Thursday, September 30, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 30

 A short time ago I was reading a passage from a familiar book that I enjoy. Today I want to share a story from that book, A Hidden Wholeness, with you and invite you to consider it and notice how the narrative fits into your work as a Christian.  

“Rachel Remem, a physician of body and soul, tells a powerful story. . . One of her colleagues attended a conference on Jungian dream analysis where people wrote questions on cards that were passed along to a panel of experts, among them was the grandson of Carl Jung: 

One of these cards told the story of a horrific recurring dream, in which the dreamer was stripped of all human dignity and worth through Nazi atrocities. A member of the panel read the dream out loud. As she listened, my colleague began to formulate a dream interpretation in her head, in anticipation of the panel’s response . . . 

But this was not how the panel responded at all [to the dream]. When the reading of the dream was complete, Jung’s grandson looked out over the large audience. “Would you all please rise?” He asked. “We will stand together in a moment of silence in response to this dream.” Then audience stood for a minute, my colleague impatiently waiting for the discussion she was certain would follow. But when they sat again, the panel went on to the next question. 

My colleague simply did not understand this at all, and a few days later she asked one of her teachers, himself a Jungian analyst, about it. “Ah, Lois," he had said, “there is in life a suffering so unspeakable, a vulnerability so extreme that it goes far beyond words, beyond explanation and even beyond healing. In the face of such suffering all we can do is bear witness so no one needs suffer alone.”

I too do not need to interpret this story with you. Instead, today I wonder what stories are you hearing, what narratives could you be invited to participate in, that required just your presence? They require that you just showing up and dwell? Just standing there and allowing God to do whatever God needs to do in that moment without worrying if your part of the drama or story is vital. 

In the church we rush so quickly toward answers, toward problem solving, toward functionality that we often miss the chance to join the rest of Creation in bearing witness with someone who is hurting, someone who needs support, someone who considers themselves lost or perhaps broken down. 

We risk forgetting that we have all been in places of pain and isolation. In those places no amount of talking or debating would heal the wound or advance the story. In those places, we like Moses took off our shoes for the ground upon which we stood was holy. 

I wonder if God has placed someone in your life today where you would stand beside them so that "no one needs to suffer alone?"

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 28

 So I want to share with you an experience that I had this weekend with JonMark. 

A few days ago he noticed that a strange sound was coming from the engine of his car. He loves his Volvo and so he was concerned and asked for my help. We talked about it and decided that the sound was probably a belt in the engine that needed some attention. Truth be told, I did not look at it. I trusted his opinion and discernment skills. 

Sure enough the belt was bad. He opened the hood on Saturday morning and showed me that part to the belt was beginning to fray off—a small tear was visible—and I knew that this was not safe. Having changed a few belts like this before, I knew that we were in for some hard work. It would be hard to get our hands into the necessary space to change the belt. It could be done, but we would be very dirty when we finished and very sore from having to reach into a space where our hands don’t fit. 

On Sunday afternoon he pulled his car into the garage and we began. . . 

After about 15 minutes I realized that the only way to get to the belt was by removing the passenger side wheel. Next we took off the wheel-well and sure enough I could see the belt clearly. As I pushed some plastic away the device that provides tension to the belt was visible. That device must be loosened so the belt can come off. We worked and worked on it and finally the belt came free. Unbeknownst to us, we were about to pay a heavy price. 

Around 5pm, JonMark applied the necessary pressure to release the tensioner so we could ‘re-seed the belt’ and we heard a crack. The tensioner literally crumbled around the wrench. It would never open again, and as a car must have the belts installed properly to drive, the car was now inoperable. 

I looked at my son who sat on the ground with dirt on his cheek. He was defeated. Frustrated and disappointed. I could see all of the emotions on his face of resignation and sadness bubbling up. He worked so hard and now he was unable to complete the job. 

What should I do? 

I knew what happened, and I knew why it happened. Yet rather than blame him for breaking the tensioner (which was not his fault), or complain about some superfluous detail that made this happen, I just looked at him and only felt one emotion. Compassion. 

I had compassion on him. He tried so hard to do this, he wanted it so much, and he failed. Compassion, rather than judgement, was the only option that I could offer him. Compassion goes a long way if we are willing to give it to others.  

