the day, Richard sees something that most people could see, but they choose not to acknowledge. Using my analogy of a rainy day: they might gaze out into the rain and wonder what about a specific topic, but they don’t push that learning very far. 

So as I sat and thought about Richard’s words, I hoped that he was wrong. The optimist in my heart sought a contray point to defeat the argument. Is it really all about winning? . . . and then all about consuming? Is there nothing out there besides those two concepts that drive our thoughts and our actions? 

As I sat in silence and considered what I just read, I began to realize that for me in that moment I was consumed with winning the argument—and not listening to what he was saying. I was consumed with proving my worldview correct and defeating his. I wanted to prove that things are better than Richard believes and then construct a proof to validate my argument.I am correct. I have universal perspective and my opponent is missing something. Yet again that is a stance of winning and not one of listening.

So I placed his book in my lap; it will be there later when I want it. Then i re-read the paragraph that I cited above. I just sat with it. . . As I did so the remainder of those words came into focus for me. If you and I are attempting to build community and help our larger community find spiritual meaning in their lives with God, then perhaps we are being called to think and interact more gently with them. As they are consumed with winning and consuming, my practice of listening, without winning, might be what helps them create joy and find God. 

But we have to be willing to listen and help others do the same. . . I wonder if we will? 

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 29

 Today I want to be a bit vulnerable with you as we ’talk’ today. Perhaps the struggle that I am going to share, the one that confronts me now, is also something that confronts you in our life and in your mission for God? 

Let me explain. . . 

Tuesday is often a quiet day around the church. Over the summer the ‘quietness’ becomes even greater. Tuesday is the day when I am alone in the office of the church. Ann, our regular office administer, takes Tuesday off—as Jodell did before her. So without the children of CNS across the hall, and with Ann gone, the building becomes a bit spooky in its silence. But I have a way forward in the silence. . . .  I combat that silence with some background music and it helps.

I have an entire playlist catalogued of background music that I rely on often in these times. This music helps me to think; it drowns out the silence of the room and the humming of the air condition that Rich and Jay put in my window a few months ago. I find myself more creative and more productive when there is not just total silence around me but something to hum to. But today those sounds did not help me. They only drew more attention to what was wrong this morning. 

I clicked through several of my favorite musical selections: EPCOT Master Mix, Disney World entrance themes, a couple of favorite restaurant mixes, nature sounds. Nothing helped me find clarity and focus. 

About that time, I finished my coffee and picked up the book that I use as part of my morning routine. Leaning back in my chair, I placed the book on my chest so that my bifocals wound fully magnify what I was reading and make the reading simpler to follow. After about a page, the struggle was getting worse. (Now here’s the personal part that I promised….) I noticed the buttons on my shirt were a bit stretched as I turned the page and that bothered me. I love this shirt because it fits well and breathes nicely on a hot day (which today is). But it was tight across my stomach. 

I adjusted it for a better fit and tried to read some more. . . This time I felt my belt digging into my side. I smirked and moved from my desk chair to my favorite reading location. Still I was not comfortable. I slipped off my flip flops onto the floor and tried to find some peace by rubbing my toes on the carpet to stretch them. Still I was uncomfortable, and worse yet, I was very aware of it. 

Over the next hour I tried a number of things to make myself more comfortable and with no positive results. Finally, I walked home in the heat of the later morning, and changed my clothes. I donned a cotton shirt that I bought from Edinboro University, grabbed my favorite pair of cargo shorts, and my running shoes. No sooner did I have a fresh cup of coffee in my black cup, then I noticed that I already felt better. Did a quick change really make that much different? And so I ask you: 

Was it the clothes that made me uncomfortable, did they fit wrong or too tightly, or was it my mindset that affected me? 

You see there are a lot of times in our lives when outside stimuli affect us so much that we are completely paralyzed by them. No one means for them to affect us so negatively, but they do. I was completely unable to function because my shirt felt too tight and my belt was uncomfortable, but I’ve worn that exact outfit last week and had no issues with it. Instead of pressing into who God is in my life and how I can work to be more faithful to God’s calling with me, I was annoyed. Distracted. Unable to function. At a loss creatively. I wonder if you know what that feels like? 

And if you did, which I suspect, then perhaps take a moment to notice where is God in your mind when you struggle with something that seems unnecessary? Perhaps you and God are about to have a breakthrough. That might just mean you need a different pair of shoes…

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 28, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 28

 Monday is a hard day for most people; some think that Monday is the hardest day. 

As a people, we make a lot of jokes when we are together about being unable to ‘roll out of bed’ easily as Monday begins. More than just the first day in a new week, Monday often symbolizes the end of the time of weekend rest and the return towards a life of over-crowding and over-working. Often this is not an intentional choice that we make, though. I don’t wake up on Monday morning and think, “I hope that today I over-work myself and am totally exhausted both mentally and physically at dinner time.” But sometimes my choices and my behavior would say that I am seeking, and that I desire, overwork. 

And I am not the only person struggling with this attitude or choice today. 

