SOUL SEARCHING?

Many would refer to this as soul searching. The misconception of this terminology is the assumption that the object of one’s search has never been found.  In other words, the very use of the word searching implies that, like an archeological dig, one is searching for something that has never been seen or found before in our lifetime.  This would mislead us in believing that the soul is something that most of us have never possessed.  I’d like to open a different door of discovery to suggest that instead of soul searching I have been soul connecting.

I would think that it may be of interest to know what the pastor of your church, the journey of your friend, or the passion of your “spiritual leader” has been up to these days.  In addition to the daily schedule and administrative responsibilities of serving a large church, where is my current focus and the “treasure of my heart.”  I’m glad that you asked.

I have been soul connecting.  According to the scriptures, I was born with one: “…the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7). Psalm 139 speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of us, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 138:13).  The funny thing about babies, they are born with a lot of inner and outer parts that they have no clue what to do with or how to make them work properly.  If we do not have a parent to guide us or a mentor to educate us then the idea that our legs were made to stand on might be a foreign concept.  So too with one’s soul.  Ruth Haley Barton defines the soul as “the place where we connect/find God most personally.” 

I recently had the opportunity to hear Barton speak and I bought and just finished her book, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry.”  What have I been up to?  I have been learning to walk on my soul’s legs with her guidance.  I have happened upon a conduit between myself and God that has been lacking.  I have discovered what an incredible experience it is to be fed with God’s wholeness of Spirit which has awakened my preexisting condition as a soul owner.

I am far from done.  I am far from being an authority.  I simply share as a way to communicate that my reception to spiritual food has given me a deeper strength and energy than I had previously.  Quietness, stillness, listening for God’s voice, and meditation do not come easy or naturally for me but I am sure learning to love it.

A couple of months ago I was asked by a member of the church what I was reading.  She had come to the conclusion that based on what she was seeing, hearing and experiencing from my leadership that I must have been resourced in some way.  She was right.  It was a great observation to discern that it is not my own brain power and skills that allow me to lead and preach and do what I do.  I have read countless books on leadership and continue to read, attend seminars and dialogue with colleagues about leadership.  But, I realized that I neglected to acknowledge that my greatest resource, which I have recently re-discovered, has come when I have connected with my soul, retreated with God, and taken time to be with God.  I highly recommend it but more importantly, I am actively working on doing it myself.

I also read C.S. Lewis, H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” (l love the classics too such as Charles Dickens, Homer, and Shakespeare) Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, and Martin Luther King Jr.  At night I like to read less theological stuff and enjoy mythology and historical fiction.  In addition to my recent completion of “The Short Stories of Jesus; the parables of an Enigmatic rabbi” by Dr. Levine for our Lenten study,  I am finishing my first Stephen King book, “11/22/63″!

I would love to hear what you have been reading and what has been feeding your soul.  We are on this journey together.

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile
Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels.com

CHAOTIC INTERRUPTIONS LEAD TO AN APPRECIATION OF CALM

The conversation is quiet and easy over the evening meal.  The food is hot and the home is comforting at the end of a busy day.  As I take another bite of the main course and reach for my cup of milk while listening to the continuing conversation, LOUD INTERRUPTION ENSUES AS DOGS START BARKING AND RUNNING FOR THE SIDE DOOR!  Miraculously, the milk does not spill and I do not choke on my partially chewed meat as my heart jumps, nerves twitch and my ears adjust to the instant rise in the decibel level.  The catalyst for this fairly regular outburst is none other than the sound of the garage door going up.  Though the actual door on its electronic track is fairly quiet, it begins a cacophony of noise and mayhem that it is best to simply wait out.

(It is very similar to the daily experience portrayed in the 1964 movie classic Mary Poppins when the next door neighbor shoots off his cannon which sends a vibration through the Bank’s home.)

To a visiting guest or the proverbial fly on the wall, our apparent lack of concern may appear as being deaf or too foolish or ignorant of the sounding canine alarm.  Why?  Great question.  We have been through this before.