Judy Cannato in her book: Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology is Transforming Spiritual Life, expressed it well. She wrote: 

Compassion changes everything. Compassion heals. Compassion mends the broken and restores what has been lost. Compassion draws together those who have been estranged or never even dreamed they were connected. Compassion pulls us out of ourselves and into the heart of another, placing us on holy ground where we instinctively take off our shoes and walk in reverence. Compassion springs out of vulnerability and triumphs in unity. 

Today, JonMark is at the auto-parts store ordering a new tensioner. He is going to replace it and thinks he knows how to complete the job. I can see in his eyes the excitement of having a plan and visualizing a way to have that plan come to completion. 

I wonder, what would have happened if I was not compassionate to him in his moment of need? Sure the car had to be fixed. But what might have happened differently if I acted differently?  

Rev. Derek

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 23

 Early this week I invited you to sit and ‘draw’ with me. At that time I used a practice from Richard Rohr to facilitate this creative endeavor. Today, I want to invite you to continue that creative process and also to try something different. . . something restful. . . something unexpected. 

Most morning I begin my day with either a Peloton spin class on our stationary bike or a session of yoga. I vacillate between the two practices without a particular pattern. I exercise based more on feel than on schedule or routine. So today, after a very busy week getting ready for a presbytery-wide event at Calvin Church on Friday, I felt some yoga was needed to help begin my day. The type of yoga I chose was called “Restorative Yoga.” 

These types of classes are shorter and ask the individual to sit in relaxed postures for longer periods of time. We use blankets, pillows, and blocks to achieve a restful state that helps calm the nervous system and provide regeneration for the mind. My morning class was a 20-minute one that was taught by a favorite instructor. 

After about 10 minutes, the instructor invited us to lay on our side. I chose the left side first. . . I pulled my knees in line with my hips and relaxed my legs so that they are in a 90 degree angle. My head rested on a folded up blanket and my left arm was extended straight out in front of me. Then my right arm was to lay down on the left. Forearm to foreman, making sure to keep my shoulders aligned upward toward the ceiling (can you see the posture?) We laid there for 4 minutes breathing slowly. It felt good and I could feel my shoulders relax from the gentle pressure of being stacked. Next, we switched sides. . . 

Here things got interesting. 

I mirrored the shape on the other side of my body. Knees at 90 degrees to my hips. Head on a blanket. Right arm out. Left to lay on top of the right. Forearm to forearm.

At first this went well. I could feel my shoulders on this side again relax and my hips open a bit. Then I noticed a pain at the base of my neck right near my shoulder. I tried to relax. . . the pain didn’t go away. I moved my left arm slightly to try and alleviate the pain—but that didn’t work. The tension was there. I breathed longer trying to relax the muscles in my back, but I couldn’t. Laying on the floor, the muscle in my neck wouldn’t calm down and it was beginning to actively hurt. 

Throughout the morning that feeling has been with me. It is almost a headache but not quite. Tension in my neck that won’t budge. It felt so good to complete the yoga class but as I rolled onto my side, and then sat up, I wondered, are there places in our Christian faith for a practice like this that would help me discern fatigue? 

As I began I didn’t even notice the knot in my neck as I got out of bed and started making coffee and breakfast. Only by slowing down, by relaxing, by noticing, by feeling and breathing, did the place of tension grow in me. I became aware of exactly what was happening in my body. Now I cannot shake the feeling or revelation. I feel it. I am experiencing it.

We are often so busy in our day that we cannot, or feel that we cannot choose to, spend time in reflection and awareness. But God is there. God is present to help us learn lessons such as this. I wonder what might happen in your life when taking a moment and notice what is happening around you? Perhaps God is inviting you to draw inward and learn more? 

Rev. Derek 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 20

 Today I am busy with excitement. For over the last year the committee that I serve at our presbytery (Encouraging Churches to Flourish)  has been working on bringing Susan Beaumont to this area for our yearly Thriving Church Event. Her work on how to lead in the church when the direction is not entirely clear (like when we are dealing with a pandemic and our response to it), has been helpful to my mind. We are excited for what she will teach us Friday as we gather at Calvin Church. 

