Thursday, July 29, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 29

 So are we as clever as we think? 

Today as I was enjoying my first cup of coffee, I stumbled across a news article that highlighted interesting research in the field of creativity. The article from  CNN was written by Katie Hunt and it was her opening line caught my eye and caused me read one. After reading her introduction I had to learn about the nature of the study and what it was testing and hoping to achieve. She wrote: 

"Creativity is a uniquely human quality that's difficult to define and, perhaps, even harder to objectively measure."

Ohhhhh…. I’m hooked. As I read on, I found a link (which I will share) and followed it to the research. Here is the link: 

You are asked to give 10 nouns as different and unique as possible. No cheating. No looking up words. No asking for help from you spouse or children. No asking a certain digital assistant on your iPhone for help. Just be creative. The test is supposed to take around 4 minutes to complete. I started off with the first thing that came to my mind: vicarious. . . . It's a theological noun. “Alright, Derek you can do better than that!” I thought. 

So next I typed in: onomatopoeia. “HA! That’s better,” I said to a concerned look from Jennifer. “Who would have thought to go in that direction!” I said to no one in particular. Then I continued onward filling in the 10 slots that are provided. I paced around the room until I was done. 

I may have taken a bit longer than I was supposed it, but I wanted to do a good job. . . I mean hey, do your best or don’t do it, right.  

I clicked “SUBMIT” and my answers were catalogued and my score was given. As the website loaded I thought, “Well, you did really good. This should be impressive. After all you do have three advanced degrees.” (And yes for the moment I felt that arrogant). The site finished loading and the score flashed in green. I read my score to the dogs as Jennifer was continuing to get ready. I wanted to ‘crush’ this test, and prove my intellectual superiority. 

My score was good, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. I scored 90.3 which, according to the research, places me in the 96th percentile. My brow furrowed. I wanted to do even better. But then the humility kicked in: who was I trying to impress? The test is blind and no one would know my results unless I shared them. I could even inflate my score  if I wanted to in order to prove something. But why? 

Why did it matter to be seen as very creative to a website? 

We put a lot of energy into proving how clever, how wise, how thoughtful, and how smart we are, but I wonder whose standards are we trying trying to live up to? Who cares if I scored a 90 or an 80 or a 70 on this test. It does not matter. But yet a four minute test occupied so much of my mind. As I walked over to the church today I contemplated taking it again to ‘better’ my score. (Yes, I am that hopeless). 

So, again whose standards of cleverness, of faith, of service are we trying to live up to? Ours or someone else’s?

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Pastoral Thought-July 28

  In the podcast, Turning to the Mystics, James Finley retells a number of stories about his time with Thomas Merton. Back in the 1960s Finley felt a calling to the monastic life from God. The more that he prayed and spent time listening to God’s voice and guidance, the more this call became clearer and clearer. He had to go. . .

He arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky and began his life at the monastery with excitement and passion.
Now, each new student (or monk-to-be) who joins the Abbey at Gethsemani is assigned a spiritual director and mentor as they begin their journey of faith. This is an individual who will walk one-on-one with the new student as they begin their monastic life. The spiritual director will help guide the new monk through the challenging transition and guide them toward silence and contemplation. Finley was assigned Merton. 

But for those who are familiar with Merton’s work, Finley was intimidated to be given such as famous spiritual director. Yet Merton would not treat him any differently throughout their mentoring relationship. 

On an early encounter, which Finley retells on his podcast, Merton asked his student “how’s it going?” Finley was having a hard transition (as was expected by them both). He says that he could not pray. He struggled to read the Bible reflectively. Stillness was almost impossible as was the necessary posture of contemplation that a monk needed to find God at work with them. He felt like a failure as a Christian. James Finley confessed that he must have made a mistake by coming to Gethsemani and wondered about leaving the monastery and returning to civilian life. 

