Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
It was 1974 when I started as a full-time pastor of a church. I did that for 30 years, going on a leave of absence ten years ago the end of this month. That was to move into my 2nd career full time. In the previous ten years I had also worked part-time as an addictions counselor so it was time to do that full-time. As I once described it to a group I was training with, at that point I finally paid attention to God's call to do ministry outside the institution of the church. Secular ministry I called it (and still do, even though I do not like the term.) For the past 10 years I have worked full-time in the addictions field working first with middle school youth, then young adults and finally with adults in residential and outpatient settings.
What a ride it has been. In the midst of all that I had some amazing adventures, met and worked with many amazing people. I have loved my work and never felt that I was in the wrong vocation or calling. The call changed, but it was always ministry in the very best, broadest and most profound sense of that much abused word. I like being on the front-lines; that quote over there in the sidebar has never wavered: I want to live and work within a few yards of the gates of hell. One of these days I will write on here about what that has meant to me. But for today, I am semi-leaving part of that behind to begin my third career.
Tomorrow I will talk about that. For today, it feels as if I have taken another important step, led by God's grace and calling. Ministry is not a church-based, church-owned, or even church-defined activity. It is where God calls you. The leading of these past 40 years has been amazing, humbling, always exciting, sometimes frustrating since God doesn't usually do what I want God to do in spite of my prayers and petitions to the contrary. The key is in the 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying ONLY [emph. added] for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.I have tried to do that to the best of my ability and I have always found the empowerment needed.
I have no doubt about that empowerment and direction into the future.
Monday, December 02, 2013
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Last week we went to see the movie Dallas Buyers Club (IMDb; Tomatometer= 94%) starring Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodward, a prejudiced, foul-mouthed, heterosexual, homophobic, promiscuous Texan who contracts the HIV virus in 1985. The movie is the intense story of how he fights against his own death sentences and, while running drugs from Mexico and other places, actually discovers some humanity. After leaving the movie I remembered that December 1 is World AIDS Day and I spent some time reflecting on the movie and the story of AIDS in the last 30 years.
The movie does an excellent job of showing the desperation and soul-level fear that came along with AIDS. The lines of (mostly) young men waiting to get medicine from Woodward; the emaciated, deathly look that McConaughey portrayed; the fear of an unknown killer that raised levels of homophobia in its wake. McConaughey does a performance of a lifetime with that desperate look of fear and the swagger of fighting to the end. But the movie also shows the impact of strict drug laws and protocols that did not allow medications to be utilized and the war against drugs by the DEA and FDA.
As I sat through the movie I was taken back to those days when my two oldest friends were diagnosed with and died of AIDS within two years of each other. One was gay; the other straight who contracted the virus from a blood transfusion before testing was available. I relived some of the discussions with them over the drugs and drug protocols. I remembered each new hope that never seemed to pan out as people wanted them to. I recalled the nursing staff at the one hospital where one of them was dying who didn't want to give him pain meds at that point since it would get him addicted. Fortunately the palliative care team stepped in.
It is a long time since 1989 and 1991 when my friends died or 1992 when Ron Woodward died. Medications have turned it from a fatal to a chronic illness. AIDS is no longer a death sentence. In the United States.
But the disease has not gone away. It is epidemic in places in the world. It is fatal due to poor or non-existent medical care in some areas. It is still met in many corners with the fear and prejudice shown in the movie.
Today, then, remember Ron Woodward and any others you may have known who have died in the past 30 years. Remember that it is still very real and still very deadly if not treated with expensive medications and protocols that many can't afford. It is not a plague sent by God to punish anyone. Those who continue to suffer are people who de3serve dignity and support. Remember them today.
Posted by pmPilgrim
I had the honor of preaching the First Advent this morning. Here is the written version of the sermon:
In other words, when the days look like the days before the flood- you can count on Jesus to return… people will be eating, drinking, marrying. Oh, wait a minute. That’s how we will know? It looks like, well, just about any year in any time since the time of Noah. Kind of like today.
It is easy, (the book said,) to let up on a spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do. What we really have is a daily reprieve dependent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve God—God’s will (not mine) be done."
