Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What a difference a day makes...?

For some of the countdown has already begun - in just over 12 hours (or less, depending on when you are reading this), a New Year will have begun.  Resolutions will have been made (and some already broken, perhaps?)  We will put up new calendars and try to remember to write/type "2014" instead of "2013".

What a difference a day makes.  In one sense, it is just the setting and rising of the sun once again.  There will not be some magical change in the air that makes tomorrow any different than today (other than having the day off, lots of football games and of course, the Rose Bowl parade).  We are the ones who have placed the emphasis on this changing of the year from one to another.  (There is interesting information available about the development of each cultures calendars).

Other than the ordinariness of one year passing into another, we use this time to reflect on the past 12 months and lift up our hopes for the upcoming months.  It is an opportunity to step back and ponder our lives, especially when every other day seems to be a blur.

It is a time to set goals, to reevaluate our  lives and even our purpose.  We treat this new day and new year as a clean slate, as a time to start (or re-start) again.  It is fresh.  It is new.  It is full of possibilities.

"This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24)

By the grace of God, each day is new and full of possibilities.  Each day is a gift given and entrusted into our care.  We are invited to be stewards of each day.  We are blessed by God with these days and months to lie ahead of us.

In viewing our days this day, what difference might this make on not just today or tomorrow but on a day four and half months from now or in 238 days?  (someone do the math for me and let me know what those days will be).

I invite you to place this Bible verse someplace where you will see it to remind you of the new days that dawn every morning and how God provides a difference for our days and our lives.  (Note: you may chose to move this reminder around so that it doesn't become just a part of the scenery).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent awareness

Advent is one of those seasons in the Church year that gets lost more than others.  Only four  weeks long, it falls in the frenzied days that lead up to Christmas.  Sure, we get the preparatory part of Advent right as we decorate our homes, plan parties, family gatherings and the like.  Children are great at the heightened sense of anticipation as they count down the days until they can see what is under the tree.  And with the days continuing to get shorter, we understand the need for light to shine into our darkness.

We *get* Advent without really *getting* it.  We prepare and anticipate.  We even look for the light.  But are these more about the circumstances of the season or about the coming of Christ?

I'm not even really talking about the birth of Jesus.  Remembering the babe in the manger is presented as a kind of history lesson that gets told every year on the same day.

I am talking about the longing and the anticipated birth of Christ into the midst of our world and our lives now, not long ago.  We need that light right here where we are now, not some time in the past, but now.  We are called to watch and wait, to keep an eye open for signs of God's presence in our midst.

This is often difficult to do when we are looking for the best sale on that gift for dad or searching for the best idea for what to get Aunt Mary.  Certainly there are still these kind of preparations to be done, but  we are called to a different awareness and preparedness.

There are numerous devotional books that help to focus our lives around Advent preparations.  You can pick up a copy of "Living the Gospel Life" devotional that we are using this year at Trinity or just send me a note if you'd like a copy sent to you.

The other *new* thing that has cropped up on the internet is a Photo A Day for the Advent season.  I have posted 4 different versions that I have come across on Trinity's Facebook page (if you want a paper or email copy, let me know).

The purpose of this exercise is both awareness and seeking.  Each day has a designated word and  you are invited to take a picture of something that exhibits that word to you.  You could also draw a picture or even write down images that come to mind for you when you hear that word.  Or maybe there is a song that speaks to you in relationship to the word.  For instance, yesterday's word was "anticipation" and the image that came to mind for me was our dogs as they stare at us when they anticipate receiving their dinner or being let out (a daily occurrence).

This activity along with others like devotional guides invite us to a different kind of awareness of the world around us (one of the versions has scripture verses along with it).  It calls us to prepare with Christ in mind.  It helps us to experience how Christ is already born into our midst as we see beyond wrapping gifts and baking cookies.

To get you started. the different suggested words for today include:
Darkness and Light

Where do you see this revealed?  What image from your own life comes to mind?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


In approximately 24 hours, the smells of Thanksgiving will begin to overwhelm our senses - the roasting turkey and apple pies will tempt our noses and tongues, the mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing will cause our mouths to water as our fingers itch to pick up our utensils, and our stomachs will grumble with the anticipation of the food coma that begins soon after the feast ends.  When we think about Thanksgiving - this is what comes to mind: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and all the other fixin's.

24 hours of giving thanks for a delicious feast, football, family and friends.

Then the frenzy begins with Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday and Cyber Monday and our prayers of thanks become diminished to the amount we saved with the best sale of the week. 

Over the past month, a number of people have undertaken what was often referred to as 30 days of Thanksgiving.  Each day they would name something that they are thankful for, expanding our one day of Thanksgiving into an entire month.  It was an exercise of mind-fullness, intentional reflection on the blessings of each day.

Thanksgiving is about more than pilgrims and dare I even say, turkey. 

"As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God".[17] 

Our gratefulness as people of God is more than one day or moment in the year.  We are called to a life of thankfulness, of being intentional in recognizing God's presence in our lives. - even and especially in the midst of the difficult days.

What would you lift up to God as your prayer of thanksgiving for this day?  For yesterday?  For tomorrow?  For 75 days from now?   How might you be intentional in giving thanks daily?

I share with you the following from the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service that was held last night in our community at Temple Beth Elohim as the words of thankfulness that were shared by that gathered community:

For the expanding grandeur of creation
Words known and unknown,
galaxies beyond galaxies,
filling us with awe and challenging our imaginations
                                         We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)
for this fragile planet earth, its wonders and surprises,
its hopes and achievements,
                                       We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)
for the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises,
its hopes and achievements,
                                      We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)
for human continuity, our common past and future hope,
our oneness transcending all separation. our capacity for work,
for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression,
                                   We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)                   
for high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism,
for understanding of views not shared,
                                   We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)
for all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world,
who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom,
                                   We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)
for human liberties and sacred rites,
for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose
                                   We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)
we pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes
not by our words but by our deeds.
                                  We give thanks to You (Modim Anachnu Lach)

p.s.  the same could be said for compassion as many acts of charity are undertaken during the holidays but are "forgotten" once life gets back to "normal".  Check out my colleague, Steve Biegner's Facebook page that seeks to institute 31 days of compassion beginning in January.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Annoyed" by the holidays?

How can someone be annoyed by the holidays?

Yet, here is sit but three weeks before the "official"(?) beginning of the holiday season and I'm already frustrated.  No, not because I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet or haven't even decided where we are going for Thanksgiving or that I will once again have to deal with a certain amount of "guilt" for not sending out Christmas cards to all those wonderful people who send some to us.

I am annoyed because of the increasingly commercialization of the whole holiday season!  It only seems to get worse every year.  I think I need to start to keep  track of when I see the first Christmas decorations up in the stores which seem to arrive in early October nowadays, but then it would only increase my own frustration.

This year, however, my frustration has hit a new high in that a number of large retail stores have decided to move their black Friday sales into Thursday, on Thanksgiving day itself.  While on the one hand, it really doesn't affect me as I don't get all hyped up by even the Friday frenzy, I soon realized that it does affect a great number of people.  Think of all those employees who are now pulled from their dinner tables to work. 

What does this say about our country's values which reveal themselves to be more about the dollar than the family?
What does this say about the true meaning of these holy-days: from the giving of thanks to the giving of a Child?

My initial response to this new low in the commercialization of the holidays is to shrug my shoulders, thinking that it is out of my control to do anything.  Besides, once again, I don't do all that much shopping anyway. 

Yet, can I really sit by and do nothing?  Sure, in the greater scheme of things - this isn't a huge deal.  But, change is not even possible if no one does anything about it.  So, rather than just staying annoyed by the whole thing,  I have started a petition on www.change.org (look for Major Retail Stores; Remain closed on Thanksgiving Day).

What do you think?  Will you sign my petition?  Will you refrain from shopping on Thanksgiving?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Formed by prayer

Each one of our seminary worship classes, we began with prayer and a hymn.  Yet, one of those days as the professor said the familiar words of "let us pray", he did not continue with the prayer.  Instead he had us stop and pay attention to what we did as we heard that opening request.  Like our days back in Sunday school, most of us bowed our heads, closed our eyes and clasped out hands together.

