Monday, December 30, 2013


So one of the unintended but entirely welcome consequences of my sabbatical was the loss of something like fifteen pounds from my waist area. Chalk that up to several factors during my time in Sarajevo. Without a car, I walked its streets every day sightseeing and shopping and doing whatever else. I think my average was 2-3 miles per day. Plus, the city sits below several lovely mountains, making those aforementioned streets quite hilly. Further, I ate less food in Bosnia than I usually do here, and what I did eat was local vegetables and good bread and quality meat. Only once or twice did something processed snacks or potato chips enter my diet. Finally, I added some push-ups and sit-ups to my morning routine. The end result? A much healthier pastor, whose clothes fit noticeably easier.

Today, well, things have…what’s the word…changed. It’s funny how easy the pounds return when life reverts to previous patterns. I kept up some of the exercise when I came back; walked less but ran more. Alas, Minnesota weather has a way of dissuading many a jogger as fall turns to winter, and I’m sitting here now, anticipating Christmas, aware that my weight loss is now lost.

But no matter, I tell myself. I shall not be defeated! I did it before. I’ll do it again. A new day can arrive! To be clearer, I mean a new year has come, and with it, that brilliant tradition of annual resolutions. Mine for 2014 will certainly include a return to last summer’s svelter, smaller me.
I read recently that the Roman god after whom they named January (Janus) was sometimes depicted with two heads. One looking back, into the past. Another peering into the future. It makes sense they’d have made resolutions upon the start of his month, right? To resolve something includes reviewing where you’ve been and what’s occurred. Perhaps something didn’t go as planned, or desired, and that makes you less than fully happy. Yet a resolution implies more than insightful analysis into what was. It also presumes hope that what will be can be different, if you work for it. Without a look back, your resolution is, basically, meaningless. Without a glance ahead, you simply remain stuck. Honesty and hope. Two basic ingredients of good resolutions.

Coincidentally, or not, they’re also two ingredients to good living. The kind of full, faithful, excited life to the fullest for which Jesus was born to us (John 10:10). So this January, we’re going to think as a church together about resolutions, from God’s perspective. After all, as you read scripture, they pop up all over the place. The word we typically use for them is “promises,” but that’s essentially the same thing, right? Peter promised to stand by Jesus at his time of trial. Oops. God promised to be with Moses as he stood up to Pharaoh. Well done. Some resolutions in scripture are weird and tragic; others are the basic building blocks of faith. In whatever form they come, though, they’re important, and we’ll explore that dynamic together.

You know one thing that scripture says and that modern science agrees with about resolutions? It’s that they work best- i.e. you don’t break them!- if they’re made and shared in community. That’s one of the basic reason I attend (and work for) church, and not sit at home being spiritual alone. The accountability you all give me for my resolution to serve God helps me, in fact, serve God. So thanks for that, and for acting as community to my earlier weight loss resolution. Maybe you’ll be bold enough to share yours too…?! There’s still time. Happy New Year!

Grace and Peace,
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Friday, December 27, 2013

"Intern-al Communications" (a message from our intern)

Merry Christmas! We celebrated the long awaited for arrival of the birth of the Messiah through this Advent Season. The Son of God who has come to set the people free…is here! God has heard his people, the time of captivity is over!

The people that journeyed with us in this Advent Season - Joseph, Mary, the Shepherds, Simeon, all of us had or has a story of longing, of hope, of praying to for to be heard and our lives to be lifted up out of the hole of oppression that we have experienced, somewhere, sometime in our lives.

The common thread that has linked all of us in this story is that we have all experienced an oppression, an experience in life that tells us that we are “just not good enough”.

For those in the Newer Testament, being Jewish was reason enough to be held in captivity, slavery, oppression, a lesser class than the Romans. Because they were “less than”, the ruling class (the Romans) could devalue them, dehumanize them, and then demonize them.
Many of us have experienced a similar encounter with being “less than”. For women, some of the oppressions have been the right to be heard and respected as full human beings, for the right to vote, to say “no” to an oppressor, to hold office in public or private work, to have control over your own body, and to have a say in these matters regarding reproductive rights.

For African-Americans, there are many similar experience, and overlapping experiences of oppression as well. Some of the oppressions have been the right to be heard and respected, as full human beings, for the right to vote, to say “no to an oppressor”, to hold office in public or private work, to have control over your own body, and to have a say in these matters regarding reproductive rights. (I think back to when the white society deemed it permissible to control, through experiments, the birthing process through sterilization)

For those who find themselves to be Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, again, similar experiences. Some of the oppressions have been the right to be heard and respected as full human beings, the right to say “no” to an oppressor, to hold office in public or private work as an “out” G,L,B,T person (which is illegal in many states yet today) to have control over your own body, the right to marry another person of the same gender (which is still illegal in many states and at the Federal level).

For those who find themselves to be with mental health or addiction challenges. They encounter many of the same experiences of not being fully human. I think of many friends who, having struggles with substances, were told to “pray that God heal you” or to just “not do that behavior any more”, like they had power over these challenges. Their right to be heard and respected, to be able to hold office in public or private work, the right to vote, the right to have control over their own bodies, the right to have a say in reproductive rights.

The “good news” of the birth of Jesus, is that he came for all of us, not just some, but for all of us, that we all might know the love that God has for all of His children! He has come to show us the way, to set us all free from the oppression and slavery that we have been experiencing.

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to be receptive to the working of the Holy Spirit, as Joseph, Mary, the Shepherds, and Simeon were in their time. To allow God to “break through” this slavery and oppression and set us free! But the work continues on, for God’s love compels us to pray and work so that all people, wherever they are, can experience God hearing and responding to them in their lives. How does God accomplish this, through us! Yes, God is showing up in us, through us, as us in this world! The great work begins!
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Creative designs…

We live in a weird world; a crazy and wild, weird world. It is beautiful, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, and weird.

A book I finished last week drove this point home to me. It’s called Parallel Worlds, written by renowned physicist Michio Kaku, and is basically “Advanced Physics for Dummies,” for those without years studying high-level math. I took college-level intro physics, so some of this book’s ideas were familiar. But he wanted his readers to move well beyond the basic stuff I once struggled to comprehend. He wrote of notions we typically encounter only in science fiction novels, like the principles behind worm-holes and black holes, the unfathomably tiny strings that (probably) makeup sub-atomic particles, the possibilities of time travel or moving between parallel universes. Like I said, our world is weird! Perhaps I should say- All of reality is crazy!

The fancy term for this kind of thinking is cosmology. Derived from Greek, that means “thinking about the cosmos”, or pondering all that is. And it’s a project the Greeks kicked off in ancient times, as philosophers before even before Plato looked to the stars and…wondered. What creates those flickering lights? Are there patterns or laws they follow? And what about us? Where do we fit in this grand adventure? This cosmic accident? This design? Not everyone ponders so all the time, but we’ve all had some such thought before. I hope.

Indeed, it’s partly why I have a job! We do church, in part, to connect with the cosmos’ Creator. Thus, religion and cosmology have long been close partners; religion being the senior partner for much of history. But not so much anymore, right? Modern physicists who think about these questions are much more likely to quote from Einstein than St. Paul. Abstract math describes the stars’ motions more accurately than poetic statements from the Psalms. Experiments for discovering the secrets of space are better done through massive particle colliders than meditative prayer. Those methods and mathematical models, in fact, have grown so powerful for describing reality, we religious folk can sometimes feel, now, like time is passing us by.

But we shouldn’t, I think, and not because I’m a Christian who thinks the Bible’s more accurate than modern science. The Big Bang sounds more likely a theory to me than either of Genesis’s creation stories. Rather, it’s the very weirdness physicists are discovering, hidden within the fundamental “stuff” that comprises us, that encourages me to keep my mind open to more than only what I can see. Because deep within our minds, our cells, our atoms, strange things happen. Barely perceivable events happen constantly that seemingly contradict laws we’d think common sense. I won’t pretend to understand that stuff, like quantum theory or indeterminacy, but suffice to say that the days are long over of smart folk thinking reality was simple to grasp.

Besides, the heart of religion isn’t so much about finding exact formulas to predict the behavior of people and weather. Sure, for a while people thought that correct prayers would impact that stuff, but I suspect we’ve mostly evolved as a religious species. Religion’s contribution to describing the cosmos, instead, is less about mechanics and more about character. We stare into the stars, seeking the personality behind whatever designer may’ve pushed them into their orbits.

And 1 John puts our most basic “findings” into as precise a formula as any. “God is Love,” he wrote. The two words, we believe, are synonyms. Such that, in this backwater corner of an insignificant galaxy within a vast universe, among many others, our species looks above and understands basic laws, then shares awe at their beauty with others. That something so lovely and improbable could occur among so massive a reality is crazy and wonderful to me. Yet, it reminds me of that babe born in out-of-the-way Bethlehem, poor and insignificant, yet precious to all. But such is the character of this world’s Creator. God is Love, unto eternity. And if the stars themselves follow that law, I guess we should too. Thankfully, for that, for you Christ was born.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Our ideas are too often too small. And in recent days, I’ve felt struck by that observation. In our personal lives, too readily Christians imagine that God imagines little for us. We want eternal life from God- not an inconsequential thing, surely- but might God desire more for and from us in this life too? It seems to me that our communities usually hope collectively for but simple advances of the common good. Broadly shared justice and prosperity sound wonderful, all things considered. But when we consider whether that’s possible, or the effort it would take, don’t we frequently turn to cynicism, inaction, even despair?

