Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Mirror-Living in Community

Kids are often great mirrors. The type of mirror that magnifies every nook and crannie on one's face. The mirror the highlights the flaws that you didn’t see before.

This week at kids fun night I had one of those God inspired, kid driven mirror experiences. It just so happens that the theme for kids fun night this year is community. During the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade night the kids were giving a game to play. It was simple, count as high as you can as a group. The only rule was  only one person can talk at a time and if two or more people talked at one time the counting started all over. As one can imagine the kids started shouting out numbers like popcorn  bursting out of hot oil. At some point two louder voices started counting on their own until a third loud party interrupted and we had to start again. At this point there was a suggestion that we go in a circle. That we each say our number after the person next to us. There was consensus that this plan would work and was the most likely to get us counting higher.

They started out 1, 2, 3,  and then a pause. One little girl needed a second to think through what she was suppose to do. But impatiently another child further down the circle shouts 4 at the same time. We have to start again. A collective “ugh” is heard. Tears burst out of the little girl who was skipped over and the other child claims, “What there was no one talking.” The teacher ask what should we do if there is a pause from one person in our community, someone who needs a second to think. A child shouts, “Kick them out!” My heart sank at the reality of this answer.  “No, no, no,” other children cry “We’ll wait.” The teacher affirms that we should wait for the person. Pointing out when we don’t  wait we hurt others causing damage to the person and the community. At this point the little girl was still very teary and had stepped out of the circle, out of the community, and wasn’t able to rejoin. How often does our impatience, need for comfort, desire to complete a task or difference in understanding get in the way of supporting and loving one another.  It was decided to start again. 1, 2, 3, 4,5...34. We made it around the circle each person doing their part to listen, speak when they were suppose to and we were kind to those next to us, but without a beautiful part of our community.

This for me so clearly illustrates  how we should be living in community. When someone disagrees with us or needs a moment to think, do we by pass them? Do we kick them out for not acting fast enough? Do  we watch as people tearfully remove themselves from community because they were not heard?  I would urge us to wait patiently, to listen and speak carefully, to be kind and generous. To do our part and stay in the circle.

Hebrews 10:25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

John 13:34-35  34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Moving Through the Mourning

We've stepped into this time of mourning over the decision to split made by NWYM. We may even recognize that mourning is necessary to properly heal and move on from a devastating loss. We might even acknowledge that if we don’t allow ourselves to mourn, and give mourning space and time for it to do its healing work, our grief may color any decision we make going forward in ways that we might ultimately regret.
But even if all of that is true, and we agree to give ourselves time to mourn before we try to discern next steps, that doesn’t answer the burning question. "How do we mourn?"(I know some of you probably don’t see that as the burning question. You would lean toward "how do we respond to this?" That may actually be an indicator of the way you are wired to mourn—more on that later."
Dr.s Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin have identified two prominent categories of mourning. As it is in most cases, categories in real life are never nearly as clean as categories in academic theory. It might be more helpful to think of these as two ends of a spectrum with a particular individual's method of mourning falling anywhere along this spectrum.
  • Instrumental Mourner—Instrumental mourners tend to process their grief mentally and physically rather than emotionally. In the case of a death in a family, the instrumental mourner would be the one who jumps in to make funeral arrangements and handles all those little details that others find overwhelming. In the case of a terrible tragedy an instrumental mourner might join a group like M.A.D.D., or campaign for a stop sign at the intersection where a fatal accident occurred.

In our situation an instrumental mourner might mourn by analyzing how yearly meeting arrived at the decision it did, or how it might have been handled differently, how we might avoid the same mistake. Or how we should approach a decision making process ourselves.
  • Intuitive Mourner—Intuitive mourners tend to process their grief emotionally. They tend to be more comfortable with their emotions and are more sensitive to how they feel and others feel. In the context of a death or tragedy, intuitive mourners are the ones who weep openly and talk candidly about their feelings. To others they may appear to be devastated by the loss.

Along with these two ends of the mourning spectrum, another type of mourning has been identified.
  • Dissonant Mourner—Dissonant Mourners tend to hide their feelings to protect whatever public image they want to project. This may be a person who strongly feels the need to vent his/her emotions because nobody else seems so deeply affected. It might also be someone who feels a sense of relief after the death of loved one after a long and agonizing illness. He or she might feel guilty about not being grieved enough.

Dissonant mourners can show up anywhere on the mourning spectrum.
So, if each individual mourns differently, how do we help each other through the mourning process?
  • Give each other grace—Remember, everyone mourns differently. It is not uncommon for intuitive mourners to see instrumental mourners as unfeeling or hard hearted. It is also not uncommon for instrumental mourners to see intuitive mourners as weak. Let it be okay that others mourn differently than you do.
  • Give yourself grace—Let it be okay that you mourn differently than others.
  • Tell stories—Storytelling seems to be one activity that is healing no matter how one mourns. It appeals to the instrumental mourners need to analyze and reflect, while giving intuitive mourners a way to feel and express.

