Dim Church

The summer has gone past and fall is fully here at the church. I began working at this church during the heat of July. My first few weeks involved opening doors and windows in an attempt to get fresh air into my office. The heat was occasionally stifling.

Now that fall is here, my office is kept up to temperature with a small space heater that normally lives in the nursery next door. To be entirely honest, it is still plugged into the outlet in the nursery, but the cord fits under the pocket door that separates the two rooms. My office has a bright plant light to help keep my spider and clover plants alive, but the office is generally darker now that the sun spends more time behind clouds.

My office is the only room with lights on as I work. The fellowship hall is dark, the hallways are dark, the kitchen is dark, and the church is generally kept cool and dark throughout the day. If the church were open or if we had an Administrative Coordinator with windows that looked out on the Fellowship Hall, there might be a reason to keep the lights on, but with one person in the building, the environmental and stewardship concerns keep the place dark and cool.

The view in the fellowship hall this morning. I couldn’t actually lower the exposure rate far enough to show how dim inside it really is today…

Honestly, it gets really lonely here. One of the hardest parts of this whole pandemic is often the sense of isolation. In my church office, there is space away from the loud children to focus, but it is quiet and empty without others stopping in to chat or to ask questions about upcoming events that are also on hold. Perhaps it is especially difficult on rainy days like today.

I hope everyone out there stays in good spirits, even if you are facing cold and lonely places. The spring will come again.

Beautiful Bridge

Today is Saturday. I am approaching noon and have been trying to get my brain to engage with “work” for a couple of hours now. Fall is my favorite season and that outdoors is calling to me. Saturdays are difficult in the fall.

Yesterday I took a long hike at Buttermilk Falls. I followed the Rim, Gorge, and Larch Meadow trails around the area. If I had brought more water, I probably would have walked the Bear trail as well, but it was still a nice hike around the parkgrounds. I enjoyed taking lots of photos, although I should have brought a different lens.

Below is one of the my favorite pictures from the hike. I came across the bridge partially down the trail and was completely alone as the sunlight began to stream down into the gorge. It was beautiful and serene.

Race and Faith

This morning I read an article from the Associated Press News that raised some troubling issues. The quote that stuck out to me as a minister was a direct quote of the President. He said : “American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work, or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square, Not anymore.”

The implied indoctrination that was being referenced appears to be the ongoing conversation and education about the ongoing subjugation and subsequent oppression of people of color over the past 400 years that has been highlighted by secular efforts like the New York Times’ 1619 Project and religious efforts like the “Imagine No Racism” Campaign of the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the “Sacred Conversations on Race” Campaign of the United Church of Christ.

As a minister who just highlighted two local denominations’ attempts to wrestle with the cultural sin of racism, it may be obvious where I am going with this post. I reject the authority of any politician to label one set of beliefs as traditional. Even if I agreed with the source of the beliefs (e.g., the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc.), I would still reject the assertion of any political leader when they use their office to say that one aspect of faith is traditional.

I can appreciate that many individuals might say that this is being blown out of proportion, but let me lay out several reasons why I am choosing to make this statement at this moment and on this subject.

  • Many people of color are expressing themselves and their experience of American culture. As children of God, their experiences and voices have intrinsic value that should be respected. Giving a venue to those voices does not diminish the voices of others.
  • Each generation begins anew the cycle of learning and growth. Each child will grow into a predominant culture, but each child will also have the chance to work at changing that culture. Gaslighting the expressions of persons of color as they emphasize the events that affected their families is an atrocious way to act towards others. In my opinion, labeling one set of beliefs as traditional and trying to silence the voice of others is gaslighting.
  • Bear with me for a moment here: as a male, I have to be careful of mansplaining things. Even when I have the best intentions, it is very easy to talk over others. This tendency is amplified when dealing with others who have traditionally been silenced. I’m not sure this is a phrase yet, but saying that one Eurocentric view is traditional is a great example of “Whitesplaining.”
How the road forward can look when your viewpoint is dismissed

Folks, it is easy to look at someone who has political power and give them the authority to make pronouncements. It sometimes feels safer to keep your head down and remain silent. Silence is not always the best option, especially when silence leads to the dismissal of others and the diminishment of our society as a whole.

