J: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be sick. Me: It is okay. Just because you are sick it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.
United Methodist friends, today is going to be rough. I didn’t sleep. Many of my friends didn’t sleep. We are tired, cranky, and a little bit tired of the arc of history being so long… I heard a speech on the livestream of General Conference yesterday about hearing the same arguments over and over… I sympathize. I am also very stubborn!
Young friends, we are birthing something new. If you have never raised a child, I will tell you that it takes a lot of patience. I cannot tell you how many times YESTERDAY I asked a toddler to stop pulling leaves off of the houseplant… Being a parent takes patience.
Older friends, do not be deceived. Something isn’t wrong just because our younger family in Christ is trying to do something new. To be honest, we have likely had siblings trying to help us through this struggle for decades. I know that is a truth for me.
Beloved family in Christ who are my age, we likely have decades to go before our time is done. We are the ones who can shepherd and support the generation after us. I can think of folks who shepherd and shepherded me along this path. Don’t give up.
Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. Nothing,
You have a voice. You stand up tall and you speak loud. You have a voice. People lived and died to give voice To those who gather and stand proud. Others sit silent in the crowd. You have a voice.
“You have a voice” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
A prayer from a Gentile who was welcomed to Christ’s table thanks to the work of the apostles. I have a chance to lead and be a part of the church thanks to their efforts. I have a voice thanks to their efforts. How I use that voice matters.
I am currently entering into the final steps of preparing my second year project for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I am thinking that I will have most of the project revolve around the usage of poetry and prayer. I was recently reading through a book I borrowed from the library called “The Art and Craft of Poetry” by Michael Bugeja. On the seventy third page of that tome, Mr. Bugeja quotes the poet Kevin Bezner as saying “All true poetry is religious poetry–all poems are prayers–but not in the sense of a belief in or worship of a god or a supernatural power.”
Given my particular approach to poetry, I found that statement to be intriguing. Mr. Bugeja paraphrases Mr. Bezner, saying “true or sincere poems, by their very nature, always reflect a poet’s faith, commitment, desire to commune, conscientiousness and devotion…”
If poetry does reflect and express the poet’s faith and commitment, then perhaps there is a sense at which heartfelt poetry is prayer. One of my greatest challenges with liturgy is the struggle to include the word “Amen” after every prayer. For a long time, hymns concluded with an amen. Nowadays, it seems as if almost every prayer needs and “Amen” in order to conclude.
Amen has a rich history and depth of meaning. The usage of the word for the congregation to enter into the depth of the prayer is helpful. When we say amen after someone prays, we become a part of that prayer orally. It is a wonderful act of inclusion in an act of worship, but often folks seem to believe that any prayer must have an amen. This is not true.
I thought I’d share a poem I recently wrote in an attitude of prayer after a saint invited me over to lunch. I wrote it for a thank you note, but I thought it was a perfect way of expressing how a prayer can be found in poetry.
Scents waft up from a warm bowl of chili rich yet faint. As I sit to share a meal with an elder saint. She has made special biscuits for us to share And we break bread together with prayer. With cheese and conversation our meal Is filled with a depth you can feel. I listen with quiet peace As my inner cares cease. I try to be here With one so dear. I’m thankful, Grateful, Full…
“Full” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
The form itself was fairly simple. I started with thirteen syllables a line and decreased a syllable each consecutive line. The rhyming pattern is a set of 5 couplets with a rhyming envoi creating one tercet at the end. It is clearly a poem.
It is also clearly a prayer. I intended to express care, gratitude, and thankfulness for the opportunity. Although God is not addressed by name, there is homage paid to communion in the mentioning of the breaking of the bread. The person I shared a meal with is a saint, there’s a stillness while listening that ties back to the idea of silence in contemplation and prayer. Even the mentioning of saints can draw our thoughts to God.
Psalm 19:14 says “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” It is my belief that poetry that seeks to live into this verse really is prayer.
I write this blog post for posting a few days before the beginning of the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I write this blog with a lot of questions in my mind. What will happen over the next few days? What effects will that gathering have on the church as a whole?
