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) 

Monday, January 6, 2020

A New Year Begins

Another year has come and gone. We’ve made one more trip around the sun (approximately 584 million miles, in case you were interested). 2019 included some amazing adventures, some difficult challenges, some wonderful surprises, and some heartbreaking losses. And all of it has led us here to this moment. We stand at the beginning of a new year which stretches out before us. Some of what lies ahead we can probably predict with reasonable accuracy. Other experiences will catch us completely off guard. All we can do is take a deep breath and step onto the path, committed to doing our best to face whatever comes our way with faith and trust and integrity. We need not face the future alone because we move into this newest stage of our journey together with each other and with God’s ongoing presence. I do not know what the future holds for any of us, individually or collectively, but in this moment I am glad to be here with you. Thank you for being partners with me on this journey. May the year ahead offer us opportunities for learning, growth, healing, connection, and delight.
- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Don't Get Overwhelmed by the Season

Advent/Christmas might be my favorite season of the year. There is so much to appreciate, including parties, festive music, cards and gifts, holiday traditions and activities, and the growing sense of anticipation and excitement that fills the air. The themes of hope and peace and joy and love which we explore in worship are so rich and evocative, inviting us to expand the horizons of our faith as we prepare once again to celebrate the gift of God coming to be among us. And yet, there is also the risk of becoming overwhelmed. There is so much going on that if we are not careful it all just becomes a blur of activity which depletes us rather than enlivens us. So, I invite you to be intentional about how you participate in the offerings of this season. There is no law requiring you to do everything. Be selective. Ask yourself if this particular activity will enrich your life. Will it bring you joy? And remember to make opportunities to slow down and pay attention to the stillness and the quiet which is also available during this time of year. Take care of yourself. May the blessings of the season nourish your soul and enhance your living. May you discover the presence of God shining through every moment as you make your way towards Christmas.

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

Thankful for My Time at Plymouth

As we enter the month of November I find myself in a thankful mood. I have now been your pastor for four years, and I am so grateful for the experience. My time at Plymouth has blessed and shaped my life in such a variety of ways. You have encouraged me and supported me. You have expressed appreciation for the gifts I have tried to share with you. You have allowed me into your lives in times of joy and times of grief. You have listened to me preach almost 200 sermons and shared in communion with me 50 times. On your behalf I have had the privilege to engage in the work of the broader church by serving on the Conference Board, the Conference Faith Formation Committee, and as a Chaplain at Church Camp. It has been a joy to participate with you in reaching out beyond ourselves to share God’s love with the world. Together we have touched the lives of a wide variety of people in our community and beyond. Thank you for the many ways you have welcomed me into your congregation and your lives. It continues to be an honor and a privilege to be your pastor.

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