I've always suspected that some imaginative Sunday school teacher years ago came up with this posture of prayer for squirmy children - takes away all the distractions even its just for a brief moment.

For me, I don't remember ever "learning" this prayer posture.  It has always been a part of prayer - folded hands, closed eyes and bowed head.  This is how it is "supposed" to be done and it has been passed along for generations.

My seminary professor began the challenge about the postures not just in prayer, but in the ways in which we were to lead worship.  We don't make those gestures because we are supposed to, but because they engage us physically in our relationship with and worship of God.

Through a variety of retreats, spiritual direction sessions and other resources, I found my hands opening up, no longer clasped in front of me.  I was engaged by the image of the begging bowl.  It is said that these bowls were often employed by both early Franciscan and Buddhist monks to receive either alms or food for each day.  They relied on these gifts of charity in order to survive, trusting always in the goodness of those that they encountered.  In prayer, I will often cup my hands like a bowl, seeking the wealth of God's grace and love to sustain me daily.  It is a posture of reception.

Other physical postures of prayer include raising one's hands in praise towards God, kneeling in confession and supplication, laying down on the floor in submitting oneself fully to God and more.  These and many other physical gestures - small and large - engage our whole selves in the act of prayer.  These postures take prayer out of our heads and issue it forth with more than words from our lips.

A labyrinth moves our feet in prayer.  As we circle closer and farther away from the center, we see and experience the paths that our daily lives take in relationship with God.  The one that we are blessed to have here at Trinity is marked by scripture that guides our way and draws us closer in relationship with God.

For many of us,. as Lutherans, prayer often remains in our heads or in the words that are spoken by others.  Prayer is contained and controlled.  It begins a part of our inner life but isn't always revealed in our outer countenance.

Being formed in prayer invites us outside of ourselves and even our own comfort zones.  Think about the words that you use in prayer - what kind of gesture or posture does it elicit?  How might raising your hands or keeping  your eyes open when you pray change your prayer?

Let me know what you try or if  you think of  other ways in which you pray with your whole self.

p.s. This Sunday (Nov. 3rd, 6-8pm) during our Affirmation (Confirmation) Theme Event, we will be talking about and experiencing different ways to pray.  Rather than just talking about prayer, we will be using different ways to pray  - such as the labyrinth and more - to experience prayer in our daily lives.  We are inviting anyone who would like to participate to come!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Home away from Home?

My stepmother has an embroidered picture that was made by my grandmother (I believe).  It is the simple saying that "Home is Where Your Heart Is".  While I have a variety of thoughts and reflections on this saying from over the years - it has taken on a multitude of dimensions for me during the past 10 days.

Our home is a house in Danbury where we have 2 dogs (Cooper & Rose) and 2 cats (Mickey & Kaboodle).  It is a place where we find rest and comfort; where we make plans and take care of our day to day dealings.  It is a place that holds memories that we brought with us into this house and ones that have been formed within its walls.  It is a home where we have welcomed others and where we have spent time together.  It is  more than a house; it is a home and my heart resides there.

Since I last posted, I have found myself not in my own home, but in the hospital with my husband, Michael (check out the details of this week by going to www.caringbridge.org and visit the site for Michael Boyd).  This is not home in the  same way as the home that  we have established in Connecticut.  Yet this is home in that my husband is here and he is my home, the place where my heart is.  While many things are out of our control (getting rid of this infection, future of another lung transplant), we are able to hold fast to the love that God has entrusted to us to share with one another.  And this love is home. (a song that reminds me of this is "Home" by singer-songwriter Ellis Paul; you can listed to it on YouTube)

Yet,  home is not only here either.  It is with the community that is surrounding us with so many prayers, thoughts and support.  This home is spread out from NY to Maryland to Texas to North Carolina and beyond.  Home is the love that is holding us up.  Home is not a place, but relationships bound together.

Jesus says "let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you..." (John 14:1-2)

While we reflect most often on this text in relation to heaven or to some other worldly place of God's kingdom, I have been blessed to experience the dwelling places of God's love through all of these homes.    And when my heart is troubled (dramatically so in the past week), I look to the homes where my heart finds peace, comfort, rest and hope.  Christ has prepared these homes, these relationships to sustain me, us.

I may be away from our home in Danbury, but I am home, immersed in the dwelling place of Christ.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Re-formed again and again...

It's been ONE of those kind of weeks.  One, in this case, where I need to (re)learn and hear again to practice what I preach.  Don't you hate when that happens?!  When your own words - while not repeated verbatim - get shared with you in practice.

Its' been a tough week - no, not just week, really couple of months.  My husband Michael's health and breathing has been getting worse (abridged version: chronic rejection of lung transplant from over 18 years ago due to repeated infections and the like over at least the past 10 years has put us on that path for a 2nd transplant; needless to say, his breathing is diminishing bit by bit everyday).  Each day has presented its own challenges, but I have kept that "stiff upper lip" and been "strong" for him.  I have tried to keep some sense of normalcy - at least for me - each day.  But you can only keep that up for so long.

On Sunday afternoon, Michael got me to finally let my guard down and let all my fears and sorrow come rushing out.  While still feeling numb and with eyes red, we went to a dinner with some of our Affirmation (Confirmation) parents where I kept it together through dinner until our time drew to a close.  When I chose to share some of what was going on with Michael, the tears flowed again.  I was vulnerable with those who are often vulnerable with me.

The response was so affirming and supporting.  Hugs and tears were shared as their compassion washed over us.  So, first of all - thank you for your support, prayers and love - Sue, Irene, Charlie, Cyndi, John, Inez, Dawn, Debbie, Agnes, Kat, Albert, and Joy.  And thank you for reminding me - not just that I am human - but what it means to be a part of a community. 

It didn't just stop there - the ongoing support and response (from the offer of meals and cleaning among other things) continues.  I am especially thankful to Dawn for re-forming me during this time for a new and deeper appreciation for community and for this community in particular.

While pastors are "set apart" in this particular vocation we are still part of a community.  While I will often encourage others to allow friends and family to minister to them, I am not always good about letting others in to share the same with me.   Our humanity and vulnerability can be important to community building. 

I'm still (re) learning this - but for now, I thought I would share how I have begun to be (re)formed through all of this.

P.S. if any would like to follow Michael's progress, you can go to www.caringbridge.org and look up Michael Boyd

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Watch where you walk

Ok, the subject heading for this blog has multiple meanings for me, but just to get one of them out of the way - yes, we have 2 dogs (our beloved Rose and Cooper) and so watching where we step is just a normal way of traversing the lawn for us.

Those who are unsteady on their feet or have the natural tendency towards clumsiness (like myself) need to watch our steps to stay upright.  Or what about watching where I walk as a practice of attentiveness to the world around us.  Like my Blurry Lives post, we can miss a great deal around us when we fail to remain alert.  I think of a time hiking with a friend who was intent on our destination while I find my eyes kept getting caught by the flash of a red salamander scurrying across our path, a bird winging through the trees or a small wildflower hidden amongst the dry leaves (of course it may be that I am easily distracted as well).

Yet. today this title speaks of the story of Moses' encounter with the great I AM in the book of Exodus.  It is one of my favorite biblical relationship revelations.  Moses is just minding his own business or actually that of his father in law Jethro.  From the palace of the Pharaoh to hiding out in the wilderness, Moses is trying to settle into a more "normal" life.  But God steps into his business, as well as our business today, grabbing our attention.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)

Whaaaaatttt?  What is this?  I've never seen anything like this before?   I must turn aside and look at this great sight said Moses (verse 3).

Moses' attention is grabbed and diverted from his regular routines and tasks.  Something different is going on!

And God called out to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses".  And he said "here I am"  Then he said, "Come no closer!  Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (verses 4-5)

(I think whenever this is read that people should take off their shoes.  I think we need to feel the floor beneath our feet, no matter what it is - linoleum, wood, grass, carpet - to more intimately connect us to the earth beneath our feet, for we are on holy ground no matter where we are standing.)

Pay attention to where you are standing, walking, living.  Watch where you walk!

Watch where I walk?

