Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Lent: A Season for Journeying with the Spirit

The liturgical season of Lent begins in a few days. It is the time in the church’s calendar that leads us to Easter. Forty days (not including Sundays) stretching from Ash Wednesday (March 6th) until Easter (April 21st), it provides us with an extended opportunity to pay attention to the presence of Spirit in our lives. I particularly appreciate that it begins with Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded that whatever spiritual practices we engage in, we do so as flesh-and-blood human beings. During this liturgical season some people choose to give up something (chocolate, lattes, etc), while others choose to take on something (a service project, a new prayer practice, etc). However you decide to engage with Spirit during these 40 days, it is my prayer that you will find the experience meaningful and transformative. 
- Pastor Roger  
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gratitude - A Spiritual Practice

As many of you know, gratitude is one of the central themes in my life. I strive to practice it on a daily basis. And when I do it transforms the ways in which I experience the world. It is my firm conviction that we are surrounded by abundance and support and the ongoing presence of God in every moment, and my practice of gratitude doesn't change any of that. What it does change is my awareness of the reality that is always present. It opens me up to perceive and appreciate and be transformed by that reality. 

I first became aware of the power of gratitude when I was looking back through the journal entries I had made during the period immediately before and after my late wife's death. It was the most challenging and painful experience of my life. I was sharing my journal posts with a community of family and friends as a way of processing the experience and staying connected with my support system. What I did not recognize at the time, and only came to appreciate as I revisited my journal posts several years later, was how pervasively the thread of gratitude had been woven through the entire experience. Over and over again, in the midst of those darkest of days, I had managed to find and express some reason to be grateful. It didn't change the outward circumstances. My wife was still dead and I was still filled with grief. But it did change how I experienced those outward circumstances. I remain convinced that, at least in part, it was this gratitude that helped me navigate my journey through grief. 

It should be noted that none of this was by intentional design. I did not make a conscious decision to engage in such a practice. The only way I have ever been able to account for it is to say that is was a gift straight from the heart of God. But once I became aware of its power I began to be intentional about making it an ongoing part of my life. Today it is one of my most important spiritual practices. And, as with most spiritual practices, the more I engage in it the easier it becomes. Sometimes “Thank you, God!” is passing through my thoughts and slipping past my lips almost before I am even aware of it. And it really has transformed how I experience the world and how I live my life. I invite you to give it a try. Set an intention to find one thing (or three things, or a dozen things) every day for which you can be grateful. Write them down, or say them out loud, or simply hold them in your awareness for a moment. Do it for a month and see how it feels. I believe it is an experiment worth trying.

And if you would like to see one of the ways I engage in this practice you can check out my “Daily Gratitudes” Facebook page - www.facebook.com/mydailygratitudes/

- Pastor Roger  

(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year's - a Time for Pondering & Dreaming

It is that time of year again! New Year's! It's a funny sort of time. In one sense it is a bit random and arbitrary. There's nothing particularly meaningful, or magical, or even natural about the changing of the calendar from one year to the next. It's not tied to the solar or lunar seasons. Once upon a time someone somewhere decided that this is the system we would used to mark the passage of time. There have been and continue to be other people who used different systems which result in their “new year” beginning at some other time. And yet, in another sense, it offers us the opportunity to experience something powerful and significant in our lives. It provides us with a reminder to pause and reflect upon our lives and the meaning to be found there. We look back and ponder the experiences which have led us to this moment - some of them joyful, some of them painful, some of them absolutely life-changing. We look ahead and dream of what might be coming in the days and weeks and months which stretch out ahead of us. We allow ourselves to hope and we make plans that might help us to bring those hopes and dreams to fruition. 

We could, of course, engage in this sort of remembering and dreaming at any time along the way. There is nothing that says such things can only occur at the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year. But in reality it is helpful to have particular occasions to remind us, because otherwise we get busy and we forget. And so, at the beginning of this new year, I invite you to spend a bit of time looking back and looking ahead. What are you grateful for and what do you regret?  What do you want to continue and what would you like to let go of? Where have you experienced God's presence and where might God be calling you to venture in the year ahead? 

For me, I am grateful for the opportunities during this past year to learn and grow and share life with you as your pastor. I am grateful for the privilege of watching you step up and become the church in ways which were both familiar to you and new to you. And I look forward to the year ahead in which I am confident that God will continue to move among us - inviting and inspiring and challenging and empowering us to share God's love and compassion with each other, with our community, and with the world. I do not yet know all of the forms which that will take, and I am certain that together, with God's help, it will be an amazing journey.

Thank you for the privilege of being your Pastor in 2018. I look forward to what comes next.