A Story of Sara

So, in preparation for a writer’s retreat this fall, I’m working through “One Day I Wrote Back: Interacting with Scripture through Creative Writing” by Jane Herring. Today I worked on interacting with the story from 2 King 5:1-16 and was invited to retell the scripture from the perspective of the nameless Hebrew slave. I rewrote it in a modern context from my own experience as a grocery store cashier after college who was struggling with debt. I borrowed a few details about practices like using fake names from colleagues who dealt with a lot of sexual harassment from customers while earning minimum wage. I hope you enjoy and remember: creative writing occasionally takes liberties with the source material! Special credit to “Dave” from Trinity Church, Grand Island, who always gave me extra strong coffee when I’d show up 2 hours early for church! What a saint!


I work the weekend swing-shift at the grocery store. A few years back everything was going well until my car broke down on a cold winter’s day. Now I bag groceries, deal with drunk customers, and clean off registers while the day shift sleeps.

My name is Sara, although I wear a nametag with a different name to keep the customers at a distance. If they see me on a different day, I will know who they are if they call out for “Jackie.” I learned my lesson early after one of the Saturday night customers walked up to me on a Tuesday to try and sweet talk me as I tried to eat my lunch in peace. It is bad enough having people stare at my body while I work. I don’t need more of it on my own time.

Sometimes, my job makes me want to scream, especially when the bills come in. I pay minimum balances but the paycheck doesn’t stretch. I’ll never save up enough to get out of here. I’m drowning in debt, cannot afford a car, and will probably live my whole life in walking distance of the store where I spend my evenings and nights. It sucks.

Sunday mornings are the worst. I go to church after my shift and drink enough free coffee to get me through until the service begins. I do my best to stay alert and attentive, but it is very hard when the warm air from the heater hits me after the seemingly endless days of going to bed at sunrise and waking up after twilight. It’d be different if I weren’t swinging my sleep schedule back and forth, but it is hard when the church is full of safe people that remind me of home, the air is warm, and the music is peaceful. Thankfully, I sit by the couple who have grandkids that work retail. They wake me gently with a smile before the offering if I fall asleep. It is hard to sleep with an usher handing you a plate, you know?

So, yeah, I still go to church. I try my best to live out my faith, but it is not exactly easy. So many people come in hammered on Saturday nights. They act as if they are having a great time, and here I am working to just cover the bills for minimum wage. It sometimes feels like I’m the biggest sucker around, but I believe. My faith is at the core of me.

My manager and I talk about it sometimes. She can be nice when things are going well. On quiet nights we sometimes talk for a few minutes after she comes and buys something for her break. Her husband is sick. I feel like she talks to me because she just needs to talk.

It isn’t surprising she talks to me. I’m often alone on the front end as she manages the stocking of the shelves. It can be hours between when we see each other and I’m the person who smiles and does her work quietly because the alternative is… just standing here staring at the clock…

There are nights I am done by 2:00 AM despite my best efforts and those are the worst. Talking with anyone on a slow night is a treat. When anyone interrupts me on those nights, I am happy to see them. I don’t need cajoling to work, smile when she comes up, and I’m not surprised she doesn’t mind talking with me. I’m her easy “no-drama” employee who clocks in on time.

I guess her husband is pretty sick. It has to be rough. All of those medical bills, all of those appointments, and absolutely nothing to show for it. She’s so weighed down by it that it is just painful to see at times.

Back in my hometown, we had this service once a month where people would go to pray for their illnesses and lives. I have been looking for something like that near here, but there was something different about that service back home. It was a holy space: the way the community gathered and prayed together. Even the air felt different in that sacred space of prayer. I only went once for myself. I was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do. When the minister and the church prayed over me, it lifted my soul. I still think about that feeling of peace as their hands hovered over me. The air sparkled with care and… the only way I can describe it is grace. It was a merciful, blessed, holy space.

Perhaps I will tell my manager about the service this weekend. There’s another one coming up pretty soon: last Sunday of every month as it has been forever. Maybe her husband will want to make a trip of it. I’d go with them, but I work Sunday nights. I’ll still be sleeping during the service, hopefully thinking of anything but straightening magazines and finding warm meat stuck behind candy because someone couldn’t be bothered to give it to their cashier.

