Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pastoral Prayer for Our Common Need

based on Matthew 20:1-16

Faithful God, we confess that we don't often understand or even like how generous you are. We read and hear of your reckless intention to share gifts of love, presence, and forgiveness with anyone who will receive them, regardless of who they are or what they've done. If it were up to us, we'd screen candidates more carefully, only letting in those properly vetted and most deserving to enter your kingdom. We would build big, beautiful walls to keep out the ones whom we believe will only abuse and exploit what you wish to give to all.

All of this only shows, O God, how much we are in need of those same gifts ourselves. Our inability to embrace your gracious regard for those unlike us means that we still have not yet come into full receipt of and appreciation for how your Spirit is changing us. We are so preoccupied with how you love others that we miss out on the blessing of that same love for ourselves. We want to do better, serve better, see others more as you see all of us: creation in need of redemption.

O God, may we be open to your gifts, and may we openly share them knowing their source and their transforming effect. May we do both with wonder and thankfulness, catching your vision of a more grace-filled future.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Autumn Arrives

Summer was long.

From a strict passage of time sort of perspective, it was just as long as it always is. There are only a certain amount of minutes, hours, and days in the months of June through August, and nobody has found a way to add more.

But still, summer was long. As in, it felt long, and for more than one reason.

June was fine. I enjoyed my first vacation since December and after I got back turned right around and headed to Baltimore for the UCC's General Synod. That month was relaxing and rejuvenating and it was everything that I needed it to be as my first real break in six months.

But July and August were long. Again, no longer than usual measurement-wise, but existentially, it could not have been any longer. I usually have a lot more free time during this season of the year, and when I'm not keeping my mind occupied with the needs and tasks of ministry, my thoughts veer into everything I'm doing wrong, have done wrong, will probably do wrong in the future. And for various reasons largely inappropriate for this medium, my mind decided that it was going to work all manner of day and night and early morning to sort through these issues again and again and again.

String enough of those days and sleepless hours together, and your spirit doesn't have much left by the end.

Sometime in August, I realized how desperate I was for fall. I always hit a moment like that as the summer months wind down, but this was an inner plea stronger than I've experienced in a while. The thought of fall's arrival, of the days ticking down toward September, the mere thought that the calendar will soon change like it always does, helped move my soul from Level Just Give Up to Keep Calm And Watch For Pumpkins.

I get how arbitrary this sounds, like the passage of time doesn't really affect people in this way, does it? Given how Seasonal Affective Disorder and its summer opposite are real, quantifiable, observable things, I think I have at least some ground to stand on here. I wouldn't presume to self-diagnose, but something was happening to me in July and August that was causing me spiritual and emotional anguish.

The moment I noticed something was changing came while I read MGoBlog's massive preview of Michigan's upcoming football season, as quintessential a fall feature if ever there was one. As I read through Brian Cook's detailed description of the program's quarterback situation, a pleasantly intrusive thought came to the forefront:

"You know, things are going to be okay."

This time of year does that. For me, the mere anticipation of fall's approach causes muscles to relax, energy to tick upward, mood to improve, outlook to brighten. It's how others experience summer or Christmas, where the intangibles of the season work their magic and provide reassurance that, in the midst of self-doubt and spiritual desolation, at least there's still this.

And no matter what else is happening, this will always arrive and make the rest of it more bearable.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What Churches Can Learn from Doctor Who

I've contributed a post to the Ohio Conference UCC blog, Holy Experiments, entitled What Churches Can Learn from Doctor Who.

An excerpt:

A few weeks ago, the BBC announced the newest person to play The Doctor beginning next season: Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to take on the role. When the show returns for its annual Christmas episode this December, we will see the current Doctor played by Peter Capaldi transform into Whittaker’s as-yet-unestablished version of the beloved character.

As you might be able to imagine, this has divided the fanbase. And even if you’ve never seen the show, you can probably make some educated guesses as to what those on each side of the debate are saying.

And you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the church.

Read the whole thing at Holy Experiments.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Vintage CC: All About Eve

I wrote this in October 2013, shortly after we'd put down our beloved cat Eve. Four years later I still think about her quite often, and in certain situations catch myself reflecting on what she would have done. She truly was a member of our family, and I still miss her.

As soon as we walked into the kennel, she started putting on a show. She rolled onto her back, her head upside-down and almost pressed against her cage, while she stretched a paw toward us through the bars. All of this while a constant stream of meows burst forth, as if she couldn't get them out quickly enough to tell us everything that she wanted to say.

There really was no debate that day about who would come keep us company at our new apartment in West St. Louis County. We'd just moved off of Eden's campus and in short order wanted to take advantage of our newfound freedom to have a non-human companion help to transform our new space into a home. And she did, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, as she'd wake us frequently in the dead of night with a series of sandpapery kisses. No matter how many times she'd be gently removed, she'd be right back again. In hindsight, we were her new family and maybe she was just joyful to have one.

We named her Eve. It's common to think that since I'm a pastor, this was a reference to the Biblical character. Actually, the allusion is a little more obscure and clever than that: since she was black and white, it was suggested by the psychology major that we name her after the first documented case of Dissociative Personality Disorder whose personas were known as Eve White and Eve Black. Maybe that explanation is more interesting or more disappointing. But we liked it.

Of the three cats we eventually acquired, Eve was always the most affectionate. Those uninvited middle-of-the-night wake-up calls never stopped, although they did become less frequent as she learned to be satisfied with lying between legs or up against someone's back. More notable, perhaps, was the way she'd seize the opportunity to take up residence on your lap shortly after you sat down. All the subtle hints given that you wished to get up would only be met with wide-eyed stares, the rest of her body only slightly adjusting so that she could remain.

This was one of her greatest gifts, the way she'd get you to slow down for a while and just enjoy the warmth of her company. This is a common behavior with cats to be sure, but neither of the other two do it like she did. She had a better way of sensing when she was needed; of sharing herself when we were most harried or upset.

There's a Calvin and Hobbes strip where the two title characters are getting ready for bed while expressing disappointment that the day's play couldn't have lasted longer. But then one suggests to the other that they can keep playing in their dreams together, so they make plans to do so. Maybe I, too, can hold out for such a hope that rough-tongued kisses and warm laps may still happen where dreams dwell, the gifts of a special friend still enjoyed.