So this morning, as I continued to put the finishing touches on my part the day, my email ‘binged’ with an email from Susan. She was sending me the packet that we will use during our time together and I knew that it needed to be sent to any individual who has registered already. I clicked on it, and Adobe opened, and the packet was before me. Scanning down the pages of the material I came across something that I wanted to share with you and I invite you engage in. . . .

She’s adapted this practice from Richard Rohr and the Center of Action and Contemplation. The entirety of the practice can be found on their website. This is the practice: 

"Sitting at a table with a pencil and a piece of blank, unlined paper, look at a nearby object (for example, a vase of flowers, a chair, a tree outside). Turn your attention to the empty or “negative” space surrounding the object. Rather than focus on the object’s contours, look at the lines and curves of the space butting up against the object, the places in between and around the thing itself. Breathe deeply and begin to draw these nooks and crannies of air and emptiness. Keep your focus on the “negative” space as you draw.

You might draw all of the spaces around the object or spend just a few moments drawing. When your pencil comes to a stop, observe the form and detail of the “nothingness” you’ve drawn. Know that your True Self, though perhaps less visible than ego and persona, is spacious and objective. Let your inner witness quietly observe the “negative space” within yourself. Rest in this abundant emptiness that is God and how God is with you.

We are so busy in our days. Since I began writing this post for you, I have received 5 additional emails that need my attention. Some will be quick response, others required more time. . . And they are drawing me away from sitting with the abundance that is God. I am learning, through this practice, that my apparent ’nothingness’ that sits on my page is not ’nothing.’ It is the chance for God come and fill me. 

I know that it is tempting to just rush past this post. Rush on to the emails, the appointments, the phone calls, or whatever else is calling to you. But what would happen if you stopped for even 5 minutes and tired the practice that I put before you? How could God shape you day? Your faith? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 16

 I am delighted to report that next week the Beaver Butler Presbytery will be hosting author and speaker, Susan Beaumont at Calvin Presbyterian Church. The committee which I chair at the presbytery has been working for over a year to bring Susan to our area. Covid tried to stop us, but we kept moving our timeline, kept thinking and dreaming, we kept praying, and the event will happen next week. 

We feel that her teaching and perspective are essential for the church as we continue to confront and address covid-19. But her work is not just only applicable to covid. I know many churches and colleagues who are living and operating in the space that she talks about in her book. A simple glance at the title of her book and you will begin to sense what excites us about Susan’s work and how applicable it is to the church. 

Her book is entitled: How to Lead when you Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season. I bought the book soon after we agreed to host her and have referred to it often. The book is a combination of teachings and anecdotes that mixes together well for the reader to sit with. 

One of my favorite sections in the book is when she begins to talk about The Voice of Fear. This is a voice that we are often confronted with not only at church but also when we are not together as the Body of Christ. She writes: 

"Fear wants you to believe in the worst possible outcome. The voice of fear shuts down the open will. It wants you to pursue the status quo as a safety net, and it likes to remind you of all the ways in which your self-interests will be damaged by surrendering to the unknown.” (The unknown in this sense, I take to mean God).

That is a powerful statement for us to consider as the church. And so I invite you first to re-read Susan’s words about the voice of fear. . . 

Fear is one of the hardest things to combat that we deal with. While fear kept us safe, so to speak, during covid-19’s lockdown. Fear also limits what the church can become as we move back out into the community and begin to once again share God’s redemptive message of hope and faith. Fear reminds us that that culture has shifted so much that there is no way for us to possible return to our place of cultural applicability and importance. Fear can keep the church from dreaming about what God and the church will do together when we meet our community on their terms. 

Now, I suspect that you have ben nodding along with me as you read these words. If that is the case, then consider the places where you have projected the voice of fear into? Consider the relationships, and the potential relationships, that could be created if you allowed God the space to move and ignored the voice of fear. 

I bet you would find some positive, powerful spaces and ideas popping up, when you push the voice of fear away. . .

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 14

For those who have been following along with these 'pastoral thoughts’ you may remember that I was searching for a small black Bible that a friend gave me as a gift years ago. At that time I said that I believed that the Bible was in my office. 