Forgive that downhearted opening! Let me explain. As many of you have also, I’m sure, I’ve spent time recently reflecting on Nelson Mandela. I’m too young to have been aware of his country’s struggles in real time. Most nine year-olds probably don’t follow momentous events a world away. But I do remember seeing a movie in childhood called The Power of One that was both a tragic love story and a film exploring South Africa’s fight for racial justice. The imprint it left on my young soul then was firm- that skin color shouldn’t cause people to mistreat their neighbors; that no person, however seemingly insignificant, is unimportant. We all can matter, can help, should live for ideas and dreams greater than ourselves.

Then in college, as an overwhelmed philosophy major, I read a small treatise for my honors thesis. It was called On Forgiveness, by distinguished- and weird- French philosopher Jacques Derrida. I won’t bore you with the details of his complex argument, but the main point is one I still affirm. He argued that forgiveness, at its heart, is an impossible phenomenon. For one, we often don’t want it. We typically content ourselves with revenge or basic justice. To move beyond convicting your enemy to forgiving your enemy is often a bridge too far. Plus, even if you attempt forgiveness, the person you seek to forgive is, basically, no longer present. Time has elapsed; her attitude might’ve changed. She might even now be apologizing! In that sense, it’s no longer the attacker you’re forgiving. It’s someone safer, someone more sanitary. So to forgive fully demands a victimized soul to reach back in time, and confront his enemy as his enemy, then say, “You’re forgiven.” That’s impossible.

Yet it happens, occasionally, Derrida observes. He then pushes the argument to wild extremes. He wonders if this impossible task, so absurd yet so real, is what makes us, in fact, truly human. As a Christian, I interpret that idea in light of Genesis 1, which describes us all as made in God’s image, designed at our core to do the impossible. To create life in loving partnership. To see beyond our surface-level differences to the common wonder that connects all. To forgive, actually forgive, by remaking relationships broken by sin.

The experience that Derrida points to in making his argument connects to Mandela. After Apartheid, you maybe remember South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee. This book first brought it to my attention, how- with Mandela’s guidance- they offered egregious perpetrators pardon, conditional on their appearing before a committee of judges and admitting the crimes they committed. These were abusers, murderers, rapists, many still armed and targets for possible revenge. But in the interests of moving forward as a society, seeking long-term, restorative justice rather than decades of subsequent trials, evasions and dangerous division, forgiveness became the country’s expectation. And together, they did the impossible.

In other words, after centuries of turmoil, these people weren’t content with small ideas. They drew on the grandest hopes of the Gospel and human possibility to accomplish an unprecedented good before all the world. In light of Mr. Mandela’s passing, I’m feeling convicted to “biggen” my thinking, to remember that at my core is God’s Image; glorious, impossible, divine. And if that’s true, then my usual hopes for personal peace and comfort feel inadequate. As Jesus said, “God’s Kingdom is coming.” That’s a huge idea! Yet he believed it possible, waiting simply for us to share his dream and make it so.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Blessings count…

Ugh. I’m looking out of my window and see the worst of all non-disaster related weather events happening. Not snow, not rain, but snow mixed with rain that’s just barely cold enough to not melt. It’s like slush, but more dangerous to drive and walk on. I’ll call it slice. Or snush. Whatever the term, I should just stay inside, amen?!

The past two weeks, I’ve been reading a book about the “peopling of America.” That refers to our nation’s first European settlers. And the slaves they brought too. Native folk will say the land was peopled already, thank you very much. The title of this historical tome sets the stage poignantly, and sadly. It’s called, “The Barbarous Years,” and focuses on 1600-1675, written by Bernard Bailyn, Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard historian and all-around American Founders expert.

The story is brutal. As he puts it, “Death was everywhere” in colonial America. Death is everywhere always, but in certain circumstances, its hands are more frequent and grasping. Bailyn describes settlements from Virginia to New England to what eventually became New York, and time after time these fragile communities suffered beyond my imaginings. I mean, sure, I remember elementary school legends about huddled settlers near Plymouth Rock, gratefully accepting assistance in their need from friendly, local Indians. I had some awareness of what happened next- the Pilgrims soon turned on their native hosts. Blood feuds, war, even genocide complemented efforts to trade and survive.
But the depth of that period’s suffering, among colonists but especially native peoples and slaves, was even more severe than I’d previously realized. Perhaps that says something about my own historical ignorance. And there’s also something in that about our modern sugar-coating of the nation’s founding (a process every nation undertakes, by the way; we all want the past to be nobler than it frequently was). But I also think this story is one about the vast improvements made across the centuries. I can stare out the window at slice/snush/icky ice and say, “I’ll be okay inside. I’ve got what I need.”

The original colonists had no such luxury, of course, especially in the first years, when Atlantic seaboard winters wiped out entire towns, desperate people resorting to terrible measures- stealing Indians’ seed corn, lunches of leather, occasional cannibalism. Many came to these shores fleeing what they considered religious persecution. So a blazing fire of faith drove them to persevere through these hardships, and then inflict more hardship on “heathen” natives, barbarians they thought. But the settlers whose stories most intrigue me aren’t the pious, well-documented Puritan Pilgrims. It’s the high percentage of travelers who came as servants or basic workers without an agenda. They made up about one-third of the Mayflower’s passengers, and had no interest in establishing a pure, new world religious outpost. They simply thought this foreign land held more opportunity for work, advancement, survival.

Little did they know. Or maybe they did know the depravations the journey would entail. Nevertheless, they gathered all they had and sought a fresh start or new adventure. What does that say about the society they left behind, the struggles of ordinary poor folk in 17th century England? I haven’t read that book yet, so I can’t say for sure, though I suspect the situation “at home” was desperate too.
Which returns me to my forlorn glances out of the window today and niggling annoyance I can’t take my dog for a run. I may have trouble counting my blessings at times, but I’ve got a great many to count, if I took the time. People in generations before mine underwent ghastly struggles that- God willing- I’ll never have to endure, not even close. Native tribes exterminated by disease or bigotry. African families bought and sold and treated like cattle. Fragile European migrant communities still figuring out how to till this soil, build enduring homes, make a living or simply survive. It’s not a new or especially insightful point I’m trying to make. But it’s useful to remember now and again. For all our troubles, we have many advantages unthinkable to ages past. May it be our kids will say the same.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Silent Night….

Among the moments I most look forward to each year is the end of our Christmas Eve service. We’ve typically spent the past half hour reading familiar stories, singing beloved carols, reflecting together on the glorious mystery that is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us. Then I’ll walk to the back of the sanctuary and turn off the lights and pass around flame from the Advent Wreath candle to handheld candles we’re holding. As dimness first falls and then slowly recedes- these simple torches collectively pushing back the dark- Jeremae leads the congregation in singing Silent Night. We go through four verses; often the piano cuts out toward the end. And a peace that passes understanding wraps our church for a blessed moment. Every year, I feel a chill and a flash of profound awe. God is here, among us, prepared to still love us, from everlasting to everlasting.

We’ll do that again this year; join us for a Christmas Eve service staring at 4:30PM. But as I’ve thought recently about not just that time of worship, but the entire Advent season, something struck me about the Christmas narratives that, honestly, hasn’t before. There are very few, if any, silent nights in those familiar texts. You know the stories I’m referring to- Mary and Joseph learning she’s pregnant, Magi traveling to honor the Christ child, shepherds and angels outside Bethlehem. The Christmas story, broadly conceived. Night figures into many of these plots. The characters are sleeping, or praying, or waiting. And time and again, God or something divine shows up, interrupting what those people were doing. Which is to say, their nights are markedly unsilent. Not peace, but disruption descends.

For instance, take Joseph, who’s snoring away one evening. He has a dream telling him, “Your fiancĂ© is pregnant and the kid’s going to save your people.” I don’t imagine he woke up slowly from that dream, no languid morning yawn. God arrived and totally disrupted his plans, his family, his life.

Not only does that shocking disturbance contrast with the peace I feel singing Silent Night, I’m wondering if it contrasts with many of our spiritual expectations. In other words, it’s bigger than Christmas. We often expect comfort and calm from God. I’ll sing “Abide with Me” one May Sunday morning and sway in relaxed contentment. I’ll say my prayers before dinner one evening and, with a self-satisfied grin, dig in. Occasionally, I’ll include in that mealtime grace a phrase, “May you care for those going without tonight.” But never, in response to that prayer, have I stepped outside to share my table with someone nearby in need. Never have I left that table once dinner’s over to make a donation to IOCP’s food shelf. Not that any of us have to do that in order to claim spiritual integrity. The point is, rather, that saying grace to me is an exercise in comfort or routine. It’s certainly not a time I expect God to disturb me. I wonder if I ever do.