As you may have discovered recently if you’ve been following my pastoral thoughts, the works of Thomas Merton have been in the front of my mind for some time now.  I believe that Thomas offers the church some much needed guidance and counsel as we leave behind the covid-quarantine and live again into God’s mission for us and for the larger church. Today I offer you these words: 

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs. . . overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. This frenzy. . . Neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

If you find yourself agreeing with Merton’s words then I wonder what would it look like to lay aside the temptation to be busy and press too hard in life? What would happen in your morning if you just sat with God and God’s word, even for just a quiet moment, and let that speak to you and guide you through the busyness that is awaiting you after you finish reading this thought? 

The way that I dealt with this temptation today was to take Luna for a long, very hot, walk. The heat zapped much of her strength and passion early on as we circled the church to warm-up. Only about fifteen minutes into our walking time, I noticed that she was not pulling so hard. This meant that I was sale to head down Plains Church Road with her. Her stride was smooth and she was in rhythm. As she walked a few feet in front of me, I found space to just listen to the world around me on Plains Church Road and Hope Road. I found space to dwell with God. . . And God said nothing to me. We just walked side by side. 

When I returned home very sweaty and tired, my list of things to do was still there and still growing. I was 45 minutes behind schedule for the morning. But for a briefest of time, they did not matter. I knew that each of these needs sought my attention, and I would give them what they sought in the right order, but I left the frenzy go and my Monday started off differently. 

I wonder what might happen for us as the church if we lived in the same way? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 24

 I wonder, what do you think that God is doing in your life right now? 

This is not a question of deliberate action only, but one that if we stop and consider can be far deeper and more meaningful than we first considered. What is God doing in us right now. . . in this exact moment? For most people believe that God is at work in their lives right through an action, or a place, or a ministry, or even in a spiritual gift that has been given from God to us. In this case God’s activity is on4e of productivity and it is transactional. God shows up to do something and then we take what God has done and we continue the work. While I agree with this idea a some level, I wonder what if God’s movement today in your life is smaller? 

By smaller I do not mean less significant, but instead, something so easily forgotten or neglected that it is hard to consider that God is there at all? Can God be at work in those moments or places or instances too?  

Jim Finley believes that God arrives in our lives in these ’smaller’ out-pouring just as much as God is present in the big life-altering moments. His line of thinking has greatly helped the church live faithfully with God. He believes that: 

God is perpetually creating us breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat. . ." 

What a phrase! What an idea! When I read those words this morning I could not help but stop what I was doing (as I invite you to do right now also). As I stopped what I was doing I tried to notice how I was breathing. What was its rhythm? I listened to my breath for a few moments. As I listened to how I was breathing, the raspy breaths and the slower ones, I noticed my heartbeat bringing blood to my body. 

My heartbeat was moving my shirt ever-so slightly. Since my heart surgery I have always taken time to notice how my heart works. The combination of breath and heartbeat brought forth in me an interesting place to dwell for a moment. . . . 

I came to the occlusion that God is active in the place and space. God is continue to mold and shape me as the potter shapes the clay again and again. I am a work in progress and am happy to confess this. I wondered then if God is active between my breaths and heartbeat what then does that say about God’s level of care for me daily? Hourly? Minute by minute? 

If God is creating my life as I breath and as my heart beats then running to the bank this morning before work, stopping at Costco later for shampoo, having a talk with JonMark about his next semester of school, is important. This then becomes not only a place where I can witness to the movement of God in my life, but it becomes a creative space where I can invite God to come and continue HIs perfect work of creation in me and in you.

I hope that you will take some time today to notice your breath and your heartbeat. . . Then as you notice them, notice how God is continuing to create and shape you.

Rev. Derek 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 23

 Oh boy…. This has not happened to me before. 

Last evening, I went to Target to run a quick errand after our neighbor and Rich helped me fix Jennifer’s car. This was the same errand that you have run countless times—just a quick ‘in and out.’ My first stop was the pharmacy for a pickup. Sadly it was after 8pm so they were closed. I smirked and thought ‘wish I checked the time before leaving the house.’ But I  continued onward walking toward my next stop in the back of the tore. They did not carry the item that I needed either. I thought, ‘well this is a pointless trip.’ About that time I received a message from Jennifer. It read: 

“While you are out something sweet would be nice.” 

Say no more. . . I can get a sweet-treat! I walked back across the store to the grocery area and selected some Dove chocolate to share with Jennifer, JonMark, and Autumn (who stopped by for dinner). This trip was not unlike many other trips I have made in the last week. Nothing special and nothing to report that is life-altering.  Until. . . As I rounded the final main aisle and headed toward the registers things changed. I walked past a family who was not in a hurry; I did not mind. Honestly, I walk faster that a mother pushing a cart with a child in it. This did not strike me as noteworthy and so I kept walking briskly toward the door. But then, about 20 yards in front of me, I saw a older man appear by the school supplies. He looked back and forth across the store. 

He was not old in a traditional sense. He seemed vibrant, alert, and outgoing. This man was not lost in any sense. His white hair spoke about his age but did not mark him as unique or different. He made eye contact with me. Then looked over my head while gazing off into the distance. Then as I got closer he again made eye contact. As I got within ear-short the man said something—but I did not hear him. My AirPods were resting comfortably in my ears as I walked through Target.  I smiled and clicked off the show by squeezing the “Pod” in my left ear. Simultaneously I smiled and said, “sorry, I didn’t hear you.” Taking another step toward me he began to ask his question again; this time with less conviction. He broke off in mid-sentence, his eyes noticed the rest of my outfit. This is an important detail in our story today and speaks to why he engaged me. 