So, I looked everywhere in an attempt to relocate it. I opened all my drawers and boxes in the closet. Peering in with my iPhone’s flashlight, I looked in the deepest recesses of my desk and file cabinet hoping to find the lost Bible. I wanted to find it; I felt that I needed to find it so that I could go outside, sit in the chapel, and read it. But why???? 

To this point, I still haven’t found it. Resignation has come. I assume that I lost Dan's gift, this Bible. And losing a Bible is out of character for me. I never, and I mean never, lose a Bible. 

Years ago I worked for an auctioneer who attended my church. His name was Britt and he told me that he cannot sell Bibles in his auctions for some reason. He would leave them in a box so someone would have to take the Bible home because they bought that box. Only later would he find that same Bible resting on a table hear his truck. He said, ‘People don’t want them, and I don’t know what to do with ‘em. I won’t throw them away because their Bibles, but what should I do?” 

So, I took the Bibles home every time the Britt couldn’t sell them and gave them out. I still have a few of them in my office right now. I have family Bibles scattered around my shelves as well. They hold a special place for me. Bibles from my family’s military service. Bibles with handwritten notes in them. I have Bibles here from church members whose parents used them and after their death, the family didn’t know what to do with them. I even have a Bible from a couple who I served 10 years ago as their pastor. Both individuals have passed away, and yet, Jim and Jean’s Bible still is wrapped in its Wal-Mart bag to keep it safe.

I tell you this because I don’t lose Bibles. I never lose them. Yet this one is still missing. . . And my mind is clouded because I cannot find it.

I tried to ’shake off’ the condemnation and frustration that I was feeling because I couldn’t find the Bible and tried to get some reading and preparing done. But the missing Bible haunts me. 

This makes me wonder if you share my frustration. . . Not do you lose a Bible, but do you find something trivial happening to you and then cannot shake that feeling away? Why is that? You didn’t miss that thing yesterday, but now it is in the front of your mind. I wonder why do we hold some things in such a sacred place when that same item has been neglected for so long? 

If you do keep misplacing something, and if you mind wanders away to it over and over again, don’t let it win the day. Deal with the issue and then return to God. I am sure you will find Him waiting and looking for you anyways…

Rev. Derek 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 8

 It has been a wonderful joy to watch the children return to the Cranberry Nursery School today. I knew that I missed the ambient noise from their lessons, but I did not know how much I missed the children of CNS. They brighten my day with their smiles and with their presence. Over the summer I ‘broke the silence’ with background music from various Disney Parks. But that is not necessary today. Now the kids are back and the noise is back and I want to share a little of my morning with you. . . 

A little past 9am the children began to enter the school again. One by one, and family by family, the kids gathered outside the building. Hand sanitizer and small masks were the order of the day. The “first day of school” outfits had been picked and lived up to expectation. 

Backpacks that look too large for little children were hung on hooks each bearing the name of the child. Most of the bags were adorned with little things that mom and dad hoped would keep the kids safe and make them smile as they began the process of education once again. Little keychains or small tokens, small furry cases with lotion or sanitizer in them, and small jackets, I saw them all. 

Some of the children remembered me from our story time last year and some faces were new to me. Mr. Rich’s "Thumbs Up" was given and kids waved as they walked around the hallways and said ‘good morning Rev. Derek' to me. Anxious teachers and aids were gone. In their place was confident, gifted, leaders and teachers who were presented to care for the kids and help them transition.

Downstairs the parents enjoyed little snacks and coffee that Roberta, Amy and the rest of the Board gathered for them. (Oh, and the pumpkin bread was great!) I saw little children, children who were too young for pre-school, walk outside around the fellowship hall. The parents joked with one another and radiated God’s peace and joy because they were able again to do that one of the things that they missed most—socialize in public with one another. 

Even as my knee became so sore from walking around the building, I felt a sense of thanksgiving in my heart that I wondered where you felt that same feeling in your day? 

Meister Eckhart once said: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

For over a year and a half now, I have returned to this theme in these thoughts. It is the theme of thanksgiving and joy. Whether cases rise or fall, and regardless of where our anxiety lives in our personal lives, can we find time to stop and say "thank you” to God? 

