Pastoral Ponderings- Wayside Sacrament

Pastoral Ponderings- Wayside Sacrament

“Don’t you bring that inside!” Ken insists, as Darling Wife Fern carries in yet another treasure of the beauty of God’s creation to their house filled with other similar treasures, with pictures (and puzzles I was also invited to work on) of the National Parks, and family handcrafted nature crafts.  “I’m just taking it out back…” Fern replies, as she carries the protested feathers in the door, likely to the back porch “catio” where many such tangible “God Sightings” can be found.

A great beginning to a week of sabbath rest and immersion into the beauty of God’s creation as our souls are being refreshed by both great teaching and signs of divine Presence everywhere.  Ken and Fern have a piece of poster art hanging on their wall that in the foreground depicts a bird, looking like one of those Audubon Society prints, on what looks like a copy of a post card, signed in flowing print, “R. W. Emerson.”  The cursive script in the faded background reads, “Beauty is God’s handwriting, a wayside sacrament.  He prayeth well who loveth both man and bird.”

The feathers Fern carried is from such a beloved bird—nothing “special”—from a common mourning dove—are now displayed on the porch as a “wayside sacrament” of a simple visit with neighbors where God’s presence was relished for a moment.  Sitting talking with Ken’s mom, Sharon, whom I know has seen that print hanging there hundreds of times, I asked if she’d noticed some detail of the image, and she replied, “I’ve seen it so many times, I must have just not noticed.”  How true it is that we have so many times seen such wayside sacraments, the handwritten love letters from God all around us every day, that we so often don’t even notice?

Lord, give us eyes to see Your handwritten notes of beauty around us, that we, too, may relish each day these wayside sacraments of Your presence, so common, so ubiquitous, yet so easily missed.   Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings— Jesus is my chainsaw?

Pastoral Ponderings— Jesus is my chainsaw? 

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?  We’ve often been camping around the 4th of July, and too many times in recent years, we’ve had a tree or big limb fall down, either fully or partially blocking our drive.  Well, we didn’t go anywhere this year, but STILL had that happen—this time a tree-sized limb, that didn’t completely block the drive—but you should have seen how much it blocked before I had cut off all the foliage from what had been the top!

When this started happening a few years ago, we bought a battery-powered chain saw that has saved the day many times—and saved the day again this time!  Now I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have had obstacles fall in our way—it may not always be a tree, but obstacles just plopping in our way is just a pretty common part of life.  So what’s the chain saw that you pull out to help clear the way?

I like to think of Jesus as my chain saw—not to have Jesus violently rip apart every obstacle!  But to have Jesus and the tools Jesus brings, be what I use to be my Plan A for when I run into an obstacle.  With this huge limb, I’ve not yet cut the whole thing apart, but taken a bit here and there of what needed to be cut off to clear the path—a good example of how not all obstacles have a quick fix.  But we need to find ways to mitigate obstacles big and small, and find Godly ways to face when obstacles don’t have a fix.

You’ve probably heard me before talking about one of my current favorite Jesus tools found at Philippians 4: 6-9, which in a nutshell is to pray about the negative, but focus on the positive.  Not that doing so takes away all life’s negatives and obstacles, but focuses us on the blessing’s God is always pouring out in abundance, even in the midst of or despite whatever bumps come our way.

What’s your chainsaw—your primary tool for facing and overcoming obstacles?  You can count on more obstacles coming your way—better find tools you can count on too!

Keep being a blessing- Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—Bumps

Pastoral Ponderings—Bumps

When I was a kid, I LOVED my bike!  I was one of the kids who was always riding around the neighborhood, or better yet, biking around on our trails or the track some friends and I made in a couple vacant lots behind the house.  The trails we always used were conveniently on the way to the friends I usually spent time with, and while I didn’t know it at the time, along a public easement or something with a drainage ditch, and in some places, strategically located dry ditches right next to each other, so that on the bike, it was one huge bump right next to the other.

On the track we made behind one of our friends’ houses, we put in both a berm at the big curve so we could take the turn faster, and several bumps of various sizes along the track that became our ramps and jumps.  We spent countless hours on those jumps, bumps and track, sometimes together, sometimes just on my own—how could a kid ask for a better life?  Funny thing is, what made it so good were the bumps and obstacles—I doubt it would even earn memory space in my brain if not for those trails and bumps and the many crashes they brought!

Why is it that the bumps and crashes that are the foundations for the adventures of our young lives, and the substance of our most treasured memories, seem to be what we try most to avoid as adults?  We go to great efforts as kids to either find or create those bumps and relive the crashes through our best stories, yet as adults, it’s very different.  Any realistic assessment of life, and wherever we find ourselves, recognizes that bumps and crashes are an inescapable and essential part of the fabric of our lives.  Can’t we as adults find ways to embrace them again?

