Monday, April 29, 2013

This I believe?

I have two collections of short essays called  "This I Believe" and "This I Believe II".  It is from a series by NPR that was first begun in 1951 with Edward R. Murrow hosting and later revived around 2005.  They asked people known and unknown to share in a few hundred words their basic philosophies of life.  What are those ideas or values that are central to the ways in which they live?  What would they cite as their creed?
Many of the titles themselves are thought provoking, enticing us to read these particular philosophies of life, such as:
Be Cool to the Pizza Dude
The God Who Embraced Me
Disrupting My Comfort Zone
My Fellow Worms
We All Need Mending
Failure is a Good Thing

What do you believe?

In the Church, we use very specific creeds - the Apostle's and the Nicene Creed - that have been shared with only slight variations over 1600 years or so.  In some ways, they tell us what we are supposed to believe.  We recite them, often by rote, and without much thought about these particular convictions of faith.  They each tell us information about God who has expressed himself in a Triune way, but what does this knowledge mean for the ways in which we live our lives?

As fifteen of our young people prepare to Affirm their Faith in the rite of Confirmation, they have been asked to write their own statement of faith.  They have been encouraged to do more than just write information or what they know about God.  These statements are an opportunity for them to reflect on the ways in which their faith intersects with their daily lives.  They are a call to witness to the difference that God makes in their lives.

For instance:
What does it mean to say that we have a God who
                                                                 shows no partiality?
                                                                      promises us the gift of the resurrection now? 
                                                                        created the heavens and the earth?
                                                                           is with us always to the end of the age?
                                                                                 (what else would you add?)

What do you believe?
How would  you write your own statement of faith, philosophy of life?
How has your faith intersected with your own daily life?

And would you be willing to share your statement with others?  Here in the comments, on Facebook, the church newsletter or in Sunday morning worship?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring is springing!

Each season elicits its own feeling and quality.  They begin with such promise and wonder as the days are marked one after another.  Soon, however, our sights begin to wander off towards the promises of the next season. Winter wears off its welcome as it moves from those crisp and clear days to the dull and gray.  Summer swelters with the heat rising above our comfort levels and autumn's leaves no longer adorn the tree branches, but cover our lawns with brown.

On this bright and sunny day, I find myself drawn anew to the wonder of spring.  We are teased as the temperatures waver from day to day, yet there are those hints of warmth that start to bring forth new life.  Each day brings a new sight to see, as the crocuses and the daffodils bloom, the trees begin to bud, and the grass grows greener each day.  As I drive through neighborhoods, I am surprised by the changes that each day brings and the wonder it still can elicit from me.  Like a newborn for whom all things are filled with wonder, my senses are filled with the sights, aromas, and sounds.  I stop to listen for the birds as they make their nests and converse amongst the branches.  I am in awe of God's creativity as each new flower blossoms in all its intricate and uniquebeauty.  I marvel as growth begins in places that look dead, but instead offer new life.

I am sure that - like the other seasons - the wonder will dim as spring makes way for summer and its wonders.  And even with all the newness each day, for some this means experiencing spring with itchy eyes and stuffed noses as allergies set in.  I am reminded of the violence, sorrow and pain that we all exeprience in the midst of these days. 

I am not ignoring or denying these harsh realities, but for just a few moments, I feel a sense of wonder, awe and joy that fills me with hope and promise.  It is these moments that offer a purpose for life.  They reveal more than just the beauty of God's creating spirit, but the sign of God's promises of a renewed and restored world.  They point to what can be and what we are called to see and experience not just through creation, but in all of our relationships in this world.  They call us to hope and to be assured that God continues to create and re-create us each day. 

How have you seen or experienced God's re-creating power in your life? 
How have you seen it at work in others? 

Share your reflections, thoughts and questions here with others.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Questions, questions, questions

This past weekend, I attended a Youth Quake in Morristown, NJ.  This is an event for junior high youth where there is music, a speaker, workshops, activities and more.  It provides a different kind of setting and experience where young people can see faith witnessed and shared.  You can go to for more info.

One of the things that I like about these events - as an adult and a pastor - is that while much of what is shared is not "new" information for me, it is presented in a different way from different life experiences and perspectives.  Often it will spark an idea or reflection for me (or at the very least, provide new sermon illustrations).  As a pastor's kid, I could always count on new illustrations from my dad as soon as he came back from this kind of event - now, I understand why.

One of the workshops, I attended was simply called "Questions".  After playing a game where we could only ask questions (and win toothpicks), the young people were given the opportunity to ask any question that they would want to ask God.  Instead of giving them the answers, Dr. Luke Hartman (from Eastern Mennonite College who was also the main speaker) affirmed their question, the difficulty of sometimes living with that questions and even pointed to the mystery of God.

Dr. Hartman said that we - as the Church - often only ask young people questions for which we already have the answers or at least have a specific answer in mind.

Certainly our world is about finding answers and we can be very thankful for the seekers of these answers as cures and treatments are found for diseases, new places and worlds are explored and new insights into life are created.  We want the answers; we don't like to live with unanswerable questions. 

Yet, is the Church really in the "answer" business or are we about living into and through the questions of life and faith?  To the really difficult questions of life, there are no "easy" answers or even answers that satisfy the pain, sorrow or uncertainty. 

