Parking Lots, Crooked Paths and Open Hearts (Luke 3)

This is the message I gave today at Camas Friends during meeting for worship. It is based on Luke 3:1-6.

Walmart Parking Lot

The Parking Lots

When I was in high school I did what many people my age have done for generations and that was work as a grocery store carry-out: a bag-boy as we called it back then. I have many fond memories from that first job, not least of which was my promotion to working in the dairy department where my colleagues and I would eat ice-cream from damaged cartons, and have the bakery bake us up frozen pizza’s that we’d “accidentally” sliced through while stocking them in the freezers.

As a bag-boy there were two main areas that I conducted my job: the end of the register where I bagged groceries, and the parking lot where I traversed the sea of cars next to the customer I was serving on many blistery Ohio nights in the rain, sleet and slushy snow.

Of these two locations, the parking lot was where I had some of the most profound experiences of my life as a bag-boy. As a young and very earnest Christian, I took every opportunity to talk to people about my faith, the worship band I was playing on, and even offer to pray with my customers. I remember many times in that 2-5 min. walk to a customer’s car having the opportunity to catch-up with my regulars, listen to someone who had just learned bad news, or hear of family troubles at home. More than once did I offer to pray for them whether right there standing by their car, or later on my own. I never had anyone turn me down. I used what little space was given carefully, I was never pushy, I didn’t always talk about faith, but you’d be surprised how many times in that parking in Alliance Ohio, I had an opportunity to be a listening and compassionate presence.

Continue reading Parking Lots, Crooked Paths and Open Hearts (Luke 3)

Walter Rauschenbusch – Thanksgiving Day Prayer

O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Walter Rauschenbusch – Thanksgiving Day Prayer [Poem].

Nouwen on Gratitude

Gratitude … goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint…The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Henry Nouwen in Memories, Hopes and Conversations by Mark Lau Branson.

Writing-Sabbatical Update #1

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This past week I began a four-week “writing sabbatical,” and the whole thing went really well. The church was generous to release me from my responsibilities so that I could commit focused-time to working on my dissertation. The goal is to work my typical 40+ hours a week but spend that time writing – so that by the end of the month I might have a rough draft – we’ll use rough draft here liberally – completed or at least close. That means that I have a goal of adding three or four more chapters to the four I already have written. The push is in order that I might hand this thing in by the cut-off next February. Last week was successful in moving me toward that in that I not only was able to finish a new chapter, but was able to make some connections and learn some things that have alluded me in the short bursts of time I’ve been working on the project thus far. Continue reading Writing-Sabbatical Update #1

Who Needs a Crystal Ball?

Flickr Image: @deflam

This is a short piece I wrote for our meeting’s monthly newsletter, I thought I’d share it here as well.

I had the privilege of going to the ordination of the new priest at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Washougal a few weeks back. You may remember meeting Jessie Vedanti when she visited us for meeting for worship last month. She and her husband moved in (just next door to our meeting house in fact!) to Camas in June and as a part of her becoming the new Episcopal priest in Washougal she had to be ordained. Not only was I invited, I got to walk in the processional with about 10-15 other clergy members all wearing fancy robes and collars. Here I am, a Quaker minister, in my finest sport jacket and tie (yes, I even wore a tie for the occasion) marching down the aisle with Episcopals and other clergy. I could just see early Quaker and critic of the 17th century church of England, George Fox, rolling around in his grave. Times have indeed changed, not to mention that I not only enjoyed myself but some of the priests/pastors there are my closest friends in ministry. <--more-->

I wanted to tell you about one experience that stood out to me from that service. Their bishop, Greg Rickel, stood up and gave the message during the ordination. In the message he made a point about what pastoral care is and isn’t that has stuck with me. He said something to this effect:

“Jessie, I have to tell you something that is hard to say. Now that you are becoming a priest, you get a very secret gift from us and that is a crystal ball that we hand down to all our new pastors. This crystal ball is very special in that it will tell you every time someone is sick, hurting, angry, hungry, or in need of a pastoral visit of any kind. It will tell you who to pray for without them telling you, it will point you in the direction of people in dire distress, and will update you on all of the most important news going on in each member’s lives. But there is one problem. We dropped yours out in the parking lot and it shattered everywhere. We are sorry that we don’t have a crystal ball to give you now.”