You see, I was wearing gray sweatpants and flip-flops. But I was also wearing a bright red shirt!. . . Like an employee! 

He looked down at my shirt and finished his thought, “Guess I confused you with someone who works here.” 
I replied, “No problem.” As I turned I saw his wife walking toward him with ’that look.’ You know the one. It's the, ‘Oh honey, who are bothering now’ look. And I walked away to resume my evening. But why? 

This man needed some guidance. He was looking for something, and l likely knew where to send him. I have shopped at Target more times than I can count. I would rather go there than any other store around Cranberry. I might just have the information that he needed in my mind. Even if what he was looking for was obscure, I could get him into the general area. Yet, I kept walking. I could help and yet I did not help. 

The closer to the registers I got the more convicted I felt. Sure, it is not my job to help every stranger in a retail establishment find their toothpaste, or a loaf of bread, or dish soap. But what would it have cost me to try? What harm would have come from taking a moment to see if I could help a stranger in a store? Maybe I could and maybe I could not. I had nowhere to be that was emergent. The two extra minutes would not even be noticed in my evening. I had the space and the time, but not the desire.  

As I started up the car and backed out of the parking spot I wondered: How many times do I have the choice to engage a person, in what could be a meaningless conversation, but is in fact a conversation that God brought forth? How quick am I to ‘click’ my AirPods on, or find another distraction, and by doing so I miss the chance to witness for Christ, through my actions? 

I guess that I will never know what could have been. But the encounter gave me reason to pause. I wonder what would happen when you have the same choice presented to you?

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 22

 In an essay entitled, “Meditatio Pauperis in Solitudine,” Thomas Merton wrote the following text for us to consider today. 

Now before we read these words together I offer a word of caution to you as Merton’s audience. Reading and considering Thomas Merton can be quite challenging if your mind is distracted. We often read at a certain pacing or tempo. There is a rhythm to most of what we read that we follow easily. This tempo or this rhythm is how we can sit with a favorite book and not recognize the passing of time. 

But Merton resists that construct and process. To read Merton is to be forced to slowly consider what he is saying. Reading Merton often requires us to stop in the middle of a thought or sentence and consider it gently. For his sentences are complex and his language reads slowly. This is to say nothing about how we interpret what we read from Merton’s writings for we can find a depth behind the words that we might miss upon the first-reading. 

So I encourage you to re-read Merton’s words again. Read them slowly. Take a moment and consider them again and hold them in your heart throughout the rest of the day. In the essay, whose title I began with, Merton writes: 

You have called me here not to wear a label by which I can recognize myself and place myself in some kind of category. You do not want me to be thinking about what I am, but about what You are. Or rather, You do not even want me to be thinking about anything much: for You would raise me above the level of thought. And if I am always trying to figure out what I am and where I am and why I am, how will that work be done? . . . Because I no longer desire to see anything that implies a distance between You and me: and if I stand back and consider myself and You as if something had passed between us, from me to You, I will inevitably see the gap between us and remember the distance between us. My God, it is that gap and that distance which kills me.” 

One of the great challenges in our lives and faith is finding time to sit with God for no other purpose than to ’sit with God.’ Most of my day and practices speak against this type of thinking, but that does not mean that we should not re-examine them or ourselves. Like you, I am a person called to action and choice in my day. There are things to do and I often believe that I can take God with me into those tasks. 

But do I truly take God into those tasks? Do you? We know that God is there, but is God part of that moment or action? 

This morning before I headed over to the church I needed to stop at the grocery store for coffee, milk, cheese and a few other things. I turned off Jennifer’s car and grabbed the keys. Slipping out of the door, I neatly placed my AirPods back into my ears and continued the podcast that I began while driving. The subject of the episode was in fact Thomas Merton. I thought to myself, “why not take Merton’s words with me into Wal-Mart." Thomas would provide a necessary distraction while I shopped. But for the life of me, I cannot remember a single thing that the speaker said about Merton or about Merton’s text. . . . I am guilty of too much multitasking. 

With the best of intentions I listen to something that I hope will bring me closer to God. And yet no matter how hard I try, I cannot multitask my way into a deeper union with God. Like Merton, I feel the distance between God and myself killing me, and yet, do I make the effort to just ’sit with God’ or ‘be with God?’ Do you? 

I wonder as you read, and re-read, Merton’s words from above, if God might be inviting you to notice the places and times when you too have created the space between yourself and God, and that space too great? I wonder what choices you could make today to bring that gap closer together. . . maybe something what Merton wrote might be helpful? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 21, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 21

My attention has been held today on something that Emma found after church. Let me take you back to Sunday later-morning. . . 

After church, before we headed to the fellowship hall for lunch and strawberries, we stopped in my office to put down my ’stuff.’ The bulletin, my coffee cup, and my keys were laid on the desk next to my iPad and we went to the basement together. On the way out Emma’s eye caught hold of something sitting on my coffee table. She frowned as she looked at the pair of coffee cups that she potted recently for me. Inside of each cup was a succulent that was given to me by one of our CNS teachers at the end of the school year. As we did not have any planters at the time, Emma wasnt sure what do with them for me.