Night Camp Poem 2

Thunder is coming.
A day of swimming and play
Sets before the storm.
Tonight the heavens will shake
And the earth rejoices.

Rain will fall on us.
The skies will boom with thunder.
Snuggle down and rest-
Dream of games down in the lake.
The sun will come again soon.

Cow Haibun

In the hot depths of a summer afternoon, four cows masticated grass across the road from a parsonage. The pastor joyfully grabbed a camera and set out to take a picture for the background of Sunday’s digital worship service. The sun blazed and lit the pastoral scene.

Quiet murmurings sounds accompanied the cleric as he carefully framed his shot and checked the camera settings. Two cows looked meaningfully at the minister, conferred among themselves with quiet moos, and then arranged themselves for the picture with their compatriots. As a line of sweat dripped from the holy brow, the camera shutter snapped both open and closed: the minister pondered the futility of his pursuit.

Behold the bovine!
A beast that is quite moving
and very solemn…

Slow Cooker Poppy Seed Pork Shoulder

Tonight I prepared a random pork shoulder with ingredients we had around the house. I thought I would share the recipe as it turned out nicely. The recipe is nice but takes time, especially in the prep stage. My thoughts were to combine some of the spices I noticed in Eastern European cooking, especially the Polish recipes from my mother’s cookbook.

  • Boneless Pork Shoulder (1-2 lbs)
  • 1 TBSP Ground Pepper
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Head of Cabbage
  • 1 TBSP Poppy Seeds
  • 1 TBSP Dried Onion
  • 2 TBSP Rice (optional)
  • 1 Clove Garlic, large

First, grind pepper and place with pork into a sealable container. Add bay leaf. Add an equal amount of water to the container. Measure total mass and add 1% of the total mass in salt. So, if you had 1 kg of pork, you’d have 2 kg at the end to which you would add 20 g of salt. This is known as equilibrium brining in the books I have read on food smoking.

The next day, clean, stem, and slice cabbage. Place into crockpot in an even layer. Grind poppy seeds and onion in a spice grinder.

Remove the pork from the brine and let rest. Discard brine and bay leaf. Rub the mixture over the pork on all sides. Sprinkle remaining spice over the cabbage in the slow cooker.

At this point, I ground the 2 TBSP of Rice in the spice grinder for two reasons. First, the rice removed the extra ground mixture from the grinder in an efficient manner. Second, the ground rice helped thicken the liquid that developed in the slow cooker during cooking.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, sear the meat on all sides until a nice brown. Place the pork over the cabbage in the slow cooker. Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle garlic evenly over the pork and cabbage.

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. We served the pork and cabbage alongside apple sauce.

Living up to my blog title

I have to admit that this transition from one church to another has been a bit overwhelming lately! Switching from a primarily written leadership at my previous church, to an in-person leadership in a parking lot at my previous church, to a digital leadership in my current appointment has been quite an existential workout over the past two months.

It is hard to imagine that one month ago today we were frantically putting boxes into our cars as my wife and I officially moved to Trumansburg. We still have boxes to unpack and my church office has never appeared so organized. Just yesterday I finally started sanding down the pieces of furniture my wife wanted painted before we put them into their final resting places. There’s still so much to do before we are fully settled!

Catching up with the running train of a church has been an experience, especially as I keep trying new things. As always, it is the odd stuff that sticks out in memory. In my church life, I found myself prone in a creek bed in a gorge earlier this week capturing a picture for tomorrow’s slideshow background. It was a cool picture and definitely worth the silt and creek dust on my clothes..

In my personal life, I took the scooter that I purchased (in a thus fruitless attempt to help me zoom around Syracuse at Annual Conference) to the local skate park to ride around the ramps and pipes with my kids as they each roller bladed, skateboarded, and toddled with a walking bike. I only tripped over my feet and hit the ground once—I was impressed, but still ultimately lost our game of tag.