Merton was not phased by his student’s struggle. Instead of advice, or offering a piece of sage wisdom to his struggling student, Merton asked if Finley had been to the pig barn yet. Finley thought, “That’s odd.” But replied that he had been there but not today. So Merton gave him an assignment: go to the barn before our next meeting and see the pigs. And Finley obediently followed the instructions that he was given.
He travelled down to the barn, walked around, looked at the pigs, and then came to see Merton at their next appointment (which was the following day). Sitting in his chair the young student wondered what piece of spiritual depth Merton was about to pass on to him because he went to the barn and noticed the pigs.
Their session began. . . and Merton only asked how the pigs were today? And Finley told him how they were. He commented on what they were doing and how their overall health appeared. Merton nodded and asked him to do that same thing before tomorrow’s time and their time ended for the day. 
Merton never told Finley why he asked about the pigs—just go and notice them. I wonder what wisdom might come in your life from just observing what is taking place right under your nose? Outside in the yard? Or across the room? Perhaps today, just go to your own metaphorical barn and notice it. . . 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 27

 Because of some commitments that I have this evening, I was confronted with a choice. While I would like to think that my choice was deep and complicated, that it contained a great deal of nuance to it that required me to reflect at length, the fact is that it did not. My choice was: be helpful in an unexpected way or let things progress as they do. Here is what I mean. . . 

This morning Jennifer wondered if we needed to cut the grass. Our yard is long and it needs to be cut so that we don’t have to "bail it." We normally do that over the weekend, but because we a guest at the house, we didn’t. So today she asked me to have the lawn tractor filled with gas and ready for her when she got home around 6pm. The plan was to eat dinner quickly and then spend the next 2 hours doing yard work. Simple enough, right?

Well, as I sit here and write the temperature outside is 88 degrees. The heat index makes it feel like it is 91 outside. That’s real hot and real uncomfortable. As the sun set across our yard there is no shade after lunch until sunset. So we had an evening of ‘baking’ ahead of us. Not to worry, Emma would be instructed to ‘water us’ at regular intervals—which she’s good at. We would be fine, just a little tired, hot, and likely sunburned. 

So I had a choice—one that I suspect that you are aware that I could make. Do I cut the grass this morning alone to spare my wife and I from suffering in the heat? Or do my regular daily commitments take prescience? 

As Jennifer rolled into the house at 1:30 for lunch she saw that I cut the grass and smiled. I didn’t tell her that I was doing it. She sighed in relief. Like I said, it was going to be a real hot evening for us. Walking back to the church after she left, I felt blessed. I made a choice to help someone, to lighten their load a bit, and it helped. This was a minor choice, but one that demonstrated that when I had the choice to care for someone else, I choose to care. I chose to re-orient my day in order to help someone else. 

I wonder, when was the last time that you had the chance to care for someone like that? When did you change the arch of your day in order to serve someone else? And of course, how did it feel to bless them? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, July 26, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 26

 While the requirements may have changed over the years, the swimming merit badge that I earned while a Boy Scout was challenging. 

I was, and am, a good swimmer. I knew my strokes and I passed the swimming test at Scout Camp each year as one of the fastest swimmers in my troop. Camp Manatoc’s swim test required me to swim the length of the pool 3 times without stopping. I could use any stroke that I wanted to do this. Then on the fourth time down the pool, I hd to flip over and backstroke my way up the pool. Again I was very fast at this. The final test was to float on my back for a minute until the lifeguard splashed me with some water to indicate that I was done. 

The whole thing as easy for me. It was always easy for me. Eventually I would be certified as a BSA lifeguard because of my ease in the water. So like I said, swimming was easy for me. 

But the one piece of the swimming merit badge that I struggled with was a requirement that asked me to dive down to the bottom of the pool (15 feet) and retrieve a brick from the bottom of the pool. As odd as this might sound, I am afraid of heights, so the thought of how deep I was going triggered me fear of heights (I know doesn’t make a lot of sense). . . .Oh, and we had to dive to the bottom of the pool from inside the pool—no jumping off the diving board or side of the pool to gain extra momentum. We were told to go to the middle of the pool, drop our brick, and go get it once it settled on the bottom.

Failure rate for this task was great at first, but after some time most of us got it. 

The instructor taught us how to arch our back as we flipped over which would help propel us down into the water fast. A quick kick of the legs as we ‘arched our backs’ and we were almost there. But I could not do it. In fact I wasn’t even that close. The depth was frightening to me.