Experience is a great teacher as is tradition, reason, and scripture.  Our experience has been that the garage door alerts our four-legged family members that someone is coming to visit.  No need for a doorbell here as we had a trio of animal “singers” announcing the guest as would a footman announce Cinderella at the Prince’s ball.

Interruptions are just that, they are an uninvited insertion into the calm, smooth, sailing of our daily lives and routines.  Some are momentary, such as the canine choir at our house, and others are longer such as an unanticipated surgery, flooded basement, flat tire, prolonged illness, injury or death.  As we meander through the interruption and come out on the other side we often look back and think, “how did I just do that,” or “it sure is nice that things have calmed down.”

WE FIND SOLACE IN THE CALM.

 WE DISCOVER FAITH IN THE JOURNEY.

 WE FIND MEANING OF LIFE FROM THE INTERRUPTION.

Psalm 46:10 constantly beckons us to an appreciation of the calm; “Be still and know that I am God”

It takes an effort to be still….

It takes time and intentionality to know God….

The journey is for life…

There will be interruptions.

If you are experiencing an interruption in your life, your work, your family or your faith then I invite you into an understanding that it will subside and the calm will return.  God will be with you in the chaos and will welcome you into the calm.

IMG_6270

 

“KING ARTHUR DID NOT ORIGINATE THE ROUND TABLE”

I have to admit that one of my favorite tales from childhood has been the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  I, of course, loved the sword fights, the magic of Merlin and the whole medieval world.  It was a time for my imagination to run wild as I pretended to be Lancelot or the King himself.

Ironically, another drawing point for me was the fact that Arthur was a good and fair king.  He could have conquered more peoples and subjected them to his will.  But instead, he unified the land by bringing all the “powers that be”, his knights, to sit together at a giant round table where all people were equal.  He followed the newly established law.

In addition, though his queen, Guinevere, fell for his most noble (and up to that point) pure knight, Lancelot, the King never stopped loving her and in an uncharacteristic medieval moment, he forgave her instead of allowing her to be burned at the stake. He followed the law in allowing her arrest but secretly asked Lancelot to save her.  Love has no bounds  So, I digress.

Long before King Arthur, Jesus invited people to gather round table with him.  He treated them as his equal and loved them all the same.  He criticized those who “fought” for a hierarchal relationship and religion.  With now a sword and no knight, he “conquered” the world with love.  I pray that we as the body of Christ will do the same.

On April 28that 1:00pm, you are invited to join me in the fellowship hall to the round table of discussion and sharing in the aftermath of General Conference 2019.  It will be a time to ask questions, openly share differences of opinion and together begin to navigate the next steps forward.  At our last Town Hall meeting before the General Conference, there were 60 people who came to the table to do the same thing.  I cherish the ability to serve a diverse church where freedom of thought, belief, and theology are welcomed.  The scripture tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.”  May our love for one another drive away the fear of change, the unknown and diversity. May our table remain a rounded place of faith and hope and love.

Without swords or knights, we will gather as equals and share together about what it continues to mean to LOVE OR NEIGHBOR.  Please join me April 28that 1:00pm-3:00pm for a cherished and quality time of sharing.

Pastor Craig

Unknown-1

YOU DON’T MOVE A HOLIDAY!

You can’t miss it.  Not just because it is the second house on the left or because the house number is easily seen on the mailbox.  Rather, it has more to do with the two-story spider web, tombstones, human skeletons and large caldron the front yard; the only front yard on the entire street!  What can I say?  My family does Halloween well.  Strobe lights, fog machine, fake blood (I hope it’s fake) vultures etc.  In addition to it being one of my daughter’s favorite holidays, it may also be due to my own love of costumes and candy.

Truthfully, as a United Methodist Pastor, I have had my share of “well-meaning” folks that feel the need to share with me how Halloween began and the evils of the “devil’s day” and have encouraged me to pass out religious tracts.  As gracefully as I can, I decline the offer, throw away the tracts and attempt to communicate that the devil doesn’t own any day, according to scriptures.  So maybe it is that ornery streak I may have that causes me to rebel against those who believe that every witch, Harry Potter book, mythology, magic or fantasy is an affront against God and a plot to remove Jesus from the earth.

