Whole Life Challenge: Day Eight

Today was a “core day” and my first time working out with a medicine ball. I wanted some variety from using my weight set, so I picked up a slam ball from the local sporting goods store. A lot of the exercises for the core can be done on one’s back, which reduces the risk of my throwing my back out. I was excited.

After two exercises, I went back through the list of potential exercises and looked for a light workout. I decided a twist was my best bet. All I had to do was hold the medicine ball straight out and twist from side to side.

My arms were engaged in an isometric exercise of holding the weight of the medicine ball in place while my core muscles worked in an isotonic manner. The first few reps of each set were easy. By the end of my last set, I was exhausted from holding the ball up at arm’s length.

As I showered up after stretching, I thought about how stress is a lot like an isometric exercise. You get used to holding the weight. Often the weight is not great, but as you carry the weight, it feels heavier and heavier.

My wellness exercise for the week is to “do nothing” for ten minutes a day. If you’ve ever held a heavy weight and let it go, you might find your arms automatically rise. Doing nothing felt like that today. My “arms” automatically raised as I did nothing. I had to keep focusing on just being present.

It is my hope as I lead that the spirituality I share is a blessing and not a weight. I would hate to think I’m weighing folks down. Too many people treat religion as a burden for me to believe that religion is always a blessing. If it were, people would line up to go to church.

I am reminded of the final verse of Psalm 23. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” I often read this as goodness and mercy in my life.

What if the previous verse means something we often ignore? What if the anointing is to a holy purpose? What if the goodness and mercy spread to all we pass? What if we are the means of goodness and mercy? That’s the life I want to lead. I want my leadership to lift people up, not provide a weight that grows heavier and heavier.

Whole Life Challenge: Day Six

I have been struggling for the past few days. My chest has been sore and healing from the muscles I worked out earlier this week. Today I was scheduled to work out my upper body. I had a great deal of apprehension about working out.

Psalm 27 speaks about fear and trust. The third verse says: “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (NRSV)

I did not wake up very confident about my chances against the army of weights. I still worked out despite my concerns. I not only worked out, but I completed every set I began. It was close, but I succeeded.

People are often afraid of things they really need not fear. There are good reasons for concern, but fear as an abstract emotion is something that usually can and should be conquered.

If God does truly love us, then God’s love can help cast out our fear. This is my hope as I go to lie down for the evening: that I would face the night without fear of cramps and with confidence that I will rise to meet the challenge of “leg day” tomorrow.

Whole Life Challenge: Day Three

Today I lifted a significant amount of weights for the first time in several years. I used to have a home gym, but it was a loaner. Getting ready for the Whole Life Challenge, I kept my eyes open for a used gym on Craigslist. Today I had my first real workout.

About half an hour after working out, I was sitting on the floor after stretching. I went to press on the edge of the couch to stand up when the bench press and pull-downs struck my chest muscles. They were sore, tired, and were happy to have me fall asleep on the floor. As I type I can feel each individual muscle tighten as I type and reach for the mouse. I never knew I used my chest muscles when using my computer. I was going to go to a town meeting tonight, but I don’t think I can lift up my shoes in order to put them on.

There’s an old phrase: “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.” There’s a theory that this saying originated out of an interpretation/translation of Proverbs 16:27. I don’t see the connection between that verse and the old saying.

The implication of that old saying is that keeping busy keeps a person out of trouble. I can understand that logic. In my case, it is hard to be stressed about life in the future when you are worried about getting off the ground without muscle cramps. If I had to tie this into a gospel scripture, I would say that Matthew 6:34 in the NRSV covers it: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The weights are enough trouble for today. Tomorrow will have to take care of itself.

Whole Life Challenge: Day Two

On the second day of the Whole Life Challenge (WLC), I was sneaky. I am on my last day of vacation and did not have to lead worship. I wanted to visit a colleague’s church down the road. Our church has coffee hour after worship. My colleague’s church has a meal before worship. We arrived exactly on time and missed the meal. My kids were disappointed, but I didn’t have to walk past the donuts.