My questions about the future have been inspiring questions in my mind. What does it mean that we are a “United” Methodist Church? What does it mean that we have deep divisions in our unity? Have we missed something?
I recently started rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” I have been pondering the nature of Christian community, the life of someone who had to make incredibly hard decisions to remain as faithful as he could, and it is nice to read about the life of someone who is not United Methodist during these troubling days. Still, Bonhoeffer has always been troubling. I found the following quote calling out for contemplation:
“Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”
Bonhoeffer writes this quote in the midst of contemplating how rare it is for Christians to live in community. As Bonhoeffer points out, Jesus himself lived a life that involved isolation during many of the major events of his life. Jesus was alone even in the midst of the crowd for many events of what we call the “passion.” Bonhoeffer points out the lonely lives lived by many of the apostles, missionaries, and even individual Christians throughout the centuries.
Reading Bonhoeffer is always challenging, but these words were particularly biting in light of the upcoming events in the life of my denomination. Have we honestly thanked God that we have each other? Have we thanked God for the privilege of living in community with one another? Have we seen our living together as anything but a gift of unmerited favor?
Honestly, when I see some of the vitriol in the community of faith I share with other Christians I do not always see people thankful for grace. I have seen people stand there and say “You do not belong in the church” when they are only in the church by the grace of God. They have been given the blessing of belonging to a body of faith. They have been given a grace and it seems as if that grace is taken for granted.
How many Christians over the centuries longed for a place to belong with other Christians? How many of our churches exist because people came together to have a place to belong? Are we turning our back on that legacy of grace? Are we so thirsty for law, structure, and power that we would burn our community of grace to the ground if we do not get our own way?
It is far easier to tear down than to build something. It is far easier to destroy than to give life. As we head into General Conference, I am praying we remember that we are only together by the grace of God. I am praying that grace prevails.
This week I am attending the second last session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation. One of the things I have found at the Academy is a community of souls who are diverse and beautiful. There are also several folks who love awful jokes. So, while I did pre-write these posts, I thought I would share a joke that I have been working on for other folks who love bad jokes. It is a twist on a joke out of a book my kids gave me.
Two friends lived their entire lives next door to each other. Their families spent time together, their kids played together, and they were really great neighbors. Every year they would go hunting for water fowl and the friends would sit together for hours.
Over time one of the friends began to be bothered. It seemed like everything in life was grand, but his friend always found a way to look at the downside of things. If there was a rainbow, he’d complain about the rain. If there was a bumper crop of zucchini, he’d complain about eating the same thing every night. If he went hunting and did not reach his limit, he would complain about bad luck despite having birds to clean and feed his family. This man loved his friend, but it was increasingly difficult to find a sense of humor about his friend’s tendency to complain.
He became obsessed with pointing out the little blessings, but his friend seemed oblivious. After a few years of this, his long patient and helpful hunting dog passed away. Sure enough, his neighbor started complaining about how tough it was to train a new dog.
Nevertheless, the optimistic friend started training a little pup. Being a religious man with a sense of humor, he named his dog Jesus. “Jesus was always there for him.” “Jesus just wanted a closer walk with him.” You know the kind of jokes…
He loved the pup and started his training. He was shocked to find that when he began to train the dog to retrieve fowl the dog would walk on water to the bird to retrieve it. It was a miracle! He was shocked, awed, and finally thrilled that he at last had a chance to show his friend that not everything was bad in this life. There were miracles all around if we stop focusing on the terrible stuff all the time.
So, one day the two men go hunting. The man doesn’t tell a soul about his dog’s gift. Soon enough, the bird dog was sent to go get a downed fowl. The dog got out of the boat, walked over the pond, picked up the bird, and came back.
The friend was quiet and thoughtful for a moment. He slowly turned to the proud dog owner and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. First you lost your trusty hunting dog and now this. You just have the worst luck.”
The dog owner was flabbergasted. He asked how his friend could possibly look at this is something less than wonderful. The friend looked him in the eye, squeezed his shoulder, and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I don’t think your dog can swim.”
Praise God with loud drum. Praise God with low hum. Praise God with rocking guitars. Praise God with your voice. Praise God with your choice. Praise God beneath all the stars.