PREPOSTEROUS!  That’s probably all I should say about that for now.  It fits in the same category as those that would believe that abbreviating Christmas as Xmas, actually takes Jesus Christ out of Christmas.  (By the way, if you study the derivation of the “X” used in the abbreviation, you will find it more than appropriate)

Enough of that rant.  Off to the next one!

WHY  do you move a whole holiday?  For a guy who longs to be at the door to hand out candy and meet neighbors and welcome folks who make a special trip just to see the spooky décor of my house, moving Halloween up ONE WHOLE DAY BECAUSE OF RAIN, really honks me off as it steals my fun.  So, how do you do that?  I suppose it is done by committee.  Let’s face it, no one likes to trick or treat in the rain, but the candy still tastes the same and it actually makes things more spooky.

I suppose I should prepare to move Christmas Day back one day so that Christmas Eve is on a Sunday again so that folks don’t have to go to church twice.  Perhaps we should move Valentine’s Day to the Spring because more flowers are in bloom and the roses would cost less.

My point?  You can’t change like the weather.

When folks were deciding to follow Jesus, he did not make the “requirements” easier to fit others’ schedules or conveniences.

“Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. 24  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.” (Luke 9)

“Now when Jesus saw the crowd, he ordered his disciples to go over to the other side of the lake. 19 A legal expert came and said to him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One[b] has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”(Matthew 8)

Summary:  “STOP WITH THE EXCUSES ALREADY!”

There’s no book on “How to move a holiday” because you shouldn’t.  There’s no book on the easy way to follow Jesus because there isn’t.

Want my candy?  Put on your rain gear.

Want to be a follower of Jesus?  Prepare for the reality discomfort.

october-31-st-calendar-colored-260nw-740261617

The Grass Is Greener….

It was bare and dry as a bone.  Before the parsonage’s permanent fence was installed (it is spectacular by the way) the temporary fence for our three dogs was a much smaller area with a chain link fence.  After two months of three pets using the same confined space for their “relief” the grass died and the ground was barren.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed.” Matthew 13:3

I’m no farmer and sowing seed is not in my list of spiritual gifts.  So, after consulting with a staff member who sent me a great video from You Tube, I had the basics.  I purchased the needed items and then came home to prepare the barren ground for new growth.  I raked up all of the dead grass and loosened the soil with a metal rake.  Next, I added top soil and then I tossed the seed generously over the whole area.  Finally, I added some more top soil and then I watered the whole area.  Then I waited.

In the back of my brain I heard the voice of uncertainty saying, “It’s not going to work.  The seed will wash away and all you will have is watered down mud.”  But, I stuck to the plan.  I watered the ground every day.  Nothing happened and nothing happened and nothing happened until day 3 or 4.  I saw the tiniest little green strands of grass starting to permeate the dark top soil and the regular dirt.  That little strand was what I needed to keep up with my diligence in watering and keeping the dogs off of the area.

Miracle of miracles, two weeks later we have real grass that is tall enough to mow and thick enough for the dogs to lay in.  I had been given all of the right ingredients and then I just had to wait.

The parallel to ministry and the future of our faith community should not be too hard to follow here.

THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS MIXED TOGETHER ARE A RECIPE FOR TASTY SUCCESS!

The top soil was the key.  I had to add more enriched soil to the worn -out dirt in order to be a catalyst for growth.  And, ta da, the grass is greener.

The parable of the sower can be read in its entirety in Matthew chapter 13.  When seed is sown, it is literally tossed upon the ground in a less than methodical manner.  And true to nature, some of the seed grew faster and stronger in their area than others.  True to form, all the right ingredients had to be together to get the best results BUT it did not stop the other grass from growing.

God has been tossing seeds of hope and esteem and love and energy and growth on NUMC for some time.  It appears, that with the consistent watering of worship, invitation, prayer, forgiveness, new faces, and renewed commitment that the seed is starting to sprout.  I can see the tiniest of strands permeating our faith community.