Listen- hear it.The sound of hope-The sound of grace about to happen.It’s on the edge of the world,waitingTo become real!
Posted by pmPilgrim
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Friday, November 29, 2013
I'm catching up on a TV series that I have missed and badly wanted to see. Treme. Watching one of the episodes the other day I heard this great line from one of the musician characters:
I played there. Nice folks, but you know they clap on one and three.What a wonderful line. It is a description of what kind of music moves you, what kind of music is in your soul.
On one side is the old traditional style. In a four-beat measure, you clap along when it's beat one or beat three.
This is perhaps best described as, well, square. ONE, two, THREE, four.
But then there's the other style. This one emphasizes the backbeat, beats two and four. It is a style that seems to have come from jazz and brought into early rock and roll. (Note that the movie about the early Beatles was titled Backbeat.) For some reason that I have never even wanted to figure out, there is often a power in the backbeat style. It drives you forward. It keeps you moving. A number of years ago someone was telling me that there is even a generational divide on this one. Those born after rock and roll are more comfortable with the backbeat. Those before then clap on beats one and three.
Back in October 2007 I said this about the change in music patterns:
What happened was that the music became a soundtrack for all that was happening. Music became the unifying force because it was something everyone began to share in common. Not only could we hear them on radio, we could see them on TV. We also could take the radio with us thanks to transistors, and listen at the beach or wherever. As a soundtrack the music became indelibly imprinted in our minds and forever connected to all the events.It really does have something to with the music we feel or hear in our soul. Each generation is different, of course, but certain music patterns endure. The backbeat pattern is obviously one that makes a difference.
And, I believe, changed our musical brain patterns. Somewhere between 1945 and 1967 we learned to respond to the backbeat- counts 2 and 4- instead of beats 1 and 3. Music began to move differently. Music began to produce different brain waves. Music propelled us forward in ways that we had never seen. If you don't see this, just watch a group of older baby boomers and older try to clap in time with music. It will be different than the younger Gen X and Gen Y style.
Just ask the writers at Treme.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
--C S Lewis
After writing an earlier post on membership and the church, I came across the above quote from C. S. Lewis. It sure sums up the gist of that post.
At least about the church.
Which brings up, again and again the way we all as Christ-followers are selective in our understanding of what it all means. It should come as no surprise that I lean strongly toward the "social Gospel." I believe Jesus was as much a political revolutionary as he was a spiritual one. In fact, considering his time, place, and culture, for him to be anything BUT politically revolutionary would have been a surprise.
But political radicalism of his sort- rooting for the underdogs, the preferential option for the poor (!)- never makes it as an institutional orientation. It will be co-opted as a foundation by the very fact of gaining power. (Power corrupts, etc.)
Back to C. S. Lewis, then.
I’m sure I read all this differently from Lewis, but we seem to come to the same conclusion- as a religion, Christianity is difficult to live with and be comfortable with. From my perspective, Jesus’ call to his followers is one of great responsibility. Not in order to gain salvation, but to make a difference. Grace, at the heart of Christian faith, is tough to accept. It makes us all equal. It says we are all OK in the presence of God because that God simply accepts us as we are.
While that may sound like Good News, we often don’t want to hear that. To find out I’m no better than some common criminal is not offset by the fact that I am no worse than the most righteous saint. If grace is for all, then my efforts are for naught. If grace is easily handed out by this prodigal, wasteful God, then what good is it to be good?
Perhaps in the end we are afraid that if we aren’t scared into good behavior by fear of punishment, we won’t be good. Maybe we are convinced that this great sinner inside each of us (and don’t kid yourself, we all know he or she is there) will one day break loose and wreak havoc on our lives and those around us. Maybe we know we are powerless in the face of the power of God and we just don’t want to admit that.
I know. I am not dealing with the question of the church and church membership. What I am doing so far is tearing apart all the spiritual benefits of church membership. If membership has its privileges, they are not found in some pie in the sky bye and bye nor are they found in being better or more righteous than those outside the church.