More than just to keep us from stepping in or on something or to keep from falling.  More even than an attentiveness to the world around us - watch where you walk for this is holy, sacred ground.  Our footsteps mark the ground that was made by our Creator.  It is not just the physical earth beneath our feet that we need to heed, it is the places that we go and the people we meet.  Our lives are surround and imbued with the sacredness of God.

Watch where you walk so that as you go through the routines of your day or encounter something new, you may be aware of the presence of God with and amongst you. 

Watch where you walk to see the path that God has set before you and how God is accompanying you along that road. 

Watch where you walk to see who God has placed next to you or behind or in front of you. 

Watch where you walk because God is here and you are on holy ground!

Monday, September 23, 2013

On an Adventure

My mother has always said "we're not lost, we are on an adventure."  Usually this was when she decided to try another route rather than the tried and true one.  We would meander along back roads and rural highways until she would inevitably proclaim either "oh, this is where this road goes" or "I thought this is where we might end up".  With all these adventures, we never were lost (at least to my knowledge as a child) and always ended up back home at the end of the day.

I still like to take these kinds of adventures periodically.  Michael and I will set out on one of my days off and just head into a particular direction that we hadn't gone before to see what we might discover.  One vacation - on my own - I decided for the better part of 2 weeks to not plan out my route or itinerary beforehand.  Each morning when I woke up, I would set off in a different direction, finding a place at the end of the day to lay my head.  It was one of the best solo vacations I ever took!

Most of the time our daily routes are pretty established.  If our cars had auto pilot, they would follow the same path that we take day in and day out.  These paths might vary a bit depending on our particular to-do items for the day - side trips to the grocery store, doctor's office, mechanic and the like.  Yet, overall we are creatures of habit and our car tires have made ruts in the pavement along this daily route.

How much of our lives are like this?  I had someone remark to me recently that "life seems to be a to-do list".  We end up marking our lives by our habit and routines.  Yes, there are certain things that need to be done (don't let me forget to pick up more milk for my cereal tomorrow morning).  There is food to be bought, clothes to be cleaned, bills to be paid, gas to be pumped and the list goes on.

How many of us would say that our "life is an adventure" rather than a to-do list?  Do we just wait for our vacations or that proverbial time in the future when we can start life's adventure?

I think about the disciples in the Gospels when Jesus first called them.   They were immersed in their routines of fishing, mending nets and fixing their boats.  These things had been done for generations as well as day in and day out.  Yet, Jesus stepped in and took them on an adventure that they would never have imagined!  No longer rowing across the water every day, but traveling around the countryside, meeting all kinds of people, experiencing Jesus' words, miracles and action, going to new places...

Some will be called today outside of their routines to go on an adventure, to travel elsewhere.  Sometimes that adventure is just waiting for us around the corner as we break from our well traveled paths to discover or try something new.  We are invited to put aside our to-do lists, looking out and forward to what adventure God might have in mind for us.

God invites us on an adventure!  Are you ready to follow?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writing in the margins

It was my Systematic Theology class when we were reading a book by James Cone on Liberation Theology (book: A Black Theology of Liberation) that I found myself for the first time having a conversation with a book that I was reading.  It inspired and challenged me so much that I moved from just highlighting and underlining passages to writing in the margins.  Sometimes it was just a question mark?, but then another passage would elicit an exclamation point!  I talked back and to the author as I made my ways through its pages.   This was no longer just another textbook, but a dialogue of faith and understanding.

I'm not sure if this is what gave me "permission" or just an entry into writing in the margins of my Bible(s) (never seem to use just one).  From this time on, I didn't read passages of scripture just to read them like any other book, but found myself more engaged in them.

There were times when my margin notes were translation reminders or clarifications.  Other times, I would highlight a passage so that it would easy to find and go back to time and time again (such as the ones that I have mentioned previously: Psalm 46:10 and I Corinthians 10:13).  Within theses pages, I would add those !!!! points and ???? marks as I was inspired and challenged as well. 

Recently, one of the web sites that I visit had people share their own thoughts on writing in the margins of their Bibles (here  is the link to the site to be able to read some of them: http://revgalblogpals.org/category/wednesday-festival/).

As I reflected on this margin writing experiences, I realized that the notes and highlights that I have made are part of my ongoing conversation and relationship with God.  They not only point to where I have been in my faith journey, but continue to encourage and challenge me as I experience the ways in which God speaks through this particular gift of faith.

What is written in the margins of your Bible?

What might you write in the Bibles of others to share your own faith experiences with them?

Take the opportunity to share that here (on the blog, facebook or email responses) with others.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A question of faith

If you could ask God any question, what would it be?

Questions are vital to faith.  Without questions faith would be blind and incapacitated.  Questions are what challenges, encourages, enlivens and grows the gift of faith.    Questions invite us to explore our relationship with God and with one another.  We are called to question and to enter more fully into this relationship.

Think about the questions that you ask someone when you first meet them: name, home, work, family and the like.  If the relationship stopped there with these questions, we would be no more than acquaintances.  We would know each other's "stats", but would we really know them.

As we grow in relationship with one another we find out more nuances embedded in the information that we have learned about them.  Maybe we find out that they named their cat "Mickey" because of those childhood memories related to Mickey Mouse.  Or we learn that they really want to go to Estonia  because of their family connections.  Or that they agreed to teach Sunday school because of Mrs. Webster who was so important to their own faith development.

Beyond  the information of a person we discover their habits and personality quirks - you know, the way that they swish milk around in their mouth before swallowing or that they move their lips when they are deep in thought.  Sometimes a person's habits can be "cute" or even (become) annoying; yet, they are still a part of what makes that person who they are.

In the midst of these deepening relationships, we discover their values and what is most important to them.  Sometimes they are stated values about honesty or integrity; other times, they are implied in the ways that they interact with others.  These deeper insights come as we watch how they respond in the face of difficulties, conflict and stress.  We begin to see beyond the surface that is presented.

In  all of these stages of our relationships, questions arise as we discern a person's character, as we learn more about them and we explore the ways in which our interaction with them evolves and changes.

While our relationship with God evolves in different ways, it is still the questions that propel us forward in our interaction with  God.  We can have fun with questions like: "if Jesus came to your house, what food do you think he might like to eat" or "where do you think God might like to go on vacation?"  We can reflect on those human-like characteristics which make God more personal and real.

Still, like our deepening relationships with one another, is the values and character of God that bring us greater understanding.   In our questioning, we can reflect on what is important for God as the world is viewed or as our own life is looked upon.  We can see images of God's character as we look upon each other, as we read scripture, as we spend time in prayer.  We explore who God is in relationship with us, other people and the world.

There is much that is beyond our human knowing and that we will just have to wait to find the answers to, but it continues to be in the asking that we find out way into the mystery as well as the revelation of God.

And so, what questions are you asking of God?  And how are you exploring those questions to grow in faith and understanding?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Formed by experiences

Remember the old "I dream of Jeannie" tv series where Jeannie the genie could just blink her eyes and make something happen, disappear or change?  While I didn't want to live in a bottle - no matter how luxurious - I did want to have that ability.  In fact, there are days when I still wish that I could just blink my eyes and things would change.

I can't tell you how many times in my own life and even more so in my vocation as a pastor, I wished that I could blink and make something disappear.  Sure there have been a few of "those people" that fell into this category, but more often it was when someone found out that they cancer or another illness, when a beloved family member had died, they lost their job, were going through a divorce and so many other terrible things that people live in the midst of everyday.  If I could just make people's pain - along with my own - go away....

As I look back on my own life and see the path that I have journeyed, there have been many rough places along the way.  There were days when all I seem to encounter was a steep and sheer cliff with no way up or around it.  There were other times when I was tripping over rocks, potholes and other obstacles.  Times when all I seemed to do was fall down, skin my knees and shout in frustration.  Or how about those days when the path seemed clear and then a storm broke out and the path was washed away?   My cry would go up - Lord, please make the "rough places smooth and the crooked straight" recalling the promises spoke by Isaiah and repeated by John the Baptist.

Yet, there was no flash of light, no blinking of the eyes, no reversing of time to restore things back to the way that I wanted them.  Was God not listening?  Was this a test?  Had I done something to deserve this?  Where was Jeannie when I needed her?