But with some gentle teaching and encouragement from the lifeguard, I learned how to move the brick deeper and deeper and honed my skill to go deep into a pool. Now I love to sense of arching my back and gently kicking my legs to go deep. It is so relaxing to feel myself float down deep into a pool and rest there. The world above me so silent; so blue. 

In The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr says this: 

"To stay on the surface of anything is invariably to miss its message – even the surface meaning of our sinfulness."

The depth of my scout camp’s pool, and my ability to swim down there, taught me something about sticking to a task, about believing in myself, and about believing that I could push myself and accomplish great things. It taught me that fear will still be with me; I cannot remove fear from everything that I do. But I can realize that I when I press in and expand my horizons, great thing could happen. 

Maybe, just maybe, if we press in to the depth that is around us, push ourselves to go where we have not gone before, we might just find that holy ‘brick’ waiting at the bottom of the pool?

Rev. Derek

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 22

As you know I believe that story-sharing and story-telling are crucial elements for a healthy, vibrant Christian community. Stories help us create, and support, an spiritual environment where together we can comment on the daily movements of God that we witness. 

But naturally there is a push-back to this idea that cannot be ignored. For no matter how many stories we share or listen to each week in worship, at some point this push-back idea will surface and have to be addressed. Let me phrase it as a question: 

What happens we don’t have any more stories to tell or share? 

This question has been with me since I finished my D.Min work at Pittsburgh Seminary. For while I believe that story-sharing and story-telling are a more effective method for equipping church leaders that does not address the question that I asked above. At some point we could run out of stories to share. . .  

My friend Graham, in his most recent book, And the Church Actually Changed, says it this way: 

Part of our not having stories is we don’t look for transforming stories. In fact, I think many of us in the mainline Protestant churches feel uncomfortable using . . . stories. They don’t feel intellectual enough.”

In the church we are trained, and conditioned, to pass on information to each other in short bursts and encounters. When someone asks “How was your day?” We share information. We don’t often share transformation. But the potential is there to change our behavior and responses. For instance, yesterday at a committee meeting with the presbytery, a colleague asked me “How are you?” I groaned and said something about how sore and tired I was from helping a family move into a new home over the past weekend. My answer was not transformational, I was sharing information with him. I wanted to let this individual know that I was tired, sore, and yet happy to be together as a committee. 

My answer did not include any thoughts about how I knew that if I didn’t help the family would overwork themselves and become angry with each other and could speak hurtfully to one another.  I wanted to return the act of service with a cheerful attitude as others have served me—and so I helped. I did not say that as I drove with my son to the new house that I was thankful to be able to work with him. I enjoyed listening to him talk to me about college issues and knowing that the days of him living with Jennifer and I were closer to their end than their beginning. 

I skipped right to the part where I shared information. . . As I suspect that you might as well.  

We want to have all the answers when we evangelize and share God’s word. Even if we have the most well-crated evangelistic approach, we can run out of stories because we don’t look for them and we don’t elevate the necessity of them. If Graham is correct, and I suspect that he is, the issue that is confronting us is that we have been conditioned away from story-sharing because it does not feel appropriate when we engage each other—but it is, and I think that it is necessary.  

I wonder what could happen to our daily interactions if we made deliberate choices to share the things of our lives that are transformational first, and let the informational sharing come later?



Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 21

 Besides the Bible, I don’t have a lot of books in my library that I have purchased on more than one occasion.

Interestingly there is only one author whose books I have I purchased multiple times: Richard Foster. I have purchased, read, and given away two of his books. The first book that I bought and re-bought is: Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. His seminal work, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, is the other book that I have purchased on more than one occasion. It sits over my right shoulder on the shelf. I refer to this text a lot. I have some of the pages marked in multiple colors of pens and markers. There are tiny post-it notes sticking out of the pages of the book for quick reference. 

Anyone unfamiliar with Foster’s work, I highly recommend him to you. You will not read very far into his writing without being challenged and blessed. 

Foster encourages his readers to press deeper into their relationship with God through many different spiritual disciplines and practices that he has worked with. He argues that the disciplines that occupy the pages of his books, which have been accessible to the church for generations, will help us live faithfully and intimately with God in a way that we do not initially realize. 

