A Day in the Life: Really a Microcosm

Alarm and two snoozes:

Got the paper, visited the bathroom

Started making school lunches–interrupted so I could make breakfasts

{NobleWife gets the kids up and dressed}

Continue making lunches.

Child #1 out the door to the bus.

Make my own breakfast and lunch.

Eat breakfast, get child #2 out the door.  Wait for bus.  … Wave goodbye

Take a shower…get dressed

Say goodbye as #3 gets driven to preschool by NobleWife

Head out the door preparing to meet a contractor to look at changes in church.

Get to church, to find out plans have been changed.

Walk to visitation at someone’s house.

Visit with the person for an hour.

Walk back to church.  (on the way back, I saw a beautiful sight: a tree root, which formed a small pool, in which there lay a little yellow maple leaf.  🙂   )

Back to church in time to prepare for a lunch meeting. Except return a call to General Presbyter (GP) asking me to take on a fairly large responsibility with the Presbytery {“NP,” says she by way of introduction, “the presbytery needs you to step up your service.”…..}

Attend meeting to disucss possible strategys for presbytery regarding its urban churches…

Afterward, discuss said opportunity from GP with the person who just retired from said position.  Hmmmm…sounds like an even bigger responsibility than I first thought…..

Meet up with a newly arrived colleague and go out for tea and a catch up about our life and work…

Depart for church to attend weekly Bible Study with folks…

Arrive at the same moment as one of the BibStud participants…which is fine, but little time for transition….

Check email (first time that day, and it’s 3:50) fortunately not a lot needed in response, but at least one bit of correspondence about an upcoming trip that will have to wait.

Bible Study

Direct transition into Preschool Support Team mtg

Commute

Home…dinner…

…kids rushing around…another having to go to soccer practice…

dog who has entered her last phase of life who isn’t sounding very good and needs some love and attention….

this journal entry….

…a quick computer game….

….bed time for kiddos (maybe pickup soccer kid first?)

maybe a conversation with NobleWife?

maybe 15 minutes of junk tv (if I’m lucky, sports)

crash and prepare for another day, not quite so hectic (maybe)……

Sunrise, Sunset

Friday, 28 March, started out like this:

{Some computers are having difficulty loading the video.  Trying navigating to google video by clicking here.}

An absolutely beautiful morning on the Atlantic.

We knew it would be a special day when we got the call from my brother to run—not walk—upstairs to their balcony that overlooked the ocean. Why the urgency? We asked. Usually when you’re hanging out on the beach, things tend to be taken a little easier. It’s this kind of pace we were appreciating in on this post-Easter vacation.

The ocean was fairly smooth, and when it’s like that, my brother likes to look for dolphins smoothly making their way north or south paralleling the shore. And indeed he pointed out the spray from a blowhole you might expect to see from dolphins; except this time the spray was a bit bigger. Instead of the dorsal fins you are used to seeing roll out of the water, their was a large back—sans fin.
Right Whale
That’s a Right Whale, my sister-in-law explained. You can tell by the fact that it doesn’t have a dorsal fin. They’ve been hunted into endangerment; there are only a few hundred of them left. We watched it move it’s way south—spray, backbone, and one showing of its fluke. I guess seeing a whale that s on the edge of extinction should be enough to let one know that it was going to be an extra-ordinary day.

It was our last day on Jacksonville Beach, before we were to head north to Atlanta to visit with two of my closest friends; one with whom I was looking forward to spending some quality time as he had just gone through a surprising and painful divorce. When we left Cleveland on Easter Sunday, we had just received word from one of the folks in the church I serve—hereafter referred to as, M—that some scans observing his progression through cancer treatments had come back showing the cancer was present and, in his words, “raging” throughout him.

A group gathered after church to set up pastoral care, my family piled into the van, and we headed south. Wednesday I learned that M had checked into the hospital to undergo a blood transfusion. Thursday I was told he had been moved to the palliative care unit. On Friday morning (the same day as the sunrise and whale sighting), I spoke with M’s partner–R–who told me that he didn’t believe M would make it through the weekend. Around 5:30 that afternoon, M drew his last breath.