But we should, right? We should expect that God, every now and then or more often, wants to shake things up. Of course, sometimes we beg for it! Those times we’re feeling down, at a loss, in need of help, nowhere to turn. But other times, when life is smooth and we’re feeling in control, on top of things, God knows others don’t have that good feeling, and you could probably help out. Besides, spiritual growth never ends. We’ve never fully developed our relationship to God. And being human, you (and I!) get into routines, into comfort zones that arrest growth.

So this Advent, I think it’ll do you and me some spiritual good to think of such things. To re-encounter the story of Christmas as a parade of unsilent nights. We’ll still sing beloved, familiar songs at church. We’ll re-enact that annual waiting for Christ’s birth. But we’ll ponder that event in light of God’s tendency not just to comfort us, but also to disturb us. After all, Christmas isn’t normal. God, in flesh, dwelling among us…?! You’d think that would change someone’s world, right?

Well, does it yours?

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013


As we prepare for Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn to a moment during my Bosnia Sabbatical. Toward its end, I had an encounter with gratitude that y’all might find stimulating.

We- meaning I and the middle-aged man who was my sabbatical guide- began a journey to the country’s south one morning, knowing a ninety-minute drive loomed ahead. You should know that my guide worked for several years as a Church World Service employee. His job was directing charitable donations- from Disciples of Christ and others- to poverty relief and redevelopment projects following the 1990s war. So stop one on our trip was a church, whose building and community he’d helped restore. Next, we drove to a famous tourist site; a centuries’ old Islamic monastic (Dervish) house.

Noon arrived. It had been a full morning, and we had several more visits planned. But suddenly, my guide stopped the car and said, “Tell me Shane- yes or no?” Conspicuously, he’d not shared the original question, though I saw he was wrestling with something internally. Being generally positive, I figured “Yes” is usually best, and that’s what I said.

He responded, “Okay. Then we’re going now to meet another family I know. Their farm is in a village about twenty minutes away that CWS helped rebuild after the war. The problem is, the man from that family who I’d worked most closely with died last January. I haven’t seen them since. I kept wanting too, but it’s far from my home. Now that I’m close, however, I thought we could stop, but I wasn’t sure that was right, since we’d arrive without a gift to give his mother.”

My “yes”, then, was the deciding factor for his paying condolences now or waiting for another time. At first, his concern confused me. Do we need a gift to say, “I’m sorry”? But I figured it wasn’t my culture, so I’d best sit back and observe. Then, it occurred to me that the woman we’d meet had experienced a parent’s worst fear- seeing a child die before her. Our visit could stoke the fires on painfully hot memories. A gift to cool the flames was the least we might do.

Yet we went, rather anxious whether we’d be a welcome distraction or renewed burden. My guide said hello and offered regrets to the still-grieving mother, ninety years old. She gave us homemade pomegranate juice and several cookies beloved in that country. My guide told her how much her son had meant to him, and the fondness his memory still brings.

I couldn’t understand most of this, of course. They spoke Bosnian; I smiled and watched. But as my guide translated to me what was happening, I saw a change in the woman’s wrinkled forehead. The burden of years and conflict and loss didn’t leave her, but they shifted noticeably. And a sincere, relieved smile emerged. She grabbed and patted his hand.

Right then, I realized- and I hope my guide did too- that he had brought the woman a gift. It wasn’t tangible, not like the boxes of pomegranates and vegetables they loaded into our car as we left, despite our protests of “It’s too much, too kind, really.” They kept giving. Rather, my guide’s gift was something a woman in her situation couldn’t buy, but desperately wanted. She saw that she wasn’t alone in her grief, in missing her beloved boy. Indeed, because my guide went out of his way to witness her sorrow, to share his with her, she learned that her son’s memory endured in more hearts than her own. I’ve grieved before. I know how lonely, how isolating it can be. So to discover others are in it with you, to be assured your loved one’s life made a difference, isn’t forgotten…well…she was grateful.

We stayed for just a few minutes longer, toured their farm and moved on. I saw more tourist sites, heard further stories, ate the best ice cream you can imagine. Night had fallen as we arrived back home. I opened the door and said goodbye. My guide said, “I’m glad we said hello to that family.” I was too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking back…

I returned from sabbatical over two months ago. Strange. Some days, it feels like yesterday; other days, like ancient history. But every day, were someone to ask me- How did the sabbatical go?- my honest answer still would include many platitudes and few profundities.

When I first came back, this fact worried me. I thought I needed gripping, insightful answers at ready at once! After all, people would ask about it and expect fresh wisdom. I imagined that was the point of sabbaticals; what y’all would expect.

Then, a conversation with an IOCP employee, whose 1980s Peace Corps stint was in Western Turkey, calmed my nerves. She opened with, “Welcome back. How was the trip?” I prepared to share my awkward list of halting clichĂ©s, when she cut in. “Sorry. I bet you’re still figuring it out, right?” Why, yes, I was! How did she know? “I struggled with that after the Peace Corps,” she said. “More happened than I could fit into three sentence conversations. It took awhile for even me to grasp everything I took in.”

I can’t tell you how exactly that description captured my post-sabbatical feelings. So from then on, I felt less anxiety about giving “perfect” answers. Wisdom would come, as distance and time gave me occasion to reflect with more fullness. I imagined a large movie screen, and sitting just five feet away from it. The intensity of its colors and movements would engage my senses and shock my system. But I wouldn’t fully understand the story, the movie until I stepped back and saw the whole screen. Honestly, that’s at the core of how my sabbatical has felt these past couple months.

This Sunday, however, I’ve committed to sharing my sabbatical story with the church. During our potluck, just after worship, I’ll stand before folk and sum up “what I learned.” I chose this date because, a) there was a potluck already scheduled and food always brings a crowd, b) if I didn’t have anything interesting to say, again, there’d be food…, but most especially, I figured that, c) it would give me enough time- to step back, to sort out the wise from the trivial, to organize my thoughts so others could share them. Now that it’s here, I’m still feeling unprepared, but for a different, more normal reason, thank God. I’m less overwhelmed by the closeness of the memories than I am stressed about having too much to do. How typical!

Anyway, here’s a preview of what I might say. But don’t hold me to it, okay? Still, among things that may be worth sharing about how these two months away impacted my soul, I could say:

We have a dysfunctional relationship to rest. And by we, I mean “Americans”. At least, many whom I know struggle to honor rest, to find it, to love it. But that’s not because we’re somehow less peaceful or wise than other cultures or countries. I suspect, rather, it comes from a great strength. We value work, and do it well and hard. But like most strengths, there’s a hidden weakness, and ours might be measured through bad sleep patterns, questionable eating habits and unmanaged stress.
Power matters, and we should hold ourselves responsible for how we use it. This claim comes partly from war stories I kept hearing, and otherwise from observations about divergent living standards. Whether our power is military, economic or personal privilege granted by class, race or gender, we shouldn’t pretend we don’t have it. Instead, we should account ourselves well of opportunities to use our power to help others.

Gratitude opens doors better than perfect qualifications or “proper” beliefs. Whether that’s making a connection with a stranger serving roast lamb, or hearing from a neighbor about her/his understanding of faith, you’ll learn more, get farther if you start with being thankful, rather than showing off how much you (think you) know. I’ve learned that both the glorious, and the hard way.

As for the remainder, well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out before Sunday! Mostly, though, I’m grateful for this church to sabbatical from and return to.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Greater communication…

Did your childhood include regular bedtime prayer? Mine did. Sometimes, it was informal, improvisational. Other times, we recited the famous- “Now I lay me down to sleep…” I remember it well. One line goes, “If I die before I wake,” which occasionally produced nightmares, but that’s another letter. The point is, I’m grateful my parents taught me to consider prayer an everyday pursuit. Be it at the dinner table or just before bed, this rhythm of steadily seeking an audience with God helped me learn important ideas about how faith works well.

For starters, I learned that what I said mattered less than how I said it. Eloquent prayer is no substitute for sincerity; brilliant phrasing holds no candle to humble consistency. Adults should pay more attention to their words choices than kids, but only just so. We live such busy lives, and when we’re not busy, we’re distracted. TVs that never get turned off. Web browsers always open. Memories or anxieties crowding our consciousness about families and bills, unmet responsibilities. To never interrupt that soul-stifling, spiritually-deadening torrent of constant activity, invites emotional burnout, meanness, diminished relationships. However you pray, just pray. It matters.

I know from personal experience. My first Easter in seminary, a friend invited me to his family’s dinner. I couldn’t get home for the holiday, so I accepted and naturally, they invited the seminarian to bless the meal. It had been months, I’ll confess, since I’d spoken to God beyond church. And boy, did it show. The least elegant prayer I’ve ever said in public sputtered from my mouth. Everyone cringed. But more concerning than the prayer’s awkward phrasing was the gap I felt in my soul where I knew I’d been missing something- the consistency of asking for help, an intimacy with God’s ever-ready love. I may be no prayer champion now, but I try hard not to skip as much as I’d done then!

I don’t know what your prayer life is like, but I hope one exists beyond what you do in church. May you know that God is eager to hear from you, speak with you, abide with you. And because I believe we church folk should help each other build and maintain that blessed rhythm of life, we’ve decided to expand on certain prayer efforts we’ve already been offering.