If I look closer along that rough path, I notice God at work.  God did not cause these bad things to happen, but rather offered me a hand and a way through them.  Most often, it has been through the gift of others.  The prayers, the shared strength, guidance and comfort from others helped me to scale those sheer cliffs, to pick me up when I had fallen, to hold me up when I didn't feel as if I could go on.  I see faces of family, friends and even strangers along  that path.

Often it is said (wrongly) that God doesn't give us more than we can handle.  I don't know about you, but there have certainly been times when there had just been toooooo much for any one person to handle.  And the God that I believe and know about is not one who brings bad things to bear upon people's lives.   We live as fragile people with free will in a fragile world where life gets broken, bruised and worn out.  God only desires the best for us as his beloved.

If we read Paul's words to the Corinthians, we hear about the God who does not test us: "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13)

God provides that "way out" and through these times and experiences.  Through Jesus Christ we see how these rough places are smoothed through the power of the resurrection.  We find that we are strengthened as we endure and live through these times.  I see how God used the "death" of a job, a relationship or another experience to open up new possibilities and new ventures for my  life.  Our faith can be formed by these experiences.

I would still like to be able to blink my eyes and change my life at times.  I still wish that many of these bad times and experiences had never happened.  Yet, I also see the ways in which my faith has been formed and strengthened.  I see how God has blessed my life through others who have helped and supported me along the way - that I would not change. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Formed by a dream

Just as surely as we can be formed in our relationship with God through scripture, we can be formed and in-formed through relationships with others.  And not just those relationships where we are in regular conversation with someone.  Sometimes our formation can happen through the gift of literature or other forms of media.

Over this past week and particularly past 24 hours, many have reflected on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King jr.'s historical "I Have a Dream" speech.  This speech helped to re-shape us as a nation and continues to hold up that dream as we see the ways in which this vision of equality and justice still needs to find its form among us.

For my generation and those that follow, this speech is just a part of our history and not a part of our own experience in quite the same way.  Its interesting, but what role might it have in our own formation?

I remember distinctly the time when the reality of racism was vividly displayed to me.  I remember how it began that awareness and different perspective on what many endure as their reality.  It was 1974 and as a nine year old, I was allowed to watch a miniseries called "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman" starring Cicely Tyson and based on the book by Ernest Gaines (it was released a full 3 years before Roots).  The story follows Jane from the days as a slave on a plantation in the rural south through the Civil Rights movement.

It was seeing the brutality of slavery that not only gave me bad dreams but awakened this suburban white girl to the reality of prejudice and injustice.   While the number of African Americans in my community was very low,  it opened my eyes beyond myself and this community to the wider world.  The harsh and unjust treatment of others was a wake up call to what some are capable of and that we can not just watch in horror, but are called to speak out in compassion and justice.

I can't say that I went out to change the world after watching this miniseries, but I can say that I was changed and formed by it.  I know that just watching a television series is nothing like living amidst the still present reality of racism.  I hold no illusions that this moment can give me any more than a glimpse of what many continue to deal with day in and day out.  I just know that a nine year old girl began to see things differently and that it continues to haunt me.

Dr. King's speech in its power and eloquence is more than a historical event.  His words hold up the reality of our world over against the vision of what this world could be.   These dreams are more than fleeting thoughts, but rather ones that need to be continually held up as our goals and purpose as a people.

As people of God, we are given the vision of Christ.  Through the Creator, we see the world as God has made it, as we have taken advantage of it and taken it for granted.  Through the Savior, the dream of resurrection, of new life out of death and sin, is lifted up.  In Christ, we see how the hope of change can become reality.  And through the Holy Spirit, we are equipped to bring that dream to bear upon reality.

Dreams can form us if we let them.  Dreams can direct us if we are open to them.  Dreams can challenge, poke and prod if we feel them.  Dreams can offer hope over and against the harshness of life.  

What dream(s) have formed you?  What gives shape and meaning to your life?  What has or continues to direct you towards that dream?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Evolving relationships

How is your relationship going?
    What is the first relationship that came to mind for you when you read that question?
        What is it about that relationship right now that brings it to the forefront of your thoughts?

We have all kinds of relationships that we participate in on a daily basis.  Some of them are very superficial and fleeting like the cashier at the store or the bank teller at the window; some of these we may never encounter again.  Other relationships are formed around particular events, groups or situations like co-workers, classmates or sports programs.  These are the ones in which you share a common purpose, goal or experience.

Then there are those that are closest to us.  These are the ones that have been with us through a variety of times and experiences.  These are the ones in which they know you at your worst and at your best.  These are the ones in which we are most vulnerable and yet at the same time are the most vital to our lives. 

Last week, I reflected on forming our faith relationship with God through scripture.  A few days later, I was reading a book by Barbara Brown Taylor (The Preaching Life) that reflected on just this relationship (as an aside - its not just about preaching nor only for preachers).  She writes in a chapter on the Bible:
   My relationship with the Bible is not a romance but a marriage, and one I am willing to work on in all the usual ways: by living with the text day in and day out, by listening to it and talking back to it, by making sure I know what is behind the words it speaks to me and being certain I have heard I properly, by refusing to distance myself from the parts of it I do not like or understand, by letting my love for it show up in the in the everyday acts of my life.  The Bible is not an object for me; it is a partner, whose presence blesses me, challenges me, and affects everything that I do.

Take this paragraph and replace it with the person who first came to mind for you at the beginning of this blog.   How is that relationship reflected here?
Again, replace the Bible with your favorite name for God.  What of your relationship with God finds its meaning or substance here?

All relationships take work and intentionality.  The "happily ever after's" are only found in children's storybooks.  Relationships of substance are gritty and down to earth.  They have good days and bad days.  There are times when you feel as if you know each other deeply and other days when you feel disconnected.  Relationships evolve and change with each new day, experience and situation.  They are not static.

The same is true for our relationship with God.  Scripture itself exhibits this as a particular passage will reveal new insights about ourselves and this relationship as we grow and change.  Take for instance the passage from Joshua 24:15 (As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord).  This takes on a different flavor as you move from your parents' home into your own or even as you find that you need to then move into a place like assisted living.  The sense of home changes as well as the ways in which you are being called to serve the Lord.

We are called into this ever evolving relationship with God.  Our faith may seem as if it wavers, but it is going through growing pains and growth spurts.  We are invited to this marriage with God through scripture that we may know God  more deeply as well as ourselves.  This relationship then offers us guidance, strength and insight into the other relationships with which we are entrusted.

Look again at the questions at the beginning of this blog.  How would you answer then according to your relationship with God?  How has this relationship evolved or changed?   How is it like a marriage? 

We remember the power of this relationship in the word of the Lord that the prophet Isaiah shares (43:4) You are precious in my sight and honored and I love you.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Faith in-forming

Earlier this week, I talked about changing some of our language as regards Christian education.  We are beginning to use the phrase "Faith Formation" rather than the school and education focus that have been used for years.

In this respect, the forming of our faith is not limited to our time  as children.  It is about more than just learning about the Bible, but entering into conversation with the Bible. 

The study of scripture does help to give us insight that we might not otherwise have.  It is important to know the context in which something is written - for instance, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech or Lincoln's Gettysburg address hold more power and significance when they are read in the historical context of their day.  The same is true for scripture.  Such as, it is helpful to know that many of Paul's letters were written to particular communities of faith where he was addressing particular concerns. 

Other important things to learn about the Bible are the relationships between  various people and groups.  Our high school English classes come in handy as we look at the variety of ways in which God's message is conveyed through metaphor, poetry and hymns, parables and the  like.  We look at passages in the ways in which they relate to other parts of scripture - for instance, Jesus often quotes from Isaiah and much of  Peter's sermon on Pentecost consists of prophecies from Joel and Isaiah.

In the forming of our faith, we cannot stop our relationship with scripture in just studying about it.  Information is one thing, but formation goes farther.  A question that I will often ask of a biblical text - whether in sermon or bible study preparation or in my own devotions - is So What?   In this simple question, I am seeking both the central message or purpose of the passage, often looking at what was the writer's intention in the reading.  And then, So, what does this then say to my own life, the lives of others or the world.  What word is God speaking to me, to us?