However, one thing that we do have is a plethora (which is not an understatement) of old Disney coffee cups. She took the cups and gently trimmed the rotted roots of the plants off and repotted them for me. She gave me simple instructions: 

1- “Dad they are cactuses, so don’t water them too much.” 


2- “Make sure to give them plenty of light.”

Flash back to Sunday and Emma was staring at a succulent with white, puffy, mold on it. “Dad, what did you do.” She asked. Honestly, I have no idea what happened. I haven’t watered them much and I thought that my office had plenty of light.  Upon reflection I can say that my office is a bit darker that a normal room and I do remember watering the one in question a bit too much recently. Upon my confession, Emma gave me a serious look and threatened to take them away from me. I shook my head and said I would handle it—and I have. 

This morning, I put them both in the classroom across from my office. It is very sunny there in the morning. I opened the window so the warm breeze could dry them out. Within an hour or so, the moldy cactus looked a bit drier and healthier (it actually did). As the sun crossed the sky I moved it out onto the window sill so that warmth could keep doing its work. It will take some time, but I know  how to ‘fix’ this. I will need to be attentive to my poor succulent but it can be saved.

So my morning and afternoon has a different pacing to it. 

About every so often, I wander into the other room and look at them to see how they are doing. I have been doing this all day. . . This choice has affected how my day has unfolded. 

As I walked back into the office after checking on them a short while ago, I wondered: what simple things do we deal with that seem to monopolize our days? These are things that should not be that which holds our focus but yet they are important to us at a deeper level, and so we divide our attention for them. I wonder what might happen when we acknowledge that we practice and live this way? I don’t want us to throw these things out or dismiss them as tools of distraction because I do not believe that. For these things, like my succulents, hold an important place in our lives and so we should not disregard them. But what happens if we acknowledge that fact and use that learning to inform how we choose to orient our days?  

I wonder if we might find out something about ourselves when we make that discovery…..

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 17

Well today isn’t going according to plan. As I talk with you about it, I bet you will be able to understand exactly how I feel and what I am going through. I wonder if you have felt the same way, and if you have, how does it affect and impact the rest of your day and your faith. 

As happens sometimes, last night I slept poorly— very poorly. I was not anxious or worried about anything. I did not have an extra cup of coffee that helped keep me awake and I was not focused on a project that I am working on. No, I just slept poorly. As I woke up around 5:15 this morning, I noticed that my neck was in a bad position and I could feel my heartbeat in my temples. I rubbed my face with both hands and sat up. The headache got worse. . . 

My pain was not limited to a bad headache. I could feel tightness around my shoulder blades and it radiated down my back. Standing up, I noticed that my hip flexor or my right side was tight. Clearly, I slept in a bad position and I was now paying for that. . . 

I had a few options to work with and I used them all. 

I took 2 Advil for the headache. I got an icepack for the base of my neck to help alleviate the tension that was causing the headache. I laid back down and tried to doze back off while Jennifer got ready for work. After she left, I decided to take Luna for a short walk as a way to stretch my hips and back a bit. I knew that Luna would not pull me too badly as it was early in the morning and I could see that a 5am wake-up was hard on her too. 

We did not make it very far. My stride length was off and I was sore just walking around the church. Still I was getting no relief from my bad night’s sleep. There was only one thing left to do: take a really, really hot shower to loosen the muscles. That didn’t help much either. 

But you know me, I don’t get too worked up on most things. I figured this was ‘going to be one of those days.’ Shrugging off the morning, I sat down to write and work but I noticed that the events of last night were having a great impact on me moving forward. I checked email and completed some needed study-work. But my head still felt ’swimmy’ and I was hampered. 

At 9:30 I had an appointment. As I walked to the truck I reflected on how my day did not get off to a good start and I thought, “this is going to be with me all day.” 

Whether it is sleep or stress at work, whether we are suffering at home in silence or feeling detached from everyone, those things can stay with us for a long time. I still love the Lord. I still read my bible passages for today. I listened to a devotional that helps shape and challenge me, and I still and worn out by life. 

And there is nothing that I can do about it except allow God to come close to my heart in this time. God may not wave a magic wand and I instantly feel better, but God’s presence can abide, and will abide, whether I am doing well or not physically. 

We have all had mornings like this, but today I wonder if we let that bad night’s sleep, or the struggle of the day, hold us too tightly and thereby away from God? 

Rev. Derek  

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 15

With the nursery school out of session for the summer, it has been very quiet and still in the church for a few weeks now. Initially I did not notice the absence of sound or the children from the school, but over time the office has become so still. . . so quiet. The absence of the children is now quite glaring if you want through the halls at Plains. Yet the summer has offered me something in exchange. 

This renewed stillness has provided me an opportunity to read and consider a few texts that I have recently acquired. In one of them, entitled Mindful Silence:The heart of Christian Contemplation, I found a concept that seemed to speak in contradiction to traditional faith practices that I used and read about. But upon further reflection, I find that I cannot shake what I read; the words have been a companion in the silence of the church building.  

