Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Pastoral Thought--August 31

 I just returned to my laptop after brewing a cup of herbal tea and I want to share the experience with you. 

The “steeping" tea in my cup is a new flavor of buttermint tea that I have not enjoyed before. Honestly, I have never heard of buttermint so I didnt know what to expect when I selected it from my little tea box that sits near my desk. I have been pleasantly surprised already by what I have found. The smells of peppermint and vanilla are crossing my desk toward me and reminding me that tea is a wonderful creation. I still have three more minutes to wait until I can enjoy this tea, and I know that before you finish reading this ’thought’ I will be sipping the tea with you.

I have enjoyed tea for a long time. I don’t remember exactly when I began to appreciate and enjoy it, but it is part of my psyche now. It was probably some point when I sampled tea on a Disney vacation, and stopped in the Twinning Tea Shop for the first time, that the love of tea entered my heart. The shop where I get a lot of my tea is located in EPCOT’s England Pavilion and offers more tea that I could imagine. Over the years I have bought a lot of varieties of tea from this store. My children even shop for Father’s Day there for me from time to time because they know that whatever the find in the store, I will love. . . 

The process of gathering my supplies to enjoy some tea is also fun. It feels like I am making a magical potion that I know will touch the corners of my soul profoundly. 

From my bag I produce a bottle of honey that was a recent gift from a friend and I set it next to the spoon that I will stir the tea with. The honey is lighter in color that I normally see from the market where I buy honey for tea. This makes me think that this honey will be special somehow but I don’t have a clue how. The bottle is very plain and has no special target marketing to speak of on it. Next, I heat the water by passing it through my old Keurig until the cup is full. Finally, I place the Twinnings Tea bag into my new favorite cup from Laurel, Mississippi that my mother got me on a trip a few months ago. 

As I breathe in to enjoy the first sip of tea I can smell the powerful peppermint hitting my nose. It opens my nasal passages and I can feel peppermint in the back of my mouth. For many people tea is just something that they drink occasionally, as you can see, that is not true for me.

While sipping my tea I was reminded of the words of Barbara Holmes as she remembered a story from her youth. Her story reflected on the convergence point of growing up in the south where remedies for ‘what ailed ya’ could be found in the woods. She talked about the local teas that her aunt would brew in their kitchen and marveled at how the person seemed to recover by ingesting some odd concoction of herbs, berries, and twigs that were combined with hot water. 

But it was the next part of her story that caught my heart. She wrote: 

Everyone knew when someone was sick, and so the healing process became the interest of all members of the community. Since there was no health insurance, no money for medicine or doctors, it was in everyone’s best interest for Aunt Beck (the tea brewer I add) to succeed. And so a great deal of attention was lavished on the ailing person. As a consequence, it is impossible to determine whether healing occurs because of the medicinal effects of the herbs or the solicitous concern of the community. . . These stories of a reality where healing became a tangible activity included their awareness not just of Aunt Becky’s herbal ministrations and the prayers of the community but also of the spirit of the . . . divine messenger.”

So many of us are consumed with one aspect of healing—the physical. This is certainly the presenting issues of many days in our world and I am grateful to have a group of good medical doctors that I visit when I need them. But I wonder what might happen when we stop and notice the spiritual, presence, aspect of healing that Barbara speaks about in the church? 

Let me say again: a warm glass of tea is no substitute for competent medical treatment and care, but the presence around that cup, the willingness to linger with someone longer than the prescribe 15 minutes at a local doctor’s appointment, and the ability to listen are crucial I think in healing. Perhaps that moment, around that cup of tea, carries with it a chance for healing and peace? 

Maybe God has laid it upon your heart today to dwell with someone a bit longer. If that is so then try having a glass of tea with them and notice how the Holy Spirit shows up. . .

Rev. Derek

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Pastoral Thought--August 26

 In his book, The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr begins a long section with the following thought. He said:

You can only reform things long term by unlocking them from inside—by their own chosen authoritative sources. Outsiders have little authority or ability to reform anything.”

By itself this is a powerful statement that speaks of something that is deeply living in each of us. My college mentor used to tell me that by the time we turn 20 we have set almost all of our major beliefs and choices into place. Mike would say that we can only modify small parts of ourselves or our psyches. At the time I believed that he was right, but now, with Richard Rohr standing beside me in his book, I wonder if more transformation and growth is possible? I wonder what it takes to truly, and deeply, change and grow as a Christian in the service of God? 

