Welcome, 2018!

It’s time to put up a new calendar. I always try to buy a calendar that reminds me of adventures from the previous year. The calendar waiting in the wings at our house is filled with pictures of the Rocky Mountains which will bring back memories of snow-capped beauty shared with family and friends.

The “New Year” is a funny thing. For some it is the pinnacle of the holiday season. For others, it’s a “ho-hum” day that slips by without notice. Whatever your attitude about this holiday, it is a moment set aside to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another.

Sometimes people are eager to leave the past behind. If it was a rugged year marred by illness or loss, people can yearn to literally “turn the page” and leave those pain-filled days behind. Some people eagerly anticipate a brand-new year as they bid “good riddance” to days gone by.

The opposite can also be true. For some, these past 12 months hold precious memories they only reluctantly leave behind. Or they are all too aware of experiences that can never be repeated. Perhaps there was a special occasion or a joy-filled celebration shared with precious loved ones that is now slipping into the distant past. Or maybe they said good-bye to someone dear to their hearts and now dread the thought of beginning a new year without that person.

Some people feel December 31st grants permission for a night of excessive partying while those struggling with addiction face the challenge of maintaining their sobriety for another hard-earned 24 hours.

The New Year can be complicated. There is, of course, nothing “magic” about January 1st. The sun will rise as the stars fade into the dawning light, just as they do on 364 other mornings. And yet we have chosen this date to reflect on the passage of time. Perhaps it helps us value the fleeting moments a bit more. Maybe the New Year will help us remember just how precious time is and how swiftly the days – and even the years – go by. Maybe we can be mindful of the people who journey with us and the planet we share.

We can celebrate quietly or don party hats and blow noise-makers. But this humbling fact remains – Human life is brief and fragile. It can change in an instant. That stark fact doesn’t need to be depressing – it just offers an importance awareness that the moments we are given are precious.  However we use them, let’s use them well.

The New Year, with its countdown clock and relentless second hand sweeping toward midnight, reminds me that we worship a timeless God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God offers love and new life every day. No matter what happens, no matter how we arrive at the New Year and no matter what the future may hold, we can be sure that God’s love and strength goes with us.

Wishing you all the best in 2018.

 

 

Prayer for Las Vegas

God of peace,

We pray for all affected by the violence in Las Vegas.

We pray

For singing and dancing turned into terror and loss

For joy turned into sorrow

For lives ended too soon.

We pray

For families across the country who are suddenly thrown into grief.

For your healing presence to be with the wounded,

To surround those who have witnessed horror with your compassion.

We ask you to

Bless the first responders: the police, EMT’s, doctors and nurses

who share your love by caring for your people.

Today let us

Treat one another gently.

Speak words of kindness.

Reach out to those in pain.

Let us not be swayed by evil but rather strengthened by your faithfulness.

You who are always with us, hear our prayer.  Amen.

Organizing your life and other summer dreams

Have you heard of a “bullet journal”?  The 20-somethings who share our home assure me this is the latest thing to help organize your life and prioritize your activities.  I have kept a journal – just a journal, no “bullets” involved – since I was 13. I write in my daily to review my yesterday, pray for my today, and jot down hopes, dreams and some worries for the future.

But I was intrigued that my app-addicted young adults could be inspired by something as low-tech as a notebook and a pen.  I did some research, on-line of course, and discovered www.bulletjournal.com .  A four-minute video explains how a bullet journal can “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

Sounds good, right? In many ways, the bullet journal is a glorified “to do” list, with “bullet points” to check off when an action is accomplished. It promises a quieter mind and a calmer spirit as users “focus on things that are really worth your time.”

What is worth our time? It’s something to ponder before these precious summer days slip away. What activities and experiences feed your spirit and nourish your soul? What is really worth doing? Perhaps just as important – what is not worth our time? What dreary, tiresome behaviors can we eliminate from our daily routines so we make room to expand our hearts and listen for God’s Spirit?

“Seek the Lord,” the Bible tells us, “and you will find him” (Deuteronomy). The wise teacher in Proverbs assures us if we “seek diligently” we will discover God. And Jesus encourages us to “seek and you will find.”

That’s worth doing. This summer we can intentionally make time to seek God and be aware of God’s presence.  Where will you encounter God in the coming weeks? Will you listen for God’s voice as waves break against the coast or as water gently ripples upon a lakeshore? Will you look for God in the early-morning light or in the dimming of these longer days? Perhaps the flickering light of fireflies and stars will remind you of light shining in the darkness, of God’s promise to be with us always. The joyful exuberance of festivals or outdoor concerts might move you to sing praises to God. Loving moments with family and friends could reassure you that where there is love, there is God.

