Thursday, July 28, 2022

Wonderings--July 28

Do you listen to each other? 

This question has been on my mind all morning and I worry about how the Christian church might honestly answer it if they were honest. . . 

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote words that convict me every time I think of them. He wrote: 

 "So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to 'offer' something when they are together with people. They forget that listening can be a greater service. . . Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either." 

Culturally those words should ring in your ear. For how many members of the Body of Christ do not practice a posture of listening to each other? They happily listen to people who affirm and support their worldview or their political leanings, but do they truly just listen? It feels like much of the cultural conversation, both inside and outside the church, is based less upon listening to each other and more on bulldozing and obliterating anyone who does not agree with us. 

The danger in this choice is that as we stop listening to one another, we risk no longer hearing God's voice. Slowly we replace the voice of God with a voice that sounds more like our voice and supports our choices and feelings. 

But to address this idea, and to begin getting us back on the correct path of discipleship, I wonder if a short story from here at Bethesda will help? 

A number of faithful members of the church have been working for months on the second floor of the Christian Education building. Furniture has been thrown out or replaced. New, fresh, coats of paint have been applied. Rooms reorganized and cleaned. Furniture purchased. The building is quite old (not as old as the sanctuary which is over 200 years old). So it needs so 'attention' from time to time. 

But as Heidi Neumark reminds us: "With aging churches, the repair work never ends. There is much to dismantle and much to rebuild." 

Over the summer I have watched this work being planned and completed from my office--and there is still one more room that needs some attention. 

This is a slow process of updating the second floor of the Christian Education building. It is a big job that one person cannot complete without totally exhausting themselves. In this way, the work has been a group project and the results are being seen slowly--but consistently. 

We don't re-learn to listen over night. It cannot be even done in one week. But slowly over time, by making some deliberate choices, we can find things around us changing for the better. The second floor of the Christian Education building looks nothing like it did when I first toured it in August of 2021. It has been transformed slowly and consistently and God is with us every step of the way.

I wonder how God might be asking you to grow and listen more attentively to the community around you? Maybe think of the Christian Ed building and practice that same model as you listen again. . . 


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Wonderings--July 27

I read a story that I want to share with you today from the book: Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong to

The story revolves around a garden party that the author's mother planned. Because of the work that would go into the party, the host spent a year preparing and visioning. She dreams of welcoming her friends and family to her back garden where a surprise would await them. When they arrived they would see a host of daffodils blooming all around the yard. She planted these flowers a year before the scheduled party. . . But things didn't go to plan. 

However, the spring leading up to the garden party was unusually cold. The precious daffodils, those who were planted a year ago, were nowhere close to blooming as the days ticked off before the party. 

But when guests arrived, they were surprised to see the back garden filled with beautiful daffodils. The party was a smashing success and the guests would rave about the flowers for a long time. The author continues the story as she lets us in on the secret: 

"My mother went through the yard carefully removing all the cut daffodils she had bought at the florist, that she painstakingly attacked to chopsticks with wire twist ties, that she had then carefully stuck in the ground. . . Those daffodils weren't fake; they were just short-lived and flimsy, with no bulb under the earth to allow them to survive. . ."

I thought about this story and wondered about you and me? 

I wonder how often do you and I encounter folks whose spiritual life is like the daffodils in the garden party? They have no root; no foundation. On the surface everything looks great, colorful, perfectly at peace, but there are no roots. Nothing to hold the individual safe when the challenges of daily life continue to press upon them.

I wonder how you might be called to care for them? Not judge them or criticize them for how they got to this point. But how might you help them find the roots that live in each of us through Jesus Christ? 

Perhaps a little work, done together, done in love, might help that person not wilt under the challenges of their day? 


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Wonderings--July 21

More often then I like to admit I find that my peace is. . . volatile. I do not mean that I am angry or become upset easy, but instead the peace that I feel in my heart, my peace from God, peace that leads me toward my service of God, seems to bubble away so quickly. . .  Quicker than I would like. At that moment I feel the volatility of peace around me. 

And this is just the spiritual side of how I am feeling now. There is much in our social lives that causes my peace to feel rocky and unstable. As covid has come into our home and Emma slowly recovers, I find myself antsy for life to return to 'normal' for her and for us. This says nothing about inflation, gas prices, social violence, and political dissent. 

Finding peace can be hard in these moments. . . 

In response to this idea I thought of the words of Hadewijch of Antwerp as I read from the Old Testament. She spent her life in a state of poverty and contemplation considering how God's peace, and our call to serve the Lord, intersect. 