Our Army kiddo Kaz just recently sent us pictures of a couple “Tough Mudder” type obstacle runs Kaz and the roomie had a ball with—adults looking for bumps and obstacles to have fun with!  But what about in our normal lives?  Life is truly bumpy—sometimes more than others, sometimes with obstacles that may seem insurmountable—but weren’t those the most exciting when we finally made it past when we were kids?

What might change in our lives if we embraced life’s bumps and obstacles, if we recognized life’s imperfections and looked at them as a part of the adventure of life, rather than dreading them fearing utter failure?  Might it bring more fun and excitement back into our too often dull adult lives?  Sure, sometimes we fall and get bumps and boo-boos—but that’s what bandages and kisses are for!  And don’t we learn more from mistakes and failures than success?

Here’s to the bumpy road!  Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—Flag Day

Pastoral Ponderings—Flag Day

This week we in the United States celebrate “Flag Day,” while we United Methodists “Conference” together in our area’s annual business meeting for the denomination. An interesting coincidence when I also just recently had some conversations with some of our church folk about flags in the church, and oddly enough, when going through some of my old papers, I ran across some articles about flags in churches dating back to the WWI era when it first became a common practice.

I never thought about flags in church until I was in seminary more than 30 years ago, when one of my seminary friends from Australia, asked “why do you have the American Flag in your churches, when I thought we were in church to be worshipping God, NOT the country?” I had never even thought about it, so certainly didn’t have any kind of answer to his question.

Turns out when you look at the history of flags in American churches, the common practice goes back to the WWI era, when there was a strong populist push for political isolationism and staying out of the war under President Woodrow Wilson’s leadership. By the end of the war, though, many American churches showed their support of our war efforts by flying US flags in their churches.

But when our worship spaces, especially our chancel areas where flags often reside, are intended to focus our eyes, hearts and souls with the symbols of Christian worship, can we express how the flag has a theological place in our centers of Christian worship? Add to this question, that the official Flag code says the flag should always (even in churches) hold the place of highest honor. But doesn’t that directly clash with the ultimate priority of God in our lives and faith, over ALL other loyalties?

Definitely something to think about. And being a church, shouldn’t our guiding thoughts come from scripture, as well as from using our God’s eye lens, rather than a more worldly lens? Having been retired from being a Soldier for more than 20 years with three combat deployments, I’m certainly not shy on patriotism, and I’m probably irked more than most at the sight of tattered flags still flying, or flags being displayed inappropriately. So what’s your theology on flying flags in church—but think about it as a facet of our faith, not just a personal preference or from a sense of nostalgia. Might make a good conversation!

Keep being a blessing—Pastor Jim, Chaplain (Lt. Col.), ret.
Take a look at the article link below for more

Pastoral Ponderings- Think about it… 

Pastoral Ponderings- Think about it… 

I saw a big truck this week that was painted up like a portable billboard, as so many are these days, and it caught my eye as I’m sure was the intent.  But I think I saw something there that wasn’t intended!  The truck was advertising a convenience store proclaiming it was SO convenient, that the character on the truck was excitedly proclaiming, “I don’t even have to THINK about it…”—and the ad goes on to imply that numbed, non-thinking brain as a REWARD??

From at least as far back as Socrates some 2500 years ago, and getting a huge resurgence in Western culture– even a “renaissance” one might say with the Enlightenment era of the 15th and 16th centuries– “thinking” has been highly valued the world over.  Yet this traveling billboard proclaims it a “reward” that “I don’t even have to THINK.”  What’s going on here?

Have we gotten tired of thinking?  Would we rather let someone else do our thinking for us?  Do we think someone else can know God’s thoughts for us better than our own sense of God’s discernment, or should we follow others’ thoughts that God is too inconvenient for us these days?  Has thinking become so inconvenient (per the “convenience” store “reasoning?”), that it has become more a bother than helpful?

The accidental father of our Methodist tradition, John Wesley, in one of his many letters, expressed how important reason, or the responsibility of good thinking is to faith: “It is a fundamental principle with us [i.e., Methodists] that to renounce reason is to renounce religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion.” (Letter to Dr. Rutherford: 28th March 1768).  In other words, an irrational faith, such as one based on a “greatest commandment” of love, expressed in what appears to be hateful ways, makes no sense, and can thus be no true faith.  Think about it (if it’s not too inconvenient…).

That stuff inside our skulls is not there just to keep our hearts beating and ensure our faces keep their shape, God put it there with its vast capacities to explore the glories of God’s creation and graces, and to find creative ways to share God’s love with a hurting world.  I’m sorry if that seems inconvenient.  Just thinking– perhaps God has better plans for us than merely our convenience?  But what’s the use in thinking like that?