I mentioned previously that Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God" is a passage that I have returned to again and again.  The earlier verses of this psalm reflect a time of great upheaval with shaking mountains, foaming seas and nations in an uproar.  There have been times when my life did feel as if it was being thrown upside down to which verse 1 reminded me that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.".  Other times, I have been overwhelmed with just a full schedule, too much to do and too little time to do it.  These times I needed the reminder of stillness and more importantly that I am not God, but God is God.   This is the So and the What that I needed to hear in those times.

It is in this kind of way that we enter into a relationship with scripture and more importantly with God.  We might know the Bible, but how are we known by it.  What Word does God have to offer us?  In this, we go from information to formation.

What scripture passages have informed and formed your life? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

What's forming your faith?

Sunday school is an institution within the institution of the Church.  Born within the US during the 19th century, it was an effort to provide basic education to the working class of the day.  Many children were working and had little to no access to any kind of education.  Sunday school provided that outlet that enabled literacy to grow.  As education moved to the prevue of the state, Sunday school focused its efforts solely on Christian education.

Sunday school holds many good memories for me.  From the wonderful teachers that blessed me with their knowledge and faith, like Mr. Macris to the stories I learned through songs, flannel boards and film strips, it provided me with the foundation of my faith.  This education is an important part of faith, but not its sole purpose.

Education does provide us knowledge about God, the scriptures, the history of the church and more.  Yet, our faith needs much more than just information.  Memory verses can provide a tool to help us when we need a word to hold onto ("be still and I know that I am God", Psalm 46:10 has been an important one for me).  Faith is more than just memory work though.

Conversations have been happening among the leadership of Trinity.  We are acutely aware of several realities that have joined together that make our "job" as a church more difficult.  Sunday school and worship are often viewed as an "extra", if we have time kind of event.  We face "competition" from a variety of other activities that are no longer  "banned" from Sunday mornings.  Attending and participating in church is no longer a "given" in people's lives for a variety of reasons (which we can explore in another blog entry).

With more "none's" in todays' culture (meaning someone who has no specific religious affiliation), we can no longer assume  biblical literacy and faith formation being a part of people's everyday lives.  Faith, if a part of people's lives, is often regulated to worship and Sunday school, a couple hours a week.

While it would be much easier to just bemoan these realities and to try to restore the former ways and relationships of people to the Church, this is a reality that is not going back in time.  And while, it can be decidedly frustrating for myself as a pastor to try to deal with - it can also be very exciting!  Rather than settling into the comfortable ways of ministry when everyone came to worship and faith was assumed - now is a time for renewal; now faith can no longer be taken for granted!

Initial changes are just a matter of semantics (but just as difficult as anything else).  In order to more adequately reflect our ministries of Christian education, we are changing some names.  No longer will we be calling it "Sunday school" but rather "Faith Formation" ministries.  For we are doing more than just educating children and adults, but inviting them to grow together in faith, exploring the ways in which our faith influences our daily lives.  We will move from ministry labels of "Confirmation" to "Affirmation of Faith" and Bible study to ...(well, I'm still figuring out the best way to reflect this change for adults; let me know if you have any ideas).

These name changes are quite difficult as we have been hard wired for terms like Sunday school and confirmation.  In fact, both terms will probably be listed for awhile as that transition is accomplished.  Hopefully, the name changes will stop us short and force us to ask "what does this mean?" and "how is my faith being formed?"  It forces me to look at all those things that I have taken for granted and assumed in my own faith life.

This is what I want us to explore in these blog entries for awhile.  As always, I long for your input and feedback.  What is forming your faith?  How has Sunday school, Bible study, etc. been important in this formation.  What have you taken for granted?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

We are the church together today (part 2)

As I mentioned in Monday's blog, this week is the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh.  While I am here at home in Brewster, it has felt very much like I have been there with the gathered assembly even when busy with our own ministry here.

Social media - for all its shortfalls (but that's for another time) - has linked us in new ways that we have never experienced before.  Through the Livestream of the assembly, watching the gathering in just about "real time" or when I have missed something and can go back to view different parts (and forward through others) - all of this has been a gift.  Through comments and updates on Facebook and Twitter, I have been able to join in conversations about all that has taken place. 

If you haven't had a chance to do so, please check it out.

Some brief highlights from the parts that I have watched:

1) Election of the new Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
       In multiple ballots, she was elected yesterday.  Unlike secular world elections this was not about who won and who lost.  This was not a criticism of the current Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson (who has served 12 years); in fact, though he "lost", the outpouring of support and respect for him was great!  He has served faithfully and wonderfully as our leader for these past years.
      Bishop-elect Eaton is not someone I had heard about previously; she was just re-elected as the Bishop of the NE Ohio Synod where they are both celebrating and mourning her new call as Presiding Bishop.
       This was truly a CALL for this ministry position to work with all of us in the ELCA.

2) Immigration reform
       I have not yet watched the full debate and conversations about this very real world issue.  However, the introduction of such an issue reminds us that we are a Church that is not apart from the world, but one who lives in the world and seeks to find the ways in which God's grace can bring hope to all people.

3) Bishop Hanson's report
       Using a phrase from a colleague's sermon a day or two before, Bishop Hanson reflected with us on "What if the Holy Spirit is writing new chapters for the book of Acts among us now".  He shared the ways in which he has already experienced these new chapters and the ways in which each of us are called to participate in Holy Spirit's new chapters in our midst today.

       What might those new Acts chapters look like here for us at Trinity Lutheran in Brewster?
 Even as we reflect on our past 75 years, how are we experiencing the Holy Spirit at work among us today?  How are we fluent in the Gospel?

These are just a few reflections.  I invite you to watch some of the assembly as well - they do have links for the worship services as well as the plenary sessions at www.elca.org

Monday, August 12, 2013

We are the Church together

Yesterday during worship, I mentioned that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly would be meeting this week in Pittsburgh.  (This has been a bi-annual assembly, but will soon change to every 3 years).  I hate to admit it, but I received only polite stares and nods of heads.  Now, I don't know if it is because people had no idea what I was talking about and/or they didn't have any particular interest in it.

To talk about the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is it's own kind of anomaly.  The ELCA can be that place in Chicago where the churchwide offices are or just some sort of vague notion about Lutherans.  We might know that we are an ELCA congregation, but that might be as far as it goes.

In this day and age, as denominations (particularly mainstream churches such as the ELCA) are diminishing in size and centrality in people's lives, is becomes its own kind of adiaphorous (indifferent) of being.  For decades, people have "shopped" for churches, not based on its denomination but rather other criteria such as  hospitality and welcome, children's ministries, etc.  We are at the point now in our culture that even this kind of shopping has waned.

So, the questions remain - what is the purpose or the point of having denominations?  Do we even "need" them?

There are plenty of arguments on both sides of these questions.  And I, for one, get frustrated with the institutionalization of faith.  While there may be some value to the institution, it is when it becomes more important that discipleship that we have already lost something.

Yet, having attended a Churchwide assembly six years ago as well as numerous National Youth Gatherings, these kinds of events do remind us about what it means for us to be the Church.  In these events, we can see the Church sharing its faith through a wide variety of ministries - world hunger and justice ministries, mission outposts, colleges & seminaries, and so many different churches that make up the ELCA.  Attending these gatherings can open us to see beyond our own local congregations and our own ministries to what is happening in places like Denver (CO), Oaks (OK),  Athens (OH) and more.

Yes, the business can get boring (especially those amendments to the amendments) as the assembly turns to the more institutional portion of being the Church.  However, worshipping, praying and deliberating in faith about who God is calling us to be as the Church in this ever-changing world can be inspiring and exciting.

While, we can't all be in Pittsburgh this week, we can participate virally.  Here is the link for the livestreaming of the Assembly http://new.livestream.com/elcacwa

You can also visit www.elca.org or the Facebook page to get up to date information (the first  ballot for the election of the Presiding Bishop will begin this evening).

This gathering may be not all the Church is called to be, but it can be a glimpse.  Take a gander and see what God might be up to!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Used Bibles

From time to time, I have asked confirmation students (in particular) to make a note or to highlight something in their Bibles.  There seems to always be at least one of them that is "horrified" by this request.  "This is a sacred book; you're not supposed to write in them", they would cry.

