Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Savoring vs Freezing Special Moments in Time

Last week most of my family spent a week in Ohio visiting family.  It was like a travelling slumber party with Kim and me sleeping on the floor and in tiny beds most of the time.  But with a toddler and baby we knew they would be the ones in control of our family schedule.  It was not a problem to sacrifice sleep for this special family time.

It was the first time Jenny and I co-officiated a wedding.  Rachel is her cousin and I am her uncle who baptized her 32 years ago.  It was a great joy.

This past weekend we spent our last day at our log cabin in Willow.  Just hanging out, reminiscing and laughing.  When it was time to leave we gathered for a prayer and brief sharing.  I did not want that moment to end.  The temptation is to freeze and capture it.  I found myself looking at the faces of those I love, the beauty of God's natural creation, the projects we built.  And I looked deeply.

This was not a time to freeze frame the moment, but rather to savor it.  To simply breathe deeply a sigh of gratitude to God for this season of family life.  When Kim and I leave June 24 the hardest part will be leaving Jenny, Aaron, Isabella, Jeremy, and Ryan.  I so want to capture these moments for some future use.  But now is a time for savoring, appreciating all that God has given us.

The good news for all who following Jesus is that such moments are a foretaste of what is to come.  That such moments will not be fleeting but will be gathered together in one fantastic experience of the fullness of the kingdom of God.  We won't have to savor because we will live in those moments without separation or sadness.

God's kingdom is coming!  And it is here!  Thanks be to God!  Let us savor this!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rustling of the Spirit

One of the lasting lessons I gleaned from my time with one of my past spiritual directors was when she told me that my job as a pastor was to notice the rustling of the Holy Spirit and then respond.  I have always appreciated this approach which is different from all my efforts to plan ahead for mission and ministry.  In the past I am confident there were times when, in my focus on a plan, I have missed a subtle rustling of the Spirit.

And why the word, rustling?  It conjures up images of an animal's slight movement in the brush, or a breeze that picks up a few fallen leaves.  These are images that require a trained eye to see and to notice.  These are not images like an explosion or loud sound or a tree falling in the woods, images that we cannot help but notice.

The story of Elijah in the cave comes to mind.  God was not in the wind, the fire, or the earthquake.  These are events that capture the eye and mind.  But God was in the still small voice.  Apparently, it is part of the nature of God to speak to us through the small things.  And small things require an attentive mind and eyes that can notice the still small voice or the slight rustling of the Spirit.

I wonder how our United Methodist Church, in all our attempts to reinvent ourselves and reverse the decline, will create space to listen to the still small voice of God?  Perhaps it is even possible that as we deal with our systemic anxiety, we could miss that rustling of the Spirit.  I want to listen and look for any message God is trying to say to us.

Grace Always,

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Resurrection Bear Story

It is Monday of Holy Week and I do not have any leadership duties at any church this week.  It's not exactly time yet but I am thinking about death and resurrection, or better, endings and beginnings.  Jesus' life ends this Friday and leads to a new beginning for all who seek it.  Do you believe?

Let me share a true story about a bear.  It was a hot summer afternoon in July and I was in the staff kitchen at St. John washing dishes when Judi and Jo Ann rushed in with the exciting news that a bear had been sighted just outside the building.  My immediate thought was, “I want to see it.”  So I walked outside peering in the direction of the bear sighting.  Later it was reported that I went out “chasing the bear.”  I did not see or chase the bear. 

Since I was told there was a bear, I wanted to see the bear.  Maybe it was on the other side of the building so I went to investigate.  On the way someone showed me a tiny digital picture of a black spot she said was a bear.  But I was unconvinced.  Cautiously, I looked outside every door and window.  There was no bear to be seen.

This incident has caused me to think about the resurrection of Christ.  We have been told that Jesus rose from the dead.  Do we simply believe it at face value?  Most of us have the same inclination I did about the bear.  We want to see it.  We want to see the evidence of the resurrection.  So we set out on a journey to find it.  Along the way we even see evidence.  Because our eyes have not literally seen the resurrection we find it hard to believe. 

I never did see the bear.  I also have never seen the resurrection of Jesus.  Because I trust Judi and Jo Ann I have to believe that there truly was a bear at church.  They would not make this up.  Well, maybe they would as a prank.  But others saw the bear also. 

It’s the same with the resurrection.  I come to trust the witness of the women and men who not only saw Jesus dead and then alive, but those who have experienced the newness of life that comes from asking Christ into their lives. It is this resurrection hope that is ours for the claiming.  May Easter bring this new hope into your lives.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Knowing When You Begin the Spiritual Slide

Are you a spiritually aware person?  Do you know right now how your soul is doing?  Is your spiritual well being connected with feeling good or experiencing positive outer circumstances?  For example, does your soul feel good when you have a really good day?  How much does your spirituality depend on outward events and feelings?