In this book, Father Thomas Keating is credited with the following saying:

If you stay on the spiritual journey long enough, the practices that sustain your faith will fall short. When this happens, it can be very disillusioning. But if we stay on the journey, we will find out that this is actually an invitation to go deeper with God.” 

There is a big difference between engaging in a spiritual discipline for the disciplines sake and engaging in it as part of seeking to grow in communion with God. While everyone says that they pray, or fast, or serve in response to what God is doing in their life, the temptation to lose track of God is possible. God seeks communion and union with each of us, and yes, that can be done through a discipline. But what about just being with God? What happens in our lives when we meet God without the tools or preparation a discipline affords us? 

Recently, I have sat in the chapel after my time in the office is complete. I leave my journal behind as I also leave behind my pocket-size Bible. I have deliberately tried not to pray or ‘do’ anything as I sit in the woods. I just want to be there and wait for God to break through my human ability to control and program God. And God has been faithful and sat down next to me. . . 

I wonder if Father Thomas’ words could offer you the same thing in a busy day? I wonder if you can find the invitation from God to leave behind the disciplines and sit with God? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 14, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 14

Today I would like to share with you the story of Christian Erikson. Christian is not a theologian, or teacher, or writer who I recently began studying and considering. No, Christian is a footballer (soccer player). As a fan of the English Premier League I watched Christian dazzle fans and confuse defenders for London-based Tottenham Hotspur for years. Now playing in Italy I have not been able to follow his career arch any longer, but I am sure Christian still has a strong affect on the game. 

Over the weekend Christian took to the field with his Danish teammates for their first game of the European Championship against Finland. The game was played in Danish city of Copenhagen. Many people who turned in to the game were wondering Erikson would control the middle of the field as he normally does. 

Instead, they witnessed something far worse.

With a little over one minute left until half-time, Christian passed the ball back to the left wing. He trotted back ready to receive the ball on the return pass before attacking the goal which was behind him. But something was terrible wrong. His arms began to pitch forward and his shoulders drooped. His head sank. Christian toppled to the grass face first. He did not move. The nearest Danish player ran over to him and slid across the grass shouting at Christian in his face. The man was unresponsive. Commentators would say his eyes were glassed-over. It appears that Christian suffered a cardiac event right there in front of the world and his home-nation. CPR was performed on him as he was stretchered off the pitch and everyone worried that they just witnessed something tragic. 

The video was so shocking that I have not watched it. I choose to only read about it. According to reports he is alert now and hopes to play again… We shall see. 

That is enough to share with you today. I could stop and remind you of the ministry of prayer that we are called to participate in. I could ask you to pray for his family and remind you of the fleeting nature of life. We could remember to seize the day. But that is not all that happened on the pitch that day. . . 

As medical personal slid to Christian’s side, his teammates began to encircle him. They stepped a couple feet away from him and stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle. Tears streaming down some of their faces. They were giving their friend, their captain, the dignity that he deserved. They were literally acting as a human shield so that cellphone cameras and the millions who were watching could not see what was happening clearly. The media would not zoom in. There would be no shot of a fallen player. No, his teammates stood there caring for their teammate to the best of their ability. They were protecting him—if you will. 

That was the scene that stuck with me. Friends, countrymen, in their moment of sadness because of their friend’s situation, choosing to stand because it was all they could do. Finnish players knelt around the field and the arena was obviously silent for a long time. But these 10 Danes, led by their goalkeeper stood vigil before their friend and it was powerful to see.

As I thought about that story, I wondered about the choices that you and I might be able to make to help someone. We often think that we do not have the necessary training or skills to help in a moment of crisis when it happens. Someone else can do it; someone else should do it—we say. They might even do it better than us, so we choose not to get involved or commit to the cause. But that is not true and should not be affirmed as the best choice. 

That afternoon, 10 individuals did what they could. It was all they could do, and I think that it was enough. Those players may not have done anything to help Christian's recovery progress medically. . . And you might be tempted to think that this is what teamwork means. But I read the situation differently. They did what they could and I am sure that if you traveled to Copenhagen and found Christian in his hospital bed, he would talk about how that choice meant so much to him. 

So again, I wonder, who are you able to be present for? Who can you stand here with that might just need the little gift that you give them? You may be surprised to learn how important and memorable you choice was. . . 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 10

As you read yesterday, I have received my latest injection into my right knee. Happily I can report that my pain and discomfort is gone as my range of motion increases. But today I want to tell you a story about the time of transition between receiving the shot and regaining full range of motion. 

After I got home, and my bandaid was removed, I found a slight bruise on the right side of my kneecap on the injection site. It was certainly sore, but not unexpected. So I decided to gather my laptop and give my knee the time that it needed to absorb the medication. I placed a pillow beneath my knee so that it could gently bend over the pillow and be fully supported. With my laptop resting on my lap, and my knee resting on the pillow, I began to check and respond to emails as I also continued to research and read in preparation for Sunday morning. 