In his 1998 book, Celebration of Disciplines, he wrote these words for the church:

"Superficiality is the curse of our age. 
The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. 
The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, 
or gifted people, but for deep people.”

These words were published 23 years ago but feel relevant and applicable today. As I read them I shake my head in a act of silent confession about their validity and applicability in my life.

How many of us know someone who struggles with superficiality? Maybe if when we are honest we might confess to the struggle in ourselves. In an age of constant contact, immediate email access, and apps on our devices that allow us to locate another person across the globe instantly, the challenge to be deliberate, deep, and practice patience is great. How can I focus on God when there are so many things drawing me away? 

 At some point in almost every day of the week I wonder about going out to the prayer chapel and sitting there so that I can practice being still with God. Yet, when the time comes to stand up and walk to the woods that are adjacent to the church, I find something else to do. . . Or, if I go, I take my cell phone or my iPad with me—just in case someone calls. That does not feel like a practice of going deep, but one of ‘checking the right box.’ 

I wonder what might happen in our lives as Christians if we took deliberate steps, as Foster suggests, and worked to deepen our faith? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, July 19, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 19

 "Well VBS is over. . ." That sentiment was all that was on my mind on Friday evening as the youth and young adult volunteers joined my family around our fire ring for s’mores and hot dogs. Some kids swam in the pool. Others played with Luna. But as I looked around the fire that evening, I could only think: “Another successful VBS here at Plains.” 

The program is packed back into the basement closet and we wait for 2022 and a new program to surface that will transform the children’s lives here at Plains. As the church in a post-VBS community, we might begin to wonder: what’s next? How do we take the lessons and experience of VBS with us into the ‘dog days’ of summer and continue to build off what was started last week? 

I think that the writing of Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith are helpful for us in this time. In 1875 she wrote the following words in her book, The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life

To sum it all up, then, what is needed for happy and effectual service is simply to put your work into the Lord's hands, and leave it there. Do not take it to Him in prayer, saying, "Lord, guide me; Lord, give me wisdom; Lord arrange it for me," and then rise from your knees, and take the burden all back and try to guide and arrange for yourself. Leave it with the Lord; and remember that what you trust to Him you must not worry over nor feel anxious about. Trust and worry cannot go together. If your work is a burden it is because you are not trusting it to Him. But if you do trust it to Him you will surely find that the yoke He puts on you is easy, and the burden He gives you to carry is light: and even in the midst of a life of ceaseless activity you shall “find rest to your soul."

As I read, and re-read, those words it is amazing to me that Hannah was writing over 140 ago to me . . . and to us. Her words feel applicable and relevant to our faith walks today as VBS becomes yet another memory that we share with each other in the church. We wonder how will we continue to build off of what God started last week in the lives of those young children? 

I hope that today you will take an opportunity today to sit with Hannah Whitall Smith and consider what she is saying. Consider what her words ask of you in relation to service, faith, and discernment? 

Spend some time wondering and noticing where the places that you take the burden back from God in an effort to control it, and instead, leave it there. As you leave it, notice what God says to you and how that presence makes you feel? 

Rev. Derek 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 14

 I appreciate Emma and her gifts very much. She has gifts and skills that support and benefit our family in ways that amaze me at times with both their simplicity and their necessity. While JonMark is a great caregiver who has learned to sit and be still with someone, Emma uses a different approach to accomplish the same thing. She is hands-on in a way that many others are not in this world. For instance today I am thinking about her green thumb. . . 

I have a number of succulents and cacti in my office. She has bought me some of them and others were gifts. Perhaps out of laziness and ignorance, I have sought her help in taking these plants out of their store-bought homes and potting them in their permanent containers. 

I like to think that I needed her help because I do not know how to repot a plant, but the fact is that there are times when I don’t want to get dirt under my nails—and Emma likes it. So I call Emma from her root. She smirked as I hold out the plant that needs her loving attention. She takes it in her hands and cares for them. 

Each time I give her a plant to care for, she lovingly heads to the back porch to work her magic on my little green friends. Gently potting soil is placed in each cup or pot as needed. Kindly Emma trims the root systems so that they can grow well and not suffer from any root-rot that would limit their growth potential. With a gentle mixture of pressure and care, Emma sets them into their new home. 