We're taught from an early age to not write in our books and when we have done so, it  has elicited a scolding from our parents or teachers.  We are told to respect books and the authors who created them.  It is not until we go to college that that we find ourselves even highlighting our textbooks.

Yet, the Bible is the living Word.  We are called to engage in conversations with the writers, the early church communities and most certainly with God.  Through our notations, we interact with the Word.  We talk back to the word that has encouraged or challenged us.  We mark those words that speak to us in particular times in our lives.  Highlights are drawn for those words that we want to come back and remember.

In about a month, we will be giving our 3rd graders brand new Bibles.  They will crack the spines as they explore their pages, learning how to find particular verses.  This will mark their ongoing relationship with God as they engage with the Word.  They will be encouraged to create their own version of a "used Bible".

As they begin to make their own marks on these pages, what verses or stories would you want to share with them?  Do you have favorite passages that you turn to again and again?  What markings might you share from the use of your own Bibles?

We will be collecting these verses to make into bookmarks for our young people.  You are asked to submit them within the next few weeks so that they might be prepared for them.  You may either email them or share them in a comment here.  Or you can give them to me.  If you do not know the exact citation, write down what you remember and we will see about finding that for you.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Human Flourishing, part 2

Last week, I talked about human flourishing or rather, I posed a few questions related to this topic.  I was hoping to receive some feedback and responses, but I hope, at the very least, you have been thinking and praying about these questions.

What does it mean for you to flourish?
What are ways in which you do or you have flourished in your life?
What does flourishing look like for you?
From the dictionary definitions, flourishing sounds extravagant, a luxury.  Our questions in response to those posed might be more along the lines of who has time to flourish?.   Most of the time, it seems as if we are doing all we can to just make it through one more day, to accomplish all that needs to be done - and then, there is no energy to flourish.  Instead, its just time for bed before another round of our crazy lives.
Yet, what kind of life is that?  Just "surviving" to live another day?  Blurry lives?
As some of you may know, my first dad died when I was barely 4 years old.   While there is much that I don't remember about him and about that time after his death, there was a message that exuded from my mom over the years (more implicit than explicit) that each day is a gift and to live into that day in the fullest way possible.  Some days this was easier than others, but as the psalmist wrote, "this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24).
Flourishing has much to do with seeing each day as a gift and a blessing from God.
The other message I heard as I was growing  up was from my stepfather (also a pastor) whose main "mission statement" was to Celebrate Life.   It was lifted up in his sermons, a message board and signs and even buttons.   It made its way into his weekly benediction which I further adapted and use both in his honor and to lift up the message he taught me:  
May the good Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be good to you; May the Lord fill you with peace, love and much laughter; And may He set you free to celebrate the life that God has given you in all its fullness! In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
Living our lives to the fullest and celebrating the lives that we have been given are part of what human flourishing is about.
Think about all the good things that make up your life.  Name them.  Write them down.  How are they gifts from God to you?  What are you doing with the life that God has entrusted to you? 
As I mentioned, I found this this concept of human flourishing  on the website, Yale Center for Faith and Culture. They shared these thoughts about God and Human Flourishing:
For many today, God seems an enemy of human flourishing.  Yet in the Christian tradition, God is portrayed as a lover of creation - so much so that the early church father Iranaeus could say "the glory of God is a human being fully alive.".
Are you fully alive?  What might help you live into the fullness of this gift?  With these thoughts in mind, how might your perspective on the flourishing of your own life change?
Yesterday, I challenged the congregation to set their alarms for 3:16pm every day.  In that moment to give thanks to God for the gift of time and for that in which you are engaged in that moment.  May this simple practice help you to see your life as a gift that has been entrusted to you from God that you may flourish in it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Human flourishing, take 1

Over the past couple of years, myself along with Charlie Germain, Dorothy Kafalas and others have attended a series of free lectures at Yale Divinity school once a month.   While the focus of these presentations have been related specifically to youth ministry, the content focused more on faith development.

One of the speakers, Dr. Miroslav Volf is a professor of systematic theology at Yale.  He is also one of the directors of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.  A part of the center's focus is on God and Human Flourishing.  The title intrigues me the most.

Human flourishing?

What does it mean for us to flourish?

Merriam Webster defines it as follows:
1: to grow luxuriantly : thrive
2a : to achieve success : prosper <a flourishing business>
b : to be in a state of activity or production <flourished around 1850>
c : to reach a height of development or influence
3: to make bold and sweeping gestures; to wield with dramatic gestures : brandish
What does it mean for you to flourish?
What are ways in which you do or you have flourished in your life?
What does flourishing look like for you?
Before I begin to share my own thoughts related to these questions, I invite you to reply and share your thoughts with myself and others.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Happy anniversary to me?

Today is my anniversary! 

No, not my wedding anniversary (that's July 21st).  Not my ordination anniversary (Nov. 2) and not the anniversary of when I started my pastoral relationship with the good people of Trinity (Sept. 1st).

Forty eight years ago today, I was baptized at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, CA.  My aunt Janet and my Uncle Dickie were/are my godparents.  This was the beginning of my relationship with God within the community of faith.  This particular congregation was the closest Lutheran church  to Edwards AFB where we lived (about a half hour drive from the base).  Michael and I went to the building when we were in California a few years ago (alas, it wasn't a Sunday and nobody was there).

While my relationship with a community of faith began there, it did not stay there.  While my parents had a relationship with folks there for the short time they lived there, it did not continue there.   It moved to a variety of places as we moved, settling for longer periods at some more than others, but always moving.  We gathered with the faithful in places as far apart as First English in Austin, TX and St. Timothy's in North Greenbush, NY.

I've been a part of a variety of worshipping communities as I have moved out on my own.  From the FOCUS churches in Albany with 5 different denominations working together with the poor in that city, to the church and college partnership on internship with Christ Lutheran and Ohio University in Athens, OH to the congregations that I have served as pastor across NY state in Elma (St. John's), Cobleskill (Zion) and now in Brewster (Trinity).

While the anniversary of my baptism is - on the one hand - about an event in my own life, as I have reflected upon this day, I find myself thinking more about each of these communities of faith.  It was within each of them that I was introduced to God, nurtured in faith and understanding, where I experienced what Christ's love and forgiveness is like, and where I have been blessed to "celebrate the life that God has given me".

Baptism is about the gift of God's grace.  It is about the ways in which that grace is lived and shared within the family of Christ.  It is the ways in which we learn to live and share it within all of our relationships from childhood to adulthood, within the congregation as well as in the wider world.  It is about our relationship with God and how that is expressed with others.

I may not know much about the current congregation of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (though I can google them).  My relationships with other congregations that I have participated with may have changed.  Yet, this day I am thankful for each of those places who revealed the gift of baptism to me.  While this may be "my" baptismal anniversary, it is really about all communities of faith and the ways in which they live out this gift of faith.

Thanks be to God for all of them!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's in a name?

Michael and I just adopted a new kitten and while the name that she was given was okay (Phoenix), we wanted to name her for ourselves.  The naming process can become fairly involved as we  both threw out all kinds of names.  We wanted something that fit her personality and looks (she's a calico), something that was easy to use when we had to yell: "no, kitty, get down from there" and a name that we both liked.  While we tried out all kinds of names (Conundrum, Delilah 2, Mixie,etc.), we think we have finally setting on Kaboodle (as in she's the whole kit n' caboodle). 

What about your name or that of your kids?  How was your name determined?  Was it a family name?  A unique name?  A popular name?  A name that reminded you of someone else?  Or did it just somehow sound right as it issued forth from your lips or that of your parents?

My parents just liked the name "Jennifer" (and this was just before it became popular) and my middle name is the same as my mother's ("Elaine").  And interestingly enough, if I was a boy my name would have been "Michael".  And then, our last names often will make those connections to our families.  For instance, my last name at birth was Manske which connected me to my birth father and family; it was then changed to Dyer when my mom married my 2nd dad, identifying us as a new family; and then changed again when Michael and I got married, lifting up the family that we are together.