Rohr’s point illustrates why I believe so strongly in the power of story-telling and sharing as a more effective methodology training and equipping missional leaders in this world. By becoming willing to listen to someone else, willing to listen to their struggles without judgment, we accomplish many things: 

First, we take ourselves from the seat of authority and we grant permission to someone else to dictate the terms of our relationship. This weekend when I asked the young lady cutting my hair about how she and her husband were navigating the end of his military service, I was granting her permission to be honest with me and take the conversation in a directly that she felt comfortable with. I was out of control because I was listening first. . . 

Second, story-sharing and listening and sharing is a practice of discernment and non-judgmental living. The young lady who was cutting my hair had to trust that I would not judge whatever she said to me—and I did just listen to her. 

Finally, story-sharing and listening invites others into relationship with us that is on-going. It is one thing to stand in the checkout line at Giant Eagle or Wal-Mart and complain to someone about how hot it has been this week. It is a far different thing to confess to them, through a story, a challenge that is gripping your mind or heart. From my perspective the work of the church should not only be to evangelize directly—part of our calling is to listen, I believe. 

This listening helps grants the necessary permission to help people ‘reform things long term.’ But that calling is seldom linear, and linear thinking and living is desirable to most of us. 

I wonder what reflections Rohr’s quote from above sparks in your heart today? Who is the outsider that you can listen to and what happens when actively listen to them? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, August 23, 2021

Pastoral Thought--August 23

 Yesterday's Worship in the Park was a blessing to participate in with Old Union and Crestview. It was wonderful to gather in Old Union’s pavilion as three combined churches to worship the God that we love and serve. With that in mind I want to share with you a little thing that I noticed during one of our hymns. 

Following the message we sang the hymn The Solid Rock— or as it is also know My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.  I have known this hymn for quite some time as it a family favorite and one that I grew up singing a lot. While its origins date by the mid-19th century, the words of this hymn feel timely and appropriate to the church as we continue to look for ways to live faithfully in our world. 

It was during the first refrain I noticed something just beyond my eye-line happening in worship. As we sang: 

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; 
All other ground is sinking sand, 
All other ground is sinking same. 

I saw it. . . 

While I do not specialize in the study of birds, I saw one that I assumed was quite large circling high in the shy over a patch of trees. The bird effortlessly seemed glide in a circle over those trees. I watched the bird for the entire refrain as I knew the words well and could sing them by memory. Then as the second verse began I continued to watch this bird fly. Around and around it went. . . keeping the same general flight plan.  Each circle seemed to be bigger and more expansive than the first. At no point did it seem like the bird was working hard to fly. It just circled before us. 

It dipped down and back up as the verses continued of the hymn. Then I found myself almost singing to the bird as it flew before me. As I sang I wondered: 

what was it doing? 
Was it hunting something or stalking its prey? 
Was it a hawk and examining an injured animal below before deciding to pounce? 
On a warm sunny day was it just out for  a ’Sunday fly’ (rather than a Sunday drive)?
How long would the bird continue to circle above us? 
What was really happening here in this bird’s life? 

Sometimes the line between expectation and reality can blur. We think that we know exactly what is happening before our eyes only to discover that a choice that was made, or a action that was taken, was done so for reasons we did not know in the moment. Like the bird our choices, or those who we encounter, can seem to flow in one direction, but maybe as we discern that choice, we could discover something else happening here? 

The song ended and we sat down. The service continued and l lost track of the bird. But the question that this bird offered are still in my mind right now? I wonder what are the places today where we think we understand exactly what is happening? Maybe God is inviting us to see things differently? 


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Pastoral Thought--August 19

 So what is your thing?. . . And how much are you will to sacrifice, to work, or plan so that that one thing, that self-care thing, can happen?

Let me tell you about my day so far. . . 

This morning the committee that I serve as co-chair was hosting a quarterly skill building event for the Beaver-Butler Presbytery, The event was scheduled to take all morning. The speak was the Rev. Dr. Roger Owens from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I was looking forward to Roger’s presentation and also looking forward to re-connecting with him. My committee, Encouraging Churches to Flourish, spent a lot of time planning for, and praying about, this event. We take these skill building events seriously and want to offer training for pastors and church leaders that meets a need that is arising around our community. Today’s event was a based on discernment. It asked the question: how do we identify how God is working and present in our local community as covid continues to flare up around us? 