When my family gathered to view my Dad's body before his funeral, we were ushered into a small room to wait while the funeral director set up the casket for viewing. I was leaning against the wall looking out the window. I was caught up in my own thoughts as was everyone else. I happened to reach into my pocket and when I did I felt my pocket knife. The feel of that pocket knife in my hand brought back a flood of memories of my Dad saying things like, “every man should carry a pocket knife. You never know when it will come in handy." And later when I worked for him, him asking me, "where is your pocket knife?" Or saying, "if you had your pocket knife with you, you could fix that problem."
I pulled my knife out of my pocket and held it in my open hand looking at it. This caught my brother's eye. An almost imperceptible smile crossed his face as he reached into his pocket and retrieved a small pocket knife. One of my brothers-in-law whose first job had been working for my dad, pulled out a pocket knife as well. This initiated a time of story telling that allowed us to share our mourning together.
I invite you to share your stories and memories, pleasant or hard, of camp, retreats, summer yearly meeting, shared events with other churches—anything that connects to NWYM—as a way to share our mourning together.

Grief is a part of being human, and mourning is a God-given way to express that grief and share our humanness. Psalm 34:18 promises, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit."  I pray that we not only allow mourning to do its healing in us, but also help us to allow space for God to be present with us.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

When Jesus Shows up: 4 stories of Epiphany

Call to Worship for Epiphany

Shine brightly,
star of God,
and guide our wandering world
to where a Prince of Peace is born. 

Where children wish upon a star
or wise men scan the universe in hope 
let your bright beams 
surround their dreams
and guide their hesitating feet
to where a miracle is born.

Enable each of us
to make a New Year’s journey
leaving behind the prejudices and fears
of yester-year,
embracing a fresh openness
by which we welcome all world pilgrims
whose journeys lead to worship and humility. 

Be a sign today
of mercy and of love
like a rainbow in spring
or the bright summer sun,
and show us how our lives
can include the forgotten and forlorn,
   the grieving and the hurt.

And we will offer
to our God
now seen and touched in straw-filled bed
the best gifts in the world:
our joy, our grief, our life.

David Jenkins

The Epiphany story found in Matthew 2: 1-14 is the story of how God revealed that Jesus came not only for the Jewish people, but for everyone--epiphany does mean manifestation. But in this passage we find 4 epiphany stories not just one. While the Magi are the most prominent characters in the story, there are 4 encounters with Jesus, 4 distinct responses to the encounter, and 4 different outcomes.

Matthew starts out the starts out the passage by establishes distinct parameters for "ownership" of the Messiah. I believe he does this on purpose. He writes:

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem (means house of bread) in Judea (meaning land belonging to the Jews), during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east (the distant place beyond the borders of Israel where the sun rises) came to Jerusalem. and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews (again, a distinct statement of ownership)? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’"

The Magi were outsiders. They had no claim on the Messiah, yet they came to see this king being born.Their response was to seek.
That's the first story.

The 2nd story Matthew includes here is the story of Israel's religious leaders. Herod calls them to ask where the child might be found. Here there is a group that shows up and have seen a sign that Israel's messiah had arrived and what is their response? Indifference. The religious leaders provide the information asked for, but then they go about their business without a twitch. If you had been waiting for a messiah for centuries and there was even an outside chance he had arrived, wouldn't you be scrambling to Bethlehem to see for yourself?
That's the 2nd story.

The 3rd story is that of Herod. Like the others, Herod does acknowledge Jesus as a king (the Jewish leaders may not have accepted Jesus as a king, but they did accept the Messiah as one) but Herod sees that king as a threat.  His response it rejection out of fear and self-protection and it reveals the worst version of him.
That's the 3rd story.

The 4th story is that of Mary and Joseph. They may have had some sense of ownership when it came to the messiah; after all, they were Jews, but their response was obedience. They humbly understood that they were stepping into a much larger story even as this king in the form of a child was stepping into their story. All we see in the story is that Joseph has a dream and follows the instructions God gives him without complaint. Mary and Joseph gave up their entire lives and all the expectations that might have gone with them to fill their role  in this unfolding story.
That's the 4th story.

Even though the responses were so different, in many ways the outcomes were very similar. After each of these parties had their encounter with Jesus, their lives were never the same again. This is expressed very well in T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Journey of the Magi."