In order to get there, however, I have to tear myself away from my myths and wishful dreams and to the heart of the Christian faith, as I understand it. What that has to do or say to the church is still rattling around in my head. It isn’t falling into place yet. I have wrestled so much and so often over the past 40 years with the institution that I really have needed to get down to the basics first.
Which is where I will leave it for today. I have not been able to break away from the church (or The Church.) Both continue to pursue me. The Hound of Heaven in my life is not the Lord, but his Body. It is a magnet with an almost irresistible force pulling at me. I am convinced that the organization we call the church is a very poor representation of The Church. Our human inclination to power and the corrupting use of power has hurt us more than it has helped us.
The church, as we know it, has undergone an almost indescribable transition in the 40 years since my ordination. It is not, on almost any level, the church of my youth or of my early ministry. I am not expecting to get great and wondrous answers from all my ponderings, praying and meditating. All I want to do is remain faithful to my call. No, not the call to the “ordained” pastorate, but the deep and profound call to be a follower of Jesus and engage in his work.
Someday I will expound more on that as it flows from the quote on the right sidebar there:
Some want to liveBut for now, let’s agree to keep praying and being as faithful as we each can be.
within the sound
of church or chapel bell;
I want to run
a rescue shop
within a yard of hell.
-- C. T. Studd
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
As I was trying to avoid being overdosed on JFK nostalgia last week, I realized one of the reasons why this still stands out like it does is a simple one. JFK is the most recent President to have died in office. But the trivia note on that is more interesting than it might seem.
Between 1840 and 1963 every President that was elected in the decade beginning years (1840, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1940, 1960) died in office. EVERY ONE.
Since then, no President has died while in office. Reagan would probably have died in an earlier time from the assassination attempt on his life, but he lived. We have gone 50 years, then, with nary a death in office.
Add that to all the other Kennedy mystique and it is really no wonder everyone felt it necessary to over tell the story from way to many angles.
Now we have to wait until 2018 for the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains,
and the maker of canyons and pine mountains!
All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars.
The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.
And the music from the strings no one touches, and the source
of all water.
If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.
Which made me think of another quote, this one from Lao Tzu:
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds
whatever we want.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
I've walked by the book a number of times in the local Barnes and Noble. I looked and thought it was one of those "new age" type of books. Proof of Heaven by Dr Eben Alexander never really caught my attention. I tend not to worry about heaven. Somehow or other I know there's not much I can do about its existence (or lack thereof). What is important is what I do and how I live in the here and now. Yes, I believe in eternal life, but I sure have absolutely no inkling of what that means, what it will look like, or even where it's located. We know far less than a lot of preachers and "believers" lead themselves to believe. I am looking forward to a reunion on some distant shore, but I don't get all caught up in the pursuit of it.
Then the other noon I was driving home and I started listening to Minnesota Public Radio broadcasting a talk by Dr. Alexander. Suddenly I was intrigued. He was talking about neuroscience, which I also talk about a great deal. He talked about meditation, mindfulness, and centering prayer, which I also talk about a great deal. He talked about the great mystery of "consciousness" and the difference between the brain and "mind." It seems he had a near-death experience in which he had visions that sound more extensive than the near-death experiences usually discussed. He talked about the "mystical" experience and the beauty, the sounds, the colors and light. He said that in deep meditative states the same things are possible. They are on the other side of some kind of consciousness veil (my words).
Then instead of taking some clear doctrinal path into traditional religion he seemed to talk about the truth at the foundation of all religious and spiritual traditions. He talked briefly while I was listening that our poor human words are almost useless. He had me at that point. No, not a believer, but willing to at least read his book, which I am about to start.
I feel life is too rich and powerful to be limited to what we can see. I have read too many examples of people having all types of spiritual experiences that are not easily explained- or explainable at all- by our human science. There are enough stories of the power of mindfulness and meditation; centering prayer in many forms is a deep and profound connection with something; the Celtic understanding of "thin places" where this world and the spiritual world are closer than other places expresses this same understanding.
We are living in a time, I feel, where the underlying spiritual quest of humans is being discovered and re-discovered. Jon Kabat-Zinn in Massachusetts has developed and proven the value of mindfulness-based stress reduction in physical illness. Dr. Amit Sood at Mayo Clinic has been developing a program of attention and interpretation therapy. These are but two elements of what is happening.