She wrote these words for us: 

"Be on your guard, therefore, and let nothing disturb your peace. Do good under all circumstances, but with no care for any profit, or any blessedness, or any damnation, or any salvation, or any martyrdom; but all you do or omit should be for the honor of Love. If you behave like this, you will soon rise up again. . . Be good toward those who have need of you, devoted toward the sick, generous with the poor, and recollected in spirit beyond the reach of all creatures. 

And even if you do the best you can in all things, your human nature must often fall short; so entrust yourself to God's goodness, for his goodness is greater than your failures."

It can be easy to loose your peace these days. I find it happening more often then I would like to admit to myself. But if we follow Hadewijch's words then we can find ourselves relying on God in these moments to smooth out the rough edges of life and calling us toward faithfulness once again. We can rediscover our peace. 

I wonder if you have found yourself feeling as I do--your peace being shaken? If so, I wonder what response or words you might offer to God? Perhaps the two of you could find a way to recenter and care for your community. . . 


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Wonderings--July 19

As I am preparing for the youth retreat this weekend I found that I needed to retreat a little and be with God. I have been working through the necessary tasks and emails that sit on my desk this morning but I noticed that some additional time with God felt necessary. 

Opening my devotions I listened to a reading from Matthew 12. 

The is a familiar passage for many. In the text Jesus is in a home teaching God word. While he is in the place his mother and brothers appear at the doorway wishing to speak with him. We know that he does not receive them directly but offers us the invitation to participate in His ministry as a way to become part of his family. We become his mother, brothers, and sisters by doing what God commands of us. 

Yet it was something else that I heard about this passage that I want to share with you now. . . 

Consider why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, comes to see her son? 

Just one chapter ago, we read that Mary's nephew, John the Baptist, sends his disciples to Jesus with a question. They wanted reassurance that while John was in prison, that the Messiah was in the world. John spoke against Herod and his relationship with his niece who "danced before the company, and she pleased Herod" (Matthew 14:6). We know that John's outspoken stance resulted in him being beheaded. . . And Mary knew her nephew was in trouble when she comes to the door in chapter 12. I don't know for certain when exactly the timeline of Matthew 12 and 14 occurred, but John was in prison at this point and Mary knew this.

This leads to an interesting choice for Mary wanting to see her son. And this also gives us an interesting idea to think about today. 

We do not always have to come to Jesus for spiritual teaching and food. Sometimes we come to Jesus because there is a pain in us, a fear in us, and anxiety growing, a need to see what we believe in. Sometimes it helps to try and physically grasp the Lord whom we trust because the world around us, and the struggles we see each day, mount up against us. 

Perhaps you have recently experienced a time when you just needed to hold the hand of the Lord and feel the warmth of his touch. You would not be alone in needing this time with Jesus. I wondered if that was what I needed as I took a break at my desk and prayed. 

Perhaps hearing him affirm that he with you is balm that you wounded heart needs. Again, you would not be the first person who felt this way.  

I wonder if you were in Mary's shoes right now, what would bring you to Jesus' side? 


Monday, July 18, 2022

Wonderings--July 18

This morning I opened my email and began reading through a number of newsletters and daily blogs that I receive. Midway through the list was the most recent entry from "The Daily Coach." This is a leadership and sports daily email that talks about the challenges of success that we face each day. Today's post was about the British Open which concluded on Sunday morning.

As I read the post, I came across the following summary point in the middle of the article. The author writes: 

"For growth to occur in any facet of our lives, we need to experience the pain of the problem in order to enjoy the ecstasy of the solution."(Emphasis in original). 

I thought about those words for a moment as I looked across my desk at the devotionals the youth and I are going to be working through this weekend on their summer retreat. As I re-read my notes and saw some initial thoughts that I jotted down, I began to wonder about the applicability of The Daily Coach's words for them? 

Some of the youth are excited; some are apprehensive. A few have a sense of how the weekend will run and others are just along for the ride. 

But in either case, and regardless of how they feel as Monday begins, God is with them. And yet as I affirm that God is with them, I know that we will be asking them to do some deep faith work. I will be asking them to hold the prophetic mirror up to their own faces and linger over what it reveals.  I will challenge them to articulate how God comes close in their time of need and be vulnerable, not to myself and the other adults on the trip, but be vulnerable to God. Let him continue to mold and shape them.

And this will be hard work. For much of their personalities and choices have been informed already by their culture and their worldview. School friends, work friends, social media, and other things have a strong influence over their lives. 