We are promised 100 -fold (a great return on our planting) if we continue to receive the water of baptism, the warmth of God’s love and the super nutrients of Holy Spirit.  It may feel as if it has been a wait for many of us, but now the grass is much greener, NOT ON THE OTHER SIDE, but right here.

“Seed that fell on good soil, produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

background bright close up environment

MIRACULOUS MELANCHOLY

I think it is one of those onomatopoeia words. Those are words whose spelling and pronunciation actually make the sound they are describing such as “buzz” or “hum.” But in this case, it is an emotive onomatopoeia; melancholy. It is defined as a “pensive sadness with no obvious cause.” I woke up that way.
For no particular reason, I woke up “pensive, contemplative and emotionally still” which felt kind of sad. Maybe I was tired or had too much on my mind; but when I feel melancholy I do not spend much time trying to discern the cause, but rather accept that I must pay attention to what my emotive self is communicating to me.
With my creativity effectively shut down, I went outside and sat in one of our lawn chairs on a beautiful morning watching our dogs play and romp and then relax in the cool wet grass which served as a nice refreshing rug of nature under my bare feet. Simultaneously, my awareness of that which is around me and my peace of doing nothing in particular intersected. I am aware of a gentle breeze and the coolness of
morning dew washing my feet. Being aware and at peace is a powerful thing. I felt no need to or catalyst to rise from my comfortable place and uproot a weed, return tools to the garage, adjust the patio umbrella or prevent one of the three canines from digging a new hole. I was, dare I say, content at the moment.
When the “pensive sadness” became a subtle wave over my heart, I felt the deepness of an emotional connection to God’s view of a broken world. My tear ducts attempted to add some fluid to my cheeks but then was arrested by the balance with the peace that reminded me all is alright. I looked up into the blue sky and saw the trail of clouds and jet streams that were filling the space above me. I believe that I saw what I wanted, or needed to see… a comforting image of Jesus. Because the image was so huge it made me feel both covered in love and appropriately cared for by a God who is so much greater than I.
“And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Jesus (Matthew 28:20)
I would not have seen the image I needed to see, nor experienced the peace and emotion I needed to feel without the Miraculously Melancholy that awakened me.
We often see what we want to see, and when what we want to see is what we need to see or feel are the same thing – then we have an Epiphany (an enlightening and/or revelation, encounter) with God. Following Jesus does not mean that each day we wake up with an energy and fervor to take on the world. It can also mean that we wake up more “pensive” to experience God’s presence in a new or different way. Following Jesus is just that; following.

However you woke up this morning, my hope is that you discover God’s presence and peace in some way, shape or form throughout the day. Walk barefoot in the grass, take a good look at the sky above you or have lunch with a co-worker who can just be present with you. May you discover the miracle of  melancholy when it wakes you up

images

Anything But Ordinary

 

It was anything but ordinary….

A brilliant deep blue sky provided the vast ceiling for an equally clear, deep, blue floor of calm alpine water.  Appearing to hold the weight of the beautiful sky in place was the massive snow-capped pillars of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The giant pines laden with gargantuan pine cones larger than my hand created a border with hues of brown, green and cedar red.  Below the trees receiving the gentle lapping water were the large boulders half submerged and but still seen through the transparent liquid that had fallen from previous days of skies filled with clouds, not blue space.

It was anything but ordinary….

The morning had been leisurely with a big breakfast to match the big landscape.  I had awakened to the seemingly painted scene outside my window after sleeping hard on a soft bed.  The day before had been filled with soulful worship and prayer and koinonia (we have no English word equivalent for this one in Greek which is the essence of fellowship and communion with God through Holy Spirit in our midst).  And now, I was free to be.

It was anything but ordinary….

I sat on the wooden dock that framed three sides of the soon-to-be summer swimming area.  Not another person was around as I pulled up the log-built rocking bench and sat down in the heat of the sun to read the words in my book.  The environment around me was so serene and quiet I found myself looking up to make sure IT was real; this moment, this place, this experience.  As others occasionally wandered onto the dock or the small beach behind me I felt no need to notice them for I was fully engulfed by the words on the page and surrounded by the creation of my Creator.  No agenda, no schedule, no obligatory greeting to passers-by required.