Often when people would ask Jesus a question, he would respond with a question of his own (for an example, see Luke 10:25-26).  Jesus was not about giving us answers, but rather inviting us to explore our own questions in a new way.  The Bible verses given as an example are from the lawyer's question about inheriting eternal life and Jesus' question about what it says in the law.  Jesus then goes on to share the story of the Good Samaritan which points beyond the question and ourselves to the greater concern of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Frederick Buechner explains questions in this way:  "On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, 'What is the answer?'   Then after a long silence, 'What is the question?"  Don't start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives.  Starty by listening for the questions it asks." (from Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

What are your questions of faith and life? 
If you could ask God any question, what would it be?
How might you explore these questions further?
What question might Jesus ask of you in return?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hope amidst pain

This has been a week of tragedy and overwhelming events for many people in our nation and in our world.  From the horrific bombing in Boston on Monday, a large earthquake on the Iran/Pakistan border on Tuesday and then yesterday a massive explosion in Texas - each of these disasters not only causing deaths, but untold injuries in body, mind and spirit.  This does not even begin to take into account the accidents, shootings and other violence that people experience daily that doesn't "make the news".  There are days and weeks like these when we feel like there is no place to run or go to that might be safe.

After the bombing on Monday, a number of people were posting on Facebook a quote from Mr. (Fred) Rogers as he had relayed a story about when he saw these kind of tragic events when he was a young boy.  His mother would tell him to "look for the helpers" because whenever something bad would happen, there would be helpers running to help in any way that they could.

And we have been hearing these heroic stories of strangers helping strangers, of people across the nation and the world who want to help in any way that they can - donating their skills, their blood, their money and their time.  These stories reverberate long after the disasters and whatever "evil" has caused it to happen.

As Christians - especially post-Easter - we are reminded that Jesus walked into the fray of humanity where the hurt was the deepest and most painful.  He took all the pain of sin and death with him on the cross.  And it was transformed from the empty tomb.

While hurt and pain continue in the world today, we see the ways in which, by God's grace, that it is transformed and healed through the compassion, outreach and loving care that is offered.  This is the gift of the resurrection - when hope is lifted up amidst the devastation.

And so, we look for the helpers and in them we see the face of Christ.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Surely, I know the plans I have for you...

Life often seems to be a constant state of planning - whether it is the mundane tasks like planning what to make for dinner, what to wear, or when you're able to get the oil changed in the car; or the more involved planning that goes into vacations, birthdays or weddings - we're always planning something.

There are times when things get planned or set for us - like having to have our taxes filed by midnight tonite or doctor's appointments.  I think about many of our young people this week who will be taking state tests for most of the week (not something that they would plan for themselves).  Please keep them in prayer.

Still other times, our plans get disrupted by weather, illness, dead car battery and the like.  Life does not always go according to our plans.  We have to make adjusts or as that GPS voice tells us "recalculating".

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." (Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah prophesied these words when the people of God were in exile.  They most certainly didn't want to be there; they want to be in their homeland and for life to go according to their plans.  In the preceding verses, they are encouraged to go ahead and live their lives as fruitfully as they are able and to trust that God would soon provide the opportunity for them to return from exile.

Jeremiah is not saying that all of our lives are pre-determined and we just have to wait for God to pull on our puppet strings for that plan to go into effect.  God provides us with hope with opportunities that might seem inconceivable now (think of Abraham & Sarah having a child in their own age: Genesis 18:1-14).  God gives us the resources and people to assist us in our lives (think of Solomon's gift of wisdom: I Kings 3:7-12; or Moses called to free people from slavery in Exodus 3:1-4:12).

God offers us opportunities, people and resources to guide us along our path and to help us discover God's plans for the fullness of life for us.   It may not always happen according to our timeline or in ways that we would ever expect - but the plans are there for us to accept or not.

My "plans" included getting married at a much younger age.  I was very lonely for many years as I waited for my "prince charming" to arrive on my doorstep.  It wasn't until I began to be open to different ways of meeting others that I met Michael (on, of all things) when I was 42.   
My other "plans" included using my BA in Theatre in a more direct way - maybe even on Broadway until I realized that I did not have that level of talent to be able to support myself and that that wasn't what I really wanted to do.  It wasn't until a friend of mine who was thinking about going to seminary shared some of the seminary course catalogs with me that I realized that this is what God was calling me to - the theatre background gave me the confidence that I previously did not have to be able to be in front of others.

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." (Jeremiah 29:11

What are the opportunities, resources and people that God has placed in your path?  How have you been open to God's leading and guiding?

I had our confirmation students memorize the verse from Jeremiah as they continue to make their life plans and to look for the ways that God is a part of that plan.   How about you doing the same?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Notes to live by

In my readings, I come across many quotes that catch my attention.  Often, it will warrant a highlight or a mark on the page (though it is a bit more difficult with an e-reader).  Others are ones that I want to take with me, and so I write them in a notebook.  Still others, I feel as if I need to keep them before my eyes on a more regular basis.  So, if you were to look at all the post-its, scraps of paper and the like posted above and around my computer, you would find them.  Some of them eventually make their way into my notebook after they have served their purpose or I find another one that conveys a similar message.

Here are a few of the quotes:
"Relying on God has to begin every day as if nothing had yet been done." (C.S. Lewis)

"The Church needs to develop a spirituality of mission, learning to discern, discover, participate, be patient and be dependant on God's grace." (Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi)

Others are prayers:
"Use me, God.  show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself." (Martin Luther King, jr.)

"Gracious and holy God, give us wisdom to percieve you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate on you, and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Savior."  (A prayer of St. Benedict)

Reflect upon these quotes - do they speak to your own journey of faith and if so, why? 
What other quotes have you found to be inspirational or helpful in your life? 
Share those here with others.