Breathe deep as you strum. Breathe and let soul thrum. Breathe deep and cry with your heart. Breathe with open mind. Breathe deep and be kind. Breathe, rise, and make a fresh start.
“Alouette Ode to Psalm 150” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
Today’s poem was inspired by Psalm 150. We’ll be reading the psalm this Sunday in church. I wrote it in the “Alouette” poetry form. I tied together the two stanzas by rhyming the first two lines in each stanza.
My process was to envision the first stanza as a response to God’s Presence (which echoes powerfully in Psalm 150) and the second stanza as the body breathing in preparation of living with that Presence in the world.
What happened to you? I was raised in your old pews And was taught deep faith. I don’t recognize all this. I lament what I now see.
It was not easy. You remember the good things. In my family There have always been battles As people work through this life.
Can we just go back To the time of innocence When it all seemed well Before our eyes were opened And we saw through the curtain?
Those days were hard days. People fought to bring the light To entrenched evils. People died to get us here Where martyrs may yet come forth.
What should we do then? Everything seems far too large For my human hands. Where should we go in these days When all may be asked of us?
Let us go to pray At the feet of my Lover. My Love is as near Now like once in Babylon And in cold dark Roman cells.
Come near to the fire. No fiery furnace burns hot as my Love’s passion. The days ahead may yet burn But you will always be loved.
“A Poem born in Prayer” by the Distracted Pastor, 2019
I wrote this prayer poem in a conversation between my soul and God. The bold parts are a personification of the church. I was reminded in that time of prayer that nothing in the church was ever perfect. We cannot go back. The only way is forward.
Tomorrow we are looking at Isaiah 45:9-13,15-19 at our church service. We will be focusing on the call of the community to live with a purpose, but as usual, church is only so long and there is more in the passage that is worthy of our time.
In particular, I wanted to take a moment to look at the last two verses. In the NRSV, the Isaiah 45:18-19 calls out for attention given our world’s modern challenges.
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, “Seek me in chaos.” I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.
Isaiah 45:18-19, NRSV
God does not create the world to be a jumble of chaos in the scriptures. God created a world that was meant and is meant to be inhabited. The world is very carefully crafted. Indeed, we live in a beautiful world filled with majestic creatures.
To be blunt, a lot of those beautiful creatures are going extinct and huge swaths of the earth are struggling to cope with human induced climate change. For the entirety of our existence, humans have had an impact on the world. We systematically hunted certain animals to extinction over the course of our existence. Now our behaviors are bringing extinction to creatures not through the use of a bullet or arrow but by changing the chemicals in streams, filling oceans with plastic, and removing habitats through intentional deforestation.
To me, this is an outrage and an offense to both the gift we have been granted and the world which we received. This world was meant to be inhabited just as the hotel has rooms that are meant to be rented. We are invited to this world like someone invited to stay at a friend’s house for a season. If we were to treat a hotel room like we have treated our world, we would be charged to repair the damage. If we were to destroy our friend’s house, we would likely lose that friendship. Why is the way we treat this world seen differently?
I would invite you to consider whether we are called to treat our world better. More information about climate challenges can be found here.
Have you ever stopped to wonder whether life would be different if we paid closer attention to the world? Would life be different if we focused on other matters than those that preoccupy us?
Recently I was reading a letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his parents in April 1943. Eberhard Bethge translated the version I was reading. The letter I was reading was written on the fourteenth of April. Bonhoeffer wrote:
“Spring is really coming now. You will have plenty to do in the garden; I hope that Renate’s wedding preparations are going well. Here in the prison yard there is a thrush which sings beautifully in the morning, and now in the evening too. One is grateful for little things, and that is surely a gain.”
If you are unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer’s story, Bonhoeffer was arrested for taking very public stances against the Nazi regime in Germany and for engaging in espionage. He was executed for his crimes during the last days of hostilities in 1945. Bonhoeffer was one of the most prominent Lutheran martyrs of the 20th century.