In my spiritual life, I have found great comfort in using one of the eLearning resources through the Upper Room. I have been reading through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s “Prayer, Stress and Our Inner Wounds” and doing the corresponding eCourse. It has been uplifting to take the time to slow myself down for personal growth.

Wherever you are, I pray that your summer is going well. Rest assured that blogging will become more regular as routine slowly asserts itself in this new place and new space. Blessings today!

A Tree Poem

The trees reach up with deep green limbs
Waving fingers with verdant grace.
Sunlight dazzles in warm still shade.

Silent the song of breathing hymns
Lifted up from a wooden face
Straining to reach heaven as made.
Trees from Taughannock Falls State Park, NY

First Sunday Haibun

I sit in the quiet of sacred space before worship. Nobody will walk in to disturb the stillness—a webcam will connect me with others. I am a latecomer to worship online in the age of COVID-19. A green light will shine and I will look into the two lights of the camera: LED lights look like eyes around a lens-shaped nose.

Decaffeinated French Roast coffee sits with a piece of homemade whole-wheat sourdough for my portion of the love feast. The only copy of the bulletin printed on the church copier sits next to offering plates that will not be passed for some time to come. My drum rests with anticipation for the moment it will ring out while I sing quietly into the only microphone.

There will be no packed house for my first SUnday. The building and I will spend time together as we enter into a new space with me as pastor. Interestingly, I do not feel alone. I prepare to meet today like many ministers have over generations—as best as I can in the place I stand.

I am not alone.
Sitting in the pastor’s chair
the saints surround me.

Preparing for a “Love Feast”

I finally have internet at the house again! We have been settling into our new community slowly. Boxes are slowly thinning as we settle a bit more each day. Today is a technology heavy day as we had internet installed and i have an afternoon of finding various wires and devices ahead of me!

July is practically here and this Sunday is my first Sunday at the Trumansburg United Methodist Church. We are celebrating a new appointment and I am planning on celebrating with a digital “Love Feast.”

There’s a lot of information out there on Love Feasts. This tradition is tied to United Methodism through John Wesley’s exposure to the Moravian Church. This tradition is one of my favorite traditions because of the simplicity, the beauty, and the communal nature of the Love Feast. I also enjoy the Moravian tradition of sharing a hot beverage or chocolate milk with holy conversation.

A written reflection on the history of the Love Feast can be found through the United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries website, but I enjoy this video from the General Commission on Archives and HIstory due to the emphasis on the relational nature of the Love Feast.

The relational nature of the Love Feast is why I am excited to connect this ancient practice with worship this weekend. We may not be gathered in person, but sharing testimony and blessing with bread and hot cocoa seems like a wonderful plan!

An Essay on My Bread

“To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.”

Pearl S. Buck

I tore my bread in half this morning before I dipped it into a mug of hot coffee. Although you may not understand it, my bread was the best bread in the world this morning. The bread was a superior loaf of bread for several reasons. Allow me to explain my position instead of rushing over to my office to finish sorting files and packing boxes.

First, the bread was the work of my own hands. There are plenty of loaves down the road at the grocery store. Some of the loaves are quite lovely, but none of them are the work of my hands. The bread I sliced into perfect thick slices was shaped with my fingers. The pan in which it baked rests a few feet away. Even in the middle of packing and chaos, my bread is still a reminder of calmer moments.

Second, the bread comes with a memory of a yeasty aromatherapy. A few days ago, I soaked flour in water with a bit of yeast before letting it spend the night fermenting in a bowl. The house filled with a rich smell the following morning after I combined this fragrant mix with a little more flour, water, and yeast. Between the smell of the rising dough and fragrance of the browning loaves, our house was filled with sensations that were immediately recaptured through the toasting of the bread. Although my office smells like furniture polish and a hot paper shredder, for this moment I can be transported to quiet hours where more than my dough rested.

Third, my bread just tears well. As a minister, I break loaves of bread in half a lot more than most people. I have broken rolls, crackers, wafers, baguettes, french bread, challah, and a host of homemade loaves. My bread tore in half today with a little bit of resiliency, bounced back with a bit of spring, and was ready to suck up hot coffee. My bread tears in a lovely way.

