Friday, February 27, 2009

Playing In The Dirt

MEMENTO HOMO, QUIA PULVIS EST ET IN PULVEREM REVERTERIS.

Just as there are Baptist churches on every corner in the southeast, here, in the northeast, the beautiful spires of Catholic churches reach from the horizon toward the heavens. Sandy and I now live in an area where the religious are predominantly Catholic. Wednesday, February 25, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of the 40-day Lenten observation of devout Catholics.

At Planet Fitness, I met dozens of people, both young and old, with the black smudge of the ashes of burned palm branches on their forehead -- some still retained the blurred image of the Cross.

Prior to the arrival of Ash Wednesday, I had taken time to reacquaint myself with this tradition observed by most of my good neighbors. As a rule, Baptists, do not recognize Ash Wednesday, so we can be pretty clueless about the spiritual rhythms of people, who, like us, are seeking a connection with God.

Also, I have learned to avoid trying to dazzle people with one-sided conversations. It finally dawned on me a few years ago that monologues do not really connect people with each other. God constantly intersects our lives with fellow humans of a diverse cultural and spiritual background, and I don't want to miss the opportunities to swap stories with with other sojourners. It has become increasingly more important to me to be able to dialogue with my world. I have many new friends in my life -- who are not in the Baptist church -- where I am the lead pastor.

O, I almost forgot. Let's get back to that Latin phrase . . .

MEMENTO HOMO, QUIA PULVIS EST ET IN PULVEREM REVERTERIS

It is closely connected with the tradition of Ash Wednesday. If we translate the phrase back into English we find that it is a verse from the Bible . . . Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

Ash Wednesday . . . a reminder . . . all of us are dust . . . all of us will return to dust . . . then what?

Monday, February 23, 2009

MRI

I met with an orthopedic specialist this afternoon regarding my lower right leg (see my last post). He will call me to schedule an MRI for Thursday or Friday.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scant Information

May the LORD do what seems good to him. ~ Joab

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this . . . Then I [Esther] will go to the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish. ~ Esther

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace . . . but if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods . . . ~ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Why you don't even know what will happen tomorrow . . . you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and so this or that . . ." Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it sins. ~ James

Look closely. Joab, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abegnego, made difficult decisions. Decisions to do what seemed to be the right thing with scant information. They weren't sure how things were going to work out, but they did know they must act.

Joab believed it was time to go to war with the Amonites. His forces were outnumbered and surrounded. A mercenary army of thousands had him boxed in -- both front and flank. All he could do was make a decision -- fight or flight. Success or failure, winning or losing, would be determined by what God deemed best. He acted with incomplete knowledge. He took a risk.

Esther made a decision to go into the king's presence unannounced on behalf of her people. It was a desperate measure. Breaking royal law was a capital offence. But Esther threw caution to the wind. She did the right thing as best she could determine. A close ally suggested that maybe God had positioned for just such a time as she and her people faced -- no one was absolutely sure -- but it was possible. She made the decision that seemed to be the best and left her fate in God's hands.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assessed their situation and made what they believed was the right and best decision before God. They were not sure how their noble and courageous testimony would shake out. Would God deliver them or not? It didn't matter -- they were making the best decision with the understanding they had.

James tells us that we are not to presume on God, because we don't know what a day may bring about. Who knows, the sentence we are speaking, or the plans we are making, may be our last. But such an admonition from James is not given to keep us from making decisions because we do not have complete knowledge. We can take risks for the advancement of the kingdom.

It seems that James keeps things in balance. Sometimes, we just have to do what is right simply because it is right. Prevailing circumstances may mean we have scant information to go on, but we just decide to do the right thing. To do anything less is sin, says James. Guaranteed success is not the determining factor.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Freakish Thing

I have played sports my entire life. As a 53 year old man I cycle spring, summer, and fall. During these cold New England winters I work out 6 days a week lifting weights and getting generous amounts of cardio, I am blessed with the blood pressure of a 25 year old, and I eat food that is good for me, and rarely indulge in food that is not good for me.

I returned from the emergency room a couple of hours ago . . . I should have gone on Wednesday.

What happened?

A totally unexpected injury that reminds me of the gospel invitation I heard in church as a kid. You probably heard it yourself . . . The preacher tells a story about a guy who doesn't come forward during the invitation, leaves church, steps off the street curb, and a bus runs him over. Missed his last chance. Seems like a highly unlikely scenario, but he attests of its truth.