Just keep thinking—Pastor Jim Lewis—Twin Falls, Ravenna and Charlestown UMCs

 

 

Pastoral Ponderings- Son Spots—

Pastoral Ponderings- Son Spots—

This has been a great season for heavenly signs—first a great eclipse, now the Aurora Borealis visible across half the country, and even here in Ohio!  And have you heard that even in OH we’re likely to see the Aurora Borealis more often in the coming year due to more sun spot action in the coming months?

I don’t know all the ins and outs of how it works— though I’ve heard it all comes about from action by the sun—something about CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections), whatever that means.  I was disappointed to “only” see a colorless though dramatic gray sky, while some friends just down the road (Thanks Kelly!) got WONDERFUL shots with all the color and drama we often hear about.

I’m fascinated by the beauty of the event, that I’ve usually just seen on TV or in the movies.  But though I don’t understand all the details of how they work, that the work from powerful stuff coming from the sun seems to be a wonderful parable of nature and our language working together.  The sun sending out powerful bursts of energy brings beauty for those who have eyes to see—many don’t even look, or are unwilling to get in the right place at the right time to see.

Change one letter and you have a great image of what God does to send out great burst of His energy of grace that brings both beauty and great transforming power– The SON sending out powerful bursts of energy brings beauty for those who have eyes to see—many don’t even look, or are unwilling to get in the right place at the right time to see.

Lord, give us eyes to see the glorious signs of the power of what You keep sending out way in Jesus!

Pastoral Ponderings–New Wineskins? 

Pastoral Ponderings–New Wineskins?  

I recently walked into a Veterans organization to ask a few questions—and for an organization that, like many churches, has long been having a decline in seeing newer, younger faces (and in that context, mine is still a younger face!), you would think they would be eager to see and welcome a stranger stopping by.  But it felt much more like an almost hostile environment, as if I was invading some secret ritual (like drinking at a bar??).

Contrast that experience to what I heard of from our currently running United Methodist General Conference dealing with several very contentious decisions.  One of our denomination’s leading pastors, who was giving video updates of the proceedings, said “This Conference is different, it’s special, there’s such a sense of joy and hope” filling the air of the 800 some delegates from around the world—in contrast to the past 8 such conferences he had been a part of across almost 40 years.  Our Bishop’s brief message echoes that same sense.

Among other things, he was reporting last night that a legislative committee’s much-anticipated work pertaining to LGBTQ issues would be going to the full vote this morning that could reverse the past fifty years of restrictive language pertaining to many of God’s children.  He pointed out with his collection of Methodist “Disciplines” (the book containing official UM rules and policy) going all the way back to 1808–spanning more than 150 years of dramatic growth in the denomination–that our Methodist policies never had any restrictive language about gender issues until 1972.  It was in that year that our United Methodist policies changed to include restrictive language pertaining to gender issues—which also roughly corresponds to when the denomination (along with many others) started showing significant and consistent patterns of decline.

The first part of that official vote happened this morning, with some 93% of delegates from around the world in favor of removing restrictions on ordination, and allowing for (though not requiring of any church nor pastor) marriage and full inclusion of church members identifying as being in the LGBTQ+ world.

Many of us, including Karol and I, know, love, and care deeply for persons and family members falling under this umbrella—have you ever thought of these loved ones as less loved by God?  I doubt it!  Please remind ALL of God’s children, that we are ALL welcome at Christ’s table, and welcome to fully be a part of the life of our churches.

Keep being a blessing to all God’s family—Pastor Jim

Bishop Malone’s less than 4 minute update– https://vimeo.com/941746069

UM News article with more detail– https://www.umnews.org/en/news/40-year-ban-on-gay-clergy-struck-down

 

Pastoral Ponderings—1860

Pastoral Ponderings—1860 

In my little bits of down time here and there, what I’ve been doing “for fun” these days is exploring the history of our old farmhouse, starting with being an amateur archaeologist looking at old nails and construction techniques (if hand hewn timber and wood-peg construction doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what would!), and now exploring historical records.  I was thrilled just recently to find a federal census map of the area showing our house—official documentation of its being here at least as early as 1860!

Some of you reading this will readily recognize how exciting that is, while others of you are scratching your heads and wondering, “so what?”  As I recognize that some of you wonder about my excitement, it leads me to ask the same question of myself, of why this might be important to me.  Odd, isn’t it, to get excited about someone else’s history?

Throughout the New Testament, the scriptures proclaim in several ways that as we come to Christ, we become adopted into becoming children of God and “heirs according to the promise”.  That we have become children of God is foundational to my faith, but that part about “heirs,” or more so, being adopted in as “joint heirs” with Christ kind of went over my head.  But now being entrusted with this piece of history in our 19th c. farmhouse, I feel I have become a “joint heir” with the McCorkle family who started building this farm almost 200 years ago, bringing me into a better understanding of these scriptures about being adopted into the family of God.