So I will keep exploring. I know I will never have it figured out- none of us will. But put all the pieces together and we might have a tiny sliver of the biggest picture.
It was a tough loss in this most played rivalry in college football. This was game #149. (Wikipedia info on The Rivalry.) Game 100 was two years before my freshman year. In my four years there the record was split with two wins each. Lehigh was also known as The Engineers in those days. They became The Mountain Hawks in the 1995-96 school year.
Next year will be game #150. Because of the historic significance (?) that game will be played in 52 weeks (11/22/14) at....
(are you ready for this?)
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
Okay- I'm tired of all this 50-years ago memory dump that's been going on all week. Yes, it was a major turning point in our 20th Century USA history. Yes, it no doubt ushered in the real beginning of the 60s. That awful moment in Dallas 50 years ago is certainly history.
But it makes me kind of glad I won't be around for the 50th anniversary of 9/11.
Earlier I was going to talk about what and where I was on that November day- a Friday like today with everyone going about their daily business. I was a sophomore in HS, 15 years old, a die-hard liberal Democrat and a BIG fan of JFK. My political world was shattered that day for the first of many times.
Other assassinations played a role:
Martin Luther King, Jr
So did the massacre at My Lai and the Tet Offensive.
Let's not forget Kent State and the invasions of Cambodia, Grenada, Iraq.
There was learning about the Holocaust and listening to Elie Wiesel speak, a man who managed to keep life's reality alive even when it seemed to be floating on the airs of Auschwitz.
What seems to be happening this week is more of a wishful-thinking step backwards in our minds to a simpler time. It feels like if we could just go back and start over, live around it in an alternate parallel universe it would all be better today. We wouldn't have that moment of pain, anger, fear, dread when we see that smiling face with the pink suit and pillbox hat in an open limousine.
Maybe, just maybe it will all turn out better this time.
What I haven't seen- and I admit I haven't been looking- is what younger people think. Anyone under 50 has no real memory of that day. The death of Princess Diana is more real or the O J Simpson slow-speed chase. How do they look at this bit of historical self-pandering? Is it just another example of the Baby Boomers (mea culpa!) seeing themselves as the center of life of the Century?
I am not opposed to learning history and learning from history. We don't do a very good job at it, though. We see it through our own biased lenses, filtering out the stuff that doesn't fit our world-view. We see revisionism happening all the time- sometimes because of new information, sometimes because of the shifting winds of political views.
Maybe the most important thing for me in all this 50-year insanity is that we can never know what history is going to do to us next. We are, ultimately, powerless over many, many things and all the retrospective microscopic investigations will never get us any closer to knowing what the next one will be. We manage to get through them for better and for worse. They are the unpredictable seismic, cosmic or quantum shifts that will forever change us.
In the end we are who we are today because of what happened on Dealy Plaza in 1963, at Pearl Harbor in 1941, Gettysburg in 1863, or your own backyard yesterday. What we do with it is up to us. Nothing will ever change it.
Maybe it's too cheesy and simplistic, but through it all this week I have been thinking of the phrase heard around 12-step meetings:
Yesterday is historyIt's all we have. Let's go with it.
Tomorrow is mystery
Live today- one day at a time.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Every year the Oxford dictionaries pick a word of the year. It is a new word that somehow or another took off in the last year. So, sitting on the edge of my seat I looked it up and the word is:
selfie.It's not an entirely new word, but it was the unanimous choice for the year. A "selfie*" is, of course(!) a picture one takes of oneself on the now ubiquitous cell-phone (or other) camera. What has made the word so interesting is it has a feel of a double entendre**, almost dirty-sounding, edgy, risky (thanks to Anthony Wiener.)
Anyway, it is a fun word. Thanks, Oxford dictionaries.
[*Disclaimer: yes, I have done a selfie.]
[**Sidenote: From an old Prairie Home Companion Joke show: The woman walked into the bar and asked the bartender for a double entendre. So he gave it to her.]
