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)

Monday, October 14, 2019

In the Face of Overwhelming Challenges

It is once again my turn to contribute an article for the “Faith & Values” column in our local newspaper (the Helena Independent Record). This is what I wrote. It will appear in the paper on Saturday, October 19, 2019.
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These are challenging days in which to be a person of faith. And by “person of faith” I mean anyone who seeks to bring their life into alignment with the presence and character of God. We might disagree about the specific nature of God. We might even disagree about what language to use when we talk about “God.” Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs speak of “a Power greater than ourselves” and “the God of our understanding.” So we might disagree about many of the details, but I suspect that beyond our disagreements many of us are striving to bring our lives into alignment with a positive, life-affirming, life-transforming reality which is greater than ourselves. And as we do so we find ourselves confronted by a whole host of situations in the world that we find confusing, distressing, and even abhorrent. In these days in which we are living we are faced with so many crises that we can barely even name them and keep track of them, let alone adequately address them. There is the climate crisis, the refugee crisis, the gun-violence crisis, the opioid crisis, and on and on the list seems to go. What is a person of faith to do? How are we to respond in the face of such overwhelming challenges? Fortunately, for us and for the world, we need not attempt to tackle all of the challenges in the world alone. Indeed, we cannot. It is beyond our capacity. But we are not alone. All over the world there are people of faith and good will who share our concerns and our desire to heal the brokenness which seems so ever-present. We have partners who are already walking with us on this journey, even when we have not yet become aware enough to notice. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once offered this helpful reminder. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.” But even when we recognize that we are not alone and not on our own, the challenge of what to do and how to do it remains daunting. In the face of such diverse and seemingly overwhelming circumstances in the world, how do we go about figuring out where to begin? Author and theologian Frederick Buechner offers one possible template to consider as we discern our calling. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is easy to feel pulled in so many directions, which can leave us feeling completely inadequate to the task. It can be helpful to remember that we will be most useful and make the most difference when we bring our best selves to the task. If we are doing something purely out of guilt or because someone else expects us to, then we are far less likely to be in a position to give it our best. Remembering that we are not alone in addressing the needs of the world offers us the perspective that no one of us is responsible to do everything. We need only do our best in responding to what we feel called to do with the gifts we have been given. The Talmud put 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.” So, may we remember that in the face of “the enormity of the world’s grief” we are not powerless to respond. Each of us has gifts which can be brought to bear. And perhaps the greatest gift of all is the gift of community. We are not alone. In community we have not only our gifts, but also the gifts of everyone else as well. Your gifts will enable and empower you to respond to some of the crises we face, while my gifts will enable and empower me to respond to other crises. Together we are far more than the sum of our parts. Together, as each of us seeks to bring our lives into alignment with the God of our understanding, we have the power to transform the world. How is God calling you to respond today?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

How I Respond Is Always A Choice

As I write these words it is the end of September, the autumnal equinox occurred just a week ago, and there is snow covering the ground. Life is full of surprises and each new moment offers a fresh opportunity for us to choose how we will respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I can choose to grumble because I’m not ready for winter to arrive, or I can notice how truly beautiful the snow is. Either way the snow will still be here, but one choice leaves me feeling bad and one choice lifts my spirits. And I get to make that sort of choice in every moment. I am constantly confronted with situations and circumstances which are beyond my control. What is within my control is how I respond. It’s not always easy to make the helpful choices. It takes practice. I often forget that I even have a choice. But the more I practice paying attention and being intentional about exercising my choices, the easier it becomes. And I am further empowered when I remember that I am not alone in my choosing. I always have the sacred presence of God waiting to support and encourage me. All that is required is that I open myself to this source of support. So, I invite you to join me in practicing this approach to faithful living. May we, with God’s help, learn to respond rather than react. It really does make all the difference.

- Pastor Roger

(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Love, Loss, and the Presence of God

Abundant and grace-filled life has been on full display for me in recent days. In the span of a week at the end of August I was in the Puget Sound area twice – once for a family funeral and once for a family wedding. At opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, both occasions were filled with family, love, and the powerfully tangible presence of God. Loss and celebration are both part of what it means to be human, and what allows us to experience those realities fully, deeply, and richly is the loving connection we share with those around us. We are not in this life alone. One of the remarkable ways in which we feel the touch of Sacred Presence is through the touch of human companions. I watched my cousin and his family face an unimaginable loss because they were surrounded by a loving community of family and friends. I watched my daughter shine with joy as she stepped into a new level of love and commitment with her beloved while they were surrounded by a loving community of family and friends. In both cases the presence of Spirit was palpable. Something extraordinary was happening right before our eyes. And the truth is that while it can be more obvious in the midst of special occasions like weddings and funerals, it really is possible to experience the touch of God’s presence in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary moments of our lives. It just requires that we practice paying attention. Maybe it’s something as simple as the smile of friend, or even a stranger. Maybe it happens in the midst of a moment of pain – a skinned knee or a skinned heart. Maybe it takes the form of a memory that brightens our day or troubles our sleep. In good times and in challenging times, we have the opportunity to avail ourselves of the presence of God and the loving support of family and friends. How will God show up in your life today?

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

No Sense Arguing With Reality

As many of you are by now aware, while I was at Church Camp in July I broke my arm. It was not how I thought I would be spending the rest of the summer. It’s not what I would have chosen to do. But it is what happened. And, as my lovely and brilliant partner, Susan, frequently reminds me, there’s no point in arguing with reality. So I am concentrating on making the best of the situation. I am looking for the blessings, and finding them to be abundant. In whatever direction I look, I am experiencing God’s ongoing and active presence in my life. I am surrounded by people who love me and care about me and are praying for my healing and speedy recovery. I have access to quality medical care. It appears that I will not need surgery. And I am profoundly aware of so many ways in which my life is filled with blessings. The fact that I can write this article by simply speaking into my phone is but one example. So I invite you to join me in being on the lookout for the many ways in which God is actively present in your life. I am confident that what you will find is far more than you could ever have imagined. God is good and life is a blessing.

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