Names are very important in scripture as well.  To name something was to claim the person or place.  Names often had significant meanings like Isaac which is the "laughter" that Sarah brought forth when she was told that she would bear a child even though she was barren and old.  His son Jacob's name got changed to Israel signifying the one who strove with God.  In the New Testament, Saul's name was changed to Paul as a sign of the ways in which his life was turned around.

What is in a name?

The most significant naming in the Bible is that of God.  When Moses first encounters God in the burning bush, he asks what should he tell the Israelites when they ask your name?  God answers enigmatically, "I AM WHO I AM...tell them I AM has sent me to you."  It is where we get the Hebrew Yahweh (YHWH).  In this peculiar naming, we are told more about who God is rather than just his name.  God is (period).  In John's Gospel, Jesus fleshes his being out more as he says that he is the "bread of life", "the resurrection and the life", "the Good Shepherd", among others.  God is (period).

We  are called to not take God's name in vain in the Ten Commandments.  When we use the name of God we are, in a sense, laying claim to God.  To misuse God's name is to misuse our relationship with God.  We can never own God, but God offers himself through Jesus to claim his relationship with us.  God IS the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  We are because God IS.

In naming ourselves, we not only identify with family, we are named and claimed as children of God.  It places us in relationship not just with God, but with all of God's children.  This name says something about whose we are and who we are.  It gives us not only identity but lifts up the characteristics and ways in which we are to look at one another and at the world.  As children of the One who IS, our very being (body and soul) echoes God's being.  And the One who is I AM names us "beloved".

How does that name strike you?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On the rise

Over the past year or so, I have found myself baking more.  While it used to be whatever was easiest out of the box, I now like the truly homemade.  There is something about putting all those ingredients together and having something so very yummy produced out of the oven.  While my chocoholic self loves the brownies and chocolate chip cookies and my hubby has an affinity for a vegan banana bread recipe I discovered (and yes, honey, I will make some later), what I really enjoy making is our family recipe for Swedish molasses bread.

First of all, there is nothing better than the warm aroma and melt in your mouth goodness of bread right out of the oven.  Even more than that, it  is a family recipe that my great, great grandmother, Amanda Peterson Almquist brought with her when she emigrated from Sweden, ultimately settling in Hutto, Texas.  This delicious bread is a part of my heritage and I feel connected to my family as I mix all those ingredients together.

As I gather the flour (white and rye), molasses, and the like, it is as if I am bringing together parts of my family, past and present.  As the dough begins to form, I reflect on the ways in which my own life was formed by each of them, directly and indirectly.  Without one of those ingredients, the bread wouldn't be good.

The most important and significant part of bread making is the yeast, of course.  While, we can make breads without yeast (such as the forementioned  banana bread), the yeast gives all the other ingredients a way to live into the fullness of their textures and tastes, bringing them altogether to do that which that were gathered to do.

I suspect, you may already see where I'm going with this.  In many ways, the yeast that gets placed into the bread dough can be compared to the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit brings life and purpose.  The Spirit brings out the fullness of life that God intends for us, helping us to live into that fullness.  The Psalmist wrote "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) and Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life" (John 6:35).  The loving presence of God is what nourishes and sustains us, that brings us true life.

In the devotional book by Macrina Weidetkehr (mentioned in earlier blogs), wrote this: "It is  becoming clear to me that Christians are meant to be leaven for our society...Hope is like yeast and baking powder.  It has an energy that makes things rise."

We are given the hope of the Holy Spirit to help raise up the world, to bring nourishment to a world that is hungry for something more.  We are called to let the yeast of God rise within us that we may feed the world with God's love and grace.

So whether you are making your own bread or taking a slice out of a package, think of the ways in which God's Spirit is rising within you.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On tiptoes...

My sister as a child was one who always walked on her tiptoes (even sometimes now, she will catch herself doing it).  While sometimes this tendency does point to potential health problems, for the most part it is a short term pattern that usually seen as "cute".

There are times when I find myself walking on the tips of my toes (even today) - such as when I am walking through wet grass or puddles and don't want to get my whole foot soaking wet.  Other times, I will strain upwards on my toes to try  to see better.  Standing on my tippy-toes has me yearning towards a goal, towards a possibility.

In my devotions this morning, I was reading an entry in a book called "Seasons of our Heart: Prayers and reflections" by Macrina Wiederkehr in which she wrote: "Standing on tiptoe is not a children's game of balance.  Rather, it is the beautiful prayer of balancing God's promises with my joyful expectation."

Standing on the tips of our toes is about HOPE.  It is that longing towards a goal, towards a purpose.  It is desire and action rolled up together that draws us up as we seek something more, better, different, new.

We can stand firm on the ground, established in place.  We need this assurance of support for balance that sustains us.  Yet, like a flower that turns towards the sun, yearning for nourishment and life, we took can be rooted and yet draw ourselves up, turning ourselves towards the Son who gives us life, who offers us more than roots will allow.

Hope is what feeds our  lives, that sustains us when we are weary, that leads us forth towards something more.  Standing on tiptoes is hope rooted in grace.

Macrina Wiederkehr shares this poem/prayer:

On tiptoe we stand, Lord Jesus
eagerly awaiting
your full revelation
always expecting you
to come some more.

Our hands and hearts
are open to your grace.
Our lives are still waiting for
the fullness of your presence.
We are those who have been promised
a Kingdom, and we can never forget
Yet we have a foot in both worlds
and we stumble.

But still we stand
on tiptoe
owning our kingdom-loving hearts
and our earth-eyes
We lean forward
and hope.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What's the latest...

As a PK (pastor's kid), I could usually predict what my dad's sermon was going to be about the week after he came back from confirmation camp, annual Nat'l Guard training, synod assemblies, etc. or after he had just finished a book.  Whatever was currently going on in his life made its way into that Sunday's reflections - and yes, that often then involved me and my siblings as well.  Even now as I write this, I am rolling my eyes at his predictability.

However, its only half an eye roll as I have to stop and look within myself as well.  For you see, I find myself doing the same thing.  I might include a story or quote that was shared at our recent synod assembly, an experience from going to the Youth Quake with some of our 7-8th graders, a Facebook posting, blog or something else I've been reading.

It was just yesterday that I had my "PK half eye roll" moment as I began to share about one of the most recent books I've been reading.  It was (almost) as if I was channeling my dad as I talked about the book.  When I start to talk about a particular book, especially one that gives me a lot of food for thought, I feel as if I am trying to "sell" the book to others (too bad I can't get commissions for these sermonic book recommendations).

But the partial eye roll was not a "stop, you are becoming your dad" moment, but rather a different kind of insight or perspective.  Sure, there as a predictability about these kinds of sermons from my dad.  But on the other hand, as I look back on it this many years later as a pastor, I see that this is about much more than just sharing the current events of his life, but rather the ways in which his life and faith were impacted by that particular book or experience.  It was his way of sharing his own journey of faith.

I thought about the kind of enthusiasm and reflections that others share about their own experiences, books, blogs or Facebook posts.  This too can be how they are sharing their faith.   And this is a wonderful gift that I have been blessed by through their sharing.

This is what faith and witness are all about - making those connections between the current events, books and experiences in our lives with God and how God is impacting our lives.  It is about being deliberate in recognizing  the connections for yourself and others.

In some ways, it is "easy" for the preacher because we are always on the lookout for sermon illustrations (and I've often contended that just about anything can become fodder for a sermon).  We've been taught to make those connections so that we are ready for that week's sermon, if nothing else.

My challenge is to look not just for sermon material, but for the ways in which God is using all these tools and resources to get my attention, to draw me closer in relationship with him and to be a more faithful witness of the Good News.

What is the latest in your life?  Where is God in the midst of it all?  How might you share that with others?

BTW - the book I referred to on Sunday is "Holding your Faith Together: 5 simple steps to help bring your family closer to God and each other" by Rich Melheim.  And no, I do not get a commission if you purchase it, but you will benefit from it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blurry days or Blessed days?

Did you ever have a day or even a week that was just a blur?  Maybe, the question should be not "if" but how recent did you have a day like that?  Our lives can get so filled up with activities, responsibilities, errands and the like that our minds cannot even process what we are doing.  Not matter how many "shortcuts" are provided by today's culture, it only seems as if we have less time and not more.

One of the songs  from the musical "Rent" sings of "525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year?" 