I am told that he was surrounded by—in the language of the church—a great cloud of witnesses; a few loving people who represent several aspects of M’s life. It’s hard to know what to do when you have a particular role in someone’s life (like, pastor) and you are unable to be there at such a moment of transition. M’s death was something for which many folks have been gearing for a while, as he had experienced peaks and valleys with his health for several years. But this happened so quickly.

As I concluded the conversation with R, he offered me one thing I could do from where I was: “Enjoy the sunset.” As I stood on the beach with my family, at dusk, I looked west and drew in the various shades of blues, oranges, yellows, and whites, and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a life that will sorely be missed. In my sadness, I prayed over the sunset of this life, but I had a faint smile somewhere within me over the sunrise that he must be seeing in the next one…….

Riding the Wave of “Yes We Can”

I hadn’t yet decided where I was going to throw my hat in this presidential year. I’ve had a hunch that it was Obama for a while. I was sent this video today. And it’s pretty nice. I’ve embedded it from YouTube. But to get the credits and all go to: http://www.dipdive.com/

Here’s a nod towards all those who have the Audacity to Hope. Peace

Four Cups of Tea

I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is about an3 Cups of Tea American–Mortenson–who had the vision to build schools in remote Pakistan after being saved by villagers after a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2. The book, and Mortensen’s mission– has become more profound in the recent assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto.

Mortensen befriends the chief of the village in which he would end up building the first school. Haji Ali explains the practice of offering tea as an invitation to hospitality:

Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything–even die.

In the US, the closest we come to this ritual is to offer somebody a hot or cold drink–depending on time of year–when they come over to our house. But even that tradition is falling by the wayside in our faster paced world. Since I am not a coffee drinker, I tend to accept cups of tea–iced (sweet, of course) or hot (sweet, of course)–whenever they are offered.

This week I’ve enjoyed four occasions when tea was offered me, each of which was a significant glimpse into what sustains me–dare I say brings me peace–as I travel through this world.

Cup #1: A Classic Earl Grey set out by my wife. Usually my first cup of tea in the morning is prepared by me: sugar, milk, water, and tea bag. On this Monday morning I found that the mug had already been filled with water and the tea bag was floating there-in. Unexpectedly preparing tea is not a ritual that we are used to giving one another. But on this occasion it was a welcome and appreciated surprise.

Cup #2: A mango herbal, given to me by my spiritual director. It took me a while to find out the blessing of being asked monthly “where have you noticed God’s presence in your life and ministry.” Yet in the infusion of this question through my spirit, I find an opportunity to reflect and receive. “What do you discover?” you may ask. The assurance that ready or not, God accompanies me…and the difference that makes in how I meet the world.

tea-bag.jpegCup #3: A detoxifying Rooibus, offered by a member of the congregation I serve. As he concludes a latest round of chemotherapy for a stubborn group of cells going by the name of lymphoma, we begin our weekly visits with a cup of tea before diving into the theologically-rich text of Babylon 5.

Cup #4: Several infusions of a Milk Oolong, a rare tea, received at The Monestery restaurant (reviewed in prior post), while lunching with a dear friend and colleague in ministry. To receive insight and wisdom, care and concern, laughter and silence, from and with her is a great gift.
In these four cups a balance in life has been struck. Was it the tea that made the difference? Not really. It was after all, the relationships. But I am thankful for the gifts of boiling water, tea leaves, cup and saucer, as the elements to bring me together with these companions of mine.

Wherever you are, I invite you to pour a cup and take a sip with me.

Vote for BRC

You’ll note the badge on the left that supports the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow standing for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I would urge you to click on it and check out what Bruce has to say.

Bruce and I were in graduate school together at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He and I worked together for a year in campus ministry at UNITAS Presbyterian House on the campus of Cal-Berkeley. We have also staffed college and youth events, as well as shared in groups supporting the work of young presbyterian pastors and pastors who work in urban settings.

I have come to regard Bruce not only as a trusted and valued friend, but as a pastoral colleague in whom I have the utmost respect. I have appreciated Bruce’s ability to be a forerunner in the movement of pastors who aren’t interested in maintaining the church as it has been throughout the 20th Century. Bruce had the grace to realize early in his pastorate that a typical church wasn’t going to nurture him and his gifts for ministry. Instead, he challenged himself to look deeply within and fashion a ministry that would have great integrity within who he is. In the process, he has discovered that not only are there other clergy people who are looking to emerge into a different way of engaging the gospel, but that there are a whole lot of people searching for meaning who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t going to find it in the church as we’ve known it.