Journey Of The Magi by T. S. Eliot
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and
And running away, and wanting their
liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the
lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns
And the villages dirty and charging high
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears,
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a
temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of
With a running stream and a water-mill
beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in
away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with
vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for
pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so
we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment
too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say)

All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
But no longer at ease here, in the old
With an alien people clutching their
I should be glad of another death.

They journeyed so far to find a king, and ended up in a stable--yet they still felt compelled to fall down  and worship. And then, as Eliot points out, when they found what they found, and understood what they understood, how could they expect to go back to life and have it be the same as it always had been? How can any of us? You can never un-see what you've seen, or un-learn what you have learned.

Do you see yourself in any of these responses? Why are these responses so different?
Have you ever had an encounter with Jesus that made it impossible for you to go back to life as it was--even though you might have wanted to?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Spiraling Toward Advent

I may be the only one who thinks this way, but it feels to me as if the year drags along until about Halloween. Then it hits a steep downgrade so it feels like you’re running at breakneck speed to the end of the year. Halloween cascades into Thanksgiving which careens into advent and Christmas. By the time I get to Advent it feels like I’m riding that last slug of water that is spiraling the drain just before the water runs out.  There is no stopping it, it is driven by forces beyond my control, and all I can do is hang on and ride through the vortex. The election being in the middle of all this may have added to that feeling.
Yet in the middle of all of the rush there is this season of Advent. Advent means “arrival,” and the entire point of Advent is that while we long for that arrival, yearn for that arrival, maybe even want to figure out a way to force that arrival, the only real option we have is to wait. We are powerless to do otherwise.
During Advent we consider those who waited so long for the Messiah to arrive. If we’re attentive enough, we find we relate to them because as a people we are waiting for Jesus to come again, and as individuals many of us are waiting for Jesus to show up in certain circumstances or situations in our lives.
So in this time of year when the calendar is racing along out of our control, and our lives are spiraling toward some destination beyond our sight, we are invited to step out of the stream and wait.
While it may seem counterintuitive to rest in the eye of the storm when the confusion around us is so visible, it may be the best gift you can give ourselves this season. A pause gives us a chance to recognize that although many who waited over the centuries didn’t get to see him, God was faithful and sent the Christ. God will be faithful to send him again when the time is right, and that same Christ is faithful to show up in our lives as well.

Advent is a season of waiting, but its name is a promise of an arrival. We wait in the shelter of that promise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

God Our Comforter

As God has called me further along on a spiritual and physical health journey he has shown me I have used food as a comfort, a mind-numbing agent, or a reward for hard work. He used a mundane park trip with my youngest to highlight this for me. He spoke so clearly through this everyday experience.
When at the park with my youngest son he found a big green hill to roll down. With wild abandoning he started to roll. Suddenly he was screaming in agony. I raced to him and found he had rolled on top of bee and was stung. As I held him close, the first thought that came to my mind was just tell him "It'll be okay we’ll go get a popsicle and you’ll feel better." In that instant I caught myself and took that thought captive, telling myself “I am not going to teach him to comfort himself with food.” What he needed was for me just to be with him and comfort him while he felt the pain until it passed. I knew the sting wouldn't last long and he would be okay. I heard God say, “Just like you need to sit with me, let me be your comfort and the pain, anxiety, discomfort, hard stuff will pass.” Wow, just wow. God make a new heart in me.
It’s so easy to turn to other things to comfort us. It is human instinct to run after stress relief, joy replacer, or a way to change circumstances. We are taught at an early age to get rid of emotions as quickly as possible and seek a way to feel better. God’s word calls us to find comfort in Jesus. It promises that we share abundantly in his comfort. 2 Corinthians 1 3-5 says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
Ask God:
What do I use to comfort myself?
What is God asking me to surrender to him in the arena of comfort?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Home

Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven… Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
Psalm 107: 30, 43
It’s official; our house has closed escrow. We have a home. Several times in the last few weeks Debi and I have stopped what we were doing, looked at each other and said, “It’s finally our house.”
I didn’t realize how much difference it made to me to have a home. During the time in Tim and Sandy’s Airbnb, and the trailer we did fine and felt cared for, but when the house became ours, it brought us a sense of rootedness—it was to us that desired haven.

There is something dehumanizing about not having a home. I know we don’t mean to do that to each other, but it happens. When we first “moved” to Newberg, I tried to get a library card. I was surprised at how embarrassed I felt when I was told I couldn’t get a card because I didn’t have an address. I glanced at the people around me wondering what they thought when they heard those words come out of the librarians mouth. Home is a haven because it contributes to our sense of identity.

I also didn’t realize how much I missed the peace and space of the country after living in Portland for 8 years. Looking back over those years, I realize that I felt kind of like the proverbial dog that continually walks in circles on top of his rug without ever laying down. In many ways I feel more settled now than I ever did there.

