Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Love One Another!" Let's Try That!

We are now half way through the year, and I would be willing to bet that none of us could have predicted how this year would unfold. But unfold it has, and is still doing so. The challenges are many and varied, and they seem to just keep coming. The drastic measures put in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19 made a huge difference. Here in Montana the growth of new cases almost completely stopped for more than a month. But then the restrictions were relaxed, and now the numbers are once again on the rise. The problem of systemic racism has been with us for a long time, and this year we find ourselves confronted with it yet again, this time in ways which seem finally to be getting people’s attention. But still there is resistance and push back. These are but two examples. Some days it seems as if everywhere we turn there is some new challenge crying out for our attention. People everywhere are hurting, and all too often there don’t seem to be any good answers. But for those of us who seek to be people of faith, having no good answer need not stop us, because it is not just up to us to have all the answers or solve all the problems. We can only do what it is within our power to do, and trust in God to be with us in the process. It does mean, however, that we need to step up and do our part. As the sign I carried at the Human Rights Rally last week-end at the Capitol said, “Jesus said, ‘Love one another.’ Let’s try that!” Not just some mushy, feel-good love. We need to be about the business of whole-hearted, full-bodied love – a love that gets our hands dirty – a love that might make us uncomfortable. It means we are called to take the steps we can take to keep each other safe. Put on a mask (it’s to protect others from what you may unknowingly be carrying). Practice appropriate social distancing. Avoid crowds. It means we are called to listen to those who are hurting, and stand with them as they proclaim their truth. When I went to the Human Rights Rally (with my sign) I was prepared for a reporter to come talk to me (none did – but I was prepared). My response was going to be, and still will be at any future rally I attend, “I’m here to stand with, not to speak for. I encourage you to go find a person of color, or an indigenous person, or an LGBTQ person. Hear their pain. Listen to their story.” We are called to share the love of God through the living of our lives. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel every day. If necessary, use words.” In these very challenging days in which we find ourselves, we cannot always (or ever) choose or control the challenges we face, but we can choose and control how we will face them. Love one another. Let’s start there!

- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Monday, June 1, 2020

To Be Faithful in These Challenging Days

These are challenging days to be alive in the world. The pandemic has upended so much of what was familiar and left us uncertain about the future. And now, long standing problems of racism and violence are erupting in ways that have become impossible to ignore. Anger, hurt, rage, and confusion are all playing out right in front of us, and even within us. It can be easy to become overwhelmed as we try to sort through all the conflicting images and information to discover a faithful path forward into a brighter future, not just for us but for all people everywhere. And we dare not look away. If we are not seeking to be a part of the solution then we are a part of the problem. Several millennia ago the prophet Micah offered these words regarding what it means to be people of faith. “God has shown you, O people, what is good; and what does our God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Then in Matthew’s Gospel we find Jesus making it very clear how we are called to live. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40) In John’s Gospel the message is more succinct. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Yes, these are challenging days to be alive, and figuring out the specific details regarding how to respond can be daunting, but the basic mandate is clear. It can be summed up in one word – Love! When people are hungry, feed them. When people are hurting, comfort them. When people are being ignored, listen to them. When people are being killed by systemic racism, transform the system. It is not a task we can undertake alone. It is not a task that will be quickly or easily completed. So we must come together and draw strength from each other. We must start with what is right in front of us. And we must begin now. In reflecting on the words from Micah, the Jewish Talmud puts it this way, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” So we begin. As God’s people we begin. As the Body of Christ we begin. As people of faith we begin. With our voices, with our actions, with each other we begin. Each of us in our own small ways, in our own little corners of the world, we begin. In these challenging days we begin. In love we begin.

- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Shining a Light on My Fear

Out of the corner of my mind’s eye I caught a glimpse of movement – something hiding in the shadows. I looked more closely and discovered that it was fear. I realize now that it has been there for a while, gnawing at my soul. But I didn’t see it because I had been ignoring it. Acknowledging it would have meant dealing with it, and apparently I hadn’t been prepared to do that. After all, I was suppose to be in control. I’m the guy who is supposed to always be positive and grateful and wise. Except, of course, that I’m also oh so very human. And right now I’m feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed. It feels like important decisions need to be made and I don’t know how to make them. There was no class in seminary called “Pastoring a Church during a Global Pandemic Shut-down.” I’m just winging it – doing the best I know how and feeling pretty inadequate in the face of the task at hand. But that fear lurking in the shadows, gnawing on my soul, is not serving me well. So I am choosing to stop ignoring it. I am choosing to pay attention. And just that decision allows the light to come streaming into my heart. Even as I am writing these words I remember an old Jewel song that I haven’t thought of in years, and, of course, the words are a perfect reminder of what is really true. 

