Monthly Archives: November 2011

Photo of the Week – thanksgiving and the beach

We spent the first part of Thanksgiving in Plymouth with some of Dan’s cousins. Uncle Jason gave Ceara her first real soccer ball, and Caleb loved the mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any really good pictures. On Thanksgiving night we drove to our friends’ house in Kittery. We spent a relaxing Friday together and then headed out to the beach so the kids could collect shells. We couldn’t get the four of us to look in the same direction at the same time, but we like this photo anyway. We hope you do too.

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Photo of the Week – Point Break Light

This past Wednesday we took part of the day for a wee lighthouse adventure. We visited five lighthouses in South Portland, laughed a lot, and took a few photos.
This photo is of the Point Break Light near Southern Maine Community College. We also spent a few minutes watching the lobsterman with his traps. Having both in the photo captures a bit of Maine flavor.

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Photo of the Week – The Arch and Exploration2011

I took this photo on Saturday morning around 5.30am. What a great start to the day!

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This past Friday and Saturday I had the privilege to participate in a conference called Exploration2011. This event, planned by the United Methodist Church, assists young adults discern their vocation as it relates to their faith. Over 600 young adults from all over the country converged upon St. Louis for three days of worship, workshops, and fellowship. I attended as part of the Global Ministries group to talk with people about the opportunities we offer for young adults to put their faith into action across the US and around the world. I also participated in a panel on what life is like for a young adult in ministry, having an opportunity to draw upon past experiences. I left the event early because I had another preaching engagement and mission event outside of Pittsburgh on Sunday and Monday. What a fun weekend or work!

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“We Haven’t Seen This Day Before…” Leads to Hope

“Lord, we have never seen this day before…,” was a phrase by the congregational lay leader of Turning Point UMC as he opened our meeting in prayer, and it has not left my mind in the two weeks since he prayed it.

First, a bit of background. A group of us had gathered in Trenton, NJ to meet with United Methodist Bishop May and some members of the Turning Point congregation, which he has pastored since he returned from retirement a few years ago. With a smile May said, “When you live your entire life for ministry, you never really retire. And when the current Bishop in New Jersey asked me to serve this congregation I couldn’t really say, ‘No,’ could I?”

Turning Point UMC is housed in the building of the former First UMC of Trenton building and is a merger of two dying congregations. This church merger was declining too, until May offered his gifts of service, leadership, tenacity, and inspiration. Today it is a growing, vibrant congregation reaching out in relevant ministry with the community in which it is located. Each day is viewed as an new and unique opportunity to join in God’s reconciling work in this world.

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This encounter with people of faith and the prayer above led to the following journal entry:
The Northeastern Jurisdiction’s Conference Secretaries for Global Ministries met with Bishop May in Trenton on Wednesday. He appears someone who follows God’s guidance regardless of what the institution may say. The lay leader of the congregation opened the time with prayer, and his words stuck with me. “Lord, we haven’t seen this day before…”

Tis rang more true for me than the phrase “It’s a new day!” It made me think of the World’s way of looking at things:
“The more things change the more they stay the same.”
“SSDD – same *stuff* different day.”
“That’s the way things have always been, and, therefore, that’s the way they will always be.”
And while evidence exists to support these sayings, they do not leave open the possibility of Holy transformation.

“We haven’t seen this day before…” provides hope, for while some circumstances or situations will repeat (or are perpetuated), those who call upon God’s name have an opportunity to respond in a new way.

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I don’t intend to blow a smokescreen over circumstances and situations, because loss, pain, abuse, and injustice are real. I do not intend for this phrase to mislead people into thinking that their negative circumstances will vanish. However, “We haven’t seen this day before…” means we have a new opportunity to live transformed lives in how we respond, how we pray, and how we choose to talk about situations.

God loves us – God has in the past, does today, and will in the future. That love is not based upon our performance, our perfection, what we have (or haven’t) done, or what has (or hasn’t) been done to us. And today an opportunity exists to know that love in a new way and to share it with others in a new way.