As I watched the kids come into the school for the afternoon sessions it was very quiet. The anxiety, and tears of the morning, were gone. I heard no little saints crying down the hall from me Liikely that will happen next week when they return full time to school). Again, it felt like God was both here and with the children at the same time. But like I said, and like Echkart would affirm, “Can we find time today to stop, and thank God? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Pastoral Thought--September 7

 On my first day of Reformed Dogmatics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary my professor walked into class and began his introduction as I expected. Sitting before us, Andrew never moved from his chair. He crossed his leg and began to introduce the topic before turning to his co-teacher, Charles, and asked what he’d like to add. 

Back and forth they went discussing and reflecting on the direction that cause would take. It was so informal and like nothing that I experienced before. 

For someone who thrives on taking notes and writing down what is written on the white board, this was hard. 

Andrew told us that the study of Reformed Dogmatics, or Reformed theology, was a lot like living in Pittsburgh (at this point I was clueless). Having spent only about 2 hours in Pittsburgh by this point, I wondered what could he possibly mean—theology is like living in Pittsburgh??

Then he smiled, and in a thick Scottish accent, while trying to mimic a Pittsburgh accent, said: “Yinz can’t get there from here.” I had no idea what he was talking about but chuckled as everyone else did. Only years later do I understand what he means. His words were true. . . you can’t get there from here.  

Then this morning I read Patrick Keifert’s book, We are Here Now, and Andrew’s words came back to mind and I smiled again. Keifert says: 

An Old Irish tale goes, “A man decides he wants to go to a very special place in the west of Ireland. Being a total stranger to Ireland, he decides to ask for directions. He asks the first knowledgable looking stranger, someone who looks local, ‘Can you tell me how to get to this place?’ The local responds, ’Never heard of it. But if I were going there, I wouldn’t start from here.’ “

Often we think that we know the destination, but upon reflection we don’t have a clue how to get there together. 

And that is the challenge for the church that we are called to live into. Can we get there. . , together? Can we be bold enough to ask for help? To listen? To wonder and to ask questions that move the conversation onward? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Pastoral Thought

 Recently I was looking for a gift from an old friend, and I was having a hard time finding it. 

A long time ago my roommate in college, Dan, gave me a leather-bound pocket size Bible that snaps shut. Over the years I have used that Bible for private devotional times when I am away from my office and wanted to spend time in God’s word. While I do have a bible app on my iPhone, I often prefer the feel of the pages of a Bible when I want to draw close to God. 

Well this Bible is missing. I know where it should be, but sadly it is not there and I wonder where I have put it. I looked high and low though my office and still the Bible has not been recovered. While that I a bit frustrating, I know that the Bible will turn up eventually. So I stopped worrying about it and noticed the mess that I was making.  As I searched for the Bible  I unearthed some other stuff that I forgot about. 

Buried deep in my desk drawers I found things that I completely forget about it. One by one, I brought them forth from the darkness of the lower drawers of my desk. I held them in my hand and remembered where they came from. Here are a few. . .

An advent wreath that my mom and JonMark made while I served my first church as a craft. I have a second one that I use each Advent season; this one I save.

An old electric chess set from Radio Shack that my dad purchased for me for Christmas. I learned to play chess on it when I was a boy. 

I found some material from a retreat that I lead and participated in before: The Walk to Emmaus. 

There was a glass cross laying on its side back there.

A bright yellow and red photo album from an old Disney trip was also in that drawer. 

Finally, I found a brown fabric book cover that held a prayer book. On the cover was a cross made of ribbons that marked the fabric as different. Inside were a number of prayers and worship items that I could use when I was not with the church physically. When I was in college I used that book a lot. It was my companion when I had private communion in the college dining hall or walked to class alone on a cold Ashland morning. 

Each item told a story. I paused to consider each story and each memory that accompanied those stories.  Then I wondered: what stories do things like this have to tell me today that will help shape my life? 

We seek new learning as often as we can, and I value that as much as the next pastor. What would happen to our thought process, and our ministry, if we returned to things that were foundational to our live? 

That brown prayer book is so important to my faith story but I have forgotten it over the years. Perhaps I will rediscover something from God, if I stop and spend more time with it. . . 

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...