You may know that we invite prayers from worshippers each Sunday, and the following Sunday, they’re listed in the bulletin. Some of you, surely, include those in your regular prayers, and for that, thanks! But we’d like to expand that list to include concerns that may be more ongoing than, say, an upcoming surgery. Chronic pain, for instance, unemployment…you get the idea. Plus, there’s not currently an easy-to-activate mechanism for time-sensitive, critical prayer concerns. So after recent conversation with Lyle and Bonnie, we’ve identified ways to upgrade the system.

For starters, we’re now going to keep and distribute a regular prayer list that anyone can add names to for whatever reason. The names will stay on the list for a month, unless otherwise asked to remove or extend. Also, we’re inviting Plymouth Creekers to consider becoming an intentional church prayer partner. What that involves is you committing to adding this expanded list into your regular prayer routine. Do you have morning devotions or every-third-day meditations? If so, just include these names into that time. If neither, why not start now?! It’ll help our community remain connected throughout the week in prayer. If you’d like to be a church prayer partner, contact me or Lyle, and we’ll reach out to you each Monday via email or phone (your choice!) with that week’s prayer concerns. Finally, if you have a prayer concern to add- and it’s not Sunday morning- do as we’ve done before and contact the church office to put it on our list. If it’s urgent- say, an emergency surgery- then church prayer partners will be contacted, like a prayer chain, ensuring good timing.

So that’s the new plan. Send me your feedback. We’re always open to helpful suggestions! In the meantime, I pray that you will pray, with increasing devotion, compassion and love.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. - Besides our regular tray on the Communion Table, we’re placing a prayer box in the narthex for anyone who comes into our church to put prayer concerns. So if you have something you’d prefer not to share during worship, but still want attended to by our prayer partners, slip in a note and we’ll include that concern.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Community cares…

For Plymouth Creek, October saw a good deal of good church. We had fun, fellowship and success with our chili cook-off and auction. Receipts so far total over $4,000, with more coming in, the best such fundraiser I’ve seen yet! Sincere thanks to Sharon for her leadership, along with help that Deb and Tabitha provided. And thanks to everyone who donated, bid, ate chili and enjoyed the day. Bravo! Ironic thanks to Richard for leading the charge to shave my head. I’m tempted to make our next fundraiser a beard shaving event…just sayin’!

Anyway, we prepared for that event with a trip to Feed My Starving Children the day before. Service mixed with fellowship, exactly how church should be. Thanks to the Weavers for setting that up, and for all who joined the team. And three cheers for another good year for the community garden, our third in total. It’s closed now for the winter; thanks to Al and Kimberly for their hard work.

Sadly, church isn’t simply the fun events, the service days, the weekly worship. It’s also about bearing witness to God’s eternal promises when a community member dies. We had two deaths last month, in two days- Ruth and Pat, beloved women each. Thanks to Jeremae and LeAnn for their musical offerings to Pat’s Memorial service, and to the many who arranged chairs and flowers, brought cookies and bars, and otherwise ensured full hospitality for that sad, but beautiful, day.

Triumph and heartbreak, welcome and loss. Church can sometimes feel rollercoaster-like, amen?! I, for one, was exhausted that Sunday afternoon- emotionally, bodily, spiritually. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I doubt you would too. All that stuff- service, giving, laughing, loving, celebrating life’s fullness- it’s why church matters. It’s why we keep coming. It’s what honors and brings us closer to God.

Notice how many names I made an effort to thank specifically in those first few paragraphs. Had I space, I’d list many more. We can’t do any of this alone. And we don’t, praise the good Lord. It’s not like one person makes our church happen. I saw people who barely knew Pat take hours out of their days off to honor her memory. I saw long-time members who’ve given so much already participate with gusto in our auction and service. Truly, the spirituality of our church isn’t just personally focused; it’s not just about self-realization. It’s community driven, an always evolving exercise in gathering and being good partners through Christ’s love.

I like that definition of spirituality. It gets me to think broader than solo prayer or personal retreats. As much as I like that stuff and think it deepens my spiritual growth, it’s wise to admit that’s not sufficient. We grow spiritually when we help others, tear down tables, clean the kitchen after a funeral. In the giving of our time and efforts to serve a bigger purpose, our spirits expand. We grow.

It reminds me of an annual event to come in November- IOCP’s Community Sleep Out. You’ll remember that this yearly campaign raises funds for our local human services provider and good partner IOCP, i.e. the agency that most helps nearby neighbors in need. Starting with a prayer walk (5pm) and block party (6pm) at IOCP on Saturday, November 9 (which, by the way, I’m helping lead and emcee…), the Sleep Out will continue through the year’s end with various events and chances to give. The point, of course, is that no one person can end homelessness or poverty. But if enough good people of good will work together in our community, incredible things can happen.

IOCP’s director likes to say, “There’s nothing more powerful than a community that discovers what it cares about.” I think that’s true, when I see the broader community give to help poor neighbors, when I see you work together to honor God and love each other. Being a community that cares isn’t always easy; sweat and tears are occasional requirements. But it’s better than not caring. Because it nurtures that most divine of all God’s gifts- Love.

Grace and Peace,

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Creating reality…

Some words don’t just describe the world. They change the world. Simply saying something can make something new happen.

This isn’t news, right? You’ve witnessed this dynamic before. When a couple utters “I do,” something previously unknown arises. These people are now married! Their words created. Some call this “performative speech” or “speech acts,” i.e. utterances that do something, and don’t simply communicate. “Let there be light…”

I thought about speech acts recently, as Washington politicians debated the national budget and debt limit. Congresspersons and the president attempt speech acts often, through their public appearances. For instance, many say something like, “The American people believe…” followed by a demand for their party’s preferred position. In some ways, this is arrogant speech; the “American people” have diverse beliefs. But at a deeper level, the politician’s trying to create the support she desires by convincing listeners- us- we’re part of her vision for “the American people”.

But during this recent shutdown, I listened to many words besides what politicians said; those of voters, neighbors, church members, us. And many weren’t intended as speech acts, I think. They were declarations of annoyance. If the “American people” agree on anything, it seems to be, “(Insert politician’s name here) is an idiot!”

Full confession: I said those words. I wasn’t happy with the shutdown. And when I spoke with others about it, I was quick to insult elected officials too. Perhaps that’s simply a way to discuss politics while not offending others. If you’re bashing politicians, you don’t risk upsetting your neighbor with political beliefs he doesn’t share. But I’ve begun worrying that these speech patterns have potentially dangerous consequences. The more we complain about our leaders, after all, the greater our anger becomes. Which could move these conversations from communication into performance. I’m concerned it’s creating a culture so distrusting of political leadership it’s impossible to accept anything they do. Then, we complain more. Leaders lose more trust to make decisions. Negative, destructive feedback loop ensues.

The Bible advocates for good leadership and governance. It’s a necessary condition for God’s Kingdom come on earth. Scripture’s often critical about bad governance, calling us to agitate for justice, freedom and peace. But it accepts the need for government and wants it to work well for everyone. Which isn’t to say it clearly commands a certain type of government. Large, small, democratic, republican, Scripture’s silent on such things. So Biblical people can be politically diverse; it’s healthy, in fact, that we don’t all vote the same. But one thing we shouldn’t do, as Biblical people, is bash “government” per se, or treat politicians as scapegoats, even when we justly feel let down by them. Partly, that’s about performative speech. The more we toxify the political environment, the worse it gets and the more disillusioned we become. Then, the only people who engage are selfish interest groups or extreme “true believers,” which rarely appears to help government behave more holy. But it’s also about the basic spiritual principle that Christ followers “love kindness.” Even if we’re upset with politicians, we still need to be kind. That’s something Christians do.

So here’s my “takeaway” from the recent shutdown debate: I want to stop insulting politicians, and instead engage in speech acts of gratitude for government. Not that I love every decision elected officials make, but theirs is a tough job, and even those I wouldn’t vote for, I’m convinced, are usually good people trying their best. Plus, because my Christian responsibility is to use my power- at the ballot box, with donations, my speech- to make life better, I feel a need to subvert this emerging culture of political disgust. Our nation faces many challenges from climate change to staggering government debt that it can’t tackle if those charged to lead us can’t ever earn our trust. But achieving that trust isn’t just about them. It’s also about our willingness to engage, to hope, God forbid, we can do good things together. I believe that starts with us, with me, with my desire to follow Christ’s ways by loving kindness and creating a world of grateful encouragement through what I say.

Grace and Peace,
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Friday, October 18, 2013

A Message from our intern…

Out of the Transcendentalist Movement of the 1880’s, there came, what we call the Mental Sciences. The form of prayer that I am introducing you to today comes out of that movement, which later transformed into the New Thought movement, of which my faith tradition comes out of. I am grateful to be able to share this with you today. I am richly blessed!

Many people do not pray because they don’t know how. Religious Science offers these five steps to cover all the elements needed for effective prayer when prayed with sincerity and openness to receive.