As I write I think about how this would sound (or how I could say it differently) to those in prison, homeless, hungry, stuck in trafficking and abuse, or those with Alzheimer’s. I think how this would have sounded to those in Nazi ghettos or concentration camps. I don’t know, yet I believe there are truth in these words for those who call upon God’s name.

“Lord, we have never seen this day before. Help us give open to the ways you would want to transform our lives and use our lives to transform others. Alleluia. Amen.”

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Suffering, Faith, and “The Orthodox Heretic”

I’m reading this cool wee book by Peter Rollins entitled, “The Orthodox Heretic and other impossible tales.” Rollins writes some of his own short stories, as well as framing some ancient parables from a new perspective, in an attempt to look authentically at faith, God, and the Church.
After each story Rollins writes a brief commentary that may comfort some and challenge others.

Here is an excerpt from a commentary on a story of suffering that I read today and felt that i needed to post. If it intrigues you, then get his book!

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“…the language of faith is not primarily interested in communicating information…, but in forming healthy, healing, transformative relationships. Giving someone a “reason” for suffering and a promise that things will work out in the end should never be confused with communicating the truth of faith. When faced with situations like the Holocaust, or modern-day genocides, it is offensive to offer reasons for the horror (such as a divine test or punishment). Here [in this story] the response of the faithful is not to be found in the offering of a theodicy but in drawing alongside those who suffer, and fighting on their behalf. The truth of faith is not articulated in offering reasons for suffering, but rather in drawing alongside those who suffer, standing with them, and standing up for them. This is pastoral care at its most luminous.”

Wow.

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Photo of the Week – First Horse Ride

Ceara LOVES driving by the mustang rescue farm near our house. She asks about them in the morning – even if we don’t drive by the farm, “Horses awake?” and then she answers herself, “horses asleep. In barn. Cold outside. Warm in barn.”
The farm offered pony rides this past Saturday. We brought Ceara and Caleb in order for them to see the horses up-close. As we lifted the kids into the saddle they seemed to have done it 100 times before the way they leaned forward and grabbed on. As we left the farm volunteers allowed Ceara to put carrots and apples in the feed buckets for some of the horses. Ceara hasn’t stopped talking about the trip to the farm – “ride horse, daddy. BIG horse.”
What an awesome time.

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A Letter on Transition, Prayer, and “Home”

A friend wrote to me recently sharing thoughts about his current state of transition. Over coffee this morning I wrote the following response, and I wanted to post these thoughts on home, transition, and faith. The thoughts don’t come to a conclusion, rather they just end. My hope is, though, if any truth lay in these words, then your life might connect to that truth on some level.

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Here is the email:

Again, thank you for sharing. I thank God for our friendship. I will continue to pray for you. I am so excited that you will be going to Africa soon! I am excited because you are pursuing what you have discerned as God’s direction for your life at this time. I am excited because God can transform us when we accept the invitation to join in God’s holy work of healing the world. I am excited because your future is unknown, yet you have placed your trust in God. I am excited because your life is not alone nor the first to embark on this journey nor the last to do so, because your life falls in step with a long line of faithful followers who did not know what was in store – the joys, pains, friendships, heartbreaks, etc. – but they knew they were pursuing God.

I cannot say how or when, yet I am hopeful that God will meet you in this time and give you what you need in your heart, soul, mind, and strength to wade through your emotions, thoughts, fears, and inclinations about … your future. I think sometimes before people embark on the unknown they want to have some solid footing beneath them (like, what they will do when they come back, where will they live and with whom, etc.), and yet sometimes those things cannot be known until they journey forward into the next step. Sometimes transformation happens on the journey that shifts perspectives in our lives so that the questions we were asking before we left are no longer the questions we need to be asking in order to live our lives faithfully. Yes, we long for the answers, and we long for the understanding, because we think if we can just figure those things out then we’ll be better equipped to move ahead. For me these questions and desires for understanding can become like idols, because I get so fixated upon trying to figure out those answers I do not listen fully to other words that God may be speaking to me. Yet I hold on to those questions because it gives me the illusion of control. Of the many lessons that I believe God repeats in my life time and time again, one is that I need to surrender control of my future and my desires and my plans to God. It is great to have ideas. It is a good thing to think about the possibilities of how God could use our gifts and graces for the future and for the kingdom. Yet we need to allow God to bring about the future in our lives.