Fourth, my bread tastes heavenly. There’s a tiny bit of salt for the tongue, a depth of earthiness from the wheat, and a yeasty aftertaste. The bread is complex from the darkness of the crust to the tasty depths of the crags. My bread is not from some uniformly mass produced taste factory. My bread is unique.

In conclusion, you may have heard that something or another is the best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread is great, but my sliced bread is wonderful to me. There are only two types of bread that are better than this loaf of bread: the bread I will bake in the future and the bread that you make for your enjoyment.

A Poem of “Yorick”

I lie still for an age
Shrouded behind death's mask:
Silent at last.

No dance and no glib jest.
Stillness my companion
and I would rest.

Fine bells will ring no more.
A shroud wraps my frame tight:
earth embraces.

My time is now my own:
No lords need I pleasure,
save the one Lord.

Let me rest here in peace
for I am done with life
as a royal plaything:
and I would rest.

It has been a while since I have contributed to the D’verse Poets Pub. I needed to let off some steam after a couple of interesting things happened in my world today, so here I am.

The challenge for Poetics Tuesday is bringing life back to a person through poetry. I was thinking about the literary character of Yorick from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” today, so I thought I would expand upon the life of this character. I wanted to explore the themes of vanity, death, and service to a royal family that is portrayed as more than a bit dysfunctional.

“Asphalt Space”

Less than two weeks waking in this old town: a parking lot altar stands for an hour. Old wedding superstitions are mirrored: Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue picked by coincidence. A space for lawn chairs marks a short moment where oily asphalt holds holy thin space.

Psalm instead of song, mask instead of mic: Word and prayer still anchor our shared time. Only one more Sunday moment is left. Sorrow asks for blessings on the marriage of heaven and earth to continue on when my service is but a memory.

In this space renews
a sacred vow held quite dear
for two centuries

“Asphalt Space” by the Distracted Pastor, 2020

In the Woods…

We are getting ready to move soon. There’s a lot of stuff in boxes in my life. Everything seems to have a place and most of those places are currently found inside boxes. Living with most of your daily stuff in boxes can be extremely frustrating.

This morning I went into the woods on a nearby trail with one of my daughters and my wife’s “lapdog” Lily. Lily is a boxer labrador mix that we adopted after our friends’ dog became overly friendly with a neighborhood dog. She’s a kind hearted dog but hates being cooped up.

The woods are a magical place. The woods are one of the few places where my middle child is occasionally struck speechless. The majesty of wilderness tends to calm her restless mind as there is plenty to look at, plenty of things to notice, and the ongoing task of watching where you are stepping.

This morning the ground was a bit moist from recent rain and Lily ended up dragging me along some pretty slippery surfaces. Her paws and nails clearly had better traction than my sneakers. We enjoyed the walk tremendously despite being startled by a jogger’s German Shepherd visiting without a leash and without warning. Thankfully Lily is a very easygoing dog. I think that I jumped more at the sudden appearance than Lily.

I stopped to take this picture of Lily because the woods were breathtaking between the light of the sun pouring through the branches and the greens and browns everywhere. Despite being on a strong leash due to her tendency to run after wildlife, she seemed more at home in the woods than she normally seems in our home. I could almost feel Lily sigh with contentment a few times on the hike.

Psalm 55 is an interesting psalm. In that particular psalm, the psalmist is struggling with the grief and sorrow that comes from a friend’s betrayal. The psalmist is clearly having a difficult time with a painful situation, but what’s interesting is the response to the situation.

The psalmist wants to flee to the wilderness. In the wilderness there seems to be a kind of peace that the psalmist desperately desires. In the daily moments of the situation the psalmist finds storms and wind, but in the wilderness shelter can be found.

I can understand the psalmist’s desire for the shelter of the woods. Like my dog, I too enjoy moments where we are not surrounded by boxes. There is something glorious about being in the woods even when German Shepherds occasionally appear out of the nothingness.

“This is Sacrilege…” Tanka

This is sacrilege:
Chemical warfare before
Pictures are taken
With someone’s Bible proving
The book is held as a flag.