The event went well and I was blessed by what Roger shared. But, the event ran longer than expected. The pastors who joined us had a lot of questions for Roger and a lot of reflections that they wanted to work through. This is part of the excitement of ministry for us. 

As the meeting ended, I had another commitment that I needed to follow up on and so I spent my lunch time on the phone with a colleague. This call was also a joy and I enjoyed the conversation and knew that it helped the other person.

After that phone call, I needed to get back to planning and working on my portion of worship for our joint “Worship in the Park” service. We are worshipping this weekend with 2 other community churches. But not having a chance to eat some lunch, I could feel my blood sugar was sagging a bit. Nevertheless, I pressed on and continued working and thinking. Finally the grumbling in my tummy was so loud that I choose to stop. As I walked home and into the kitchen to get something eat, I felt a different sensation overcoming me—one that I could not place. 

I shook it off and ate some cold pizza quickly and got back to work. But that ’sensation’ was still there. For the next 30 minutes I noticed that I was having a hard time refocusing on what I was doing before my late-lunch. My mind drifted off and my eyes started catching things that I didn’t need to worry about. Finally I gave up and thought about Luna who I left on the bed looking across the parking lot as I left the house. It had been so long since we walked together. 

Resigned to a lack of productivity, I went home and gathered her up and we want for a walk. The first lap around the church was fine. It was hot but I didn’t care. I was walking and that was a good thing. On the second lap I began to feel something loosening around my heart. Luna was running around me and grabbing every stick that she could find. She carried them along for a bit and dropped them each. 

We walked down to the end of Plains Church Rd and Franklin Rd. Then I realized what was happening. You see, I missed walking with her. I really missed it. Our walks formed part of my daily devotions with God when the weather permitted them. Because of the summer’s heat I had not been able to walk with her much recently. It was good to be back outside. I reached my arms out to each side forming almost a “T” as I walked back toward the house. It felt so good to walk, so good to commune with God in this way. Traffic was light so the sound of the breeze (and Luna’s breathing) was the chorus of worship that I needed. I quietly said out loud, “Its good to be back God. I missed this." 

This was "my thing.” It was how I performed some self-care and I needed it during the covid-lockdown, and the early spring of this year.

At that moment I heard God say to me: “How much are you willing to sacrifice from your already full day to be with me? Will you leave you agenda go for just 30 minutes so that you and I can walk together?” 

I took another very deep breath and finished my walk and came back inside. Luna was panting heavily; the humidity of this warm Aguust day was getting to her. As I walked back to my computer the odd sensation that I felt before was gone. Perhaps what I, or what we, need the most is not one more thing to prove ourselves faithful to God or each other. Perhaps we just need our own “one thing.” What is your thing? And can you make time for it? 


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Pastoral Thought--August 18

 What a perfectly splendid morning we have here in Cranberry today. . . Yes, you read that right. Today is a wonderful blessing from God, and every time I look up, I feel blessed by what I am watching outside the church windows. The rain is coming down hard and consistent. It is going to be a ’soaker’ today.  I walked a couple extra times around the church just so that I could hear the rain fall and walk with it in God’s world. 

I stepped over some of the large puddles, where I could, and paced right though the big ones. I walked out and around large ‘lake-like’ spaces and enjoyed my detour. My feet are still wet from my walk and it does not bother me at all. I love rainy days—and not for the reason you might suspect. 

I love rainy days because even in the ordinariness of them, I find space for worship and thanksgiving to God. I find that having to walk around large ‘lake-like’ areas in the yard is a lesson in patience. The flow of the water down the driveway behind the church reminds me of the progress that God’s Spirit makes in each of our lives. In the ordinary rain I find so much of God.

Mary Oliver, in her poem Mindful, says this far better than I can. As you read her words, I wonder what is God trying to teach you today in the ordinariness of life? What lessons can you find in what is right before your eyes? 

Mindful—by Mary Oliver 

Every day
I see or hear
That more or less
Kills me
With delight,
That leaves me 
Like a needle

In a haystack
Of light.
It was what I was born for—
To look, to listen,

To lose myself
Inside this soft world—
To instruct myself
Over and over

In joy,
And acclamation.
Nor am I talking
About the exceptional,

The fearful, the dreadful,
The very extravagant—
But of the ordinary, 
The common, the very drab,

The daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar, 
I say to myself, 
How can you help

But grow wise
With such teachings
As these—
The untrimmable light

Of the world,
The ocean’s shine,
The prayers that are made
Out of grass? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Pastoral Thought--August 17

 A short time ago I finished a chapter from Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. Although I have read many other things today, those words have stayed with me. I have long been an admirer of Taylor’s words and her ability to turn a phrase that will stick with me—this was no exception.