Even while Bruce has been testing the waters for new expressions of ministry and mission, he is deeply committed to the Presbyterian Church. You will find as you engage him in conversation, that his faith and witness are steeped in the reformed faith. He will be an excellent leader to bring people of divergent beliefs together. As I’ve spoken with him about his hopes as Moderator, Bruce has spoken with great energy about wanting to find a variety of forums for promoting constructive conversations in order to unite the denomination in its interface with the world.

It is without hesitation and with great expectation that I endorse the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow as Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) .

A New Look for a New Year

Yes folks, my number 1 resolution for 2008 is to blog much more consistently than I did last year. Well, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Maybe I’ll take baby steps: like trying to write three a month rather than one. For starters, I’ll go with a fresh look. What do you think?

I’ll write something a little more interesting soon.

Karma?

Yesterday, while driving to work, jammin’ to Beyonce’s Irreplaceable, I was stuck at a light waiting to turn right.  Looking “to the left, to the left” I watched the last car clear and began to pull into the intersection.  That’s when I saw that two bicyclists had entered the crosswalk, in single file.  The first was coming on too fast to do anything but crank on his brakes.  I froze, and so remained in his way.  He broke (correct tense for “applied his brakes firmly”?) enough to only run into my rear passenger side.  Note, he didn’t SLAM into it, just made impact.  Needless-to-say, he wasn’t very happy that I was in his way, but he did pick up his bike and keep going on to the sidewalk on the other side of the street and his friend also rode on behind him.   I will also add to the story that the two young men were Black–I, if you don’t know me, am quite White…but very sensitive to issues of race.  I’d like to believe that I would have behaved the same way no matter who almost flattened himself against the side of my car, but I wanted to make doubly sure that a) he was alright, and b) that he knew I was sorry.

After floundering at finding the appropriate window trigger (activiating all the windows in the car BUT the driver’s side) I finally was able to splurt out: “Are you okay, man??”

By this point he was a good 15-20 yards beyond me regrouping himself, as his friend caught up to him.  I shouted out again and this time he got off his bike and started looking at me–I’m not sure if he ever heard what I said, but I was getting afraid that maybe it was sounding like “What the f*#^’s the matter with you, do you want to pick a fight?”  instead of the simple, caring four words I kept repeating.

It was then that I realized that I was partway into a very busy intersection, making no headway into a shouting–although seeking to be civil–conversation.  So I moved on.   I thought I’d pull the car over and try to cross–on foot–the same intersection where I’d almost smushed him, and started to pull over and then almost hit a van that appeared out of nowhere.  {BTW, adrenaline does weird things to your brain!!!}

After realizing that doing anything other than driving straight would be hazardous to myself and the other drivers around me, I drove on to meet with my spiritual director; which is where I was rushing to in the first place.  Something strangely ironic about that!?!?

This post was going to be about the lesson I learned from that encounter about slowing down and being more mindful about what’s around you.  And that is still a lesson I want you to take from my vehicular mishap, dear reader.

But then a strange thing happened this morning.  {This being the day after the event above mind you.}  I was in the kitchen fixing school lunches when my daughter came in to tell me a car had stopped in front of the house.  “Interesting,” I said.  Sure enough, she was right, but didn’t do much about it because lunches needed to be completed and I was still in my PJs.  While my little voyeurs were giving me the blow-by-blow about the car, it came to pass that it was a man and a boy of about 7.  Hiding behind a curtain, I watched to see what they were going to do.  They set off down the street towards nothing but more houses.  After going past about 4 houses they turned around walking back towards their car.

I decided to make a dash to my room, change clothes, and see what was up.  By the time I got to the window they were heading up our yard to the door.  By then I could see that they were Latino.  I got my cell phone and went out on the front porch to see if they needed to make a call.  The man told me that he had run out of gas.  Fortunately, we had some gas in the garage and I took it out to him.  He had put the boy back in the car and while he was filling the gas tank the boy smiled and waved at me–you know, with the easiness only children can handle!!  Finally the guy asked for directions and went along his way.