She waters the plants a bit so that their roots can begin to grow—cacti don’t need much water. Then she presents them back to me with some instruction. She tells me how much to water them and how often to take them outside for sunlight. I pretend to listen because I know that when my plants need love and attention (which they have), Emma will care for them.

As I was reading the Philokalia, a classic of Orthodox Christian spirituality, I came across the words of St. Gregory of Sinai. In a section entitled “watchfulness,” Gregory says these words to the church: 

 “For plants which are frequently translated do not put down roots.” 

The section where this quotation resides talks about the necessity of choice in our relationship with God. We have the choice how we are going to work at experiencing and encountering God. But knowing this, we often do not choose to be deliberate or carful about how we engage God. Often we would rather squeeze God into a time slot when it works best for us, but that using Gregory’s metaphor, is just another time when we transplant our roots from the source of vibrancy and life. We need to find time, deliberate time, time where the caring nature of God can consistently care for us. 

I wonder what your devotional life looks like? Do you have a consistent time, consistent space, consistent way that you put your roots deeper into God’s word and God’s presence? If not, then perhaps creating that time might more life-giving then you initially thought. 

Rev. Derek

Monday, July 12, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 12

 In a residential neighborhood on Moorfield Street in Manchester, England you will find a mural painted across the red brick outer wall of a home. The mural was painted by a man who is only known through his social media persona of AkseP19. He sought to memorialize an individual whose impact in England cannot be ignored. 

While the covid-19 pandemic affected so many around the world, in this part of England a soccer player, Marcus Rashford, a player who grew up not far from where the mural was painted, dared to ask his nation why not? 

The general question was: why can we not feed every, single, child in England during the pandemic? Why must children go to school without food while at home their loved ones fight covid-19? 

He asked the question to as many people as he could. 

Marcus never wavered in his stance or feeling about child hunger. He gave sacrificially from his own pocket first. . . That helped but more was needed. So he asked his club team, Manchester United, to help. . . They did as well. Still children were hungry in England so Marcus took the bold step of pressing Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, to step in. And Johnson helped. 

As the pandemic and quarantine worked their way through England, some thought that they could end the free food program. . . Marcus would have none of it. He pressed harder and deeper. His work was a success! It impacted the country so much that Queen Elizabeth II summoned Rashford on October 10, 2020 to Buckingham Palace. There in a special ceremony, on her birthday, Marcus was awarded an MBE (This stands for Member of the British Empire given to individuals who do extraordinary things to support the country) by the Queen of England. 

It is a tremendous honor for the 22 year-old to receive. It was something that he never dreamt of getting when he dared to wonder why children during a pandemic have to deal with hunger issues as well as covid-19.

Now let’s fast-forward to yesterday. Rashford misses his penalty kick that could have won England the European Championship over Italy in Wembley Stadium in London. Tragic for sure, but these things happen in sports. We do our best and we can lose anyway. . . But it would get worse. . . 

Over night, the mural painted in his childhood neighborhood was defaced in protest with racial symbols and wording. It was a tragedy and it was shocking. Why would someone paint racial abuse on a mural because the subject missed his penalty kick? 

Yet, again something beautiful happened. 

One of the neighbors who lived close to the mural came out that morning and began to hang black trash bags or plastic over the vandalism. She just didn’t want anyone to see it. Rashford, who received  multiple death threats because of the missed shot, suffered enough, she felt.

Neighbors poured from their homes with tiny scraps of paper, with paper hearts, and markers. Each left a note of support for Marcus thanking him for what he’s done for England and their children. The over $25 million that he raised to feed their children was all they could remember when they thought of him—not a missed shot.

Something dark. Something hateful, and hate-filled, turned into a moment of honor and one of love. 

We will not be asked by God to stand against large systemic issues alone often. But what we will be asked, and what we are asked to do, is to find a moment, or find a person who is suffering, and offer them the equivalent of those little notes taped to a wall in Manchester England that now cover an incident of racial abuse. 