This positive prayer technique is based on the concept of Oneness: an understanding that our minds are facets of the One Mind that we call God or Spirit, and that we have a connection with the Divine guidance, provision, power and compassion of God. We pray to become clearer receivers for the good already in store for us, so we talk to ourselves—to our own minds, to bring about change in our thinking that harmonizes with the good we desire.

All prayers are prayers for healing, whether physical or relational, for the removal of blockage and contradiction to reveal our good. As St. Augustine says, “Miracles are not contrary to the laws of nature; they are only contrary to what we know about the laws of nature.” The real purpose of prayer is to directly experience the Presence of God in our lives. True prayer is to practice the Presence of God.

Jesus said that it is done to us as we believe. Our thoughts create the reality that we live in. So, simply put, if you change how you think, you can change how you live. I remember it as C+B=A. Conceiving through imagination and inspiration, plus Believing through faith equals Achieving. “If God be for me, who can be against me”?

The 5 steps of prayer can be remembered as “Are You Ready To Receive- or AURTR”. Let me walk through these steps with you.

1. Recognition. There is but One God, the Source of everything. As I turn away from the condition that I am experiencing, and focus just on God, I recognize that , first and foremost, there is God. As Gandhi says, “ You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.” (paraphrased) I life my consciousness from where I am currently to the awareness that there is a Being (God) that has a higher, more clear picture of the situation. I Realize that there is that Reality, that Presence, God, the Omnipotent Good.

2. Unification. I unify my consciousness with this One, God. All have been created out of God. Therefore, since I am created out of God, I unify myself with my Creator. I am a child of
God. I am raising my consciousness to the awareness that God created me out of the desire to create me in His own likeness and image. That Mind of God is within me, as my mind.

3. Realize. The words that we speak here are from a higher consciousness, built upon by the first two steps. The words or thoughts we have here are not ordinary thoughts or words, but are the result of a higher inspiration or higher intuition. We are receiving the answer to the prayer before we are actually articulating the prayer. This is what the Bible means when it says, “Before they call I will answer.”

4. Thanksgiving. Gratitude provides the additional power towards the manifestation of the prayer. It is like a booster. The attitude of gratitude is very important. Thanksgiving is simply the statement of gratitude from a grateful heart that feels so blessed by God to have been given insight into the nature of God.

5. Release. As we close our prayer, we are returning to our everyday conscious mind and we have great faith that the creative power of the Spirit will transform our prayer into physical reality. To release is to let go and trust God, the creator of all, and to know, really know that our prayer has already been answered. We might not know “how” or “when”, that is left up to God, but we know that it will, has come about.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Nice Table…

While visiting Turkey in August, Tabitha and I toured many ancient churches. In one place, communities carved a complex of breathtaking chapels and crypts into white stone cliffs. In another location, even older networks of underground tunnels were dug into mountainous terrain. For millennia, various cultures hid in these caves while threatening forces sought their extermination.

One such culture was Christian, fleeing persecution from an intolerant Roman Empire nearly 2000 years ago. They dug out places for sleeping, eating, making wine, and burying the dead. And there was a church, in Eastern Orthodox style; priests led worship from the front, beneath an arched nave honoring God. And between this back wall and the standing congregation sat a small rectangular stone. Was it an altar? A table? Would the distinction matter? Maybe… Because in the nearby “newer” churches (10th-13th centuries), similar stone blocks also appeared in cave churches. But these were uniformly set against the back wall, underneath the arch. The change must’ve been intentional. It signaled a changed theology.

I suspect this newer theology was “altar theology,” which is my term, nothing technical. It’s familiar to us, though, since many churches have “altars”, structures that recall ancient animal sacrifice. Labeling one in church makes a claim about Jesus’ role in faith. He, this theory goes, was the Lamb of God whose death took away the sin of the world. In many churches that teach such beliefs, the communion elements- bread and wine- rest on a back wall ‘altar’ during worship. Being so holy, they must be set apart from us sinful masses, brought forward only when priests distribute them for our salvation.

But the really old church carved in protected caves shares something with Plymouth Creek’s sanctuary, right? The resting place of communion elements was in the midst of, not apart from, the congregation. And we describe that piece of worship furniture as “The Table,” not an altar. What’s going on? Something important, or is it simply semantics?

Well, to some, it’s semantics; Altar, Table, no real difference. Sure, where you put it in church could signal something about God’s nearness to God’s people or God’s distance. In the 1960s, many Catholic altars were removed from the back and placed nearer the pews, suggesting an opening to greater respect for people’s inherent goodness. But it remained an altar, by intention, a slab on which sacrifice was offered. And many Disciples of Christ believe similar theology, simply disagreeing about the priest/pastor’s role in distributing bread and cup.

I, however, make a point to always use Table, never Altar, though I respect our right to different beliefs. But here’s mine. Like most Christians historically, I think communion is the center of worship. Preaching’s wonderful. Music rocks. Bread and Cup, though, take center stage. My reason is a) Jesus told us to share them whenever we gather, and I’ve decided to follow Jesus. And b) they represent to me the core of God’s promise. God offers everyone new life, relentless grace, unbounded forgiveness, unto eternity. The bread and cup symbolize the foundation of that promise- Christ resurrected in our midst. In other words, communion to me is a ritual of life restored, not death repeated. Sure, from a purely practical perspective, Christ’s death and sacrifice was necessary before he could rise again. But he rose again! And that’s the critical point.

An altar, to my mind, makes death the center of worship. Yet I believe Christ conquered death unto forever. A Table, by contrast, gathers people together to share and receive elements of life abundant. Bread to nourish our souls. Wine to delight our senses. Resurrection to lead us forward. I’m unsure if that’s what the earliest Christians believed when they huddled in caves, hiding from death. But they placed a stone slab in their midst, and persevered through persecution. And their faith survived to offer us new life still. So the next time you’re in worship, remember their faithful struggles when you join me at the Table. And remember Jesus’ sacrifice, made good through resurrection. Then go invite the world into grace.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On a move…

I had a seminary colleague who ended every email, letter- heck, even conversation sometimes!- with the phrase, “On a move…” For him, Christian living was a perpetual motion endeavor. That makes sense to me. One fundamental metaphor for faith is discipleship. Which is to say, a relationship between us and Jesus where Christ leads and we follow.

And this month at Plymouth Creek, it seems that movement will be happening. Several initiatives are in the works that I’m excited to take part in, or just follow others in service of Christ. For starters, Sunday School returns, later than normal I admit. Having spent the summer on a move around southeastern Europe, I put fall planning on a back burner. Now that I’ve returned, however, I’m anxious to get started again, as I mentioned last week. The plan will be to integrate our worship experiences with our Sunday learning experiences. We’re exploring classic scripture stories all fall, ones I first learned as a child. Encountering them again as adults, I suspect, will yield fresh insights and inspirations. So while I preach on, say, Noah’s Arc or Paul’s conversion, we’ll reflect on Creation Care or mental health. Plus, intern Lyle will lead adults before service in Lectio Divina (sacred reading), using those scriptures. This form of spiritual, prayerful conversation is quite powerful, I’ve found. I hope you will too. But I’ll be leading youth and children through these stories in other ways. So join us at 9 and get on a move before service begins.

So that…after service, we can do more exciting ministries and fellowship activities. Like on October 13, when said intern Lyle will offer a Pet Blessing service to our members and neighbors. Bring your pets to church, or if that’s too hard or you’ve lost beloved animal friends, feel free to come with pictures. After service, he’ll gather us on the north lawn outside our sanctuary and celebrate before God these wonderful relationships. I think this activity entirely appropriate for a community whose values include, “friendly, intimate community.” For many of us, pets are primary companions. God honors the joy we receive through them, I believe. So invite neighbors and friends, and/or ask Lyle how you can help. Let’s make this another great ministry moment! I mean, if you’ve ever had a pup like my crazy Fawkes, you know that life with them is often on a move too…

Then, the next weekend, we’re moving again, beginning Saturday morning, 8:15 at church. Chana Weaver has organized a trip to Feed My Starving Children where we’ll pack food for international people in need. The bus leaves from church then, or if you’d prefer, meet us at FMSC in Coon Rapids at 9am. Let me or Chana know you’re coming. Movement towards serving sounds very Christian, amen?!

And finally, the next day at church - October 20- I’m betting my hair on your ability to invite neighbors to experience grace. I’ve said before, and I’ll throw down the gauntlet again: if we get 100 folk in worship, I’ll shave my head! Part of that is simply about us doing what we ought, which is reaching out to others. But it’s also a way to include more people in after-church activities that day. We’re hosting a chili cook-off; members bring their favorite chili, and anyone who comes can eat for free. However, if they want to “vote” on which chili is the best, they’re encouraged to donate money- most cash raised wins! After the cook-off, people can bid to purchase a variety of goods and services donated by church members. My offering will be five pounds of homemade sausage, whatever variety preferred by the highest bidder. Funds raised will go to support the church and our various ministries together.

So how’s that for movement, Plymouth Creek?! Learning, service, fellowship, fun. There’s still time, of course, for more fall ministry offerings, if you’re feeling spunky and creative. The point is that we followers of Jesus, though appreciative of occasional moments to stop and smell God’s roses, can also show our devotion to our great champion in heaven working and moving and striving, together!