About 30 minutes into my reading, I heard a quiet, low, growl. . . Bianca was next to the couch. Staring up at me she sat there with her tail wagging looking at me expectantly. I smiled and went back to reading. The low growl began again. It was not obtrusive so I ignored it. I knew that she has had breakfast (and likely second breakfast since Bella won’t finish her food). I knew that Bianca had been out, so there was no pressing need. A trick I learned when Bianca gets pushy like this is to close my eyes so she thinks that I am asleep (don’t laugh, it works). Sometimes that makes her stop growling. . . But not today. With one eye opened (the one she couldn’t see) I kept reading. 

The barking was getting louder. Her head was no leaning back, and her eyes were bulging. She was ’needing’ the side of the couch now. 

I beckoned her up to join me. . . The barking continued. I asked her to ‘get up here’ louder. I swatted at her to try and encourage her to jump up, she didn’t. Emma yelled from the basement for her to come down there, but Bianca just stood there, holding her ground, and barked all the more. Her little white tail wagging violently back and forth. 

I looked at her and said, (and yes I actually said), “Is there something that you need? Or are you just trying to irritate me?” . . . The barking and growling continues. 

I put down my laptop and stood up on my sore knee. I have acquiesced to whatever is on her mind. She runs around my feet barking and rolling over while still circling me. Yes, she can do that. It's adorable to watch. After determining that she doesn’t need anything, I pet her head and return to my pillow and laptop (remember my knee is sore). You know what happens next. . . She comes back over to the couch and barks, growls again. At this point, I am getting a bit frustrated by her. 

I look at Luna who is laying a few feet away watching. . . “Luna,” I say, “Will you deal with her.” Nothing happens. Luna keeps laying there with her favorite toy beside her. I say, ‘You’re no help." 

Now in case you think that this has happened over a couple minutes, let me put that idea to rest too. It has now been about 30 minutes of barking, growling, and rolling over. Bianca won’t quit. I even think, “Well she will get tired soon and stop.” Nope. Doesn’t happen. She keeps at it. Then I remember the words of Phileena Heuertz that I just read before this incident began.

“It is even more difficult to stay connected to our souls in daily life, amid a myriad of competing demands, needs, and responsibilities. Staying connected to our true self is all the more challenging when others confront us with anger, aggression, or manipulation.” 

The whole scene with Bianca was challenging to deal with. I was not angry just a bit exasperated. I had things that I wanted to do and she was keeping me from them. But as soon as I sat down on the floor and put the laptop on the ottoman next to me, I learned why Bianca was barking. All Bianca wanted was to be close to me. She climbed into my lap and laid down archers it. Soon she went to sleep as I stroked her back. Snoring replaced the barking. And as she snored, I felt more connected to my soul and I felt inner peace growing in my heart. 

I wonder what distraction has come into your life today? Perhaps it is an opportunity to change the perspective and feel the love from someone else? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 9

This morning I had an appointment with my orthopedic doctor. Following my knee surgery a few years ago, I learned that the abuse the I put my knees through was going to have long-term effects on me. Certainly my surgeon corrected my injuries to the best of his ability. Screws and wire now hold my meniscus into place and keep my right knee cushioned from impact. I am happy to say that my knee functions well—most of the time. 

However, about every few months I must return to Dr. Frank’s office for an injection into my kneecap to alleviate recurring pain. You see, weeks before the appointment, I deal with swelling and I live with a limited range of motion. During that time, ice becomes a more constant companion in the evening. I elevate my knee while we watch TV or talk in the living room. JonMark, home from college for the summer, wrapped my knee to help provide support. 

This is the normal course my life takes, and honestly, I am content with it. Some day, I will be forced to have a full knee replacement, but these injections help to stave off that reality for as long as possible. I am, after all, too young for a full replacement of my right knee. If I have one now, I will likely have to have another in 20 years—or so I am told. The prospect of multiple rehabilitations following knee surgery is not appealing.  

So there I sat, my sore knee hanging off the examination table waiting for the doctor to come examine it. And so he did. . . 

He examined my knee closely and compared what he ‘felt’ to what he saw on the latest x-rays. We talked about the pain that I deal with when it flares up and he noted how my range of motion changes. Then the expected happened. . . It was time for an injection into the knee itself. I won’t trouble you with the specifics of the procedure expect to say that it is the most disturbing feeling I have ever dealt with. It is not pain, but something else. 

After it was over, and the bandaid was placed, I was allowed to leave (and no I didn’t get a sucker or sticker to match my bandaid). 

The first step after the shot is painful. . . So is the second. Gradually as I walked down the hall the pain lessened and my range of motion improved. I took the stairs to the parking garage because I knew that the more I worked the knee the better it would feel. Now as I get ready for lunch, I have virtually no pain in the knee. My life has returned to normal—for now. I will see Dr. Frank in about 4 or 5 months for another shot. It is my routine, and it helps. 

This whole experience made me think about our pacing of life. 

Like you, I am in such a hurry so much of the time that I dedicate very little time to being present in the moment. I smirked in the doctor’s office when I read the sign that instructed me to keep my phone turned off while in the office. Seriously, who does that now? We are in constant contact with each other, and some say with God, but I wonder if that is true? I wonder how I would feel, if I just sat here, watched the rain that is now coming down and was attentive to my breath? 

