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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Life Is Fra-gee-lay!


Dad: “Fra-gee-lay” …it must be Italian!
Mom: I think that says “fragile”, honey.
Dad: Oh, yeah.
~ A Christmas Story

Patient: "Am I going to die?"
Doc Martin: "Yes. But not today."
~ Doc Martin

There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they do not know about it!
~ Kay, Men In Black

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. 
~ Psalm 90

Life is fragile. This week many recall the shattering horror of a tragic Tuesday seventeen years ago, remember losing love ones in fiery crashes, and recount the the lost lives and years of senseless retaliation. Thousands of people in various places flee war torn communities seeking refuge. Many look at miles of scorched earth, smoldering homes, and lives gone in smoke.  Millions prepare and evacuate the oncoming devastation of wind and water wondering who and what will survive when the surges subside.

Life is fragile. We never know what a day, a week, or even a moment will bring. We never know if a "goodbye" really is goodbye or if a meal with someone is the "last supper." We never know, but sometimes we have warnings. Sometimes we get evacuation orders, or wake up calls. Sometimes we pay attention and avoid catastrophe.

Life is fragile. However, if we live on the edge of death all the time we never experience the wonder and fullness of life. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 90 because it captures for me the tension of life's fragility, while offering the comfort and wonder of life itself. The Psalmist calls this comfort God's grace and steadfast love. For me it is the One Eternal Presence, Breath of Life, sheer amazement of being here at all. 

Yes, life is fragile, but the fear of breaking can keep us from living fully. So why not embrace life today with a little Italian flair - "Fra-gee-lay!"

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

On The Go

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from...
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, v.5

In the last six weeks I have traveled over 15,500 miles to and from destinations for family vacation and personal continuing education- time with family, friends, professional colleagues, and fellow faith pilgrims in places both familiar and new; via cars, trains, buses, boats, trains, and my own two feet, from sea level to 12,000 ft. above while on the ground, and 40,000 while sailing the clouds. I've gone, seen, and done more beyond my immediate home in six weeks than most people on earth do in a lifetime. All of this is even insignificant to thousands of travelers who do so regularly for business and pleasure.

Back in the place I now call home, sitting on a sofa reflecting, it all seems like and dream filled with other times, places, and people, yet people, places, and times that are now part of who I am - somehow different from and the same as who I was before the journeys began.

We human beings are a curious and seeking sort, always wondering what's over the ridge, or across the water, and even beyond life itself. We have always been and are still on the move, whether hunting and gathering food, exploring new lands, or traveling to distant planets and beyond. Our travels and explorations usually begin in the time and spaces of imagination, often leading to the tangible journeys and destinations of life.

But wherever we go, we are always home, because home is not only the place beneath our feet, at the ends of our fingers, and before our eyes, but that place deep inside each and every one of us. This place is always the same yet ever changing, a place that is ours alone, that we also share with all humanity, the One Eternal Presence.

We rest in this place even as we begin the next imagination, the next journey, the next pilgrimage, the next adventure in the time and space we call Life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Worship Attendance? (encore)

originally posted on August 27, 2014

For four out of the last five Sundays I haven't been in church.  And, with one more week of vacation in process, I don't plan to be there this Sunday either. Strangly enough my absence from church services has me thinking a lot about the difference between "worship" and "church."

The four Sundays I've been away from church were spent in order: hiking with pastor colleagues in the Rocky Mountains, sitting with my wife on a seashore beach, hiking with long-time friends in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and driving alone along the highway listening to favorite music.  On each of these days I experienced extended moments recognizing and experiencing God's Eternal Presence in awe of nature and in gratitude and thanks for colleagues, friends, and family.  I spent time in informal prayer through thoughts, music and conversation with others and with myself.  I saw sunrises, sunsets, mountains, oceans, and night skies that drew me into the sheer wonder of life and death.   I shared ideas, laughter and tears with people for whom I care and love.   Even though I wasn't "in church" I worshipped.

I must also admit that on each of these Sunday mornings I thought about not only the little congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian (now Trinity Clearwater Presbyterian) where I'm pastor but also the thousands upon thousands of places where people were gathered "in church." They came together with not only like minded people for whom they care and love but also with people with whom they disagree and who sometimes irritate and frustrate them.  They came together to intentionally worship through closely held and long standing traditions of liturgy and symbol.  They came to church to worship.

Please don't take any of this as encouragement for abandoning participation and attendance in a community of faith.  Quite the contrary.  Regularly gathering together, even with those whom we disagree, in culturally comfortable yet challenging communities of faith to honor and practice time tested traditions of worship has been and continues to be a staple of human existence.  To paraphrase Jesus, when two or more are gathered and God gets mentioned, they are "in church."    

However, worship can occur wherever we are, alone or together.  But even when we are alone, our worship immediately draws us into the interdependence and interconnectedness of Creation.  Learning to recognize and appreciate this opens our spirits to the One Eternal Presence that permeates and binds all of Creation, anywhere and everywhere - even in church.

Worship attends us. It happens.

We attend church. It's intentional.

We need both!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Life! - and death (encore)

originally posted on August 28, 2013

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." 
~ John 12:24-25

I recently hiked with friends through an old mountain forest located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.  My friends had lived, and one had farmed, in that part of the world some years ago.  They all commented on how lush the forest was for late summer.  The foliage was deep green, the soil moist, the undergrowth thick, and various fungi plentiful.

Yet, upon closer observation I noticed the dead or dying trees.  And the more I looked and smelled, the more obvious it became that hidden within the lushness of the forest was an abundance of decay that ranged from newly fallen limbs and trees, to hollow trunks, to mulch, to rich dark earth.

Then from the earth there was new growth.

The creation in which we live is a continuous process of new growth and old growth, of lushness and decay.   Unfortunately we humans have decided that some of the process is bad, unwilling to accept the wholeness and fullness of life as good.  Even that which we have named "death" is actually part of the larger process of "life."

Just as the old tree eventually provides rich soil from which other trees and plants grow, the people who have come before us, even those for whom their loss is unbearably painful, provide rich and fertile soil in which our own lives grow.  And as sure as the sun rises and sets, we will someday be the soil for others.

Death is not the opposite of life, but rather an essential and vital part of it. How would your life change if you were to make this one simple shift in perspective?