I don’t know if I believe in karma or not, but it sure was nice to have a chance to reach out to someone in need after inadvertently (and semi-violently) getting in someone’s way the day before.  Karma?  Holy Spirit?  I don’t know.  But I say thanks to the universe for whatever it was.  Pay it forward sisters and brothers, and build those ARKs–Acts of Random Kindness.

Peace.

A Good Day in the Life of a Pastor

Recently my friend Bruce (link in the Blogroll) blogged about one of those Sundays that attacks the ego of an ordained clergyperson. What happened to him, happens to all of us: as your sermon starts to develop (or not), you start to make what you thought was a good point (or not), and then you start to support what you thought was a good thought (or not), and the sermon is totally convoluted, confusing, and all you get back are blank stares and the sound of a chirping cricket. Bruce sums it up nicely in his blog; it s*%ks!

But today was not one of those days!! Today was a dream day in my vocational life. One of the most amazing aspects of our position is that we are invited into the heights and depths of the human condition. They are not always happy places; but they are amazing nonetheless.

One of the folks from the church I serve has just been given his last diagnosis of lymphoma; last because there are no more treatments for him. He may not be able to see it yet, but he has been heroic in his quest to embrace life in the midst of his body being invaded from inside. Because of his insistence to claim life, this terminal prognosis has him reeling.

He invited me to his apartment this morning to discuss how I can be one of his partners through this walk towards death. To honor the sacredness of our time together, I won’t go into specifics of the conversation, but in the moment I had no doubt that God held us both.

I left his apartment to process the time we spent, and drove to a local cemetery. This may sound maudlin, but this particular cemetery is no simple graveyard. It is huge, park-like, and over looks the city of Cleveland and Lake Erie. While today was blustery and overcast with a snow-squall here and there, the place was resplendent with fall colors.

I moved on from there to a lunch appointment with a colleague who is new to our area and new to ministry; she is serving her first church. I’ve blogged a little about how I’m beginning to see the changes in myself from young adulthood to middle adulthood (see “Sir” below). In meeting with my friend, I’m reflecting upon how I am approaching potential mentorhood. Nothing formal, but it is interesting to be able to reflect upon experience when talking with someone who has just officiated her first wedding and her first funeral (not at the same event, thank goodness!?!) And, I must say, for once it is nice to NOT be the youngest pastor on the block anymore!!

Earlier in the week, my sister-in-law had asked if I could pick up my nephews from the elementary school that’s two doors down from the church and walk them to a friends house. So, after lunch this is what I did. When I got to the friend’s house, I started talking to his mother–someone I had met before but don’t know very well. Somehow the conversation moved to the fact that she didn’t grow up going to church because her parents didn’t go to church. But she’s had occasions when her 3rd grade son has asked her questions about God, about which she felt she wasn’t equipped to answer. She said it would be kind of cool to have a one-day event where parents and kids could get together with someone like me and just have an opened-ended conversation about such issues. I told her I crave doing something like that, and we both said we’d think about whether or not we’d follow up on it. Definitely a very cool conversation!

Once that was done, I went back to the church for a weekly Bible study with a group of folks who are really fun to be with. Per usual it was a lively discussion; intelligent, irreverent, and at times irrelevant, but a nice bit of icing on a pretty cool day.

Peace…

Distributing Light

A network of peacemaking folks has asked if churches are willing to hold weekly prayer vigils to pray for an end to the War in Iraq. Our church (I’d link to the website, but we are woefully disorganized) has committed to praying throughout the day on Monday. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program offers a yearlong Biblical Witness to Peacemaking, wherein a text from the Bible is given for each day of the year. I have chosen to use this each Monday to help focus my prayer for peace.

Today’s text is from Job 38:19-38. I don’t tend to spend a lot of time in Job, but I know enough to get a piece of the content. Job and God are in the midst of a dialogue about the justice of life; a “why do bad things happen to good people” sort of conversation. At this point in the narrative, it is God’s turn to speak. God asks of Job a whole lot of question that can be summed up with the familiar query: “Who do you think you are?” You can read the text for yourself to get into it a little deeper, because I’m more interested in one particular question which God asks. It is found in 38:24:

What is the way to the place where light is distributed?