Bonhoeffer is writing to his father at the beginning of his imprisonment in the letter I was reading. They had separated Bonhoeffer from family, from his fiancee, and from his community of faith within the confessional church. Bonhoeffer was facing charges which could easily lead to his execution.
What catches my eye is that Bonhoeffer notices the thrush in the prison yard. He could have obsessed over his imprisonment and isolation. He could have focused on being confined in his cell for long hours at night or being neglected simple things like shoelaces and shaving cream. In the midst of everything, Bonhoeffer notices the thrush.
I am not imprisoned in my home. I have access to the world around me and my children are a regular part of my life. There are so many things I could focus on in life. I could notice the sound of my daughter singing to herself, the blessing of having a partner who helps me to be a better person, or a million and one other things.
Instead I find myself focusing on matters that are not helpful. Do I have opinions about politics? Yes, I most certainly have opinions. Do I have an obligation to speak out against abuses? Yes, I most certainly have times when I must take a stand. There are many things I could focus on in this moment.
I pray that my calling in the world will come with the awareness that Bonhoeffer seemed to possess. Will I miss the thrush? I pray that I do not miss the thrush in my life today. May I gain blessings through all the little things.
I wanted to post a post for Valentine’s Day that is a reminder that love has never been an easy thing to handle. Stalwart figures from church history faced challenges when it came to issues of love.
We don’t know the story behind this aspect of his life, but St. Paul clearly had opinions of marriage and love which may or may not have been the result of personal troubles. He believed the time in this life was short and wrote the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 7:25-28 (NRSV): “Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that.”
The Desert Abbas and Ammas genuinely discouraged romantic entanglements. Some of them even refused to talk with folks that might lead to even the risk of their being attracted romantically.
The monastic movement generally promoted and engaged in celibacy. There were exceptions and times when individual monks went astray from their vows, but most monastics certainly faced a challenging life.
Martin Luther started a whole reformation movement without the support of a life partner until he married an escaped nun named Katherine von Bora. He literally snuck her out of a convent in a fish barrel.
Generally every relationship with a woman in John Wesley’s life ended poorly.
Lots of people struggled with romance and romantic desires through the history of the church. If you are alone today, it is good to know that you are in good company. I would invite you to know that you have worth outside of a romantic relationship, that you are a beloved child of God, and that the fourteenth of February really is just another day.
On a less romantic note, I recently found this excellent recollection of the situation that arose between John Wesley and Mrs. Beta Hawkins. While they were certainly not in a romantic relationship, here’s a few of my favorite highlights of that interaction:
“Sir, you have abused me! You have insulted me! And I am going to put this pistol ball through your brain!” Then she pulled out a pair of scissors and said, “And I’m going to cut that long hair!”
Wesley grabbed both her hands and she fell on top of him on the bed. He called out to the maid, “Get her off! Get her off!” Beta called out to the maid, “You hold him still or I’ll shoot you, too!”
Dr. Hawkins came in. “What is that scoundrel doing in my house?” he exclaimed. “Sir, what are you doing on top of my wife?” Wesley replied, “Sir, I am not. She is on top of me! Get her off!”
I pray that your day goes a lot more smoothly than John Wesley’s day once did. Also, if people really don’t like you and may shoot you, don’t go alone to their house. That’s always a bad choice.
Frost covers a world In need of kind and warm grace. Are you called to act? Ice over living water Is often broken by love.
“Ice and Love” by The Distracted Pastor. 2019
Today we awoke to a house surrounded by ice. Ice is a wonderful gift in the middle of a hot summer day in a cold drink. In the middle of winter, ice can often be a challenge more than a slight inconvenience.
For the past few hours I have been working at deicing the church parking lot in anticipation of upcoming events at the church. I have made little headway and our local radio station is predicting further ice tonight.
While broadcasting salt across the ice this morning I thought back to the times in my life when I worked with the homeless, especially during my college years. I thought about the challenges faced by folks who want to the right thing to help someone, but do not know what to do. If you give someone money, will it be used wisely? If you give them a flashlight, will they trade it for something else?
One of the first lessons I learned is that you cannot control what others do. If you bless someone with a flashlight, they might trade it for something else. If you offer them a blanket, they might exchange it for a drink of something untoward. You cannot control what other people do, but that does not mean that there are not concrete things you can do to help others.