“If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we’re all ok
And not to worry because worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these

I will not be made useless
I won’t be idyl with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear”
(from “Hands” by Jewel)

Suddenly I remember what I know to be true but sometimes I forget – I can only be myself, and that is enough. All I can do is show up, be myself, do my best, and trust God with the rest. I am not alone. It’s not all up to me. But my part is up to me. And what’s been preventing me from showing up and doing my part is fear. So that ends now (at least until I forget again). Today I choose to let some light shine into my soul. Today I choose to show up and do my best. Today I choose to remember that I am not alone. Today I choose to give myself permission to just be me and let that be enough. Today . . .

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Choices We Make

"My Tree" on Mount Helena
As we move through these days which seem so filled with upheaval and uncertainty, it can be tempting to see only the bad, acknowledge only the ugly, reflect on only the uncomfortable and the inconvenient. But while such things are certainly present, and frequently easy to notice, they do not represent the whole truth. Our world and our lives are also filled with opportunities to be surrounded by Sacred Presence and immersed in blessings. We see what we pay attention to, we can choose what we pay attention to, and our choices can make a powerful difference in how we experience life. 

Helena, along with lots of other cities around Montana and throughout the world, is engaging in an interesting social practice. Every night at 8pm people are stepping out onto their front porches and howling. The particular form of expression might vary from place to place, but the underlying experience is the same - it is a manifestation of community coming together in the face of adversity. We can’t be close to each other, but we can join our voices and our hearts together. The results can be heard all over town, rising up in a collective proclamation that our bond will not be denied. The only thing that can stop such connection is our choices. Last night I had the idea to walk up onto the mountain to “my tree” (where I usually go at sunrise). I thought it would be a wonderful spot to experience the howling. But when I got about a block away from my intended destination I looked up and saw that there were already people at “my tree.” And instantly my sense of connection and community was shattered. The magic drained out of me. “How dare they choose that spot! Who do they think they are anyway? Don’t they know that is my tree?” Yes, every one of those thoughts ran through my head. I’m not particularly proud of it, but it is what happened. No one forced me to react that way. I chose to react that way. It didn’t seem so at the time. In that moment I was only aware of my outrage. But the truth is that I could have chosen otherwise. I could have chosen to acknowledge my disappointment and then celebrate the fact that someone new would be able to experience the magic of “my tree.” Instead my choice prevented me from experiencing the magic of that moment. And I am sad about that. But now I get to make another choice. I can learn from the experience and endeavor to make more life-serving choices next time, or I can ignore the lesson and doom myself to repeat it. My intention is to strive to learn from the experience. There is much that is good and true and beautiful in the world. I invite you to join me in paying attention so that we will notice, and in noticing experience the blessings which are always present, just waiting to be received.

Here is a poem I wrote yesterday morning, while standing at “my tree.” Apparantly it is a practice I need to repeat on a regular basis.

Standing in THIS place
Greeting THIS new day
Opening myself to THIS present moment
I bring ALL the parts of me:
my HOPES and my FEARS
my GIFTS and my CHALLENGES
my FAITH and my UNCERTAINTY
my LOVE and my HATE
my JOY and my GRIEF
I EMBRACE them all
And then I RELEASE them
As I step into THIS new day
To which THEY brought me
Now FREE and UNENCUMBERED
And ready to BECOME more fully myself

- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reach Out - Stay Connected

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
How quickly the world can change! Seemingly overnight much that we took for granted about the ways we lived our lives has been turned upside down and scattered to the wind. In the midst of this tumultuous time there is lots of uncertainty and plenty of suffering. And it feels like some new disruption shows up every day. Through all of it there is the temptation to panic, react in fear, and feel alone. I would invite you to take a breath (or perhaps several deep, cleansing breaths) and remember that even as the air is filling your lungs God’s Spirit is filling your life. You are never alone and you are never on your own. We have the very power of God within us, and when we forget that truth we are a part of a community of faith that can remind us. In the creation story found in the second chapter of Genesis, God declares, “It is not good for the human to be alone.” We are meant to be in relationship. We are meant to be in community. We find strength, and comfort, and support in the connections we share with each other. Now more than ever we need to nurture those connections. Reach out to each other. Offer love and support. Ask for love and support. This present darkness will pass. We will get through this. And we will come out the other side so much stronger and healthier when we remember to stay connected.