With the truth of this conclusion the words of The Daily Coach come back into focus. Growth requires some work--some pain at times. It requires breaking off, chipping away, that which does not bring glory and honor to God. Yet as we do this there is also a vulnerability that is drawn out of us. We stand bare before God in these moments and it can hurt to be this open before him. 

So I wonder as we the youth prepare for their retreat if you would say a little prayer for them? 

I wonder what words God might bring to your mind right now as you read this post and think about the hard work of the faith that your young people will do this weekend? Having already received your support for their trip physically at the pancake breakfast, now they need your prayers. 

I hope you will take a moment today and think of them. . . 


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Wonderings--July 13

I wonder how you handle a day that didn't start off on the best foot? 

You didn't spill coffee on yourself, or miss the bus, or anything drastic like that. . . Instead you feel a half a step behind? Cloudy? Unable to fully get life and faith moving together in the correct direction.  

Today I feel that way a bit and I have struggled through the day. I woke up with a bit of a headache and have not been able to shake it all day. Advil, coffee, a hot shower, and a good breakfast have been unable to get me moving in the right way. 

My morning devotions, while uplifting has not helped shake of the mental dust that is talking me. I even had an early meeting with a saint of the church, but the joy of that faded soon after it was done and here I sit wondering how am I going to make it through the day? And as I write these words I suspect you know exactly who I feel. . . 

If so, then I offer you the words of Frederick Beuchner and the reflection that comes from him. He wrote: 

"Go where your best prayers take you."

As my day has not 'improved' yet, and as I have another meeting about to start, that statement has been in my heart and mind.  

What does it mean 'my best prayer?' Today I don't feel like I have a good prayer ready or God to hear it? My words fail. My heart is not in the prayers I offer. But perhaps that is the point of God reminding me of Beuchner's words. 

Perhaps perfection and fully-articulated prayers are unnecessary when life begins to push down upon you. Perhaps you and I do not need to stave to have the best Christian response to a day that frustrating and mentally-hazy. Perhaps the solution God is asking you to find is just: offer me your best prayer. 

I wonder what that prayer would sound like? What would it mean? How would you say it? Would you speak or be still? And further I wonder how God might be at work in that moment? 


Monday, July 11, 2022

Wonderings--July 11

As I have progressed through my busy morning, I have heard a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me of the passage from Amos that was read during worship yesterday. 

Ending the sermon I said the it was our responsibility to listen to God and to each other. We listen to voices that we want to hear and to those who might be more of a bother to us. For in listening we hear more than just what words are being offered--we hear God. To this end I was reminded of something that I read from Katherine May in her book Wintering

Since I read Wintering the first time, I find myself returning to it often and noting material that sticks with me. There are pearls of wisdom, honestly, and humility all over the pages if we are willing to slowly read and consider what Katherine says. 

The book is about the difficult work that some people face of 'wintering.' This is a process that theologically is akin to a "dark night of the soul." Wintering is when we realize that we hurt, we are wounded, and we don't know how to navigate our way through the struggles. So we dig in, hunker down, and wait out the storm knowing that winter does indeed end. In the middle of Katherine's wintering season she writes these words: 

"Here is another truth about wintering: you'll find wisdom in your winter, and once it's over, it's your responsibility to pass it on. And in return, it's our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us."

There is a great deal of wisdom in this idea if we in the church are willing accept it and dwell in that liminal space that Katherine speaks about. 

God asks us to share the experiences that we have had with one another. 

Share the pain and share the joy. Share the suffering and the impact of that suffering on us as individuals. We don't have to sugar-coat it because at times we felt pain, we were discouraged, we wondered why is this happening in our world. . . But God also asks that we listen more attentively to the 'other' person who is trying to share their story too. 

Herein is the work of ministry that I think Jesus calls us to in this current climate: listening and abiding with those who are working through their own wintering experience. 

And so I wonder what will it look like in your life to listen and pass on what you have learned? Perhaps God has given you a story that you can share with someone because they need to hear it. . .


Thursday, July 7, 2022

Wonderings--July 7

In preparation for Sunday I was re-reading a section of Richard Rohr's book, The Universal Christ. I find Richard's words are provocative and deep. If we are willing to sit with these words for any length of time, then we can discover God close at hand. Richard's words often speak of a relational-richness that he and God have together--one that we should aspire to. 