I want to say that I will pray for God to meet you in this next stage in Africa, and in so doing provide some clarity about your feelings towards your future. Yet what does that mean? God does not need to meet you there, because God is always with you. I hope that you will be able to recognize God’s presence in your life and love for you in new and fresh ways. And even as I pray that, I don’t know what that will look like. Will you hear an audible voice or see words written in clouds or feel something deep within your heart? Will you wake up one morning and see things differently than ever before as if a fog has faded and the sun is finally shining through? And if that happens, will it be indefinitely or will it be for a moment that goes after you brush your teeth? Does this mean that you will discern a clear directive about the next step (after Africa), or does it mean that you will have no more answers (and maybe even more questions) but accompanying them will be shalom? It is difficult not to interject preferences and expectations into prayers and just to allow God to answer as God needs and wants to answer so that we will be transformed for God’s work in this world. Maybe that is why I continue to return to the words, “May Thy will be done”… because inherent in those words is trust and surrender and an openness to the mystery that is God.

I’m going to venture that your thoughts around “Finding your way home” will not subside anytime soon – if ever – as you journey with God in this world. In fact, times of transition make us acutely aware of the questions of home – what is it? and where is it? and with whom is it? Sometimes those who have a sense of stability (real or imagined), or those for whom transition to the next step looks pretty much the same as the last step, do not spend time or energy thinking about this, because their life circumstances don’t demand that they think deeply about “home.”

Yet “home” is very much a question that God has wanted God’s people to deal with throughout time – we see this in scripture and we hear this in the stories of the lives of those who have journeyed in Christian faith for the past 2000 years. Often, those who are uprooted (either willingly or forcibly) wrestle with this question more than those who are not moving. Yet the movement helps the people press deeper into the questions of “home” that I mentioned above – what, where, with whom. It is good to have a physical location, yet if we locate our identity and our feelings and our purpose solely in a location or occupation, then we will struggle with “home” everywhere. However, if we locate our sense of “home” in a set of practices and faithful way of living that we can do regardless of location or circumstance, then we can find “home” anywhere.

Courtney and I wrestle frequently with what “home” means for us and what it will mean for our children. It is definitely not a physical location because we move often, yet that doesn’t mean that we don’t desire a place to hang photos and play with kids and make memories. We have celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in a different place every year since we have been married. This is not bad, but it forces us to think about “family traditions” and “home” differently. What are some things that we can do for ourselves and our kids that do not depend on the physical location of the event? How do we navigate the family relationships and dynamics with our extended families knowing that we are continually in different places? We are well aware that this is the life we have chosen, and we wouldn’t do it differently, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle for stability and traditional sense of “home” at times.

And you raise the another good issue – how can you live faithfully in your “home” setting (where you grew up) when to live there would seem to get you caught in “normal” life, by which I think you mean mundane, drab, and lacking full purpose – in short, not the abundant life which Christ has offered to us. Again, I will return to practices – those things which we do in our lives to cultivate our relationship with God. Or, better said, those things which we do in life that keep us open to the ways in which God is with us and at work in the world around us on a continual basis. It is a journey, a process, and a struggle, and I think that is what faith looks like. Growing up I think I tried to understand faith head-on. I had to understand the way it looked, felt, and acted – and I had to articulate that understanding. Now I think I see faith more as abstract art – you can give certain images and colors to produce certain feelings, and you can frame it in a way that attempts to provide perspectives to those feelings, yet you can’t understand or describe it precisely.

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