That makes me wonder about those who live such frantic and crowded lives. Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and I think that is a pretty accurate description of the world we find ourselves living in. Media and technology can be helpful and serve significant purposes. But when we are bombarded by them from the time we get up to the time we go to bed, there truly is no quiet place for us to rest in. Our homes have been filled with the voices and images of strangers. We have forfeited our haven.

Along with a lack of a physical haven, I think many suffer from a lack of a spiritual haven. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “…God has place eternity in the human heart….” I think that’s what St. Augustine meant when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We have been created—hard wired—to rest in the belief that there is someone bigger, stronger, smarter and wiser than us who cares about us. We’re wired to desire a spiritual home.

In the classes I teach , I have a large percentage of my students who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” But when I ask them to tell me more, most are hard pressed to articulate what they mean by that. I suspect there is something in us that tells us we need a spiritual home. In a world that has convinced most that it is foolish to believe in anything or anyone beyond themselves or that which they can see and touch, we find a host of spiritually displaced and homeless people.

I know it is popular for parents to say, “I don’t make my kids come to church because I don’t want to impose my religious beliefs on them.” I’ve come to the place where I question the wisdom of that—more and more it seems to me that they are withholding a gift from their kids.
In his book Handbook of Religion and Health. (Random House, 2010), Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University evaluated over 1000 studies assessing the effects of prayer and religion on health. Some of the observations he noted are:
  • ·         Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attend regularly.
  • ·         Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not practice a religion.
  • ·         Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke rate double that of people who attended regularly.
  • ·         People who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. When they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.

The book cites many psychological and physiological explanations for these phenomena, but I suspect that there is one really important reason. Just as it is important for us to have a physical place to call home, there is something life-giving about having a spiritual home. I’m not just talking about having a local church community although that is important for many reasons. I’m talking about having some form of religious and/or spiritual identity that gives context to our lives, and in many significant ways helps define who we are and how we approach life.

I think this is what the psalmist is getting at in the verses above. God’s love offers us that spiritual home, that place that anchors us when the rest of the world is pitching around us, that place that grounds us when the footing in other parts of our lives is treacherous.

Debi and I are so grateful to finally be in a place we can call our own. But even though the last few months were filled with uncertainty and unsettledness we never felt adrift, because even when we didn’t have an address, we always had a home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Safe Familes

“But this might interrupt our life.” – me to God
“I sure hope so!”-  God to me

Ever have one of those moments of realization that God has been directing your steps to a new journey.  This is what has happened for me with Safe Families. I can remember the initial spark. Sitting in a room full of other pastors enjoying great food and listening to Embrace Oregon, a nonprofit that partners with the foster care system. God spurred intrigue and wonder. How can my family and church family enter into caring for children and families at risk?

Or even further back to when Eli’s class was going to miss a field trip due to children who were misbehaving. The parents in my social circle were upset the other children’s behavior might gyp their child. But that was not my concern; it was why were these children showing this mistaken behavior. I knew some of their stories and knew their behavior was truly a result of unmet needs and rough life stories. I thought it was important for Eli to know he was a part of a community who had struggling members and it was our job to support them.  As I shared this perspective the parents just couldn’t hear it and I realized it was the Holy Spirit spurring hospitality, generosity and love.

I begin to seek out more information about possible places of entry into this type of ministry and found Safe Families. Safe Families for Children is a national movement of compassion that is preventing child abuse by encouraging the Church to resume its historical and Biblical responsibility for vulnerable children by becoming part of the support network for these children’s parents. It has now come to Newberg. It provides a chance for parents to get back on their feet before abuse or neglect occur by placing their children with host families for a short period of time while they get support to handle the crisis. The host families are supported by a family friend, resource team, prayer team, family coach, and respite family.

We want to be a part of this movement that supports families at risk in partnership with other local churches. There are many ways for all types of families and individuals with different skill sets and time capabilities to become involved with Safe Families. Support and training from Safe families and church staff are provided.  I am looking forward to sharing more with you all on Sunday June 26th.

As I’ve been praying about Safe Families and inviting Jesus into this exciting opportunity and what it might mean for my family, I had the prayer this might disruptive our current lifestyle. Inviting new children into our home and walking with families in crisis may produce a bit if disorganization. I heard the Holy Spirit answer “I hope so!” I was reminded of the many stories in the Bible in which lives were interrupted and that led to great love.  Paul walking down the road of Damascus, Jonah going to Nineveh, the woman at well who thought she was just collecting water that day, Zacchaeus and the list could go on and on. My prayer is that you will hear what God is calling you to enter into that will lead to great love.