Posted by pmPilgrim
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
In case you still have time to get a present, here are some famous people whose birthday is today. An eclectic bunch, I would say:
- Robert Kennedy - 1925
- Duane Allman - 1946
- Edwin Hubble - 1889
- Dick Smothers - 1939
- Dick Clark - 1929
- Peregrine White - 1620 (Born on the Mayflower!)
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Only 272, to be exact. The best example of keeping it simple that politics may ever have seen before or since. It has become one of the great speeches of our history. (I'm already over 10% of the way there.)
November 19, 1863. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In the middle of the Civil War the president had this to say:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Last week I passed a milestone for the year. Friday was the 150th day this year that I have ridden a bike- either on the streets/trails or a stationary one at the fitness center. I know I won't be able to get enough in before the end of the year to make it 183 days (or 50% of the year). But that will be the goal for next year.
Mileage for the year so far: 1,340 miles, combination of both types.
Not bad. Not bad at all!
Sunday, November 17, 2013
The title describes what I did last Thursday and Friday. I had the two days off from time exchange and I took the time to do what I'm going to think about and plan on in a couple weeks when the road to retirement (or the opening of Career Three) commences. So I simply woke up when I woke up (i.e. I didn't roll over and continue to sleep until 10 or 11.)
I then checked the Internet- weather, mail, news, Facebook- which I do each morning after awakening. I went downstairs and had breakfast while looking at my "calendar" of things to do today- which I do every morning when I arrive at work. Next I did some errands I needed to do and spent a little time at the Library checking on some books on Tai Chi and Yoga that I need to some research about. I ended up at the fitness center where I rode the bike and did some strength work followed by a small, but healthy, lunch.
I headed home, spending time with my wife before heading out to do another errand and then checked out a local coffee shop that I hope to use as one of my writing/reading places. (It passed the audition!) Supper, practicing my trumpet, doing some more reading and writing in the evening and my Thursday was finished.
Friday was a day to work out, go to the Cities for lunch with a friend before returning home for some time with my wife and a band practice for last night's concert.
It was a dress rehearsal- and it worked well. It felt comfortable. It fit.
I came to the thought when looking at the couple of days that one of the things most important will be for me to see each day as a day of "work" in the broad sense of the word. Retirement is not a time of doing nothing. I have heard for years from retired friends that they don't know how they had time to work- that they are busier now than when they worked.
But it's hopefully a different kind of busy. It's not drudgery (my work has never been "drudgery!") It's not some kind of life of "leisure." It is what I am going to be about each day. It may not be as structured as getting to work at the same time each day and leaving when the day is done. From this dress rehearsal it looks rather like getting done what needs to be done while exploring the day's ins and outs.
Another moment of awareness came last Friday when my friend asked, "So! How many work hours left?" The answer, after the moment of multiplying 12 work days times 8 hours and then rechecking because it was such a small number.
In any case, it was a good couple of days this past week that have sure whetted my appetite for more to come.
Side and irrelevant note: I double checked my memory on that phrase "whet my appetite." My memory was correct. The phrase, probably much misunderstood and misspelled, is about honing, sharpening your appetite, not drowning it. That is exactly what Thursday and Friday did for me!
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
A quick reflection occurred to me earlier this week at work. I am less than three weeks away from the starting transition toward retirement, becoming a part-time supplemental employee instead of full-time. All kinds of emotions continue to happen each day. Excitement and opportunity are at the top, of course. But change is grief-producing. Change is not easy to assimilate, even when planned for and desired. Something is being left behind.
In this case I was sitting in our late afternoon hand-off from one team to another. As one of my colleagues was talking about the group they led and the patients' information I found myself having what I could only describe as an "out-of-body" moment. It as almost as if I was sitting watching something beyond me. I was not connected. I realized that in a few short weeks some of these things will continue to happen- and I won't be around. They will not concern me. They will not make any difference to me- or me to them. On those days when I am working I will have to know some of this, but in the great scheme of things, it won't be about me.
Humbling. It puts things into a perspective that is hard to reconcile at this point.
It was a powerful reminder of the importance of being in today which is the only one where we can have an impact.