Here are a few of things I would suggest:
Keep a blanket blessing in your trunk. I suggest a warm blanket that is not large or bulky. Roll that blanket up with two pairs of new thick, warm socks, a knit cap, and a pair of gloves. The time to make these blessing blankets is not now. If you wait until end of season sales, stock up on the gloves, hats, and winter socks when they’re on clearance. Set a limit to what you want to do next winter (e.g., one set, five sets, ten sets) and store them with your winter snow brush. Put them in your trunk when you put your snow brush back in your car next fall.
Offer to buy someone a meal instead of giving them money. If they are hungry, ask them if you can buy them something to eat and then follow through. If you do not have time to sit with them, offer to bring them drive-thru or takeout. Offer to get them a hot drink with the food. The heat goes a long way. Note: Some people will say no to your offer or try and convince you to just give them the money. Use your best judgment, but I would suggest you offer the food and hot drink.
Instead of offering people money, buy a box of those chemical hand warmers at the end of the season. Offer them to people who are out in the cold. It is a simple gift. As a caution, check the expiration date if you’re buying for the next season. Unlike the blanket blessing, they expire.
If you live in a semi-rural location or in a location with more local businesses than chain restaurants, talk with a local restauranteur. Ask if you can buy a certificate for a “meal” complete with warm drink, food, and the tip included. If you talk with a small business owner and explain what you are doing, they may help you out. This may be something that ends up being traded, but if you are concerned it is still better than giving money.
By the way, this is my 200th blog post! I have others scheduled for the next few days, but I wanted to say thank you to everyone who keeps encouraging me by reading and enjoying my posts, even when they’re silly. Blessings to you.
Be as the clay. Mix living water with your dust: Be as the clay. Bend, mold, move, and flex as you must; Be made in furnace fired by trust; In joyful purpose with life thrust: Be as the clay.
“Be as the Clay” Rondelet by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
This week in church we’re looking at Jeremiah 18:1-6 with our children during worship. In the passage, Jeremiah is called to walk down to a potter’s house to observe the potter at work.
With our children we will talk about how God can work in our lives. Clay itself can be nasty stuff when you dig a shovel into a yard and find the dense stuff below a thin layer of topsoil. It can be challenging work to move enough of the stuff to plant even the smallest of tree bulbs. Clay is difficult stuff; however, in the hands of a master potter clay can be wonderful for creating beautiful things. We will tell our kids they are being made into beautiful creations. Call it naive hope or call it prophecy, I believe each of the kids in our church have a bright future ahead of them as awesome people.
The challenge is that there’s a second side to this story. Jeremiah is a prophet called to a place that needs prophetic work done in their lives. The clay needs to be reworked in Israel. As their potter, God claims the right to rework what has been done.
I wrote the rondelet above to look at this reality. I wanted to lean into the concept of being clay. We work hard at building lives in this world and it can be difficult to trust even God to rework the clay of our lives when we become comfortable with the way things are in our lives.
We sometimes need to be reworked. We need to work that living water into our lives, to be flexible, and to even be fired in the oven. We might be tempted to look at this reworking as punishment, especially if we are comfortable. Sometimes, we will put up with a lot of cracks and chips to stay comfortable. Some of us would do anything to just be left alone.
The attitude that says “Just leave me be” does not necessarily help us. If I have a broken arm that has set poorly, it may need to be broken and set again. If I have a heart valve that is leaking, I may need to see my cardiologist if I want to live a longer life. When sick we need a doctor. When cracked, we may need to see our Potter.
This reworking is not necessarily pleasant. If you are struggling through a remaking, I want you to know that you are neither the first nor the last to face a challenge in your life of faith. You are more than likely surrounded by people who have faced their own challenges. You are not alone.
Yesterday I preached a sermon on why God allows evil in the world. The sermon was hard to preach. Yesterday, we were blessed with a guest who shared a longer testimony than we’re used to in church while my watch buzzed at me to wrap up. Patience is difficult for me. Yesterday, I attended a fundraiser for a friend whose family is struggling with illness in a small child. I just want to make everything right.