Grace and Peace,

P.S. - I’m leading a day trip on October 9 to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to explore their new exhibit, “Sacred,” a collection of art reflecting on that theme. Leaving from church at 10am. Let me know if you’re coming
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Spiritual Updating…

It could just be a PC thing. But if so, all we PC users know the drill. Every week or several, a box pops up in our screen’s bottom right and tells us that we need critical updates to our software, just recently released. Within a few minutes, these updates have downloaded and been installed in our computer system. Once we’ve shut down and booted back up, they take effect. We’re up-to-date.

I suspect most of those updates are simple bug fixes, not monumental but helpful for maintaining good working order. Occasionally, however, a complete transformation of the system takes place and whatever program it affects feels totally different. It gets a new number, even. 2.0. Or in the case of my recent iTunes update, 11.1.0 or something. The point is updating one’s software is now a “regular thing” in the life of computing types.

Ideally, something of that kind happens every Sunday when we read and interpret scripture in worship. Ancient texts mix with contemporary concerns and ideas, guiding our lives better for the week to come. I hope you’ve experienced a sermon or song before where that “updating” brought about grand transformation. You suddenly saw an old story in new light and were inspired to make great changes for grace in the way you lived. More often, though, the updates are simple; a comforting insight, a challenging thought. That’s a good thing, to my mind. We’d be rather unstable if we were always searching for the “great transformation”, the newest “new thing” that will upend our ideas completely, the five flawless steps for pleasing God.

The thing is, our church tradition is vast. Be honest- Have you actually read the entire Bible?! Certain parables and Christmas stories, I’m sure you’ve encountered. But extra communion for those who can quote to me from Jude! We could attend church weekly for a whole decade and never download some scriptures, let alone encounter ‘updates’. Part of being a good Christian is continual exploration, and the flexibility that requires.

Then, we have stories we remember vaguely but rarely come back around to for renewal. In particular, I’m thinking of childhood Sunday School stories, some which have become part of our culture’s consciousness. We know the basic plots, we think. At least, we recognize the names. But, speaking personally, many reside in memory more as cartoons and cheesy songs than honest-to-goodness guides for daily living. Eve and the Apple. Noah’s Flood. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. When’s the last time you thought to read these for inspiration? Does Christ Walking on Water have a 2.0?!

Well, this fall, we’re going to answer that question, hopefully in the affirmative! In both worship and Sunday School (adult and youth), we’ll reengage the old, familiar-ish stories. Turns out, many hold profoundly enduring lessons about how to live well, how to honor God, where God hopes we’ll spend our time and resources, what truly matters for building God’s Kingdom. At least, that’s my perspective, which I intend to share with you in coming weeks, all the way through Thanksgiving and Advent, in fact. Call is Sunday School 2.0: Updating old stories for modern life.

And here’s something else- though we’ve usually turned to these stories for teaching the basic plots of the Bible, the feel-good tales readymade for coloring books and children’s sermons, they’ve lasted for so long because, I’m convinced, they update with remarkable freshness. For example, has it occurred to you that Eve and the Apple is an indictment of sexism? Maybe the original author(s) didn’t see it that way, but I do, and I’ll you why…this Sunday. Other contemporary issues that we struggle with find relevance here too- terrorism and war, sexuality, technological change, concerns about debt, science v. religion, race relations. We’ll tackle all of that and more! Get ready for an interesting fall, I hope. After all, if we’re never updating, we’re just using the same old system, all the time. And where’s the fun, or grace, in that…! See you in church.

Grace and Peace,

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Patterns and Transitions…

The elementary school across our (new!) parking lot opened for classes recently. One back-to-school evening, I’m told, coincided with the end of our construction project. An unexpected challenge arose. Some parents ignored the flimsy orange tape meant to block the entry. Understandable, I thought, when a full school event occurs, usually our lot is full. Still, fresh asphalt requires time to cure and our child care center’s owner knew that. Apparently, she walked into the lot and kindly invited parents to move, even to drive over the grass so as not to do further damage!

Well done, Kristy, thank you. New situations demand changed behaviors, parking lots included. Nevertheless, it reminded me that another fall has arrived, the slog of school days here once more. Our condolences to every youth mourning summer’s departure. I’m reminded of those days; the seating charts in new classrooms alongside familiar faces; textbooks distributed with new material to learn, but in familiar fashion through homework, tests and projects. Every year was a transition. Every teacher was a fresh…what’s the word…challenge. Yet the process of third into fourth into tenth grade, into seminary, felt like the same pattern had begun again.

I’m feeling that way now too, albeit with a slight change in sentiment. Last week was my first at work following the two month sabbatical. It’s been like school starting- the routine returned, the projects and sermons coming due, although no church elder has given me a pop quiz. I know the pattern, and enjoy it most days, certainly far more than I did fourth grade language arts! Still, there’s a whisper nudging my spirit and mind, a question hoping for answer: Now that you’ve stepped away from church for a time, how will your pattern change?

And this isn’t just a question for me personally. I hope our church together might seek an answer. Time apart could, indeed it should, reveal important priorities we miss when apart, and those we’ve missed when we were together! For instance, it’s been a priority for the church’s Servant Leader Team, over the past three years, to support new leadership. Churches die when they fail to identify and help develop fresh faces and voices, when they rely only on those who’ve always been around. The finished parking lot revealed to me anew the wisdom of this commitment. Without the pastor, a new set of leaders pushed the ball over the finish and did it well. Many who’ve long been around helped, of course! But it’s the interaction that’s so critical. We need to keep new leadership a high priority for years to come.

Conversely, a priority we’ve frequently missed, which my sabbatical reinforced, has been the active seeking out of new relationships as a church. I felt this when I visited small faith communities and was warmly welcomed, or studiously ignored. The hospitality made a difference in my evaluation of that place. One of our blind spots, if I may be blunt, is that we’re often hesitant to initiate new relationships. Not always, and it’s better than it was, but we still struggle to reach out consistently. A pastor wants to push aside members to welcome visitors, not make the introductions. We can get there. We’re a friendly group! It just needs to be a priority.

Related, I need to ask your forgiveness. Last year I began a process for creating a congregational outreach plan. The goal was to identify target groups of people near our church whom God was calling us to serve and invite into fellowship. Smart PCCCers gave me great ideas, which I collected and…left sitting on my computer. I got focused on other things, important things maybe, but my priorities shifted and efforts stagnated. Time away, and wanderings among centuries-old faith communities thriving by continually renewed outreach to neighbors- or dying because they’ve stopped- reinforced that was a bad idea on my part. So I’m sorry. Let’s pick up the ball.

In fact, we are… October 20, will be invite-a-friend-to-church Sunday. October 13, Pet Blessing. November, Women’s Tea. You’re already showing renewed commitment to these hospitality priorities. Bravo! It’s making my transition back an energizing one, indeed.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Meet our Fall Intern Rev. Dr. Lyle Schlundt

A long time ago, a friend told me a story that I realized was my own. She said that, before I came to earth, I planned out what I was going to experience and learn while here. Just as I was being born, an angel put their finger between my upper lip and my nose, and said, “Forget everything!” That is why we all have this little cleft between our lip and our nose. I have come here to remember who and what I really am. I came here, as a diamond in the rough. My mission is to explore and see within me, the diamond that I really am.

One side of the diamond is that of family origin. I grew up in N.E. Mpls. and am the eldest of six children born into a German Roman Catholic family. I was born in 1958. I am currently living with both parents as I put myself through school.

Another side is that of speaking my truth in this world. I have done that through Toastmasters, speech and debate, performing weddings and funerals, teaching classes and workshops. For 12 years I taught a number of classes in a few different locations for Sister Rosalind’s School of Massage. I have been trained as a Healthy Congregations Facilitator and am in training to be an Advanced Care Directive Facilitator. I am a life-long explorer of learning and love teaching.!

Yet another side is that of walking the spiritual healing path. I am a Shiatsu (Japanese Acupressure) Practitioner and a Reiki Master Teacher. I love exploring different spiritual practices and disciplines, as all spiritual paths lead to God. This might take the form of attending a Sweat Lodge, participating in a Sufi prayer dance, chanting Buddhist chants, telling stories from the Jewish tradition, and many others.

Since 1997, I have been doing Shiatsu and Reiki with private clients as well as The Aliveness Project. The Aliveness Project is an agency that works with people living with HIV. Many of my clients, besides being HIV+, have dealt with addiction and mental health challenges. This has been such an honoring and humbling ministry, and I have learned so much about addiction and mental health challenges. We in society might call them “unsanctioned illnesses”. I am there to proclaim the love that God has for all people, regardless of their station in life!

Another side is that of listening and dancing to music. I played the drums in the High School Marching Band. I love dancing, all the way from Square Dancing, Schottish, Polka, Fifties, Techno, Trance, and of course Disco! I love listening to music from Gregorian Chant, all the way through the Classics, up to Rock and Roll.

I was called to ministry at an early age. I always wanted to be a Catholic Priest. I attended The University of St. Thomas (B.A. in Theology, 1981), then went on to St. Paul Seminary. I finished two years there before I realized that I was called to ministry, but not as a Catholic Priest.