As I got myself a fresh cup of coffee, I remembered her words that I just read: 

"The fact that we need so much help understanding what we are looking at is a lesson in itself. How often do we assume that we know what we are seeing when we see other people practice their faith. Once, after I published a short essay on the way quantum entanglement illuminates the concept of divine union, I received a curt letter from a theoretical physicist. ‘It is not enough for you to think you know what physicists mean when they say something,’ he wrote. ‘You need to know what they think they mean when they say it.’. . . As natural as it may be to translate everything into my own religious language, I miss a lot when I persist in reducing everything to my own frame of reference. "

As I thought about the physicists words and Taylor’s reflections after that letter in the rest of the chapter, I wondered how often do I narrow everything that I witness in my world to my own singular perspective? Seldom is this done maliciously, but the fact remains, it is a more common practice than we would like to admit.

Then, as if the Holy Spirit was not convicting me enough, I wondered: How often do we as the larger church, presume to have a singular vantage point that presents the only correct answer to the struggles of our neighbors? How quickly do we judge them when listening and patience might be the better, more effective choice when we practice “being with’ them?  

For I wonder, if we choose to listen more, to be present more frequently, and to suspect judgement, I wonder how often would we find God moving in the lives of people that we normally would disregard and disagree with?

Rev. Derek

Monday, August 2, 2021

 As I suggested in a Facebook post on Sunday evening, I walked the prayer trail this morning. Spiritually it was a moving experience—one that I want to share with you today. 

Before I speak about my walk through the woods, let’s back up. . . Shortly before we finished working with Ray on his Eagle project, it began to rain very hard. A gentle rumble in the distance foretold of what was to come. Quickly we gathered our tools, unplugged the power cords, and filled vehicles quickly and efficiently. The sky was a shade of dark gray that told us that time was up. The hard rain came before long. 

The rain that fell helped the ground settle around the prayer trail and created a cool environment to walk among. Pausing at the first post to re-read the “Nepal” version of the Lord’s Prayer, I noticed the lingering effects of a storm. The air was cool and wet. I read the words of the prayer out loud and noticed how they sounded to my ear. Then it was on to the next post where a bench greeted me—a bench that was damp. 

I sat for a moment after reading the next phrase and thanked God for His presence and the work of the Eagle Scout Project that was privileged to help out with. 

As I walked up to the bridge, and crunched the limestone that now sits before each side, I noticed the stability of the bridge. It felt safe under me feet and I was glad. If you remember a year ago I fell off that bridge while walking Luna. I hit my shin so hard that I thought that I broke the bone. The moss which grew on that old bridge made it like walking on ice. This new bridge was clean and strong.

Around the remainder of the trail I went stopping by each posts with a new white sign displaying a new phrase from the Lord’s Prayer. As I finished the trail I walked it again duplicating my process and prayer. This became my morning devotional time. I communed with God and thanked Him for the ability to help someone complete their dream and achieve their goal. I thanked God for the outpouring of support from the church families who worked very hard this weekend with Ray. I was grateful for the Boy Scouts who were able to learn from Ray some skills that they will be able to grow. 

Finally I thanked God for Ray Walter. 

I remembered young Ray coming to be at one of my first VBS programs here at Plains with his scout compass in a small wooden box. He wanted to share with me how it worked and together we wondered about sharing that compass with the 125+ kids of the VBS program. I saw the anxiety in Ray’s eyes as he gently spoke into the microphone one night and talked about how his compass worked. He told the kids that it would help them find our true destination if they used it properly. (This was part of the theme of our GPS-VBS program and fit nicely into the lessons). 

Remembering a timid young boy, I thanked God for the young man whose vision was completely thought out, completely planned and executed this past weekend. These memories were with me as I walked a third time through the trail and headed to the office a little before 9 to start my morning. 

We don’t often know what the effect will be when we step out in faith and follow someone’s lead. As Jennifer, JonMark, Emma and I walked to the trail on Saturday morning just before 8am, I had no idea how the day would go. But being able to participate in the work on Saturday helped me in my devotions today. 

Perhaps there is a chance today for you to be present and helpful in someone else’s life. I wonder what blessing you might discover because you offered yourself to help a friend or a neighbor? God might just have something special for you, if you are wiling to try?

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...