Wednesday, August 26, 2015

God, Connections & Doughnuts

During these weeks it's back-to-school time for almost everyone around here.  College students have been settling in to their new digs, new lockers are being decorated at high schools and middle schools (when did that change from Jr. High?) and grade schoolers are getting used to their new teachers.  It's a time of transition for everyone.  It's a transition time for those who stay at home too. Somehow the noise level in the house makes it sad for the preschooler left at home or quite empty-feeling for family members who watch others depart on a busy weekday schedule.  What makes it easier? Sometimes a chocolate doughnut!

Last week Charlie, one of our grandsons, watched everyone taking off for their respective daily schedules and was feeling a little glum.  So, dad suggested a stop at the local doughnut shop.  As they placed their order, the man behind them offered to pay for their order.  He was remembering doing the very same thing with his son, that he had just dropped off at college for the first time.  He graciously paid and then walked outside, overcome with watery eyes remembering those long-gone days.

But then... he stepped back in, sat down and began a conversation with them.  He had recently closed on his home in the same neighborhood having taken a position in a new area.  They had waited until his son was off to college before moving.  Remembering all the fun family times, and seeing a family much the same as his, he marked the transition moment as he had with his own son, years before.

Later in the conversation another connection was made.  The man had been a pastor in a local congregation.  Knowing what a small world it is for pastors, my son-in-law mentioned me. Turns out, this is a colleague I know and in fact his new congregation is one I formerly served as an interim pastor while they were in transition.

A transition time, a moment of grace, a move by the Spirit to conversation and connection.

Sometimes we forget just how connected we are.  As beloved children of God we are part of a family. At times we forget just how small that family is.  The noise of the world that crashes in on us, and the busy times of our life taking over, we push away the nudging of the Spirit to make a connection and miss the profound grace that God lays in our path.

Life always brings transitions and changes.  The challenge is to slow down and let God be a part of them.  Who knows, maybe you'll share a doughnut together!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Grace Happens

It's been a full week and it's only Wednesday morning!  At our Tuesday night study I was asked how things were response was, "It feels a bit 'full-moon-ish'.  I hadn't looked at the calendar.
We used to joke about crazy things happening when the moon was full, but when I was doing my clinical pastoral education at the hospital it was no joke.  ER staff prepared and carefully watched the phases of the moon.  Sure enough traffic picked up and seemed like crazy things happened on those full-moon nights!

Just checked the calendar and sure enough, today is a full moon!  The craziness isn't anything specific, nor is it anything very out of the ordinary; it just all seems to come at once.  People dealing with grief, accidents, scheduling, needs, needing to talk, needing time, needing my action on things. All quite normal things, just all seeming to be constant.

At our study last night we read again the story of the Risen Christ appearing to the disciples on the beach.  They had fished all night, casting the net time and time again into the dark waters with nothing to show for their effort.  In the morning as they come in from a long and unproductive night, Jesus meets them and says, "Do it once more-over there, the other side".    Really?  Again?  As they drag in that amazing catch with no broken net, he is waiting with breakfast on the beach.

Holding the image of tired fishermen being told to cast the net one more time in our minds, we are asked what that image says to us in our life right now.  I was incredibly humbled when the first response was, "I think of you, Pastor."  hummm

As I drove home after doing yet another errand for someone else the light was red.  A small oval with whimsical lettering on it on the car in front of me read, "Grace Happens".
I'm not a huge fan of bumper stickers, I resist them almost at all costs.  But that one...

Grace the midst of full-moon-ish days and nights
Grace happens...while doing errands for others
Grace happens...when we continue to cast the net, again, and again
Grace happens...getting a wonderful email from a new friend and colleague
Grace happens...when a grandchild pats me on the back as I carry them
Grace happens...when Jesus makes breakfast on the beach
Grace happens...when leading a discussion in bible study
Grace the faces of the preschool class as the ask again, "Can we do the church and steeple again?"

Grace happens... all the time, everywhere.
Sometimes we just need to slow down, cast the net on the other side and recognize Jesus on the beach.