While there are days went those minutes seem to drag - like a teenager waiting for the last bell of the last day of school to ring or the interminable ticking of the clock as you wait for the results of a medical test - still there are no more and no less minutes than the day before.  Or on those days when it seems as if summer vacation is over before it really began or when the time spent with a seldom seen friend or family member has come to a close - still then, we have the same number of minutes.

How are your minutes measured?  What do you do with the gift of time that God has blessed you with?

Look at your calendar and reflect on the amount of time you spend in particular areas such as work, errands, chores, in the car, in front of the computer/TV, etc.  How do these minutes reflect your own priorities?  Are these minutes lived as a blur, a burden or a blessing?

In Ecclesiastes 3, the teacher proclaims "for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven", time for birth and death, war and peace, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, seeking and losing, speaking and silence.  All these minutes and moments are gifts from God.  Too often, we pay too little attention to time.  Now, I'm not saying that we all need to become clock-watchers.  I stopped wearing a watch on vacation over 15 years ago and have yet to put one back on. 

No, I mean do want to live life in a blur or in blessing? 

In reflecting on how we spend our time, we may find that there are things that are not life-giving but life-stealing.  What are those things that we need to omit from our lives?  What are ways that we can re-prioritize how use live  our moments?

I know that this can be easier said than done.  And I can also hear all the  "but, Pastor, what about...".   There are not necessarily "easy" solutions; hard decisions might need to be made.  Yet, in doing so, we may find that time is a blessing rather than a burden or a  blur. 

We are given these 525,600 minutes to live each year, how will you live them?

Here are a few more of the lyrics from the song from "Rent" which is called "Seasons of Love":
In Daylights - In Sunsets
In Midnights - In Cups Of Coffee
In Inches - In Miles
In Laughter - In Strife

In Truths That She Learned
Or In Times That He Cried
In Bridges He Burned
Or The Way That She Died

How about love?
Measure in love

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blessed animals

Michael and I have begun to actively look for a kitten.  It has been about two months since our beloved Delilah's health failed to the point that we had to put her down (she was 17 years old).  Despite, Michael's original plea that we had to wait a year, I think he is finally ready (though he has never had a kitten before just my older cats).

We have looked on Craigslist and other on-line sources; we've been to the Danbury shelter and just yesterday, submitted our application.  When I last adopted a cat from a shelter, it  was a simple form and you got to take the cat home with you that day.  It is much more involved now - with a 5 page application including references and the possibility of a home visit.  On the one hand, it does seem to be a bit much - especially for a long time cat owner like myself, but after hearing horror stories about how some people have treated animals, I can understand their caution and thoroughness.

Animals of all shapes and sizes have had a varied role in the lives of people throughout the ages.  For some, it seems as if they are disposable or even a nuisance.  This viewpoint brings to mind all those creatures that are now extinct such as passenger pigeon, red gazelle, and the eastern cougar as well as those that are critically endangered such as Siberian  tigers, Asian elephants and lowland gorillas.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein.  In Genesis 22:18, God saw that it was not good that man should be alone.  First was created all the animals of the earth and then finally a woman who was a more suitable partner.  Just as we were created to be in relationship with one another and in communities, we were given the gift of animals in which to name and claim. 

Unfortunately, when we heard that we were to have "dominion" over these creatures, many viewed them as something to be used and not necessarily care for.  God places us as stewards and caretakers of creation and all its creatures.  They are placed among us for us to marvel as God's wonderful and sometimes "silly" imagination (think of the platypus or what other ones come to mind for you?).  They are given to us as food, but we are called to honor their lives (much as many a Native American tribe did).  They are a vital part to the very workings of creation.

So while the application for a kitten seems to be overly cautious, it serves as an example of the care and concern that we should have for all of God's creation.  For in the beginning, God did create the earth and all its inhabitants and proclaimed that "it is good".  And so, we celebrate and honor the goodness of God's creation.

BTW - this Sunday, June 2nd (5pm), we will be having our 3rd Annual Blessing of the Animals in our rear parking lot.  All are invited to bring their pets for a special blessing.  They need to be on leashes or other suitable carriers.  If they don't "play" well with others, you are invited to bring a picture of them.  Children may also bring a stuffed animal to be blessed.  Even if you don't currently have a pet, please feel free to come and celebrate the gift of God's animals.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sacred ground

I  hate to wear shoes.  One of the very first things that I do when I get home is to kick off my shoes (which are then picked up by our dog, Cooper and its then a search process to find them again).  Even in the cold weather, I  am apt to go barefoot, using our cat, Mickey to keep my feet warm as I sit with the legs tucked up on the couch.  I would be perfectly happy if I could go without shoes most of the time.

Maybe this is why I have such an affinity for the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3.  While he is tending his sheep, Moses comes upon a wondrous sight - a bush that is aflame and yet not consumed by those flames.  God calls  out to  him from the flames, telling him to "remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5).  The very place where Moses was tending sheep as he went about  his regular daily routine - this ground was holy.

Think about the holiness of the earth: God gathered the dust of the earth and formed us in his image, breathing his Spirit within us, giving us life (Genesis 2:7).  From the sacred ground and with God's holy breath, we are formed and made into God's beloved people.

Most of the time, we don't think much about the places that we stand.  They are just where we plant our feet - be it for one step or long waits.  The ground doesn't have much meaning; its just there.

Yet, stop and reflect on all those places that you find yourself in your daily life - from homes, work, school, and the like.  The relationships, the tasks and the activities that we engage in as we stand and walk in these places are holy as well.  The ways in which God  calls us to live faithfully and fruitfully where we stand are sacred and anointed by God.  God had called Moses from his sacred place of shepherding to another place where he served as God's voice that promised and delivered freedom.  It is not just the one space that we stand that is holy - but all the earth is holy and provides us the means to which we can live out our callings as God's people.

Here is a poem by Macrina Wiederkehr (from Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers & Reflections) that speaks of this holy ground:

The Moses in my heart trembles
not quite willing
to accept the prophet hidden in my being
wondering how much it will cost
to allow that prophet to emerge.

O child of unnecessary shoes
cast them off
and stand in readiness
on this holy ground.
For the Egypt in people's lives
demands that you see the burning bushes
all around you
burning wildly
calling you
away from the comfort
of well-protected feet.

The ground you stand on is holy.
Take off your shoes!
The ground of your being is holy.
Take off your shoes!
Awaken your sleeping prophet
Believe in your Moses
and go...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In summary...

This past weekend, Michael and I traveled to Lexington, KY for a memorial service for the Rev. Dr. Homer D. Carter.  He was an instrumental mentor and pastor in Michael's own faith journey and beloved by many who were blessed to have known him. 

Whether I am attending a funeral or officiating at one, I am always struck by the difficulty in fully summarizing someone's life.  Many of my words seem to be inadequate in encompassing the totality of a person.  Memories of specific events and characteristics highlight pieces of them.   Pictures and mementos claim moments in their lives.  Obituaries give us a brief glimpse into their families, work and life history. And yet, each of our beloved family and friends are so much more than even the abundance of these memories, photograhs and words.

St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that "love never ends" (I Corinthians 13:8).  This "love" chapter is most often used for weddings and more romantic occasions.  Yet, the fullness of this love is revealed, for me, most often at death.  Love encompasses not just the person that we are grieving, but even more, the God who revealed the magnitude and power of his love.

Death is often viewed as the rolling credits at the end of people's lives or even called that "final curtain".  Yet, for us as Christians, we see not the end but the continuation of lives that have been claimed by Christ.  Through the cross and the tomb, Christ raised the curtain of death to reveal eternal life.  And we experience this eternity through love.

I did not stop loving my fathers or grandparents just because I can no longer see them in this earthly life.  And their love is not buried with them under the earth.  Love never ends.  We continue to love.  We come to know and believe that even our deepest sorrow cannot erase our love for one another - because our love is received and given by the Greatest Love of them All, Christ our Lord.  Love endures, withstands and overcomes all the pain and sorrow of this world because it has raised the curtain on death and revealed the fullness of God's love for us.

We may not be able to put into words the fullness of a person's life, but we can know and trust that the true summary of their lives is in the love that God blessed us to share with one another and that continues on into eternity.