Today there is no poetry in my heart. Today there are no deep reflections. Today I need rest. I will try and post something meaningful tomorrow. While you wait, I invite you to ponder how you know when your soul and body needs a moment of silence.
Poems Contemplation Seeing with open eyes Expressing reasons for wonder Poems
“Poems” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
I have recently been contemplating the idea of teaching. I am three quarters through the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I have been asking an interesting question. How do I share what I have been learning with others?
The very first session of the Academy we were invited to consider how God was being revealed around us by Wilkie Au. Since that lesson I have spent a lot of time walking through the various outdoor “Stations of the Cross” walking paths at the Malvern Retreat House.
It has been incredible noticing how I saw different things in different seasons. In the midst of winter, I took a picture of Christ crushed under the weight of the cross under a layer of newly fallen snow. I contemplated how cold the world must have been for Jesus in those moments. Blood loss was likely only one source of his suffering.
In the height of autumn, I saw Pilate standing in judgment as leaves fell from the sky. I contemplated how the world itself was growing colder and the days shorter as Pilate held his perpetual place of judgment over the solitary Christ. Leaves fell as judgment waited further down the path.
I have found those moments of contemplation to be life giving to my prayers. The very nature of the surrounding changed my contemplation, my prayer, and my focus in holy moments.
Walking through a path in the woods while praying is a valuable and wonderful experience. In this cold season, walking outside can be treacherous on frozen, freezing, and dangerously windy days. How can we enrich our prayers in a season which is dismally gray without continually focusing on the bleak, the dark, and the promise of spring that seems so very distant?
What if poetry is a window we can use for contemplation? Consider the poem “In a Vale.” The poem was written and published by Robert Frost in 1915. Let’s take a look as the poem is now in public domain.
When I was young, we dwelt in a vale By a misty fen that rang all night, And thus it was the maidens pale I knew so well, whose garments trail Across the reeds to a window light.
The fen had every kind of bloom, And for every kind there was face, And a voice that has sounded in my room Across the sill from the outer gloom. Each came singly unto her place,
But all came every night with the mist, And often they brought so much to say Of things of moment to which, they wist, One so lonely was fain to list, That the stars were almost faded away
Before the last went, heavy with dew, Back to the place from which she came – Where the bird was before it flew, Where the flower was before it grew, Where bird and flower were one and the same.
And thus it is I know so well Why the flower has odor, the bird has song. You have only to ask me, and I can tell. No, not vainly there did I dwell, Nor vainly listen all night long.
“In the Vale” by Robert Frost, 1915
First, Robert Frost was an incredible poet. When I was younger, I would have said that “He’s the kind of poet I want to be if I grow up.” Now it would be more accurate to say that he’s the kind of poet I would like to be if I ever grow up.
Second, consider the words Frost uses in his poem. If you have an overactive imagination like me, you might be blessed to leave the poem with the smell of earth in your nostrils, or the feeling of dew soaking into your sneakers as you see yourself walking out to greet the day.
Consider that a poem can be a window into a new place. What a gift this is to those who live underneath gloomy and gray skies! A poem can do more than inspire thoughts. Literature and stories were the original way people communicated visions of worlds beyond sight. Prose and poetry inspired religious belief, transported people to places of romance and ecstasy (e.g., consider the Song of Solomon in Judaism or the poems of Rumi in Sufi tradition), and opened the scope of people’s understanding of the world (e.g., Plato in Greece, Prince Shōtoku in Japan).
Like stories, poems can transport us to new places. What use is poetry? Poetry can be a way to see a world that can affect your prayer, change your viewpoint, and allow you to see a different existence than you might otherwise imagine. Poetry can be a way into memories from your own past, even when you did not write the poem. Poetry can be a blessing beyond belief.
I would like to encourage you to look into some poetry today. Consider that our world is an amazing place with amazing people. Explore their view through the power of their poems and see if you do not see the world a little differently. Perhaps the experience will change the way you pray today.