I was blessed to be introduced to Religious Science in my mid-thirties. I became an ordained Religious Science minister in 2008.

Religious Science represents a correlation of philosophy, religion and science. It is a religion in the sense that it explores and teaches Universal Principles defining the spiritual nature of the universe and our relatedness to God. It explores these Universal Principles with all the other spiritual paths around the globe and throughout time.

It is a science in that it asks us to experiment with these Universal Principles and accept only those which we can prove, demonstrate, or experience in our daily lives. It is open to the ongoing discussions of science and the ever-exploring adventure into truth.

It is a philosophy where ideas and ideals are brought together into a system of concepts about God, the Cosmos, humanity, and the human potential.

My future path is to be a Hospice Chaplain and be a non-anxious presence in helping people cross from this life to the next.

I look forward to learning from you as a congregation, and to share what I have learned as well.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A thousand words…

Whatever the heading says, I’ll write but 700 words today! Still, pause now to look at the picture accompanying this letter and you’ll catch the reference.

Beautiful, amen? I picked this up in Bosnia, or rather, had it commissioned. Before I left for sabbatical, you see, a Plymouth Creeker gave me a check and said, “Shane, while you’re traveling, will you use this money to buy something fine for our church?” I thought that a lovely request. Rather intimidating, though. I mean, I’m no interior decorator. “Hope I don’t mess this up,” I thought.

Besides, so many options would’ve been available in Sarajevo, a town famous for artists and multiple faith traditions. Should I buy a grand Bonsian rug for our walls? A gilded Orthodox icon or Catholic crucifix? Islamic calligraphy- brilliantly wrought Quranic words- adorns many mosques throughout the country. Any of these could’ve worked well. Making the decision more complicated.

But several days into my journey, I learned that my guide’s daughter had recently graduated from Bosnia’s top arts university. Though her primary medium is sculpture, she’d also received the highest marks in her class for painting. Plus, unemployment is ghastly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly among young adult artists. “Would she paint an original for our church,” I asked. Over three weeks, she did.

That’s what you see. I’m impressed with the painting and hope you will be too. Since it may be unfamiliar to many, however, I figured a description was in order. For starters, I asked that she paint this particular scene, a famous sight in that city. The octagonal, domed structure in the foreground is called the “Sebilj,” which translates to “fountain.” But it’s no ordinary watering hole. Situated in the middle of Sarajevo’s Old City, this wooden edifice dates to the 18th Century. The neighborhood surrounding is centuries older, reflecting Islam and the Ottoman Empire’s influence. Something I loved about Sarajevo is the proliferation of public spigots and fountains. This one, in my humble opinion, is the most magnificent and worthy.

The reason is that vast mountain ranges and several pristine springs surround the Sarajevo Valley. From the 1400s on, the city’s Islamic patrons diverted those clean mountain streams toward the city, principally to neighborhood mosques. Something faithful Muslims must do before five-times-daily prayer, after all, is wash up. But in many cases, the builders put these water sources on the mosque’s walls’ exterior, allowing any and all to find refreshment. Many a day, I walked through Sarajevo’s streets, afternoon temperatures reaching 100 degrees. My hot limbs swelled and mouth parched needy, so I’d beeline to a mosque or, especially the Sebilj, where hospitality bathed my soul in the form of cool hydration.

So when I see this Sebilj, I think of God’s call that we love our neighbors, offer to meet their needs, whoever they may be. I didn’t have to take a theology test to drink its waters. I simply needed to wait in line.
And in the background of the painting, a minaret lifts above the fountain, surrounding square and many pigeons which gather nearby day after night after day. That mosque has served the residents of Sarajevo’s Old City since the 1500s. I wanted that icon in our painting to reflect something I think Plymouth Creek shares with this charming city. We’ve grown accustomed, I think, to honoring the diverse ways God has revealed Godself to humanity. Not every church recognizes the profundity of Islam and Catholicism, Judaism, Orthodoxy and more besides. But we do, praise God. And in Sarajevo, diverse faith communities have found refuge and common purpose for hundreds of years. Should we hang the painting in our sanctuary or narthex, then, visitors will see this statement about our joy in the vastness of God’s Love. Perhaps we’ll take regular moments to reflect on that too, Sunday after Sunday, and so be moved to create God’s Kingdom anew in our daily lives. 

That, at least, was my hope for this painting. Inshallah (God willing), as my Muslims friends might say, it will be so. Whatever the case, glad to back Plymouth Creek! Let’s get to work. God’s Kingdom tarries but for us.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Message From Minister and President Sharon Watkins - General Assembly 2013

Movement. Wholeness. Welcome. Table.

The keys to our Disciples identity statement were all in evidence at the 2013 General Assembly in Orlando. At worship, we literally gathered around a table. In business we wrestled with what it means to be whole though of different opinions. In education, we were equipped for the mission of healing and wholeness God invites us to share.

Much has been said of our declining numbers – however, at GA 2013, Disciples celebrated the blessing and the mission God calls us to right now. The Sunday night Celebration of Mission (formerly known as State of the Church) was an invitation to ministry in the 21st century context. The 21st century is a time of increasing diversity, of technological revolution, and where our neighbors do not know the love of God. But this is where we are called to share God’s love. God has often made much of small numbers. The story of Gideon in Judges 6-7 comes to mind. At General Assembly we celebrated the mission of congregations and regional and general ministries – all working to manifest the wholeness of the reign of God at hand. We shined lights in the darkness and we noted: If we look to God’s future rather than our past, we face a bright horizon.

Our internal wholeness was tested at GA. Current events and a neighboring convention as well as currents within our own Church shaped the assembly in ways we could not have imagined. The movement of the Spirit seemed strong as the assembly considered two emergency resolutions and an Item for Reflection and Research – all dealing with controversial and painful issues around race and racial justice in the United States. True to our Disciples character, we do not hold a singular perspective about the events that led to the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict nor about the Supreme Court decisions regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – events that affected a collective gasp of despair among Black and Brown brothers and sisters just at the time we met. It seemed fortuitous, however, that the NAACP convention was right next to ours. It meant that we Disciples, as a movement for wholeness, had an opportunity to extend the ministry of presence with hurting brothers and sisters. It meant that members of the NAACP Religious Affairs committee could reciprocate and offer heartfelt greetings to us.

Welcoming all to an open table was a theme throughout, but especially as we approached resolution GA-1327
- Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All. It reaffirmed our core value that even in our differences of opinion and approach; we come together at the Lord’s Table. The discussions showed we are not all of one mind on nearly any issue, nevertheless, whether we identify as a conservative, moderate or liberal, God does not label us as anything but God’s beloved child. As hard as it may be, we Disciples strive to live into that welcoming posture shown so vividly in the life of Jesus.

We launched an identity initiative to help Disciples witness to our calling in Christ, based on the four key words of the identity statement. 

Movement: both of the Spirit and of our own Church communities; 
Wholeness: our struggle to be united but not uniform, diverse but not divided; 
Welcome: to all, though not necessarily affirming all points of view; 
Table: that place where the story of Jesus is enacted, where we meet the living Christ, become again the Body of Christ and are sent forth with the love of Christ to love our neighbor.

We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one Body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us. At Orlando, we reaffirmed that the Table is broad and diverse, but there is room for all.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Tragedy of Labels

The link to this article was found on the "Setting a Grace-filled Table" page on the Disciples of Christ Website.

The Tragedy of Labels
Michael Jinkins
President, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Read more!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

2013 School for Congregational Learning

2013 School for Congregational Learning
Celebrate the Adventure

Saturday, September 7, 2013
9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Spirit of Joy Christian Church
7570 210th St. W
Lakeville, MN 55044

The Minnesota School for Congregational Learning Event will be made up of morning and afternoon worship and workshop experiences to be held all together. All gathered will remain together for a workshop experience so that we may reap the most benefit from relationship connection and renewal. Disciples of Christ churches in the area have experienced much transition in the past five years and it’s time to reconnect!

Worship both morning and afternoon will feature keynote preacher Rev. Dr. Bryan Feille, recently retired from Brite Divinity School, he continues to minister and teach in deeply authentic and connectional ways. With his help we’ll celebrate the adventure of being church!

During a morning workshop session, each congregation will be invited to present a 10 minute story, with a Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation telling how they came to be.

•What vision first inspired founding peoples to become a church?
•Were you a Bible study group that grew, an intentional mission church plant, a splinter from another congregation, a righteous remnant, a child raised up and sent, or ...?
•What do we need to know about where you came from in order to know who you are today?

These will be the questions the morning workshop will explore.

At lunch in the larger lower level community room, people will be asked to sit at tables with folks from others congregations to the extent possible and invite individual sharing and storytelling around the meal.

Following lunch, we’ll return to the sanctuary for an afternoon workshop session, this time focused on:

where each congregation is going;
what lies ahead;
what mission beckons;
and what needs have been identified that we’re trying to meet in our communities?

This won’t be a time for bragging but for sharing what excites each church moving forward. It won’t be a time to talk about obstacles, dead-ends, or false starts. The idea is that we may inspire each other with mission we can celebrate, mission that we can share together as we Celebrate the Adventure and explore our future stories together.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To no longer believe...

