Monday, February 1, 2021

We Are Not Alone

It’s been almost a year since the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically altered our lives. It can be difficult to remember those days when our daily routines didn’t include quarantines, masks, large quantities of hand-sanitizer, and the extra caution involved in a simple trip to the grocery store. We thought it would all be over in a few weeks or months, and we would just breathe a sigh of relief and return to normal. But hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions of infections later, we are still learning how to cope with this painful and challenging reality. The experience weighs heavy on us in ways which we are only beginning to recognize. For many of us, the desire for simple human contact can seem overwhelming. All of us continue to stumble along, doing the best we know how to navigate this uncharted landscape. And because of the isolation that has become a part of our daily experience, it can seem as if we are on our own in this endeavor. But that is not true. I remain convinced, perhaps more strongly now than ever before in my life, that we are, in fact, deeply, profoundly, intrinsically connected with each other, because we are deeply, profoundly, intrinsically connected with Sacred Presence. God’s Spirit flows over, around, and through everything and all of us. We are not alone – not now, not ever. Our connection does not always take the forms we might wish. Hugs aren’t happening at the moment. In-person worship is on hold. But there has always been more to life than meets the eye. I remember when Veronica was in the hospital, and we were a long ways away for so many of our family and friends. And yet, they were present in such a profound way nonetheless. Just writing these words brings it all back, and I find myself weeping at the sheer power of the experience. There were moments when I would walk into V’s room and it felt like if I squinted my eyes just right I would be able to see their shining presence surrounding us. That same reality is available to us now. It is always available to us. We will get through this. And we will do it together. Circumstances will change. There will be hugs, and in-person worship, and parties, and so much more. But before, during, and after all of that, we are still connected. Keep reaching out. We are not in this alone.

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Chaos, Upheaval, & the Light of God

On Tuesday I wrote my “Notes from the Journey” article for the January Waymarks. It was a reflection around the theme of the new year dawning. I tried to balance looking back at the dramatic and tumultuous year just past with a hopeful look ahead because God has been and continues to be present with us. I wrote, “We can’t always (or hardly ever) control what happens to us, but we can choose how we will respond, and when our response is shaped by an awareness that God is with us then we are well on our way to a fuller, richer, more abundant experience of life.” And I concluded by saying, “Happy New Year everyone! I am so excited to find out what is even now unfolding!”

That was on Tuesday. And then Wednesday happened and we all witnessed the chaotic and violent upheaval which unfolded in the very heart of our national government. I still believe everything I wrote on Tuesday, but the events of Wednesday cry out for something more. What shall I say? I am dismayed beyond words that it has all come to this. I feel outraged, but even more I feel profoundly sad. And there is a sense of everything swirling out of control on a scale that I can barely begin to grasp. What we are witnessing is frightening and threatens to shake us to the very core. And yet, I also know that we have access to something far greater than the darkness which seems so ominous. As I wrote in an email I sent to the congregation, “In this moment there is little we can do, but what we can do is powerful. I invite you to be in prayer – for our nation, for our leaders, for law enforcement and National Guard personnel, for all those in harm’s way. Please join me in praying for peace, and calm, and safety for all. May order be restored and justice embraced. May our leaders be blessed with wisdom and courage as they stand to take appropriate and necessary action. May love and understanding and compassion and peace restore sanity to our world.”

I do not know how all of this will play out. We are in uncharted waters. But what I do know is that we are not on our own. God is not through with us yet. There is a path forward, even if we cannot yet see more than a few inches in front of us in this moment. In the days and weeks and months ahead I invite you to be in prayer with me that God’s Light might illuminate our way, shine in our lives, and heal our world, beginning with us. As we step into this new year, may the crisis we are currently facing prompt all of us to recommit ourselves to finding a better way – a way which is shaped and defined by the sacred values of peace and love and compassion and understanding and mutual respect. Please be in prayer with me that we will allow God to guide our steps into a brighter future, for our community, our nation, and our world.

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

Monday, November 30, 2020

Advent: a Time for Paying Attention


We are now in the season of Advent – the time in the life of the Church that leads us to Christmas. It is a season marked by themes of watching, waiting, and preparing. Another way to put it might be that it is a time to practice paying attention. While it is true that God is always present in our lives and in our world, it is also true that we human beings have a tendency to get distracted and forget to notice. So along comes Advent to remind us that if we will pay attention we can increase the likelihood of noticing God’s ongoing activity which is happening around us and within us in every moment. This year, perhaps more than most, this practice of paying attention can make a huge difference. 2020 has been a year which seems to have been filled with ten years worth of challenges. The pandemic has disrupted and upended so much of what we use to call “normal”, along with political turmoil, rising racial tensions, and a growing awareness of the scale of the climate crisis we are facing. As we behold all that seems to be unfolding and unraveling right before our eyes, it is easy to get lost in anxiety, fear, and grief. In these days of Advent I invite you to slow down and pay attention. We need not ignore the challenges which we face. They are real, and they are important, but they are not the whole picture. There is also beauty, and kindness, and compassion. There is connection, and community, and love. God’s active presence among us can be noticed and experienced in so many countless ways when we pay attention. What we will discover is that we are not alone, and we are not on our own. There are opportunities for healing and wholeness and abundance just waiting to embrace us. And the adventure begins the moment we open our eyes, and our arms, and our hearts, and our lives to the Sacred Presence which infuses every corner of our world. Join me on this wonderful Advent journey as we begin to notice. 

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

Monday, November 2, 2020

And Occasionally Something Explodes!

Recently something showed up in my Facebook feed that caught my attention. “Going to seminary is, I think, a lot like going to culinary school – you learn the basic foundations, some cool party tricks, and by the end you can prepare a gourmet meal. Pastoring, however, is waking up every day to new episodes of Chopped, where the ingredients are completely random and you’re expected to do something with whatever you’re handed while everyone watches and provides running commentary, and occasionally something explodes.” (by the Rev. Sara Juis) Over the almost 40 years of my ministry it has often felt at least a little bit like this, but never more so than in 2020. This has been a year like no other. And figuring out how to continue being the Church in the midst of a pandemic, and all of the other challenges which have come our way, has, at least at times, seemed overwhelming. “…and occasionally something explodes.” None of us were trained for this. Every week there is something new to figure out. It is easy to feel inadequate to the task. And if we were on our own then that might well be the case. But the truth is that we are not on our own. We have each other and we have the amazing gift of God’s active presence in the midst of us. Occasionally things do explode, or shut down, or become incredibly complicated and frightening. And when such things show up at our doorstep it’s important to remember the words which appear across the pages of scripture on a surprisingly regular basis (apparently they are important) – “Don’t be afraid!” I don’t know what’s going to happen next, or where this journey will take us. And I’m pretty sure that sometimes we’ll make pretty good decisions, and sometimes not so much. But I know that whatever happens, we will be in better shape if we remember that we are in this together and God is on our side. I am grateful for the gift of facing these days with you in my life. Thank you for your patience with me as we navigate this uncharted landscape together. May God continue to walk with us along the way, and may we notice.

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

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 . . .