Be still. As scents fill you, As odd sights confound you, And as you want to run away: Be still…
“Be Still” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
I recently spent time with someone who was ill in a care facility. I wrote this post a while back to help preserve the person’s identity, but this post is not about their story. This post is about my story and my experience.
The situation on my end was that I was waiting in a care facility which is filled with people facing challenges. The staff was present and diligent, but it is a facility full of people with differing needs. I found myself waiting impatiently as the sounds, scents, and distractions which come in such a place filled my senses.
I ordinarily do not spend time waiting in such facilities. I enter, I head straight where I need to go, focus on the individual, visit with family, pray, and head out the door. I generally do not have time to sit, to think, or to read in such places. I do not have time for my mind to wander. This day was different, so I opened my Kindle to read as I waited.
The chapter is not a long chapter. Abbess Paintner referred to three quotations in that section. As much as I respect the Abbess’ selection of ancient sources, her wisdom shines forth in her annotations. She writes:
“Sitting in our cell requires patience to not run from ourselves or flee back into the world of distraction and numbness. It means being fully present to our inner life without anxiety. Interior peace comes through sitting in silence, through attentiveness and watchfulness.”
Abbess Paintner in the second footnote for chapter ten
I found myself reflecting on the concepts of patience and stillness as my senses picked up on less than pleasant smells. In that moment, the place I was called to spend my time was that room with everything in the air. My cell was a chair in the midst of this person’s life. I found myself trying to be attentive, watchful, and present even as some part of me tried not to breathe too deeply. The scents, the sights, and the sounds made me more than a little anxious.
I found myself struggling in those moments after reading the Abbess’ thoughts. Was I letting those scents keeping me from being present with the individual sleeping in the bed? Was I letting my dislike of the scents keep me from being present with someone whose every breath contains the aromas that were filling my nostrils? There was some part of me that struggled with shame for focusing on the distractions and another part that wondered if the distractions might not be the blessing in disguise.
I was filled with questions, but the one that stuck with me was the loudest question that filled my mind. Was I open to knowing this was someone’s experience? Was I open to walking with someone as their body struggled? Was I open to being God’s hands and feet in such a place? Was I willing to see God in that place?
It would be easy to numb myself to the situation. I could run to my car and refill my diffuser with peppermint. I could rush home, put on the aromatic earl gray tea to settle my senses, and I could rush home to hug my toddler who seems to always smell of lavender when you smell her hair. It would be easy to flee back to distraction and numbness, but would I find true peace in distraction?
I find myself casting my mind to Matthew 25. In Matthew 25, the Son of Man comes in glory to bring judgment to an imperfect world. The Son of Man separates folks and says to one group that they are blessed because they gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirst, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, care to the sick, and visited the imprisoned. The people did not understand when they had done these things. The Son of Man replies (in the NRSV) “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We who are engaged in helping care for others often look on this passage and find comfort. We have given a dollar at the Red Kettle at Christmas, have donated a can of food to the food pantry, and gave a little extra when we could. We have helped the least of these. I could rush home and say “I visited one of the least of these! I’m good!”
Would Christ ask “Did you really visit the least of these or did you do the least you could for these?” Are we open to realize we may be called to radical love that sits through the dirt of life? Are we open to realize that loving God’s children may mean sitting in smelly places? Are we open to realize that God may call us to a deeper fellowship with those in need than the bare minimum?
I do not write such challenging words from a place of judgment. If anything, I feel convicted by my own words. What does this look like in our lives? If we are to live into God’s kingdom, do we all need to live radically transformed lives? Perhaps we are not all called to a care facility, but perhaps we are all called somewhere beyond what is comfortable for us. It is worth contemplating.
On the cold days when all warmth seems to fall asunder I seek out the deep depths of my wardrobe to plunder One of the best blessings from Christmas past: warm sweater To keep the frost from my bones during winter’s wonder.
For some a warm blanket might seem a choice far better Or a towel from the dryer when things are wetter; still, I do feel there is nothing else that I could know To be as warm and cozy as once gift wrapped sweater.
So on a frosty morn with coffee in hand I show This ugly sweater that they once gave me years ago. Yes, I will join them under a blanket warmed with love But that warmth fills my heart. I can take both kinds to go.