The other day I was introduced to a reflection by Mark Nepo, from “The Book of Awakening.” I believe it offers some profound wisdom for these days.
To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken.
Seldom seen, growing along the ocean floor, the white-plume anemone is a watery blossom. It is white lace opening under tons of black, opening as if bathed in the sun, while so far from the sun.
This is the trick to staying well, isn’t it: to feel the sun even in the dark. To not lose the truth of things when they go out of view. To grow just the same. To know there is still water, even when we are thirsty. To know there is still love, even when we are lonely. To know there is still peace, even when we are suffering.
None of this invalidates our pain, but only strengthens our way back into the light.
- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Loss, Love, & Life

Later this week will mark the 10-year anniversary of my late wife Veronica’s death. I’ve done a lot of healing and learning and growing since then. And along the way I’ve written some things that still ring true. On the morning of her surgery (about a week and a half before she died) I reflected on the love and support we were receiving. 
- - - - -
February 25, 2010
Greetings again – I just remembered a thought I was going to include last night (but my weary, overloaded mind couldn’t remember long enough to get it included in last night’s posting) – I realized yesterday that we have Sufi folk praying for us, and Jewish folk, and Christian folk, and Buddhist folk, and Pagan folk, and Wiccan folk, and folk of no particular tradition. They are praying, and sending positive energy, and thinking about us, and sitting quietly by the fire. And it is all the same thing. We are surrounded by the Love of the Universe – manifest and channeled through each of you. Thank you!
- - - - -
On the morning of March 7, 2010, in the moment when she died, it felt like my whole world came crashing down around me. The experience didn’t kill me, but I wasn’t entirely sure why not. Over time, however, I have learned that it is possible to do more than simply not die. It is possible to actually keep living and learning and loving. Over the course of the last decade I have done my best to embrace the lessons which Veronica’s death taught me and continues to teach me. And at the top of the list is that love really is the only reality, and gratitude is the only appropriate response. Every day is a gift. Every moment is a fresh opportunity to learn and grow and love. And when the storms come (because they will) we can trust that we need not face them alone. We are surrounded by Love in an expansive variety of forms. During those dark days in the hospital prior to V’s death there were times when I was so profoundly aware of the remarkable love and support surrounding us that I could almost see it, taste it, and touch it. It was palpable. Ten years later my life is rich and full. I am blessed beyond the capacity of words to express. And I am grateful – grateful for the priceless gift of having shared life and love with Veronica – grateful for the love I continue to receive from my partner Susan as she walks with me on this path of healing and growth and learning – grateful for the ongoing support I have received from so many people – grateful for congregations who have trusted me enough to allow me to be their pastor – and grateful for the ongoing presence of Spirit that has sustained and supported me all along the way. The loss of Veronica’s death is still a part of me. It has shaped and transformed my life in ways that I will continue to discover. But I have come to understand that the gift of her love is larger and more powerful than the loss, and that gift has an immense capacity to enrich my life even now. I choose to honor her life and her love by living my life as fully, richly, lovingly, and gratefully as I can. And that process will continue to unfold until the end of my days.

- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Church's Cycle of Seasons - Test Driving Spiritual Resources for When We Need Them

The Church’s liturgical calendar is structured around seasons which flow from Advent and Christmas through Epiphany and into Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, followed by the long period of Ordinary Time, and then back once again to Advent. Each season has its own character and its own themes. One of the gifts which comes with paying attention to such a calendar of seasons is the opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the themes. The truth is that we may or may not be experiencing the realities represented by the various seasons when the season is occurring. The joy of Christmas may not be ours at that moment. The wonder of Epiphany may not resonate with where we find ourselves on January 6th. The notions of sacrifice and reflection which present themselves during Lent may seem foreign to us. But the seasons allow us to “try them on” and take them for a “test drive”, so that when we do find ourselves in such circumstances we will have some spiritual resources available to us which can be brought to bear. 

On February 26th we will once again enter the season of Lent, which is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) preceding Easter. It is the season which offers us the chance to explore some of the “darker” aspects of life – sacrifice, loss, suffering, betrayal, grief, etc. I hope you will take the opportunity to allow this season to be a time of spiritual exploration and growth as together we discover what it means to be people of faith even in challenging times.

- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)