It was anything but ordinary….

The chapter of the book I was reading was talking about the liturgical seasons of the church.  The season that we are about to enter into in just two weeks is referred to as “Ordinary Time.”  It is the season that follows Pentecost and precedes Advent.  It is our longest season spanning June through November.  It is an interesting title for a season: Ordinary Time.  It is interesting because every single day is anything but ordinary when God is involved.  Life is unpredictable and can be challenging and joyful and sorrowful and transforming and tragic and hurtful and helpful around any corner.  So I guess that Ordinary Time with God means EXTRAORDINARY TIME for us.  Being on a worship retreat and spending quality time with God while worshipping with other followers of Christ from several denominations was indescribable.  BUT,

It was anything but ordinary!!!

IMG-3673

A Metal Treasure Box

The date had been on my calendar for some time.  To every experience that has a beginning, there must also be an end.  I had shared with the elementary students on Tuesday of last week that I would be driving them to school for the last time on that Friday.  I wanted them to know that the catalyst for my departure was not their behavior but because I would be moving and had to pack.  It felt good to be able to tell them and to know that closure was coming.

It started the very next day.  A few students got on the bus and handed me pictures they had drawn for me.  I thanked them as they hugged me and then they went and sat down.  Other children shared that they did not want me to go and would ask again “Why?”

I am self-aware enough to know that saying “Good morning and have a good afternoon” to children every day builds a relationship.  I like to have fun so I know that most of the children enjoyed some of the fun things that we did such as participating in hat day or voting on who would win the Super Bowl or decorating the interior of the bus at Christmas time.  But I was not prepared for the connection of the heart.

The teacher brought one little girl to my bus on Thursday who was crying heavily.  I thought she must have fallen which is often the case.  “She does not want you to go,” the teacher said.  “She has been upset all day and other children from your bus have been talking about your leaving as well.”  There was a long hug after which I sat in my driver’s seat and held back my own tears.  The next morning one of the frequently suspended students shared that his little brother wanted to give me a stuffed bear but that it was all dirty so he told him to leave it at home.  He apologized that he didn’t have a gift for me and said his Dad still had it in the car and…”It’s okay,” I interrupted.  “You don’t need to get me anything.”  As his little brother was getting off the bus to go into the school he was crying.  He said someone had cut in front of him but I knew it was something else because cutting in line happened every day.  As I hugged this crying young boy and reassured him that he would be missed, the rest of the students walked by silently some asking what was wrong.  All I could think to say was, “he is just sad today.”

On Friday some parents waited at their child’s bus stop to thank me personally for caring for their child.  Some handed me cards and notes.  It was tough driving through blurry water filled eyes.  “I was just the bus driver,” I thought.  I was reminded that God had made it so much more.  Anyone can make a difference by simply being present in the lives of others.

I took a picture of all the students in front of the bus on Friday afternoon and will treasure their faces.  I cannot share them with you as that is appropriately a violation of school social media policy.  But I’m sure you can imagine them.

As is often the case, I set out to a new adventure of driving a school bus to be challenged, to be a positive influence, to learn, to meet new people and to reach out into my own community.  All of those proved to be true but I did not count on the deep impact the experience and the people would have on me.  I did not count on the number of bus drivers that took time to say “good-bye.”  I tried to keep my emotions and faith experience in check and to remain appropriately detached but God had found a wayGod made it more.  I find myself grieving some this week over the lack of “Good Mornings.”

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  My treasure was found inside a big, yellow, metal box on wheels.  The cargo on that bus still has a big chunk of my heart.

IMG_3478

Gotta Love Chaos

It was all about God’s creation.  The skit the songs and the costumes clearly were designed to convey that God made everything and that everything God made was good.  But, what was most strongly demonstrated was the most basic principle of the book of Genesis; out of chaos, God created order.