Thank you God of Grace and God of Glory!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Waiting and Reservations

"Seems like only yesterday"...  that's what the other side of waiting looks like!  But oh, until we get there--ouch!  I must confess, I don't do waiting very well, maybe you don't either.  I only wait well when I have something else to do, like read a book or work on my knitting!

We waited through Lent for Easter but then we waited some more.

One year, I remember waiting for two hours to get a table for Easter brunch when we had made a reservation!  I always have this indecision in restaurant situations; do you believe the wait time and hang in there (hoping they'll call your name at any moment) or move on and try someplace else? Problem is, by the time you've gotten to "someplace else" and waited there, the original place would have had you seated!

The early disciples waited too, even when they thought they had a reservation!  They waited through the long Passover dinner with Jesus, waited in the garden to pray with him and they were tired.  Falling asleep after a big meal sounds familiar doesn't it?  Then they waited through the next days, hoping that what they were experiencing wasn't true and someone would just walk into the whole mess and say, "Wait a minute folks, let's just listen to the guy, maybe it's true!"  But that didn't happen.  Then they waited to see if someone would be coming for them next.  Was their reservation in the wrong name? Did they give it right?  The ladies set out to carry out the proper traditions and anoint the body and they came back with astonishing news!  But they all waited some more.  Some abandoned the first restaurant where the wait was too long, some went on to find another reservation and a few just went home to raid their own fridge and come up with a sandwich.

In these Easter weeks, we hear the stories of disciples waiting and Jesus appearing to them.  He gives them something to do while remember and to tell.  While we wait with Jesus, he feeds us, strengthens us and gives us work to do (not reading or knitting exactly!).  Filled with the Spirit, we are sent out to all this "waiting" world with the message of Jesus.  We are to remember the story and to tell it; for the anxious heart there is peace, for the wounded soul there is wholeness, for the lost and empty there is grace, for the angry there is forgiveness, for the waiting, there is a reservation and table ready.

Doesn't really matter whether you've waited at the original place, tried a new one, or given up and gone home--Jesus is there, he has our name on the list and leads us to the table, no waiting!    Enjoy the meal!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What a difference a week makes!

Last week the picture outside my kitchen looked very different!  The week began with about 5 inches of snow completely covering everything!  I had written on my little blackboard "Welcome Spring" on one of the warmer days of March and didn't anticipate it being so ironic to look at the two combined together!  

This week, the snow is gone and yesterday the sun was shining. I opened up the windows in the kitchen and the big sliding door had only the screen to hold back the critters while warm spring air flooded the house...yeah!

What a difference a week makes!

It's true in the church this week also.  We began the week with a triumphal march into Jerusalem with Jesus, waving our palm branches and shouting "Hosanna!".  The week quickly turned however, and like a sudden snowfall hearts were chilled with the anger and suspicion of those same parade-goers.
Tonight we join Jesus at the table as the Passover meal is changed to a last supper.  Tonight we hear a new commandment from him to, "Love one another as I have loved you".  We follow to the garden and sleep after a big meal overrides our good intentions to stay awake and pray with Jesus.

What a difference a week makes!

Tomorrow we experience a Service of Darkness going with him to the trial, hearing the anguish and suffering of our Lord.  One by one as the candles are extinguished, we feel the darkness of death overtake us.

What a difference a week makes!

Then we wait.  We wait for the light to return.  The new light of Christ, risen out of the darkness and the beauty of new life to break forth.  Amid the shouts of "Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!"  We join a happy celebration that is so much more than a parade of palm branches!

What a difference a week makes?  

Yes!  Quite a difference!  If I hadn't watched the snow piling up inch by inch and then watched it melt bit by bit, you could hardly have convinced me!  It's like that with our faith life too.  To fully experience the joy of an Easter morning, we have to join Jesus; entering Jerusalem with him, hearing the crowds turn against him, feeling the pain at the crucifixion, and humiliation of the cross.  Then, only then, can we enter into the true joy of finding the tomb empty.

What a difference a week makes!  Amen!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Just Like Riding A Bike??

My favorite Christmas gift one year was pair of powder blue ice skates with a grey fur cuff at the top.  I had seen them at the hardware store and was thrilled to find them Christmas morning in my very own living room!  We skated a lot.  Growing up in Minneapolis, everyone skated.  My dad used to flood the back yard and built a special wooden step cover to go over the back steps so we wouldn't dull the blades coming in from the cold.