Notice. Be aware. Pause. The bullet journal’s popularity comes from its encouragement of intentional living.

Starting today, take five minutes at the beginning or end of each day to review your blessings and notice where you encounter God. An awareness of the divine weaving its way in and through our lives can change our outlook on life. God promises to “be with us always, now until the end of the age.”  Let’s take time to notice.

What happens in baptism?

On Sunday we will baptize four children, ages 4-13.  Our congregation will sing David Haas’ refrain, “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name” as we prepare for this joyous celebration.  Times four?  Even better.

Why do we baptize? What happens in that moment when water meets forehead?

It isn’t magic.  I hasten to remind parents that their child will not suddenly sleep through the night, become better behaved, or start cleaning their room.

Another kind of transformation takes place, one that is unseen and mostly has to do with our hearts. It can happen at any age (the oldest person I baptized was an 87 year old man preparing for his death) or any place (the beauty of our sanctuary is lovely, but dipping my trembling fingers into a flimsy paper cup by a hospital bedside works too).

In that moment, God speaks to our spirits, that divine essence in each one of us, and declares what is true about us.  During baptism, I always ask, “By what name shall this child be baptized?” It is not that I forgot the person’s name. It is an opportunity to remember with awe that God knows each of us by name. In baptism, God tells us who we are and reminds us of an identity that can’t be taken away from us.

During our lifetime, many people tell us lies about who we are. We are told that we are too fat or too skinny, not smart or cool enough, or that we just don’t fit in. We hear messages about our value and worth and how we don’t measure up to some impossible standard. The world is all too glad to push soul-crushing labels and demeaning false names upon us. Those lies can lead to heartache and crippling self-doubt.

Baptism destroys those lies. God tells us who we really are – a beloved child of God’s, named by God as precious in God’s sight. No one can take that identity away.  Baptism cannot be reversed or negated. No matter how anyone else defines us, God’s name for us endures. Wherever our path leads us – what  we do, who we love, what mistakes we make, false starts we engage in, dead ends we encounter – we will remain God’s beloved child, always welcome in God’s sight.

At baptism we humbly celebrate God the name-giver who claims us with an unshakeable love.

That’s what we will celebrate on Sunday. Baptism is a gift to children who don’t know enough to even ask for this grace and a reminder to all who witness it. In baptism we say ‘yes’ to God who said ‘yes’ to us long before we knew it, or requested it. It is a gift to the children being baptized and a reminder to all the witnesses. God names us so we can spend our lives discovering how to live into that God-given identity.

Baptism2

Celebrating Confirmation

This Sunday we will celebrate the confirmation of eleven of our teenagers.  Most of these fourteen and fifteen year-olds – “confirmands,” as they have been known for more than a year – were baptized when they were infants.  Their parents took vows on their behalf and promised they would model a faith of forgiveness, love and justice. Now these teenagers wish to “confirm” their faith for themselves.

Although we recognize that they are still very young and have much to learn in life, the church considers them mature enough to declare their own belief.  Among other promises, they will vow

  • “By the grace of God to follow in the way of our Savior”
  • “To resist oppression and evil and to show love and justice, according to the grace given to you.”

Every time vows are taken in church – whether it is for baptism, confirmation, or a wedding – people make promises that they will only gradually understand. A young couple who vows to love one another in “sickness and in health” may not understand the overwhelming nature of that promise for many years to come.

We do not expect our confirmands (much to their relief) to “know it all,” to have a comprehensive understanding of the Bible or to be unquestioning in their faith. We make that clear when they answer what I consider to the most important question, “Do you promise, according to the grace given to you, to grow in the Christian faith.” They will give the hopeful, affirmative reply, “I promise, with the help of God.” They are promising to grow, ask questions, and continue to learn.

It’s a big promise.

What I love about their vows is the presence, over and over again, of words like “grace” and “the help of God.” The church is reminding them they are not alone. God never simply pushes us out of the nest or into our future with a hearty, “Good luck with that!” Instead, God promises to journey with us, supplying us with much-needed support and help.

There is an understanding, even an expectation, that we will make mistakes. Our confirmands – like many of us – more questions than answers, more doubt than faith, more uncertainty than conviction.

But they want to be on this journey of faith. They want to find out more. They want to discover who God is and the impact their faith can have. They want to make a difference in this world that needs the love, hospitality, and welcome of a forgiving and renewing God.

