Friday, May 31, 2019

Summer Is Upon Us

As we move into the summer season things around the church tend to slow down. There’s lots to do during this beautiful time of year, and sometimes that keeps folks away from church. Sacred Presence can be experienced in nature as well as in the sanctuary, so go enjoy. But I would invite you to not forget about us completely. We slow down but we don’t shut down. If you are in town on Sundays please join us for worship. Remember to continue your financial support, because the bills still need to be paid. And there are some important things happening in our UCC Conference that you might consider participating in. See articles elsewhere in this edition of the Waymarks about upcoming meetings related to Camp Mimanagish in June and July, and the Conference Annual Meeting in August. Enjoy your summer, and please remember that whether I see you or not I will continue to hold you in prayer.

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Expanding Our Awareness of a Really Big God (article for Helena Independent Record)

This is my latest contribution to the “Pastor’s Column” on the Religion Page in our local newspaper (the Helena Independent Record). It will appear on May 4th.
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In the movie “Men in Black” there is a secret government agency responsible for monitoring and regulating all of the extraterrestrial life-forms living on Earth. One of the agents has just revealed this secret to a potential recruit. In helping him reflect on the enormity of this new information, Agent K says, “1,500 years ago everyone knew the Earth was the center of the Universe. 500 years ago everyone knew the Earth was flat. 15 minutes ago you knew people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you will know tomorrow.” That is something like the ways we human beings experience God. We catch a glimpse of the edge of God’s big toe, and we think we have an understanding of who God is. We “know” that God must be like this. Then we have an insight with a little more perspective, and again we think we’ve got it all figured out. In each moment we are doing the best we can with the information and experience we have available to us. Usually the problem is not that we get it wrong. We simply mistake partial understanding for complete knowledge. When we are at our best, we recognize that faith is always a matter of exploration and growing awareness. 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. What he offers them is a brighter, bolder, bigger faith when he is gone. He promises them that his physical presence will be replaced with God’s Sacred Presence that will be with them always and forever. In essence he tells them, “I need to get out of the way now, so you can begin to experience God in bigger, more comprehensive ways. As long as I’m with you, all you will see is as much of God as can be revealed in one person’s flesh and blood life. But when I’m gone, you will be able to broaden your perspective and begin to experience the God whom I have been trying to show you, the God who is always as close to you as your breathing.” And then he goes on to say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” It is when we are open to the ongoing presence of God in our lives that we begin to discover this peace which is always waiting for us. This is God’s peace - shalom, healing, wholeness. It is not the peace we hear about on the news - the peace that means the absence of any major fighting in that particular moment. God’s peace is not about the absence of something, but about ongoing Sacred Presence. In that awareness we begin to find wholeness and fulfillment, not only for ourselves, but for the world.

This radically inclusive Presence is all around us all of the time. And when we begin to open the eyes of our hearts to see it, that presence lights up the world. Near the end of the book of Revelation there is a dramatic vision of what this new light-filled reality can look like. No corner is deep enough for shadows to hide. No darkness remains to frighten or distress. Only light. Only life. The gates of the city are opened wide. The invitations have been extended. All the lights have been turned on. There is water enough for everyone, flowing down the middle of the street. And food in both abundance and variety. Even the leaves of the trees contain a soothing ointment which can be used to heal the brokenness of the world. This is what it means to live fully in the embrace of God’s love. It is all around us all of the time. We have only to accept the gift and begin to unwrap it in our living. 

But how do we do that? How do we keep from getting trapped in our small and limited images of God? How do we keep from becoming so frightened of life and the world that we simply close our eyes and hide in a dark corner someplace? How do we truly open ourselves to God’s loving embrace? We begin by remembering that God is always bigger than what we can perceive at any given moment. No matter how full our understanding, no matter how well-thought out our theology, no matter how rich our faith, there is always more of God waiting to be experienced. And once we begin to live into the reality of a really big God, we can also begin living into the awareness that God can be trusted. The little glimpses we catch of God’s love, the small awarenesses we gain of God’s healing, the fleeting insights we experience of God’s presence, are not isolated and random. They reveal the larger pattern of God’s brilliant light shining in our lives and our world. When we begin to watch for it we discover that it is everywhere - in the smile of a friend, in the song filled with wonder and joy, in the unexpected encounter with a stranger. What we begin to recognize, if only slowly and falteringly, is that we are never outside of God’s embrace. Indeed, we cannot be. We can only be outside of an awareness of that embrace. And when we open our eyes and our hearts and our lives to this reality, when we really begin to live in that embrace, then there are no limits to what is possible.

It Takes A Village . . .

“It takes a village to raise a child.” This bit of folk wisdom speaks to us of the value and, indeed, the essential necessity, of living life in community. The same sentiment is true when applied to Church. It is not a solitary endeavor. None of us can do it alone. For the Church to accomplish its mission requires the active participation of each of us and all of us, working together for the common good and the benefit of the whole world. This plays out in a whole variety of ways both large and small. On Sunday mornings I watch the official ushers and greeters welcoming people as they come in for worship, and I also observe the countless other people who are not on “official” greeter duty that morning also helping to make people feel welcome. When we have fellowship events such as the after-worship gatherings in the Fireside Room and the occasional potluck meals, there are lots of folks who sign up to bring food and take care of the various details required to make things run smoothly, and there are also others who just pitch in to get things done without being asked. During worship we collect an offering which enables us to keep the doors open and to reach out beyond ourselves to touch the world with God’s love and grace and compassion. None of us on our own could make all of that happen, but when all of us join together, each contributing our own unique gifts, the results are truly remarkable. “It takes a village . . .” Plymouth is such a village. Thank you.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Now and Not Yet!

Springtime in the Rockies is most definitely a transitional “now and not yet” sort of experience. The piles of snow are melting, but not yet gone. The temperatures are increasing, but the snow is still falling. The sun is shining, except when it is overcast. And the truth is that “now and not yet” is also a pretty good description of what it is like to be a person of faith. Our awareness of God’s presence provides us with experiences of love and grace and connection, except when we forget to notice. We have learned to reach out beyond ourselves and touch the lives of others in our community and our world, but sometimes we get overwhelmed and pull inside ourselves out of weariness or fear. The light of God’s unconditional love shines through our lives like a beacon on a hill, except when we get distracted by the mundane, everyday challenges which fool us into believing we don’t have anything valuable to contribute. Faithful living is not all sublime sunshine and spring flowers. It is also difficult and painful and ordinary. In each moment we have the opportunity to once again remember who we really are, way down deep in the core of our being, and then let that awareness inspire and empower us to take one more step into the light. “Now and not yet” is the paradox we are invited to embrace. What is “now” is the presence of God. What is “not yet” is our awareness and embrace of that presence. And all of it, every single bit of it, is a part of what it means to be a person of faith living in this world. May we remember to keep taking one more step into the Light!
- Pastor Roger   
(keeping my feet firmly planted in the flow)

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)