This weekend we went skating again, but indoors, as part of our second grandson's birthday celebration. Originally, I think I was intended to sit this one out with the youngest of the family, watching.  But I wanted to skate!  As others were laughing, I made the comment, "It's just like riding a bike, you don't forget!"

It's been several decades since I went skating---some of it came back quickly, some may never come back!  But just like riding a bike, you need to get used to it again.  The slippery blades on the ice, the balance that needs adjusting, bend the knees and stay flexible---then try helping out a youngster!  Surprisingly, I'm not sore the day after!  But anxious to try again and get back the old rhythm and freedom of flying across the ice.  I'm also thrilled to pass on my love of the ice, and the fun of watching the Zamboni, to the next generation of our family!

As Easter approaches, there are some who will take the chance to get on the "ice" again and return to church for worship.  The "experts" will whiz right past them and show off their tricks, the hesitant will cling to the boards of the rink and slowly make their way, the adventurous will slide into the mainstream slowly perhaps, and there will be those who quickly take off the skates and sit on the sidelines, or exit the rink.  

I saw a number of young skaters yesterday in tears; tears of fear, tears of pain from an unexpected fall, and some afraid of being left behind by those they came with.  I helped a few back to their feet, guided a few around to the safety of a reunion, and encouraged a few with assurance they could do it!

I hope we can be as welcoming in the arena of church life.  Lace up your skates and get out there, it really is fun!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Seeing the World Through Different Eyes

Image result for black and blue or white and goldThis past weekend, a great deal of time and controversy has centered around a dress.  Is it blue and black or white and gold?  It's hard to believe that thousands of people engaged in discussion and argument over the color of a dress.  

Maybe it stems from our high need to be right.  Maybe it stems from our disbelief that we are ever wrong.  Maybe we can't possibly believe that someone else could see the world differently from the way we see it!  Those who study visual illusions and the way the brain works are less certain and sure.  They know that we often see the world as we perceive it to be, not as it really is.

I wonder if it was that way with Peter.  Peter had a certain vision of the world and himself and Jesus.  When Jesus began to teach about his suffering and death, it just didn't fit Peter's picture; Jesus said, blue and black and Peter saw white and gold.  The miraculous healing times, teachings, and events all pointed to a leader who had come to throw down the oppressive power of the Roman government and establish a new rule with power to those who had been oppressed.  What they interpreted as acts of power, were God's manifestations of love.

Maybe we are too quick to make the judgement of black and blue vs. white and gold.  Perhaps upon closer examination we can learn to see the world both through our eyes and the eyes of our neighbor. I wonder what colors God sees?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What my Grandma taught me...

I was a lucky kid!  We lived in the city and I could walk one block to a bus stop, and a couple blocks in any direction to a park.  Our street was filled with lots of trees, maple and elm mostly (before Dutch Elm disease!).  In the fall, there were plenty of leaves to gather into piles and jump into, in the winter, plenty of snow to make snowmen, in the spring lots of flowers coming up and the summer was exciting with two lakes within walking distance.  But the best thing was that I lived next door to my grandparents.

My grandmother was amazing in my eyes.  She was the one who gave me a love for cooking and baking, knitting and sewing and simply gave me a lot of love!  It's only now I look back to appreciate some of the lessons she taught me...

     Hospitality:  Gram loved welcoming people; both those she knew and those she didn't.  I found a list of her "Birthday Club"-- 12 women who  each had a birthday in a different month.  They used it to get together on a regular basis and celebrate each other.  I also heard the stories of her welcoming strangers to the back stoop for a plate of food--they were hobos then, during the depression, now perhaps part of the homeless population.  They were never turned away.

     Giving:  There didn't need to to be a reason to give for her, only a reason to love.  The day after I complained loudly to my mom (and all who could hear) about having the leaves brushed out of my tangled hair (jumping in a big pile from the top of a ladder can do that to hair!).  There was a gift for me.  A white, hooded zippy sweatshirt - just like my friend Gail's!  No parent would have bought that, but my grandma did!