“This is Sacrilege…” Tanka, Distracted Pastor, 2020

The narrative bothers me deeply: A peaceful protest is cleared with a form of chemical weapons so that a secular leader can take a photo with a Bible. I love the Bible, I read it, and after watching the news I think of the words of Deuteronomy 27:19 (NRSV): “ ‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan ,and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”

“ ‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan ,and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”

Deuteronomy 27:19, NRSV

An inheritor of privilege holding a Bible while an oppressed people asking for the very justice required by God require medical assistance. The situation makes me feel sick to my stomach. A person murdered in public after a long string of abuses on others of the same race, people calling for justice, and being met with chemical weapons in the streets… Elsewhere, widows and orphans met with the same force for the social crime of demanding justice. This cannot continue.

Justice demands action, righteousness demands action, holiness demands action, and our own children’s futures demand action. This must change.

“Big Heart” Poem

Take the fragrant dough.
Fold it: let it grow.
Treat it gently: Just like so…
Heat oven below.
Place with care—don’t throw.

Listen to the news…
Injustice… anger…
In-law wearing riot gear…
Burning effigies…
And hurting people…

Slice the bread to toast,
Brew a dark decaf French roast:
Seek the Holy Ghost…

“Big Heart” by The Distracted Pastor, 2020

I wrote this poem to express the challenge of the morning. I sat to write a poem to go with the toast made from an experimental loaf I made yesterday, The loaf was made with a lot of care.

While thinking about what words to use, I listened to news about tensions over police brutality. I heard a lot of frustration with a broken system. I thought of the gasping words coming from a man who could not breathe. I thought of burning buildings representing inadequately an unjust system that seems fire-proof. I was already grieving when my wife came down to tell me my brother-in-law went to work in riot-gear today.

The poem starts very clean and measured with a rhyming pattern, devolves as the world intrudes, and ends right where I am as a person: sitting quietly and listening for comfort and wisdom. The title comes from the thought I had and the original first lines: “It takes a big heart; to hold joy and grief.”

Reflections on Taut Dough

Over the last week at Maine Federated Church, our daily devotional has focused on the subject of the spirituality of bread baking. A while back, our church used Preston Yancey’s “Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines” as the basis for a small group study. Last week we delved into the same subject using additional resources. In particular, we delved into the science of bread baking through “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee and Ken Forkish’s “Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza.”

This morning the Maine Federated Church is shifting to a week studying the Ascension, but I am not leading an Ascension service or a Memorial Day service. I am preparing a loaf of bread to go with dinner. Leading a church without an online worship service in the midst of the pandemic has been frustrating at times. I understand the rationale behind the church’s decision to proceed digitally in a way that is inclusive to all people in the congregation, but it is unsettling to wake up Sunday morning with time to bake bread.

To be entirely clear, while I am frustrated, I believe with all of my being that the church has a responsibility to reopen in a way that is measured and safe. I do not believe that we should rush into a dangerous situation that can endanger lives because any politician says that it is time to open. I also own the fact that this is my opinion.

Yeasty scents come from under this kitchen towel!

Today I am working with a recipe from Ken Forkish’s book. In particular, I am making a loaf of whole wheat bread to go with dinner. Overnight, water, flour, and a little bit of yeast fermented on our counter in a container. This morning, I combined the biga with additional water, flour, salt, and yeast to create a dough. Over the last few hours, I have sat with the dough as it continues to grow across the room. Yeasty scents fill the air and lead to thoughts of life.

One of the parts of the bread baking process which is in my thoughts this morning is the folding process recommended by Ken Forkish. I have folded the dough four times and have noticed the dough growing more and more taut as the process continues. The folding helps to give structure to the dough and itself is very interesting. When you first uncover the dough, it seems like a sloppy mess. After a few gentle folds, the dough begins to show a structure that seemed impossible moments before.

The tension in the dough continues to amaze me. Without the stress placed on the dough, the dough would end up a messy pool of liquid. When the dough is stretched, the dough develops the structure that will make the bread incredible.

Think about what spiritual lessons might be drawn from a parable rooted in this practice. We all want to live in communities that never face tensions, but can we be shaped into the communities we are meant to be without the occasional pressure or stressor? Just as a knife cannot be sharpened without the pressures of honing or as an athlete cannot grow stronger without challenging practice, can a community grow stronger without facing the occasional struggle? Can an individual grow into their potential without facing difficulty?