A pastor I worked years ago was telling me about his love for his son, despite the son’s well-deserved time in prison—STILL loving the son, despite what he had done, because he was his son.  As we have been adopted into God’s family, we are still beloved, despite the messes we’ve made of our lives, and as “heirs of the promise” of God’s transforming power, that history we have with God is foundational to who we are.

Our history matters!  And if it takes being made joint heirs with the McCorkles in this farm to remind me of the importance of being joint heirs with Christ, then maybe my love of history is paying off!  What makes it real to you—or what MIGHT make it real to you to know deep down into the history of your soul, that YOU are truly beloved as a joint heir with Jesus, as a true child of God, of all the promises of God’s transforming love that He has to offer?

Exploring what it means to be such an heir—Pastor Jim

Swamps and Kintsugi 

Pastoral Ponderings—Swamps and Kintsugi 

Part of our relaxation this week in Williamsburg has been geocaching along some of the trails we’ve been hiking.  I’ve not usually thought much about swamps when Colonial Williamsburg has come to mind, but I found out that though Jamestown just down the road, part of “Virginia’s Historic Triangle,” though the first permanent English settlement, was not destined to greatness due to its being nestled in a swampy area.

Though I grew up in FL with the TV series “Flipper” set in the Everglades ever in the back of my mind, I’ve always thought of swamps more as places of decay and mess that I’d rather avoid.  Yet it turns out that swamps are not only one of the most abundant biomes around, that it is a place of decay also means it is a place of abundant renewal of life, that I didn’t really realize until walking along these swampy trails, hearing the abundance of birdsong, and passing a group of excited birders with their cameras and binoculars eager to gab about their many avian sightings.

And in God’s ever amazing providence, I also stumbled this week across an art form I’d heard about long ago, but that I never took notice of, but that is now fascinating me, which goes along with swamps and renewal (at least in my twisted mind), a Japanese art form known as kintsugi.  Kintsugi is the art of mending broken pottery, or the art of creating beauty out of brokenness.  It is also built on a philosophy of accepting what is, and has been a part of finding or even creating beauty again after loss and grief.

You will likely hear more of these intertwining themes from me in the coming months, as these kind of “God-sighting” inspirations tend to bleed over into what I do.  Makes me want to ask the question, where do we find places of decay in our lives that we just want to turn our backs on, rather that seeking to create beauty out of the places of brokenness?  Or why do we find these kinds of places in our lives leading us to question God, rather than seeing God’s wisdom, as a golden thread throughout the Bible, just like the golden threads in kintsugi, showing us that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness?

I’m betting we all have these places of brokenness in our lives.  Can we be open to the new thing God might be doing in our lives to help us create beauty in these broken places?

Doing God’s art together- Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings— It’s Raining Again… 

Pastoral Ponderings— It’s Raining Again… 

“It’s raining again…”—that’s all I remember of that old song that keeps floating through my head on the abundant puddles from our incessant rain, though I’d rather the more positive “Singin’ in the rain…” be what I’m focusing on.  I’ve written about rain and dreary drizzles before—it does seem to be a common theme around here this time of year– and even though our El Nino winter forecasts “warmer” prediction held true, the concurrent “drier” part of that same forecast did not hold water this year, if you will pardon the pun (or not!).

It’s too early in the year for me to focus on the joy of rain bringing new life to my garden, but as I woke up this morning with the sound of rain drops and my septic tank alarm continuing to beep for hours on end for too much water, a different thought sprung to my soggy brain—exoplanets.  That’s planets outside our solar system, but more specifically, the ultimate importance of the need for this same liquid water endlessly falling on us, as one of the essential preconditions for any “life as we know it” to exist on any cosmic body (yes, I have strange thoughts in the mornings…).

As much as we complain about rain, it is essential to our lives in so many ways.  We don’t tend to appreciate its importance, though, until we get too dry and drought conditions set in.  Even the ancients who heard God’s voice to describe creation, in the very first thought of the Bible, told of the existence of water before anything else—“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” (Gen. 1: 1-2)

And yet we complain.  How’s that for appreciation (says I, in a voice dripping like the rain with sarcasm)?  Why is it so much easier to complain than to show appreciation for the wonderous intricacy of God’s plan and creative engineering?  That water can be liquid, and thereby able to be a fabulous solvent essential for the foundational processes of life, that it can coexist in all three of its forms in the same environment (solid, liquid gas—haven’t you heard how alarming it is when glaciers are melting?), that it expands in solid form, unlike most things that condense in solid form—also necessary for NOT having totally frozen oceans—are all essential facets of God’s creative genius allowing for life, is nothing less than awesome.

How many other of God’s wonderous miracles and amazing grace come in hidden forms like the rain that we so often complain about?  Maybe we should take some time to go out “Singin’ in the rain” about God’s often hidden, but amazing grace, to remind us how important it is to appreciate how great is our God.

Pastor Jim