     Food:  Holiday meals were always cooked by my grandma, and they were delicious!  But, it was her bread and doughnuts I remember most.  The bread, basic and wonderful filled the air with its special perfume.  The cookie jar always held doughnuts, it was never empty.

Lent is a time for me to reflect on lessons of Jesus and lessons of life.  I learned a lot growing up, and I continue to learn each day.  Today, I hope that I use those lessons; welcoming all to this place, giving out of my heart and not for a specific reason, and having a table where the bread of life is served and is never empty.  I'm grateful for the lessons she taught me, I can only hope to pass some of them on to those who come after me.  What about you?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Life-Changing Lent?

I've been browsing the first chapters of a book that guarantees to change my life.  It's about cleaning up.  Yep, cleaning the house can change your life!  While I'm a bit skeptical, I'm not dismissing it.  Having read the first (free) chapter I get the point that the author makes...a little bit at a time doesn't do it.  You have to dump a bunch at first and only bring back into the house what you truly love, jumping in all at once, not discarding a bit at a time, or cleaning one room at a time.

I think Lent is a bit like that.  Testing out the waters, and only participating a bit at a time, is not a great life-change.  But, giving yourself over to the disciplines of Lent; worship, prayer, fasting, giving back--if you do it, all of it, all the days--can change your life.

I remember teaching young people about Holy Week especially, how all the worship services were really one service, connected. You had to experience all of them to get the whole picture; stay in the wilderness with him then, come with Jesus to the upper room; let him wash your feet, feed you.  Then go to the garden and fall asleep while trying to pray with him.  Follow him through the arrest, trial and climb the hill to Golgotha.  Listen to his last words and feel the sacrifice---all in order to experience the joy at the Resurrection on Easter morning.
What a joy it was to hear him with a friend, "No, you have to come to them all!  Otherwise you don't get it!"

We need to learn the lesson, to overcome our fears and trepidation.  To jump in to the wilderness and let it change us for these 40 days.  As much as we may want to just dip a toe in...we have to be all in, or nothing really changes.  Give up chocolate for 40 days and you go back to it after lent is over; give up resentment, bitterness or anger for 40 days and you may have changed a relationship.

Want a life-changing Lent?  Throw yourself into it and see.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lent and Spare Parts

Just this last week I replaced the top drawer of my dishwasher.  The original had rusted through at several key "tines" and glassware was tumbling about in a reckless way! Searching online, and plunking in the model number was easy and the replacement was on the way.  When the large box arrived at my door, I was ready to go!  Opening the box revealed only another large box.  Opening that, I found my new pristine rack waiting to be installed. I successfully transferred the sprayer arm and installed the rack--only to find myself with a few extra parts.  Extra wheels (which looked to be the kind on the lower rack) and several parts from the old rack which weren't on the replacement.  

I'm always hesitant to throw out perfectly good parts; perhaps it's growing up with parents and grandparents who had been through the depression.  So, I'm packing these in a plastic bag with the label, "Dishwasher rack parts I don't know if I'll need".  Most likely it will find it's way into the basement to be lost a midst other "parts I don't know if I'll need".

Perhaps Lent is like that for you.  You come across it once a year, not sure if you really need it, but unable to throw it away.  Maybe parts of Lent look old, others new and unused, but you're still not sure if you need them.  There's something though which stops you from throwing them away.  

While I can agree that Lent as a season is is far from rusty and useless and I can't think of it as a useless spare part.  I think it's one of the essentials.  

It is essential for me, at least once a year to set aside some time to examine my faith---get it up out of the basement, if that's where it's been hiding.  To be intentional about worship, and prayer and looking to those who have less than I do.  To fast from those things that make us less-than; like jealousy, pride, anger, resentment, complaining, judging....go ahead and make a whole list.  Pick your fast from some of these instead of just chocolate or fast food. It may be a lot rougher than giving up soda pop or beer!  

Give up to take on---fast from a meal to give the money to the food pantry; give up something in order to give to someone else.  Put away anger and resentment, to take on reconciliation and  cooperation.  You get the idea...

In the mystery box of spare parts, extra cords and miscellaneous Lego pieces, don't leave Lent in the basement this year.   You never know what may transpire---cleaner dishes???