This is not the beginning of their faith journey; rather it is one step along an evolving path.  We will surround them with our prayers and be reminded that all of us need to continue to search for God in our everyday lives.

Confirmation

 

Hugs from strangers

The sounds of an emergency room are unmistakable. The swift footsteps of nurses as they hurry into a room. Machines beeping an urgent rhythm as they track heartbeat, pressure, and the flow of medicines. Doctors issuing orders. And all the while, loved ones endure an anguished wait.

As a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital, I am on-call for a weekend every month so that our hard-working chaplain can take a much-needed break. When a call comes in, I know it will be urgent. Often it is a family requesting a priest who can administer last rites.  I used to explain to the nurse on the phone that I was not a priest and therefore was no in position to offer Catholic sacraments. But over the years I have learned that most people yearn for any assurance that God is with them in a time of crisis. Even when the person delivering that assurance is a female Protestant minister.

Early in the morning, I huddled with a family, separated from their loved one only by a thin floor to ceiling curtain. We could hear the effort that was being put in to save this particular life. Calm but urgent voices counted CPR beats as carts were wheeled in to supply additional support.

And then – silence. Talking stopped. Machines were turned off. The hurried steps of these brave first responders ceased. The curtain was drawn back and the dreaded sentence was spoken, “I’m sorry; we did everything we could.”

That’s when grace enters in. Suddenly these strangers became the first comforters. Nurses came to offer hugs. Doctors stopped to offer condolences. The ambulance driver brought in chairs so the overwhelmed family could rest. Someone offered coffee, another brought in a pitcher of water. This was compassion brought to life.

Names were not necessary. In that moment kindness ruled. Everyone was aware that this was someone’s mother. Someone who had made breakfasts for decades and worried when her children came home late. Someone who played cards with neighbors and was always ready to offer a cup of coffee and a listening ear.
And now she was gone. Just like that. With no warning.
Tears ran down cheeks of people who may not have even known her name. Strangers gave hugs. And the family received comfort.
Living kindness and offering compassion is what we are called to do as human beings. The need for love is greater than all that divides us. Thoughts of which political figure was supported or disdained disappeared. We were just people together, confronting the fragility of life.

In that moment of life and death, love prevailed. Compassion, care and comfort were freely given.

It reminded me of how we are meant to live – with the ability to care for our brothers and sisters around us.  Even the ones we may not know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering God’s people

God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”  Genesis 1:26

When I was a little girl my grandmother traveled around the world on a “tramp steamer.” This relatively inexpensive ship allowed her to spend months crisscrossing the globe while our family enjoyed her travels vicariously. We had a world map mounted on a hallway wall which helped us monitor her movements. Every time a postcard arrived, we would read it eagerly, marveling at the sights and sounds she was experiencing. Then we would carefully and somewhat ceremoniously place a pin in her current location. Soon colorful dots marked her journey from one hemisphere to another.

Every once in a while a package would arrive with a doll or other interesting artifact from her adventures.  This was the beginning of my doll collection; I still treasure the brightly colored costumes that represent the variety of cultures she experienced.

As a child, my goal in life was to be able to add to that collection myself. I looked forward to the day when I would be able to travel and discover new customs, foods, and cultures on my own. My first overseas trip was as a high school summer exchange student to Germany. That was enough to encourage me to travel whenever and wherever I could.  My college junior year abroad (in Germany, again) led to two additional years of living and working in Europe. When I went to seminary, international travel was encouraged so that we could broaden our horizons and our understanding of religions and cultures other than our own. That led to study trips to Costa Rica and Israel.

My dream was to pass my curiosity and love of learning on to my children. We traveled as a family to Bolivia to participate in home-building and education support.   My children have since ventured to places I have not (yet) experienced including Senegal, Japan, Wales, and Spain. I believe it has been a vital part of their education, giving them a broader perspective on the world and on themselves.

The only way to learn about one another – whether across the globe or in our own town – is to experience each other’s world. We need to talk with – and listen to – each other. We live in a nation divided by politics and opinions.  It is imperative that we wonder about each other, ask questions of one another, and carefully consider what the other person is saying.

One way to approach each other is with a holy curiosity. We can ponder – what is it like to be that person?  What has been their life experience? What has formed and shaped them? What do they believe and why?  What can I learn from them?

We will not agree with – or even like – everyone we meet. But if we approach people with the understanding that every one of us is created in the image of God, that might be a place to begin.