This is a simple parable about pastoral care. The real truth is that there is no crystal ball. No pastor, however newly minted or aged and weathered can read minds. When we are hurt, angry, in need of a visit, or a pastoral prayer, an encouraging word, or direction we must tell one another. This isn’t just a pastor’s issue, it is an issue for the whole community to consider. The point is that community cannot exist for one another as it should if we are not able to, or choose to not, speak openly and directly about our personal and spiritual condition. There is nothing magic about Christian community, or pastoral ministry – we need trust and openness with one another.

As I sat back in the pew, Greg’s words struck me powerfully. They felt reassuring and hopeful. It makes a difficult situation feel more doable. As a minister I can’t magically know how everyone is doing. It is the responsibility of each of us to do our part and open up when we need it. But beyond this, we as Friends know that we are all ministers and we are all capable of caring for one another in this way — but we have to trust. Sometimes this sharing requires that we swallow our pride, sometimes it means that we have an uncomfortable conversation, sometimes it just means that we have to have a little courage.

In writing this it is my intention to invite you to find one another, make time for each other and to listen deeply. Let’s continue to build trust not just with those we know well, but those we have yet to welcome fully into our lives. I also invite you to find me, schedule some office time with me, get a cup of coffee or lunch, but come and share with me. I am interested to hear what is on your heart, what you are wrestling with, where you need prayer, who is God to you, and what are your big questions. In both of these acts our shared community will continue to and deepen, my practice of pastoral care will also grow. Our role is not to try and fix one another but to aid in listening for where Jesus may be leading and teaching you.

Quakers (and for that matter Episcopals!) don’t have any crystal balls, but we do have a loving and trusting community. The bible tells us we can come boldly to Christ, and we can also come boldly to one another. These acts of caring for one another are indeed the very acts of the body of Christ.

Finally, in the coming year, I invite you to personally meet with me, especially if you never have. One query we might discuss is this: “what does spiritual progress look like for you in the coming year?” Or as Stan Thornburg likes to ask, “What is your growing edge?” This can be a start, but I’m open to discussing anything that’s important to you. Just be sure to let me know because my crystal ball is broken.

Inviting Children Into Silent Worship

Quaker worship is rooted in silence and the idea that a) Jesus Christ is present in our gatherings and is able to teach us himself and b) God can and does speak to anyone and through anyone no matter what age you are or how “religious” you appear to be on the outside. Two weeks ago I told the Godly Play version of the Parable of the Good Shepherd during the message part of our worship gathering. That means the children stayed with during our whole meeting for worship, including our silent portion. This is what I said to help invite our children into that space.*

We are going to take a time of what we Quakers call “silent” worship. It is a quiet time to sit, listen and to wonder about the story.

Silent worship is one of the ways that Quakers do their work. We close our eyes and listen in the silence – this gives us time to think, pray, and hear if God wants to speak to us.

So silent worship is a very special time.

It’s okay to color or draw; and if you can write, you are welcome to do that, but we don’t want to do anything that will distract us or our neighbor from paying attention.

And if you feel like you have something you want to share, you are welcome to share a hopeful or kind word to the rest of the group.

We believe that God can speak to and through any person.

Let’s enter a time of silent worship.

Feel free to adapt, share or use as you see fit.

*This text was helped a lot by my good friend Chad Stephenson on twitter @chadstep.

Love is The Law of Life – Niebuhr

Love is the law of life and not merely some transcendent ideal of perfection. All men may violate the law of life but there is a difference between those who seek to draw all life into themselves,and those who have found in God the centre of existence and through loyalty to Him have learned to relate themselves in terms of mutual service to their fellows. There was a difference between John Woolman,the Quaker saint,who felt the sorrows of the slaves as his own,and some pious slave-owner who used the Scripture to justify slavery and to obscure the indecency of one man owning another man as property. There was a difference between the megalomaniac Nero,delighting in cruelty and the gentle Marcus Aurelius,ruling over the same Empire but brooding with pity upon the evils of the world. There is a difference (to go from the imperial throne to the monastic life for examples) between the asceticism of a St. Jerome with his morbid preoccupation with self and that of the joyous,gentle and ecstatic St. Francis. The difference between such men continues to affect the very texture of life in centuries after their existence.

-Reinhold Niebuhr