During Pastor Shane's sabbatical, we will be featuring news, events, and articles from the regional and general church.
The following article was taken from the Well-Fed Spirit co-op blog

On March 7, 2010 I stopped believing in God. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I’d been working on abandoning my faith in God for weeks and months and years before that. It’s just that on that particular morning it became abundantly, undeniably, irrevocably clear. The moment my wife’s life ended* there was simply no room left in my world for God. More to the point, the whole idea of God stopped making sense to me.

But perhaps I should explain myself before the credentialing committee of my Church decides to revoke my ministerial standing. The “God” I no longer believe in is the one I grew up with (as did many other folks I know) - the one who can be quantified and defined, understood and comprehended, named and controlled, captured and kept in a box. All too often, at least in my case, to claim that I “believe in God” implies that I have some sort of comprehensive grasp of what I mean by the name “God.” And clearly I do not. How could I possibly make such a claim? What I have come to recognize is that God (by whatever name you might choose to express the concept) is ever so much more vast and incomprehensible than I will ever be able to even begin to imagine.

Letting go of my tight-fisted grip on my tiny little “God” has been such a sweet relief. My horizons have expanded and my soul has room to breathe. I don’t have to “know” anything. I can now begin to experience what has always been true - that I am swimming in a vast ocean of Sacred presence - always have been - always will be - no matter what! This life I’m living, this world around me, the people with whom I share the planet, even my wife's incomprehensible death, all of it is Holy, all of it is a part of the Sacred Source. It is Mystery with a capital “M.” None of us will ever be able to do more than scratch the surface in one tiny corner of understanding. But all of us, individually and collectively, can experience the fullness of it. We just have to let go of the notion that we are somehow in control, that we can somehow “make sense” of it.

I will continue to try to put the experience into words. That’s what I do. I suspect that is a part of what it means to be human. We are “meaning-making” creatures. But I will try very hard to always be clear that whatever I say must be understood as a whisper of a hint of a fleeting and ephemeral glimpse of the great Mystery in which we all swim. And I will try very hard to always listen honestly, respectfully and expectantly to the stories of my fellow travelers on this journey, no matter how strange and foreign they might seem to me. We are all swimming in the same ocean and their perspective may help shine light on my experience. Will you join me on this wondrous adventure of letting go into the heart of Mystery?

-The Rev. Roger Lynn; Spokane, Washington
Transitional Pastor at Country Homes Christian Church
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - Preamble

During Pastor Shane's sabbatical, we will be featuring news, events, and articles from the regional and general church.

The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

As members of the Christian Church,
We confess that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
In Christ's name and by his grace
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people.
We rejoice in God,
maker of heaven and earth,
and in God’s covenant of love
which binds us to God and to one another.
Through baptism into Christ
we enter into newness of life
and are made one with the whole people of God.
In the communion of the Holy Spirit
we are joined together in discipleship
and in obedience to Christ.
At the Table of the Lord
we celebrate with thanksgiving
the saving acts and presence of Christ.
Within the universal church
we receive the gift of ministry
and the light of scripture.
In the bonds of Christian faith
we yield ourselves to God
that we may serve the One
whose kingdom has no end.
Blessing, glory, and honor
be to God forever. Amen.

1. Within the whole family of God on earth, the church appears wherever believers in Jesus the Christ are gathered in His name. Transcending all barriers within the human family, the one church manifests itself in ordered communities bound together for worship, fellowship, and service; in varied structures for mission, witness, and mutual accountability; and for the nurture and renewal of its members. The nature of the church, given by Christ, remains constant through the generations, yet in faithfulness to its nature, it continues to discern God’s vision and to adapt its mission and structures to the needs of a changing world. All dominion in the church belongs to Jesus, its Lord and head, and any exercise of authority in the church on earth stands under His judgment.

2. Within the universal Body of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is identifiable by its testimony, tradition, name, institutions, and relationships. Across national boundaries, this church expresses itself in covenantal relationships in congregations, regions, and general ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), bound by God’s covenant of love. Each expression is characterized by its integrity, self-governance, authority, rights, and responsibilities, yet they relate to each other in a covenantal manner, to the end that all expressions will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission. We are committed to mutual accountability. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and constantly seeks in all of its actions to be obedient to his authority.

3. We commit ourselves to one another and to God in adopting this Design for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in order that we may faithfully express the ministry of Christ, made known through scripture; provide Christian witness, mission, evangelism, and service from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth; furnish means by which all expressions of the church may fulfill their ministries with faithful Christian stewardship; assure unity in Christ while respecting diversity; and work as partners in ecumenical and global relationships.

4. In keeping with this Design, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) shall establish, receive, and nurture congregational ministries; provide for regional and general ministries and such other organizations as may be required; have a General Assembly, a General Board, and an Administrative Committee of the General Board; define policies and criteria for its Order of Ministry; develop or recognize new forms of ministries for mission and witness; maintain appropriate relationships with institutions of higher education historically related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); provide appropriate consultation and procedures whereby existing organizations may make any necessary transition within the provisions of this covenant; and engage in continuing renewal, reformation, and adaptation as necessary to minister in the world.
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sara’s Story

From the July Edition of Disciples Together Express

By Rev. Sara Galindo, Drake Avenue CC, Centerville

What does it mean to be Disciples Together? Just ask the folks at Drake Avenue CC in Centerville, IA or ask me. We have experienced the power of being surrounded by our church family, a family that extends far beyond the local congregation. As many of you know, on Jan. 28,, 2013 I was on my way to the annual Minister’s Institute at the Newton, IA camp and conference center. The last clear memory I have is leaving Centerville Mercy Hospital after a quick visit with a patient. Apparently there was heavy fog on the road and I missed a turn near Knoxville and suffered critical injuries in the accident. From that point memories and dreams are blended and confused as I spent over 40 days in hospitals, mostly in critical care. My injuries included two fractures to the spine, numerous broken ribs, a collapsed lung, bruised kidney, and large gash in the head that caused traumatic brain injury. I underwent two brain surgeries and a procedure to relieve edema that swelled my body with 80 liters of extra fluid. My next clear thoughts after the accident came on March 14th when I arrived at the MadonnaRehabilitationHospital in Lincoln, Nebraska for the second time. I was weak and still had a gastric tube and a tracheotomy, but I was finally alert and coherent. Two and one half weeks later I was a walking miracle, able to leave Madonna and return to care for myself in my apartment. The first week in June I formally returned to work part time as the pastor of the Drake Avenue Christian Church.

My recovery and the sustained ministry of Drake Ave. CC are a testimony to the power of prayer, and to the love and support that is provided by a church family! I want to thank everyone who prayed, visited, sent cards, letters, emails, and gifts, members of my church and countless members of the community of faith that stretched literally around the globe. Thank you to individuals, groups and churches for the financial support given to the church, to myself and to my family. And I must include a special thank you to my family for their care and support, especially my sister Juanita who was by my side during so much and who had to make decisions no family member ever wants to face. I know there are many more who deserve special thanks, forgive me if for not listing you all here but there is not room or time to name everyone. Please know that you are all loved and appreciated.

The support given on my behalf is a testimony to what it means to be church family, to be Disciples Together. I believe that the prayers and love not only sustained me but that through them our creator enabled the many care providers and myself with the needed materials to weave my broken body back together. I know that my family members could not have made the many trips between Washington state and Iowa that they needed to make in order to care for me without the outpouring of love and support they received. When I finally was fully awake one of the first things I was told was “don’t worry about your job. All your benefits are being paid, your bills are being handled and your job is waiting for you when you are ready to come back.” Wow! Talk about amazing, answered prayer! And our region was an incredible part of that answer. With the support of our Disciples family DACC was able to pay for pulpit supply, carry on the ministries of the church, and continue to keep their injured pastor employed.

Today I am feeling wonderful! There are still doctor visits and therapy as I continue to strengthen and recover. But I am back in the pulpit and beginning to resume my regular duties. It feels great to get back to a routine and to be involved in both the congregation and community once again. We have visited at church about the power of prayer, the meaning of miracles, and the loving grace of God. It would be presumptuous to attempt to explain how or even why my recovery has been so rapid and complete. What I do know, beyond any doubt, is that I was upheld and strengthened by your love, prayers and support. I know that prayer gave me strength to take the first shaky steps in therapy after more than 40 days of hospitalization. The overwhelming number of cards, notes, emails, phone calls, visits and gifts gave me smiles and hope no matter how hard the work was. I know that our family of Disciples gave the Drake Ave. congregation the strength and hope to carry on, believing that our ministry together was not yet complete.

This is why we need the church. Many have claimed that they can know God without it, that they can study scripture and follow the teaching of Jesus without it. It’s true, we can. But none of us is strong enough to face the real tragedies and trials alone, and we don’t have to. That’s what family is for. The church, local and extended, is a family that can lift us up and support us when we are troubled. The church family can celebrate with us and share our joys great and small. That is why we are at our best when we are Disciples Together. It is my honor to number all of you among my church family. I look forward to seeing you around the region in the days and months to come, and I invite you to stop by Centerville and visit. As the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1.16, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”
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