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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Worship Attendance?

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 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.  The 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 20, 2014

Grateful for Good Friends!

This week I'm on my 18th annual S3 (Study, Sabbath, Service) Retreat with 3 colleagues and friends, Skip Dunford, Bill Owens and Jeff Sockwell.  The four of us met in the summer of 1989 at Greek School as we began studying at Columbia Theological Seminary.  Graduating together in 1992 we moved to different parts of the country to begin serving as pastors.  A few years after that, we decided to get together for a week of lectionary study in Montreat, NC, and as the saying goes, "the rest is history."  After 25 years the bonds of friendship are as strong as ever.  It's good to be with good friends! We're having a great week of stimulating conversations, golf, hiking, and spending a few hours in service at a local food program.

So, having shared this, and in lieu of my regular offering, I offer for your reflection a daily email I have received for the past few years called "Daily Gratitude" by Wes Hopper.  Here is today's message of "Daily Gratitude."

"I love the smell of the 
 Universe in the morning!" 
             Neil deGrasse Tyson

I think it's great that Tyson's quote is
capable of expressing the joy, beauty and
optimism that it does. Can't you just
feel the excitement of a new day in what
he says?

I like it even better because of its history.
Tyson has taken a deeply negative and
nihilistic quote and turned it into poetic

The original quote was from the 1979
Vietnam war film, "Apocalypse Now"
and was actually said by Robert Duvall
as "I love the smell of napalm in the

The point of the movie was that the
prolonged and inhuman violence of war
left people teetering on the edge of 
insanity. Or over it.

Most of us have a choice very day - do 
we face the day with the optimism of 
Tyson, or something more like the 
pessimism of Duvall's character? 

The difference is in what we focus on,
because what we focus on is what grows 
in our life. 

Do we greet the day with joy, do we see
beauty and opportunity, do we know 
the Universe is there to help us, are we 
glad to be alive?

If so, then we too can love the smell of
the Universe in the morning!

Take a deep breath!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vacation Vignettes - Stop. Look. Listen.

"Be still and know that I am God!"
~Psalm 46

"Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence."
~1 Kings 19


This morning while walking along a DC sidewalk I came upon two women, one pushing a baby carriage and the other walking a dog on a leash (both quite common in our neighborhood.)  The uncommon thing was that the dog decided it was time for a rest, stopped and simply lay down right in the middle of the sidewalk.  The whole party took a break in the shade until the dog was ready to go again.  Dogs have a lot to teach us "always on the go" humans.


A couple of weeks ago while hiking down a mountain trail, having just seen some amazingly breath-taking vistas of snow capped mountains reflected in alpine lakes, I met a couple who had just visited a beautiful waterfall which is a popular lower elevation destination.  When I said good afternoon, they pointed up the trail and asked me, "Is there anything worth seeing up there?"   It occurred to me that often times what is "worth seeing" may take a little more effort, or it could also be just around the next turn, and even right in front of us.


Earlier this week we were on a public beach enjoying the sand, sun, and surf.  The sounds of the beach were familiar, and pleasant: children laughed (and sometimes cried) as they played in the water's edge, there were snippets of conversation as people walked past our chairs, also the occasional drone of small aircraft that towed the next advertisement banner. Seagulls announced to their friends the most current feeding location, and of course there was the ever-present, hypnotic rhythm of breaking waves that somehow blended the entire cacophony into a spell-binding, semblance of silence.  Then, permeating it all was the identifiable, amplified bass beat of unidentifiable music.  The spell was broken.  I wonder now if perhaps my "sounds of silence" were as annoying to them as their music was to me, and how easily we are distracted from hearing the world around us. 

"Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? ... ‘Do you not yet understand?" 
~Jesus - Mark 8

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Meanderings on a Golf Course

I'm taking a few days vacation and today I was grateful to be with some close friends at a practice round of the PGA Championship Tournament in Louisville, KY.

I had never attended a professional, much less major, golf tournament before today.  Here are a few of my initial thoughts.

1- Logistics! I was amazed at the planning, organization, imagination and implementation that turns a golf course into a venue that moves, feeds, entertains and otherwise meets the needs of thousands of people while the golfers move casually from hole to hole getting to know the course and preparing for the actual tournament.  

2- All of this reminds me that we take for granted so many of the logistics in our modern world that are behind the services, products, and institutions that make our lives comfortable.  Take a minute and express gratitude for all of the people, systems and logistics that provide food, clothing, water, transportation, government, and education (the list is long) for us.

3 - Next, as I watched the golfers, many of whom I've seen on TV and read about on sports pages for years, I was reminded that they, just like other professional such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, teachers, and salespeople (again the list is long) are dedicated, practice their skills, take pride in their work, sometimes make mistakes, and above all have fun and enjoy what they do, taking time between holes to sign autographs and pose for photos. 

4 - Finally I am reminded of the sometimes incomprehensible disparity in our world.  As thousands of people like me and my friends, not to mention the millions watching on TV this weekend, watch and enjoy a sporting event, people on other parts of our planet are experiencing unimaginable violence, pain, heartbreak, and death as conflicts and wars rage in their homelands.

Just a few observations and reflections while hanging around a golf course today.

Listen to Capitol Hill Presbyterian Sermons.