Offer that person a word of love today. Give them a word of hope and compassion when they need it the most. Tell them that what they have done, and what they endured, is not the end to their story. They are so much more. And by doing so, we participate once again in God’s loving act of ministry. 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 8

 It has been a frustrating couple of days for me—and not for any reason you might expect. 

I have not been upset by anything that I read on social media or seen on the local news. Our cultural issues or the economy’s performance are not on my mind this week anymore than normal. My teenage children have been remarkably helpful and Jennifer is doing great  (her back is feeling much better). Like I said, the things that is frustrating me is something you would not expect. So here it is: I cut my finger on Tuesday. 

Yes, you read that right. . . I cut my left thumb on Tuesday afternoon and it has been very frustrating to deal with. Let me explain:

Around 4:00pm I was at home when I started to feel ’snacky.’ I knew that dinner was soon, and I was planning to get started on the preparation in about an hour. But before I started cooking, I noticed that my tummy was 'grumbling.’  So off to the fridge I went to find something to eat. Not wanting to spoil my supper, I took out a block of pepper jack cheese and set it on my cutting board. This would be my snack. I retrieved my blue knife from the drawer that I use for cutting cheese and removed the sheath from it. The package of cheese was still sealed and so I took the knife, put some gentle pressure on the package to expose the seam, and slid the knife quickly across the wrapper to ’slice’ it open. I have done this dozens of time without incident. It worked! The package was open . . . But it also sliced open the outside of my left thumb near the nail wide open.

I dropped the knife onto the counter, gritted my teeth, and reached for a cloth to apply direct pressure on the cut. I would not need stitches but I knew that it would bleed a lot. Shaking my head I thought, ‘you idiot, you know better than that. What would you scoutmaster say.’ (He would roll his eyes and chastise me for poor knife safety).

JonMark helped me clean up my finger over the sink. He tightly affixed a bandaid on my thumb to stop the blood. I was so annoyed by the whole event. How am I going to prepare raw meat for coking with an open cut on my thumb that is pulsating and bleeding? I may not be left-handed normally, but I do favor it when I cook. This was going to be an issue. 

Well I am still here. I didn’t starve to death because of a cut on my finger. Dinner was prepared and consumed, and life is still moving onward. Expect… I have a bandage on my left thumb that makes doing easy things much harder. Like I said, I am not left-handed but there are certain things that I that my left thumb needs to do that it cannot do for now.

 For instance, cracking an egg to for breakfast is normally done by pressing your thumbs into the cracked shell. Well, when you can’t use both of your thumbs to do it, that tasks is considerably harder. After I crack the shell I have to turn the egg over and open it upside down so that I can use my index fingers and not my thumbs. 

Putting on a belt is much hard when you can’t pull with your left hand fully because again, as is tying your shoes. I need my thumb and I can’t use it right now because if I do, then I will break off the scab and it will bleed. I have been forced to live at a different pace of life and it is frustrating for me. 

This makes me wonder about the little things that frustrate us so much. . . The minor thing. . . The seemingly insignificant thing that I do in my day that alters how I live my life. I wonder if when, as a Christian, you cut your spiritual finger what behaviors and choices do you have do make differently? I wonder if God might be offering you a chance to slow down, live differently for a little while? 

Perhaps like me, you might find some room to life faithfully in a different way. . . 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 6

 Nestled in the Hollywood Hills is a hotel that defies traditional expectation and works every day to do something different—and they do it quite well. It is a hotel that looks more like a house that you would drive risk past and not a swanky, popular destination. But don’t let appearances fool you, people wait a long time to get a chance to stay at this hotel. . . No, it isn’t haunted. No famous person once lived here. No celebrities don’t frequent the restaurant or bar. 

The name of this ‘magical’ destination,' that seems so unassuming and yet so inviting, is the Magic Castle Hotel.

From the street it doesn’t look like anything special—it barely even looks like a hotel. Built in the 1905s this hotel was originally an apartment complex. The rooms are totally average, and the lobby is, honestly, below average. It looks more like the waiting room for a doctor’s office than a popular travel destination. Ranking #2 on Trip Advisor (above the Four Seasons Beverly Hills), the Magic Castle Hotel has figured ‘it’ out. 