If you see me with February reindeer don’t shove Me out of your mind with coarse fashionista’s glove. I do not wear this as a fashion faux-pas blunder. I wear it because it warms me with both wool and love.
“February Sweater” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
I wrote this poem for the dVerse poetry form rubaiyat challenge. We were invited to reflect on our writing process. I was thinking about the prompt offered by Frank Hubeny in the comment of “vortex.” I did not want to go straight into the vortex as I somewhat covered my feelings on the polar vortex with my blogs on “Ice” and the angry poem about that groundhog.
I started to think about the polar vortex and the cold that filled our home despite our best efforts last week. I thought about how nice it was to be warm, but that most forms of being warm were transient. Despite the subzero temperatures, the sweaters I wore did keep me warm wherever I went. I didn’t look very fashionable, but I was warm.
So, in many ways this was an ode to both those awful Christmas sweaters and to the kids who made sure I had warm clothes to wear. I enjoyed writing it even as it wandered around from one quatrain to the next. I guess, in a sense I am grateful for the kids, the sweaters, and for the prompt for happy contemplation.
If you were wondering, I do own an actual wardrobe. No, I haven’t found Narnia… yet…
You are in spotlights… How did you not see shadow??? You lying rodent…
The Distracted Pastor, 2019
This senryu was written while waiting for a chance to grab lunch. Hunger has an effect on my sense of humor. It was written in response to Frank Tasson’s Haikai Challenge. The challenge responded to being cold and was presented on the day when the famous shadow forecasting of a particularly coddled groundhog on February 2nd said it would be warm soon. I obviously went with the senryu form, which is obviously not to be taken as a personal insult to the people of Punxsutawney.
This past weekend I was challenged with a question. The question revolved around my vision of ministry. What evolved from the question was the realization that I am often not clear about my own particular vision for ministry. What do I seek to embody in my ministry? Could I express my vision for ministry in the time it takes to ride an elevator?
I have been thinking consistently about that question since it came into my mind. I have been asking myself how to express my view of ministry. Side questions arose from this contemplation. Could others remember it? Could they see it in my actions? Do I have a phrase that helps me stay focused on my purposes?
What’s the phrase? “I believe that the church should seek to be ONE.” I want my vision to be Open, Nurturing, and Empowering.
Let me break those buzzwords down into something more succinct. Buzzwords are nice but they do not always serve the purposes which they need to serve for others. These lists are meant to be examples and not a complete or restrictive compilation of ideas.
I believe the church should be Open to new people, Open to new expressions, Open to people who are differently abled, Open to hear/converse with our neighbors, Open to taking God’s love out of the church building, and Open to hear God’s voice.
I believe the church should be Nurturing to people who want to know God more, Nurturing to those who have had few advantages and many obstacles, Nurturing to those who are wounded or in need, and Nurturing with/towards other communities and people in our neighborhood.
I believe the church should be Empowering to people who need God’s freedom in their daily life, Empowering to those who have been oppressed, Empowering to folks who believe their voice does not matter, Empowering to those who need to borrow our strength to break free from their shackles, and Empowering to people who want to seek to enter into life changing discipleship.
What do those things look like? I believe that is the subject of a lot of posts to come, but here’s a few snippets of what I’m proposing to lead about more openly:
You cannot be truly Open to the community if your building or community has significant barriers for differently abled folks.
You cannot be truly Open to the community if you don’t welcome folks who are different than you in culture, race, ethnicity, or viewpoint.
You cannot be fully Nurturing to the community if you immediately dismiss people when they find the courage to talk about real life problems that make you feel uncomfortable.
You cannot be fully Nurturing to new leadership if you respond to every request to try something new with an immediate “No way. We’ve never done that before.”
You cannot be wholly Empowering if you look down your nose at folks who haven’t had the same advantages as you.
You cannot be wholly Empowering of other people’s ministries within the church if you rely on authority for leadership in the church instead of relationship, vision, and calling.
What are the words of the communion liturgy? Because there is ONE loaf, we who are many are ONE body. May we all be ONE in the love and care of Jesus.