I wonder what my prayer life would look like if I put aside the shopping list of prayers and just . . . was?

My trip to see Dr. Frank helps with that. I have to walk so much slower fo the rest of the day as the medication flows around my knee and reduces the swelling. As I walk slower I can’t help but notice what is before me. . . the homeless man outside the hospital who, by his eyes, tells me that he struggles with addiction. . . The mother trying to wrangle a child into backseat while already looking like she is at the end of the line and it is only mid-morning. . . . The clerk at the counter who is still anxious about what covid means for their lives and their family. 

It is all right there, if we stop and are present. . . 

Rev. Derek

Monday, June 7, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 7

Do you know about the joy that comes from receiving a new book? 

I know that this is a pretty specific question, but for those who have experienced it, the joy of a new book is wonderful—almost intoxicating. The new book holds a mystery in it’s very nature. Hiding on those pages we can find so much to consider. If you purchased a novel then you have wondered how the plot will unfold? When will the big ‘WOW’ moment happen? Will you see the twist coming? 

But that experience is not only relegated to novels. It can happen with any book that is purchased. 

I find myself feeling the same sense of anticipation when a new text arrives on my desk—and I just happened to order one this past week. Regardless of the topic, regardless of my expectation from the author, I find that a new book is inviting. I can feel my imagination primed and ready to read and enjoy the book. So when I opened David Brenner’s new book, Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life, I could not wait to discover what he was going to talk about. 

It was long into David’s text that I found the following story that I want to share with you this afternoon. For as I read this story, I wondered if we have ever considered evangelism, and the sharing how God is at work in our lives, in this way? Have you thought like this before? Brenner: 

“Tells the story of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of a home he was visiting one evening. 
“Auntie,” the boy cried, “talk to me I’m frightened because it is so dark.” 
His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me.” 
“That doesn’t matter,”replied the child. “When you talk, it gets light.” "

What a story! Brenner’s book is organized to create space for consideration of what he is saying. On several pages the reader will find a tiny gray leaf. In the introduction of the book the author says that those leaves serve as an invitation to consider what was just read. They are intentional places to let what God is showing the reader. . . breathe. By the time that I found this story, I had paused several times to consider the contents of the chapters. But after reading this story I had to stop. . . and think. . . and wonder. . . 

“When you talk, it gets light.

When we speak to others in public the light of Jesus breaks trough the darkness of covid, of political unrest, of social needs, of familial tensions, and faith-doubts. The gospel’s words are written to help illuminate the darkness that stalks us as members of the Body of Christ. It does not matter if we find that darkness in another person who we meet in public or if that darkness creeps around us as we go about our days. . . It is there. . . and it is palpable. And we can speak about it. 

As I sat in my chair and sipped some herbal tea, I wondered if we remember the power of God’s word that we have access to in the scriptures? I wondered what would happen when we step out in faith, remembering that it will be hard, and spoke into that dark night of the soul that so many of us have personal and intimate familiarity with? I hope that you will take some time today to re-read the above story, and consider in your own life where God might be inviting you to speak and how that ’speaking’ will help another person. . .

Rev. Derek

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 3

I once heard novelist John Green say that the most important thing for his creativity and vitality is to be in a learning environment. John actively seeks out places and people to learn from. It is a habit that he has embraced for many years with great results in his life. Whether he watches a YouTube video, reads an article, or has a conversation in the market, John wants every part of his life to mirror the ‘learning posture.’ 

For me his advice has been helpful as I adapted to life with covid as a part of my daily reflections and thought patterns. As I transitioned from not wearing a mask in early 2020, to refusing to leave the house without it for the rest of the year, and now as I slowly remove that mask in public, I have tried to continue to learn. Part of the learning that I wanted to engage in involved listening. Listening has helped me gather information and formulate a pathway to care for others. Listening has taught me a lot about myself and about other people during the pandemic. 

The primary lesson that I have been learning relates to human loneliness. 

While I was masked at the store, I found that I wished to speak less and less to other people around me. I kept to myself more often and kept my gaze along my immediate path only. While I still smiled at a cute child or humorous event in the store, no one saw that. No one identified with me. No one said with their eyes, “ha that was funny huh.” So I could no longer share what was funny or cute with anyone and made life so much ‘quieter’ and isolating. 

But that time is quickly passing away. . . We are removing our masks because we are vaccinated. People are once again speaking to each other in public. Small talk once again takes place at Target, or Giant Eagle, or even in the parking lot. And while that sounds normal, I wonder if it truly is? As much as it can, life is returning to normal. Yet this shift toward loneliness resides in our souls still to this day.

In her autobiography, A Rocking-Horse Catholic, Caryll Houselander writes these words to us: 

Realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness. 
For me, too, it is the only ultimate meaning of life, the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.   

Caryll’s conclusion came after she had a vision from God while riding on the train. In those train rides Caryll saw Christ in everyone. Absolutely everyone. The person having a bad day, the one briskly walking away, the one laughing with their family, all had Christ exuding out of them. As you read her story you can almost sense a feeling of solidarity happening between persons—even though they might have been unaware of it. 