To be clear, there’s something to be said against stretching the dough to the point where it rips. Dough can definitely be overworked, but dough can also be underworked. How would the bread turn out if a person just put the ingredients into a bread pan without mixing?

As a minister, I have witnessed congregations that were unwilling to engage in healthy challenges and stretching. Most of them have struggled and some of them have closed. As a person, I have witnessed in other lives and have lived through portions of my own life where an unwillingness to engage in difficult situations led to terrible consequences.

When we live with the goal of never facing difficulty, we often become weakened to the point of uselessness. While this is a difficult time in life, it is my hope that the stretching we are all facing might strengthen us over the long run. May God bless you all this Sunday and keep you well.

Fresh from the oven!

Beanbag Haibun

Well worn bumpy sacks wait to be released anew in another home. Adults loose a sigh as boxes begin to swell with children’s treasures. Children pack away items all will trip over in a few months time. Parents ponder why long dusty beanbags take space both now and later.

Sweet smiling children
will fill a fresh and new place
with “priceless” treasures.

“Beanbag Haibun,” Distracted Pastor, 2020

Spring Scarecrow Haibun

The scarecrow lay prone. Pumpkin head in cold wet mud: weighted base cast down. Crimson chested birds peck for brave spring early worms as humans shiver. Lifted and shaken, the scarecrow hangs in her dress: wrinkled by Jack Frost. A child sees her friend risen from the muddy pit: arms open to hug. Windchimes dangle low: ringing out their joyful sound beside laughing child…

Run, little daughter!
Laugh, giggle, chuckle, and play!
Enjoy this moment.

“Spring Scarecrow Haibun,” Distracted Pastor, 2020

Enthusiasm for today…

Empty streets below skies
blotted by ashen hued puffs.
No voices carry on cold wind
As footsteps seem noisy intrusions...
This is a still place...

Listen within. 
My soul breathes,
heart beats:
life.
This is a still place...

Yesterday it rained a lot here. From morning until evening, the skies were filled with rain and the temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. The few walks that I took with my dogs and children were taken on streets drenched in rain. The streets were mainly empty, which is pretty normal in quarantine. The cold rain only made the walks chillier, the yards emptier, and the entire area’s mood more somber.

For the last few weeks of quarantine, I’ve been slowly reading through Richard Rohr’s “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.” I say that I’m reading it slowly because the price of Kindle books has taught me the wisdom of rationing books during this time of stillness. My personal budget for books has not grown even as the time to read them has increased…

The book is interesting. I do not always agree with Fr. Rohr’s writing, but thankfully my beliefs do not require me to agree with someone’s entire belief structure to glean wisdom where I find it. Let’s take this idea from Fr. Rohr which strikes me as particularly interesting on page 96:

If contemplation teaches us to see an enchanted world, cynicism is afraid there is nothing there. As a people, we have become cynical about ourselves, our world, our future. Some rightly said, “The problem is no longer to believe in God; it’s to believe in humanity.” We’re tremendously under-confident about what it means to be human. For many secular people today we live in a disenchanted universe without meaning, purpose, or direction. We are aware only of what it is not. Seldom do we enjoy what it is. Probably it is only healthy religion that is prepared to answer that question. Healthy religion is an enthusiasm about what is, not an anger about what isn’t.

Richard Rohr, page 96 of “Everything Belongs”

Yesterday, the world was empty, wet, cold, and windy. The weather outside was fairly to quite miserable. The news on the radio was not very warm and cuddly. I could have easily chosen to be angry about the world. I could choose to embrace anger, anxiety, fear, or despair.

Instead, I smoked a turkey that we froze in our freezer last fall. Earlier in the week I brined the turkey with a homemade brine. We thawed the turkey in a brine for five days. We brought the brine to a boil before cooling to room temperature prior to submerging the turkey. We smoked the turkey with cherry wood chips with brine in the water pan. With three hours left, we put potatoes underneath the turkey to smoke and to be flavored by any drippings falling from the turkey.