- Pastor Roger  

(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Advent - a time for quiet waiting

There is an old joke that says, “Time is God’s way of making sure everything doesn’t happen at once.” The truth is that we can’t pay attention to everything all the time. We simply don’t have the capacity. The liturgical calendar of the Church offers us the gift of  perspective. It allows us to focus on particular aspects of the human experience in this season and other aspects in another season. In these days leading up to Christmas we enter into the season of Advent, with its themes of watching and waiting and preparing. It is a time to slow down and be intentional about taking a break from the hectic pace of our lives and our world. In so doing we create a little space for God to enter in and take up residence. We allow for the possibility that we will notice. As you move through this holiday time, with all of the festivities and activities which seek to lay claim to our time and attention, I invite you to also find some time to nourish your soul by basking in the quiet and the stillness which is also a part of this season. In the words of the psalmist (46:10), “Be still, and know that I am God!” May the blessings of this Advent season be yours.
- Pastor Roger  
 (keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What Does It Mean To Be Faithful?

As I sit at my desk pondering what to write, I look out the window at the Sleeping Giant off in the distance, silhouetted against the morning light, and I find myself reflecting on what it means to be a person of faith. The answer which keeps coming to me is that it involves a richly woven tapestry of things. In part it has more to do with being than it does with doing. Sitting and watching the clouds float over the Giant, and allowing that beauty to nourish my soul, is a profoundly spiritual practice. But the faith which is enriched by such contemplative practices also calls me to action. In a world filled not only with amazing beauty but also with fear and violence such as we have witnessed in recent days in the mail bomb situation and the shooting which took place at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, faith calls us to stand up and speak out. Faith challenges us to be in solidarity with the vulnerable and the oppressed in our world. Faith inspires us to proclaim that the God of life calls us to embrace values of love and justice and hospitality and community. Faith means striving to live into the words of John Wesley when he wrote, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” It means pondering the words of the Talmud, 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.” It means taking whatever small and not-so-small steps we have it within our power to take that will make a difference in the world. On November 6th we in this country have an opportunity to vote. It is sometimes tempting to believe that our vote doesn’t matter and won’t make a difference. But the message of our faith is that it is one of the ways we can make our voice heard, and speaking out is a faithful act. On November 11th we in this congregation will have an opportunity to make a financial commitment to the ministry of Plymouth Congregational Church. It is sometimes tempting to believe that what we can afford to give doesn’t matter and won’t make a difference. But the message of our faith is that giving is an expression of gratitude, and gratitude is a faithful act. What does it mean to be a person of faith? It means slowing down enough to experience the presence of God, and then allowing that experience to inspire us and empower us to make a difference in the world. May we learn to be faithful like that!
- Pastor Roger  
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Celebrating the Gift of Transformation

Fall is upon us. The autumnal equinox occurred just a few days ago. I find that I am attracted to transition moments - sunrises, sunsets, the changes of seasons. They help me pay attention to the ongoing process of transformation. The truth is that every moment is a transition moment and the whole world and all of us in it are always and forever in the process of change and transformation. But most of the time we are so busy paying attention to something else that we fail to notice. Which is why I appreciate those occasions when it is so dramatic that I can't miss it. The setting sun paints the clouds with amazing hues of yellow, orange, and red. The trees use that same palette to paint their leaves. Then my only response is to stand in breathless awe. Then I stand a chance of remembering that every moment is a gift of as yet unrealized potentiality just waiting to be unwrapped. I saw a quote the other day. “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” I can cling tightly to the way things are, or I can let go into the promise of the way things are becoming. Change will occur whether I like it or not, whether I notice or not. But when I notice and surrender I get to enjoy it. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) I invite you to join me in paying attention to the amazing process of transformation that is happening all around us and within us in every moment. It is an ongoing gift from God. May we notice it. May we celebrate it. May we enjoy it. May we participate in it. 

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

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Celebrating My Gifts . . . And Yours!!!

I am a poet, a photographer, a flute player, a dancer, a preacher, a dad, a grandfather, a partner, a grateful human being. All of these things bring joy and a sense of purpose to my life. And whenever I start comparing myself with someone else I say things like “I’m not a very good poet” and “I’m a mediocre photographer” and “I wish I could play the flute like my brother” and . . . You get the idea. It’s never a helpful path to follow, and it never leads me anywhere useful. I just end up feeling bad, and the joy and purpose are nowhere to be found. But when I manage to remember that any such comparisons are inherently false then I begin to find my way back into the light where joy and purpose flow freely. I am not simply a poor imitation of someone else. I am wonderfully and uniquely myself, with my own God-given gifts, touching the world as only I can. And the same is true for every other person on the planet. When we compare ourselves with others we generate an “us vs. them” energy. When we simply celebrate who we are and the gifts we have been given then we begin to generate an “all of us together” energy. We are freed to really appreciate our own gifts and the gifts of everyone else as well. Plymouth Congregational Church is a vital and vibrant congregation not because we are all the same, but because we choose to celebrate and share our individual uniquenesses so that God can shine through us and touch the world. Together may we learn to celebrate and shine.
- Pastor Roger
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)