Light is such an amazing concept, covering so many aspects of life. It is that which is needed when a child is afraid of monsters under the bed. It is that which philosophers spend most of their existence chasing. It is that which the Evangelist John identifies about Jesus in the opening lines of his gospel (John 1:1-5) It exposes injustice, gives hope, warms that which is cold. You can probably offer directions to places where light is distributed.

As I was writing this piece, someone from my church emailed me about the following video; an example today of one who has become a distributer of light: Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie-Mellon University.

Peace,

NP

Pebble in the Pool

{Actually, this was started at @5:30am, Thursday, 4 October}

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. Psalm 42:11

I woke up this morning much earlier than I wanted.  I’ve been sick, I need my rest, but my mind(?) wouldn’t let me go back to sleep.

The thing keeping me awake is the search for a vision for the church I serve.  I respect the broadness of the current stated vision: “Transforming Lives in Jesus Christ.”  For it is not for us to decide when, how, and by whom transformation happens; surely that is up to the Triune God.

But our church needs focus.  And we’ve yet to find a way to get the vast majority of the membership of the church to care enough to have the conversation—together.   I think I’m the pebble in the pool that has to get that care started.  At least, that’s why these folks called me; to lead and focus their ministry.

Hence the disquieting of my soul.  I’m tired of looking for trends.  I’m tired of figuring out how to market the church for postmoderns.  I’m tired of trying to figure out how a white pastor in a roughly 50/50 Black/White neighborhood helps show the church out to the neighbors.  I’m tired of trying to figure out the RIGHT way to share the gospel with the so-called unchurched.  I’m tired of trying to jump-start folks already in the church who are tired.  And, at this point, I’m tired of whining about it.

At a meeting yesterday, one of the pastors with whom I am quite close, shared her vision…quite vociferously.  I don’t know if she was over-caffienated, or sufficiently Christ-inated, or if I was too low energy because of my cold, or a combination of all these things, but I felt like I was being yelled at.  And, her vision included that same old-time religion process of determining one’s level of discipleship is about “how many people you’ve brought to Christ.”   Man, she was fired up.  But that dog wasn’t huntin’ for me.  It was the wrong kind of energy for where I am.

Which circles me back to the disquieting of my soul.   What does it take to get us engaged in being the church, in ministry, in discipleship, in being the body of Christ in the world today?  I have a partial list of answers hunches starting points:

  • It’s contextual.  What is needed in one place, is not the same thing that is needed in another, unless you’re talking about the basics of loving neighbors, then that’s universal;
  • For Noble Road, the understanding is that Jesus welcomed folk, with a particular affinity towards the ______ minority (fill in the blank: sexual, racial, gender, type of wellness, etc);
  • It takes recognizing that each one of us is on a unique spiritual journey with that aforementioned Triune God. And in recognition of this journey, we are called to nourish it, be challenged by it, and be embraced by it: this means practicing disciplines that keep up open to the movement of the Spirit in our lives (Inward journey), and this means doing something in the world to share that grace with others (Outward journey)

Hence, I have come up with the seeds of a vision/mission for the church I would like to see us moving towards. (Disclaimer: This is a work in progress from the movement of the Spirit within me (NoblePastor). This reflects no programmatic direction for the church–at this time. This text is up for kicking about, discussing, striking out, forging ahead, whatever!, I just had to get it out of my head.) So here it goes:

A New Vision for the Church:

Noble Road Presbyterian Church understands itself to be a portion of the body of Jesus Christ in the world.  While this Body is witnessed in a variety of ways across the Earth, this church has caught the vision of being a place of welcome for the diversity of God’s people.

There is too much in our contemporary society that aims to divide the people of this world.  This community is committed to working towards that which brings unity in the human experience.

We are a church that fixes its vision through the teaching and modeled love of God’s Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.  We celebrate that the ethic of love demonstrated by God through Jesus is one found throughout many of the world’s religious traditions.  We base our activity in the world on this common ground of love for God, love for all that God has created, with special attention to love of all who are neighbor (stranger and friend alike).

We recognize that we will not always be faithful to this mission, which is why we rely on the grace of God’s steadfast love to claim us and re-form us, and challenge us to plunge anew into God’s vision for the world.

That’s the vision (or is it the mission?…I get mixed up on the difference of these). In the next installment, I’ll present some ideas for how we apply this vision, as an intentionally multi-cultural congregation. Stay tuned, and in the meantime embrace our hope in God 🙂

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