I wish I could tell you I got hurt on some grand adventure doing something like rappelling, hiking, rock climbing, or even a non-life-ending-step off a curb-get hit by a bus-story! Nope. Not the case. Mine is a highly unlikely story, but I attest of its truth. It was a freakish thing . . .kinda like stepping off a curb and getting smooshed by a bus.

On Wednesday, I stepped out of my truck, and when my right foot hit the ground I heard a pop, and I went to the ground in a heap! I should have gone to the ER on Wednesday. But instead, every waking hour for 3 days I iced my lower right leg, optimistic that the intense pain would subside. It did not.

Now, my right leg is completely immobilized in a cast from the tip of my toes to the middle of my thigh -- my calf muscle shredded. In 7 days an orthopedic specialist will re-evaluate it. I am incredibly grateful that it was not my Achilles tendon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Good Thing

Wow! It's been a long time since I posted.

I recently started a part time job working at Planet Fitness. I know there is a fat boy living inside me that wants to get out -- and I believe being physically fit is not a spiritual option -- it is a spiritual discipline. This secondary employment is a gift from God. For me, the interaction with hundreds of people a day, four days a week, is energizing.

More and more, I am becoming convinced that vocational Christian ministry can institutionalize you. No -- not the padded room and singular wardrobe of a tight, white jacket institutionalizing (although it can do that, too) -- I mean, you can spend all of your time within the church institution and culture. You can become completely detached from life outside the church.

I don't know much -- but what I know -- I know for certain. I know for certain that those of us who pastor a church, or teach in a Christian School, or are in some other full time ministry have a propensity to become completely occupied with responding to all the concerns of those already eternally accounted for. All the things that command and consume our time and demand our attention and response can be good and noble, but they become the lesser good when we isolate ourselves from life outside our faith communities.

It's a good thing when we get to experience the world of those we minister to.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Laura Linnie

We just returned from a whirlwind trip to Maine -- left Massachusetts at 9:30 on Friday -- left Maine at 10 am on Saturday! From Taunton, Massachusetts, it is about a 5 hour drive to Old Town, Maine. All five children and a gaggle of grandchildren gathered at my mother's and father's house to celebrate mom's 80th birthday. Needless to say, mom was elated to have her offspring hovering around her extending birthday wishes and sharing a bountiful, thanksgiving sized meal. Laura Linnie (mom's given and beautiful name) is an incredibly resilient woman irrepressible optimist, and nothing seems to get her down. She is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. Everyone loves her. She and Dad are running their race and finishing strong!
Mom also sent me home with my own belated birthday gift -- homemade fudge! I, along with many of the church staff, send her thanks!

Interstate 95 was a dirty, salt crusted, ribbon of asphalt snaking along between filthy snowbanks. Traveling along the highway, though, I found great joy in taking note of the constantly changing scenery just beyond the glass that surrounded me. Snow fields, frozen rivers, lakes, and expanses of purest white yielded their own unique beauty. I saw the beaver tail-like snowshoe tracks, that left evidence of someones lone trek, along the edges of a pond. Two giant nests built by osprey, one on the cross bar of power line poles, and another, in the middle of a bog atop a dying evergreen tree looked as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. In the middle of a frozen expanse, the rounded arch of a beaver's lodge covered by a thick mantle of snow, gave it the appearance of an igloo. Faint traces of old woods roads, once hidden by thick foliage, were distinguishable, twisting through denuded stands of hardwood forests. Meandering jab-and-drag trail of a deer pierced and pocked the smooth surface of snow, and criss-crossed the shallow, elongated tracks of a snowshoe rabbit just outside the perimeters of the tree line. Cattails were mottled and unraveling in the wind, and from time to time a bird would flit from tree to tree.

For 5 hours, Sandy and I squinted against the reflected sun and marveled at the brilliance of the created world around us and talked non-stop about an even grander spectre -- life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Another Cup of Coffee

Ah, waitress pour me another cup of coffee. Pop me down, jack me up, shoot me out, flyin' down the highway. Lookin' for the morning. Oooh, I'm travelin' my life away, lookin' for a sunny day for me . . .

~Eddie Rabbit (Travelin' My Life Away)

I have nothing in particular to say about the lyrics above, except that I found a CD with an eclectic collection of "Classic Hits," slid it into my computer and started listening to Eddie Rabbit's big hit from the 80's. I love words, phrases, and poetry. I love the brilliant creativity of wordsmiths. They can capture my imagination, unravel confusion, unlock my soul, or give me a rush and . . . Pop me down, jack me up, shoot me out, flyin' down the highway. Lookin' for the morning.

Sometimes I write just for the fun of it!