We truly are one in Christ, but I wonder as we transition to a life without our masks in public, if we are embracing the fact that Christ is the cure to the loneliness of the pandemic? Certainly it is not completely over yet. I hear and read often of the fear of a new strain of covid coming toward us. While I cannot do anything about that, what I can do is see that Christ is at work not just in me, but at work in the person next to me. I can witness to Christ’s presence and try to speak about it to others.

As we do so, I wonder finally if that will be the cure to helping us address our loneliness that was brought on because of the masks?

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Pastoral Thought

Recently I was listening to a Homily entitled “Life Coming into Focus.” The meaning of the message spoke to my heart and has been with me all week. This was a shorter message that was delivered by Richard Rohr at his local home church where he worship. Midway through the message Richard told the following story that I will summarize in this article. 

If you want the full account of Richard's story, you can search for it in the Center for Contemplation and Action’s website. Richard’s story goes like this: 

He was visiting the Franciscan monastery that sits atop of the Mount of Transfiguration in Israel. He was participating in a weekend retreat where access to ’screens’ would be strictly limited. As a contemplative, Richard was excited for the weekend of isolation and silence. He settled into his room for the night and prepared for his quiet evening of stillness. 

No emails. No text messages. No distractions. It was going to be a good night to reconnect with God in a powerful way at this sacred mountaintop location. 

Upon waking up, Richard and the other retreat guests left their apartments and walked the grounds of the monastery. As they left the compound, he noticed that the Franciscan friars who lived on the Mount of Transfiguration had been busy. Their work went unnoticed in the darkness of the previous evening. On several of the trees around the areas Richard saw signs posted. Each one carried the same message: “No Camping.” 

Apparently the Franciscans, who live on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, regularly deal with young people bringing their tents up the hill and wanting to camp around the area. So the signs were posted to try and curb this behavior. 

Richard, chucked out loud at the signs that he saw. . . He wondered “Even now, we are still trying to find ways to camp on the Mount of Transfiguration just like Peter did.”

His story made me pause and think about my own choice story remain in one spiritual place longer then I need to. How many times have I tried to symbolically camp in a place where I first found God rather than take that experience, and that revelation, down with me into the community? How often have we encountered God on the pages of our scriptures, or in our God at Work moments, and rather than share them or consider how we might use them, we try and pitch a tent? 

I suspect that if we were honest with ourselves, we too might just like to find some room on the mountaintop where we could dwell forever. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to abide where God is, as members of the church we are called to interact and share with our community. I wonder if you can pinpoint the moment when you wanted to remain rather than be sent? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Pastoral Thought--June 1

This morning , as soon as Jennifer left for work, I quickly ate the remainder of my breakfast. I finished getting ready to confront my day making sure to tighten my shoes a bit as my feet are a little sore. I poured some cold-brew coffee into one of our travel cups, and headed out to face the day. As I have a busy day and week ahead of me, I wanted to get cracking, and was excited to do so. . . The long weekend, and time with family, were a blessing, but I knew that there were many things in my emails that needed my attention. 

Briskly I walked over to the church on this cool morning, sipping my cold coffee. Silently I thanked God for the quiet morning. A new podcast spoke truth to me about my relationship with God as I walked. I could feel my creative juices flowing as I sat down to write at my desk. 

Like you, each morning I receive a number of emails that I have subscribed to. Their content is varied but they all come together to help my mind grow and evolve. Slowly I made my way through each of them granting them the needed attention. Some were devotional. Some were leadership-based. A couple just highlighted the news (I skimmed that one quickly). Finally, I came to the last one, and found my attention held there. This was an email that was sent to me Sunday morning and I had not opened it yet. 

This devotional-email shared with me the words of Rainer Maria Rilke. He was a Bohemian-Austrain born poet and novelist who lived from 1875-1926. A number of years ago Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows translated his poems from German into English. As the devotional instructed me, I read the words out loud:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us, 
Then walks with us silently out of the night. 

These are the words we dimly hear: 

You, sent out beyond your recall, 
Go to the limits of your longing. 
Embody Me.

Flare us like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Jsut keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me. 

Nearby is the county they call life. 
You will know it by its seriousness. 

Give me your hand.

As I finished, I smiled. Poetry speaks to the soul. I read these words through once mumbling them to myself; just barely above a whisper. I would read them vocally as the author wanted but not that loudly. . . I sighed, and thought, ‘well it isn’t that hard. Just read the poem.” I paused, sipped some more coffee, and read them again louder. With no one in the church yet, I had some room to speak out loud the words of poetry that Rilke wrote to my empty office. 

That was when it hit me. Hearing the words of this poem out loud provided they avenue to help them speak on their own. I heard the musicality that lived there in Rilke’s words. “Embody me” . . . “Don’t let yourself lose me.” . . . “Give me your hand.” His words became a prayer to me. Amidst my busy morning, with a mind already cluttering with lists and tasks, God was trying to break through to me.  

I hope that you will take a moment today and read those words out loud yourself. . . Don’t worry it is not a long poem and won’t take a lot of time. Dwell with them. Really, take some time with each line and allow God to invite you inward. We are often so busy that we cannot find room in our hearts to let one more thing enter them. But when we do, I wonder what God might say to us? I wonder what invitation God might make of us? I wonder who we might be called to share these words with? 

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...