Midway through the book he tells the story of having to put his beloved black Lab, Venus, down. She had inoperable cancer and it was only a matter of time for her. In hindsight, Venus had been giving Richard a gentle look that said (in his words), "It is okay, you can let me go. I know it is my time." But he says that she patiently waited for him to be ready. As anyone who has had to put down a beloved pet, this is a hard, painful, responsibility. I do not look forward to it coming into anyone's life. 

In my life, I have needed say good-bye to three dogs already. Each time the act is incredibly painful. We weep and we ache because they are gone. . . then without warning, we speak their name and the tears come back--even years later. 

Richard concludes his story of Venus the following way:

"For me, and I can only say for me, it deeply helped to think back to Venus's eyes, and name all of this suffering and sadness as the one sadness of God. (Emphasis in original). Then I did not have to hold it alone. And I learned I could not hold it alone, but it was a sacred experience--an experience with God."

I share these words not because I want to think about the pain of losing a family pet--which is so terrible painful. But I share these words because what Richard Rohr speaks about seems to be lacking in so much of our discourse and debate these days. 

We are so busy being angry, upset, confused, numb that we do not stop and wonder how close God could. We seem so angry by what we witness, and I do understand the social aspect of this feeling. Yet in the same breath we affirm that only we have the power to fix our world or to change policies or to teach the values that are missing in the world. But that feels like all the work resides with me and none of it lives with God. .   

For even in pain, even in the confusion that I witness outside my window each day, God is already present and at work.

I am not saying that God is at work in every decision, debate, policy, and government action. But if God is  in all places, time, and space then why do we attempt to live this life as if pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is anything more than a display of power? 

I wonder what we might become as a people if we took time to realize that God wants to be affirmed in all places in our day? Perhaps that might be the Christian response our world needs so desperately? 


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Wonderings--July 5

Well it has been an interesting weekend around the Marotta house. . . We are dog-sitting. When you have three dogs what's one more right?!

Anyway Friday, Bear, joined our family for the week. Jesse and Laura are out of town so he is our guest and he is such a sweetie. I continue to anciently keep calling him Papa Bear. He doesn't seem to mind. He trots over to my chair often and places his paws on the armrests. Leaning over he pants in my face until I scratch his nose. His blue and brown eyes are so happy to get a little more love. 

Now he's taken to laying on the couch in the front room. He likes the view out to the church I think. But every time Bear comes to see me, I hear a little growl from behind the chair and I roll my eyes. 

Luna, JonMark's German Shepherd, is not a fan of Bear. She's bull-headed and we have been ignoring her or dismissing her growls with a wave of the hand and a snap of my fingers. Frankly it was starting to annoy me when I noticed what was happening around the room. Let me explain. . . 

Bear climbed up into Jennifer's lap for a snuggle/rub/hug-thing. I was in the kitchen making coffee. Coming out Jennifer was petting Bear's head. He hopped down as he saw me coming. He circled around the living room tail wagging non-stop. Then the growls started again. I looked toward Luna to tell her nicely, but firmly, to quiet down. But as I opened my mouth I saw something in her eyes. 

She was worried. . . 

He head just peaking out from behind my chair. I just watched her for a moment as she growled at the now-circling Bear who seemed oblivious to her. Then every-so-slightly, as she growled,  Luna dipped her head into her toy box and left it covering the opening. The big dummy was telling Bear, in her own way, "These are mine. Get your own." Never mind that the box contains toys for Luna, Nala, and Bianca! Apparently, in Luna's mind Bear was forbidden to come closer. 

I picked up the box and moved it closer to Luna's 'home' behind the chair and the growling stopped almost instantly. I placed her favorite orange ball down beside my chair where Bear couldn't see it and she plopped down and groaned with resigned fatigue. 

"Unbelievable" I thought. All that energy spent for something as insignificant as a dog toy. But is it? 

As I have witnessed a social media outburst because of Roe and gun control laws, and as I watched people rage and scream (maybe even growl) and others who don't agree with them, I wonder how many people are acting just link Luna with her toys! 

"This is my stuff. My beliefs. And I won't stop and share any space with you because you don't fully agree with me. I don't care that, like Bear, you are just wandering around my life, I want things my way." And while this could be an oversimplification, I wonder if you have witnessed this type of behavior recently? 

Have you encountered someone so animated, so upset, so rage-filled that there is no room for God to come, heal, and restore in their lives? No room exists where we could just be together and say, "I don't know what is happening here, but I know that God promises to never leave or forsake us. So let's just be together and listen to Him."

Is this not the way that Jesus lived? Should it not be the way that we are called to share the gospel? 


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...