Keep in mind, I am referring to children two years old through school age.  For weeks, the children of Noah’s Ark Childcare Ministry have been practicing the songs and motions.  They would sing it in their classrooms and repeat it at home every day so that the words and tune-filled their parents’ heads.  On the evening of their Spring program with all of the family and friends present the children were escorted into the sanctuary by their teachers.  I gave the welcome and then introduced the school age class for their skit.  They memorized their lines, did a great job and even got the timing right on the humor.  From then on, the example of chaos appeared to reign.

It takes eons to line up 2 and 3-year-olds.  No one really has any control over how the children will react once they are on stage.  The motions and words were performed better with some than others.  Freelancing children would “do their own thing” as the song was being played.  But, only one child cried and refused to go up front.

The closing number was with all of the children!  The child wranglers (teachers) did their best to get them to stand in order and to stay put until the song began.  That was all they could do.  “If I Were a Butterfly” turned out to be a big hit despite the squiggles, and giggles and fidgets.  Why?

Because the best stuff to catch on camera is the spontaneity of children.  Many of the children had to get that last hug from his/her teacher before having the courage to stand up front.  The kids’ eyes searched the crowd for loved ones to ensure they were not alone and their waves to parents during the number was simply a way to acknowledge the support of their family.  It was chaotic and noisy and squirrely but out of that chaos of young energy came the order of love.

There was no doubt in the room that each child was proud, excited and eager to share their moment.  There was no doubt that the parents treated this performance like a Broadway play.  Love was the order of the evening.  Hugs and giggles and laughter and shout-outs were two-fold:  they created the chaos and they exemplified the love.

You gotta have chaos first before you can have order.  You gotta love chaos because, without it, the power of God’s love is not magnified.  

Out of chaotic darkness; light

Out of chaotic galactic traffic; heavens and earth

Out of chaotic shining stars; the sun and the moon

Out of chaotic cellular, tubular and planetoid organisms; life.

May you experience the joy of chaos as you discover the order of God’s love within.

images

 

FORCES OF ….

It was 70 degrees as we traveled at about that same mph on our trip to enjoy time away in nature.  The further west we traveled the more the wind picked up and the lower the temperature began to drop.  Once we arrived at our trailhead it was cooler and breezier.  But, since the trail took us through the thick coniferous forest, we were protected from the wind.  We could hear it above us as the tops of those tall wooden giants swayed with a rhythm fitting of a slow swing or a waltz.

We came out of the trees to the forest edge to see what we had come for:  the giant rock formations that had been molded over the last 35 million years when southern Illinois was under an ocean.  We were walking on a former seabed that was bereft of fish and any other sea life.   Although the trail meandered around and through some of the layered boulders, there are plenty of areas to climb up and to look out over the vast, pre-spring landscape.  It would have been a beautiful place to sit and contemplate life had it not been for the strength of the wind!  With near gale force gusts, the wind was strong enough to lean against.  The problem; it was also strong enough to knock you off of your feet and propel you into the valley below.  I did not feel quite so oversized or heavy when matched against such a force.  I was overmatched and so wisely came down from the higher rock formation.

The name of the place became appropriate that day; The Garden of the Gods.  Maybe the name was designed to describe how the formations were formed almost as if they were the footprints of giants.  Rather, I believe the name may come out of respect and awe for the forces of nature that are wielded there at a moment’s notice.  Not unlike the fire and power unleashed on humanity in Greek mythology by the gods, being in the presence of such power cannot go unnoticed.  And yet…. 

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks….but the Lord was not in the wind.

After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 

After the earthquake, there came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper….then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here?’” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

I have to admit that it does get my mind to wandering, “What are the forces that I allow to control my actions, my words, and my very life?”  Most often it can be the most powerful “winds,” “earthquakes,” and “fires.”  I do not believe that this is what God intended.  I believe God intends for us to calm ourselves in the midst of such forces and instead listen for God’s whisper that will guide us to where God wants us to go.

Today, if you believe that the wrong “forces” are steering you, then I invite you to calm yourself and listen….

For the whisper of God.

IMG_5584