The turkey three hours before dinner. Confession: I forgot to take a picture when finished due to the busyness of the moment.

The day could have been thoroughly miserable, but there was opportunity to find joy even in the midst of a dark world. We cannot choose the world in which we live. We can choose how we try to approach the difficulties. Sometimes there are neurochemical challenges which require medical help, patterns of habits which are detrimental, or a propensity towards anxiety, depression, or fear; however, we still can make a choice.

Last night, we had smoked turkey with smashed smoked potatoes. The turkey was moist and flavorful, the potatoes were tasty, and the inevitable cranberry sauce was devoured. We have enough leftovers for the next few days today and turkey broth cooking in the slow cooker. Even these moments can be beautiful if we choose to find a reason for hope and joy. Perhaps you’re not a cook or have nobody to cook with, but this day is still the day we have for today. We can choose to be enthusiastic about what is rather than angry about what is not.

Brine Recipe: For every five pounds of turkey: 1 clementine sliced into wedges, 1 tsp prague powder #1, 1 tsp peppercorns, ¼ c brown sugar mixed into a brine made with enough water to submerge the turkey)

“People who are in good health don’t need a doctor; sick people do.”

As a church we’re working through a devotional that I personally prepared called “The Path of the Beatitudes: A Lenten Journey.” The devotional is available off Amazon as both a Kindle book and in large print on paper.

Today we’re reading through Matthew 9:9-13 as a people. In Matthew 9:12 of The Inclusive Bible, the words which comprise the title of this post are spoken by Jesus. Jesus states freely that people who are in good health don’t need a doctor, which leads to a question: If Jesus is in the process of bringing life into the lives of poor, then why is the “Doctor Jesus” spending time with people who could objectively be seen as rich?

In my opinion, there’s a common misconception about church. People believe that church is a place for people who have everything together. It is common to find people who find church people to be self-righteous, judgmental, and hypocritical. Interestingly, Jesus did not seen to spend his time with the people who had everything together.

People could objectively look at the scriptures Jesus and see a hypocritical teacher who says a blessing will fall on the poor while spending time with the rich., but is that truly the message we should take away from the story? Jesus does not say the rich are healthy. In fact, Jesus implies the people who he is sharing a table with are not healthy. Wealth does not equal spiritual health in Jesus’ eyes. The tax collectors and notorious sinners are ill: the doctor has come to make a “house call.”

Throughout this week, Jesus will stretch our understanding of what it means to be wealthy and who is in need of blessing. May God give us wisdom in a world that glorifies riches and sometimes isolates on a pedestal the very folks who need loving and healing community the most.

The “Jesus problem” is noticed…

As a church we’re working through a devotional that I personally prepared called “The Path of the Beatitudes: A Lenten Journey.” The devotional is available off Amazon as both a Kindle book and in large print on paper.

Today we are looking at Luke 6:6-11, which contains the story of Jesus healing a person with a withered hand. The story is an interesting one and certainly lends into the story of Lent. The last verse of our reading indicates that the religious scholars and Pharisees left the synagogue on that day looking for ways to do something about their “Jesus problem.”

The Lenten journey is one which ends in the events of Holy Week. There is no Lent where Jesus ends the season without suffering on the behalf of the people God loves. The desire of individuals to take care of this Jesus problem increases as the season progresses.

What’s interesting to me about this approach to Lent with the Beatitudes is that we see how a portion of Jesus’ teaching affects both Jesus’ life and potential the lives of the people who hear his teachings. Jesus offers healing to a person with a withered hand and the people walk away with sinister thoughts in their hearts.

I wonder how the person felt whose hand was healed upon that day. If it were me, I am doubtful I would have walked away grumbling about what Jesus had done. I would likely celebrate the unexpected blessing that came into my life.

This Lent, God may have something for us. God may give a blessing into our lives which we may not be expecting. God may give a blessing to us that we do not believe we deserve. God may bring a piece of radical healing into our lives, especially if we find ourselves struggling to find our place in this world.

I pray that God is with us all tonight and into tomorrow as we prepare to enter into worship. May God add blessing to our lives and may we celebrate it together in worship tomorrow.