Near a very average pool guests will notice a cherry red phone sitting on a stand. Above the phone reads a sign “Popsicle Hotline.” And if you pick up the phone, somebody answers and says, “Popsicle Hotline! We’ll be right out.” And somebody comes out minutes later wearing a suit, carrying a silver tray loaded with grape and cherry and orange popsicles for you to enjoy. They present them to you wearing white gloves, like an English butler, all for free. 

The Magic Castle has a snack menu where you can get Cracker Jacks and Sour Patch Kids and cream soda—all for free, just by asking at the front desk. They’ve got a board game menu where you can check out games, and a movie menu to check out movies. They have magicians doing tricks in the lobby several times a week.

These choices demonstrate why this location is more popular than the Four Season Beverly Hills. Imagine that, just offering a child a free popsicle matters that much to guests! 

Author Dan Heath offered this conclusion when thinking about the Magic Castle Hotel: 

"Two years later, you’re not going to remember, “Oh, the bed was average,” or, “Oh, the lobby was average.” Two years later, you’re going to remember, “Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but there was a phone by the pool where you could order popsicles. Can you believe such a thing?” 

That’s the power of adaptive thinking and creative living. As I sat and listened to Dan Heath talk about the hotel and how the staff seeks to care for their guests, I wondered what the places in our church, in your evangelistic work and ministry, where the chance is presented to you do something so ‘out of the box’ that no one even thought that it was possible? I wondered what things, what choices, could we make in the church, that would leave such a lasting impression on our local community that they talk about how God is at work here at Plains? 

Maybe it might be something as simple as a free Popsicle. . . maybe not. But I guess the choice is ours. 

Rev. Derek 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Pastoral Thought--July 1

 This morning I altered from my traditional morning regime, and by doing so, I re-affirmed something important.

As the rain came down in a constant stream, I headed down to the basement and ‘clipped into’ my spin bike. After scrolling through the cycling workouts on my iPhone, I settled on a 20 minute Recovery Ride. On the surface this was not a hard choice to make. My legs and hips were sore from a long week of rinding and walking. I wanted to workout, but didn’t want the endure the strain and heat of a burning spin workout where I would burn 500 calories in 30 minutes. 

Onto the screen my trainer appeared—Matt. He was a Division I cross country runner and cyclist. Training with Matt is more technical and more detail oriented than training with other instructors. Pedal stroke rate, heart rate monitoring, even how I press down on the peddles are become necessary metics to pay attention to as I ride or run with Matt. But not today. We left all of that go . . Today we were going on a ride to help our muscles recover from the strain of past workouts. 

Now for some people these feel like wasted workouts or wasted days of training. They seem negative when considering the desire to improve and press on toward physical training goals. But even in the negative workouts, the ones where you don’t work aggressively something happens. 

While I was riding with Matt I thought about the work of Carl Jung. 

In the 1940s Carl was skeptical of Christianity because he did not see consistent transformation or growth from the church or its members. Instead he witnessed in his family of ministers and teachers, people who were burned out, unhappy, frustrated by the work that God called them to do. There was no joy only fatigue and cynicism. "Why would God want people to be unhappy like this," he wondered. As I rode I remembered this words: 

The full journey toward wholeness must always include negative experiences (the ‘cross’) that we usually reject.”

No one likes a negative experience. We taught from an early age to press on toward perfection, toward greatness, to work harder and longer in order to achieve success. My morning trainer Matt would agree with this. We want to push as hard and as long as we can. But then, as we work this hard for such a long period of time, we wonder why we are burned out, fatigued. . . Why do our muscles hurt so much and our souls ache? 

It is because we have not taken the time to embrace, to use Jung’s concept, the negative—the thing that we don’t want to do because it seems contrary to our normal. But when we realize the role the cross that the cross played for humanity and our redemption, why wouldn’t we accept it? To use my example from today, why wouldn’t we clip in, ride gently, in order to grow? Why not spent some time along our journey of wholeness embracing truths that are necessary? 

I wonder what might happen in our walks as Christians if we allowed ourselves to ‘breath’ and ‘rest’ at the times when we need it? 

Rev. Derek 

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