I notice that I begin to slide spiritually when I start to let my prayer life slip.  The two are intricately connected.  This makes total sense to me.  Prayer is a way of being in the world.  It is much more than a specific time, posture, or words.  It is a deep awareness and connection with God.  It is a way of going through the daily activities of my life with a knowledge that God is with me, that I am loved, and that I have a purpose no matter what happens, good or bad.

Sometimes I react poorly to a situation that reminds me that my spirit is sliding away.  A frustrating experience is not met with a peaceful, calm spirit, but with an anxious and angry one!  This Lent God seems to be helping me notice when my prayer life is not what it needs to be.  Sooner than later.  I am grateful for this growing awareness.  My goal in living the spiritual life is to lessen the surprises of my unhelpful responses.  My desire is not to forget God but to pay attention to all of the whispers of grace that come to my soul.

Grace Always,

Monday, March 31, 2014

Letting Go

About 30 years ago in Ohio Kim and I bought an antique dining set from an elderly couple who bought it new in the 1930's.  We had planned to raise our four children around this table.  But when we answered a call for mission in Alaska we could not take it with us.

And today after more than 22 years in Alaska we are preparing to move to Oregon.  Just as we found ourselves having to let go of our beloved dining table so now are we facing similar decisions.  Large handmade framed pictures of each of our kid's school photos over the course of 12 years.  Snowmachines that took me into the wintry wonderland of the Alaska back country.  Oak beds I made for our kids.  My Shopsmith woodworking tool.  We are saying goodbye to all these things.

And you know what?  Once I begin the process of letting go it becomes easier as I encounter the next thing. It is like steering a disabled car.  Once you get it rolling it becomes easy to steer it.  But it is very hard to turn the steering wheel of a car that is not moving.

As I think about how we have become attached to the ways of doing and being Church I don't want to forget the lesson of that first separation.  Some of us Christian/Church people are way too attached to a certain type of music, worship style, or view of scripture.  We need to begin the process of letting go of some preferences as we focus on our core purpose to grow Christ-followers to change the world.  Antique dining tables are not nearly as important as our mission.  Music and worship preferences do not need to be locked in stone.  How we view scripture in today's world can grow and mature.

Perhaps the key is as simple as holding that beloved thing in our hands, breathing deeply, and offering it to God.  And saying goodbye to the next thing may just be a bit easier.  All this we do for the sake of growing the kingdom of God.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Balcony View

One of the great gifts of the superintendency is the view from the balcony of this amazing conference.  It is a view that feels lonely at times because no one else sees what I see in our churches across this great land of Alaska.  But I love what I see.  Part of my job is to share with you this vision of what God is doing in and through the people called United Methodists in Alaska.

For example, I see Pastor Charlie Brower in Nome connecting with native Alaskans in new ways.  I see First, Fairbanks responding to the call to mobilize others to be the hands of Christ in an emergency.  I see Christ First and Palmer learning how to start new missional communities.  I see Chugiak filling a need in their community to help people reuse unwanted stuff.  I see Anchor Park stepping up to become an anchor church for New Day Alaska.  I see First, Anchorage awarding grants from their foundation to strengthen Alaska ministries.  I see St. John starting new small learning groups where people are formed into disciples.

I see Ascent Alaska reaching out to people who need to know the God of creation.  I see the central Kenai churches offering serious education for laity.  I see Seward moving their ministry into the heart of downtown.  I see Homer extending the hospitality of Christ in the form of a regular free community meal.  I see our Juneau churches working together as never before with a shared youth ministry.  I see Sitka UMC growing in numbers.  I see First, Ketchikan offering grace and shelter to people at the edge.

There is so much more to see from the unique view of the balcony.  I invite you to climb the stairs now and then to see what I see...that God is alive and moving in the communities served by our 29 churches!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hanging Out with Mom and Dad

I have just returned from a 7 day cruise with my parents, Bob and Louise Beckett, from South Carolina.  Kim and I thoroughly enjoyed being with them.  Being in their 80's meant they were not quick at anything except cards.  And Dad brought a cane to help with his back pain.  This came in handy when we were all able to go to the front of the line when checking in.

There were many laughable moments such as trying to enter what I thought was our room only to discover we were at the wrong end of the ship.  Or the time we were warned not to take any fruit off the ship and told about being arrested and fined.  When we disembarked there was a fruit-sniffing dog checking out everyone's bags.  Dad asked Mom about the raisins in her trail mix so she deftly walked a wide circle away from the dog.  We joked about having to bail her out of a Mexican prison for raisin smuggling!

But the best moment happened the night of our final day on board.  The four of us were sitting in the main atrium listening to a live band playing easy jazz.  During one song my Dad stood up, left his cane on his chair, and walked to Mom.  He didn't say a word but simply held out his hand.  She stood up and together they danced...the only ones to do so.  It was not a dance floor and people were watching, but they didn't care.  They just held each other and danced.

Thanks Mom and Dad for your faithful love of 64 years.  And thanks for nurturing your childlike adventurous spirit and allowing me to be part of it.

Grace Always,