I am wondering about next Sunday when I return to church. Most food that is served in churches fits the mold of casseroles, jello, cookies, cakes, and other goodies. We rarely have fresh vegetables or fruit in any significant quantity. As the pastor, I am generally the last person through the line after greeting everyone and answering questions.

Cucumber slices are my favorite snack when doing the WLC…

If I want some fresh vegetables, hummus, cucumber slices, or other goodies, I may need to bring enough to share. It may seem silly to be concerned about such matters, but what will that look like if I provide that food every Sunday? What if this is a “lifestyle” change? How do we change a church culture that loves cookies and other sweets?

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says: “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

How do we change how we eat in church? Perhaps it begins by realizing our bodies are temples. I have much to ponder as I chomp on these cucumbers.

Whole Life Challenge: Day One

Today I began a forty-two-day journey. I am taking part in the summer session of the Whole Life Challenge. The Whole Life Challenge (WLC) is a game-like experience where you seek to live up to certain ideals for forty-two days. Each day you earn a certain number of points. Playing with people you know means you are both held accountable for your practices and have healthy competition.

The WLC is an arduous journey. Last time I played I felt exhausted by the end of the process. I never wanted to play again. I also felt a lot healthier and happier. My goal during the last time I played was to lose weight. This time around I am aiming to reduce stress.

I wondered about that idea today. This morning I had flashbacks to the last time I played as I looked in the cupboards for something compliant with the “lifestyle” challenge. This afternoon I was “hangry.” At dinner we played a game called “stir-fry the random vegetables while trying not to look directly at the rice in the cupboard.” How is this supposed to lower stress?

One of my biggest foes…

I feel as if my wellness challenge for the week addresses this concern. My challenge is to turn off social media notifications on my phone, move any social media apps off of my home screen, and to spend more time being “present.” How can we be ourselves if other people are always barging into our lives? How can we be ourselves if our phone is always trying to sell us on things like “discounted burritos on Monday!”

I spend too much time looking at the world around me and saying “I should be more like this person.” I spend too much time comparing myself to others, wondering if that burrito would make me happier, or trying not to be right where I am in life.

I keep paying attention to my internal notifications about social status, professional achievements, and sometimes how much good I have done in a week. Life is not meant to be lived that way. Looking at the opening two verses of Isaiah 55, we see a vision of a world where people are offered what they need without price. Perhaps this is a passage which upends our national economic system, but someone could also argue this is a passage which asks people to consider their priorities.

I am engaging in the Whole Life Challenge because I need time to reconsider my priorities in life. I am avoiding wheat, stir-frying without sugar, stretching, and working out every day for the next forty-two days because I need time to refocus my self (body, heart, and soul) back onto God. I am doing this to become more like the person I was always meant to be.

“Amazed” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Amazed.” The photo is from a local graveyard. As Easter dawns, there is life in the dead places of this world. While this photo was taken at sundown facing west, the sun is rising in the east over this graveyard as this poem is published. If I were to title the haiku, I might title it “Jesus’ checklist for today.” May Easter light fill your lives this day.

Roll away the stone.
Fold up your useless linens.
Bring life to the dead.

“Believe” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt for Photo-A-Day is “Believe.” In Christian tradition, Holy Saturday is a day of both anticipation and solemnity. Depending on your tradition, you may spend it celebrating or you might spend it silently.

I chose the photo I selected because it is my hope that we each tend to our light of faith on this holy day. May it burn brightly however you celebrate Holy Saturday.

Believe and have faith.
No darkness overcomes light.
Keep your candle trimmed.

“Prepared” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Prepared.” I know that it is Holy Week, but after writing all of these haigas, I cannot help but use this prompt to recommend to all new parents that they either buy baby wipes by the case or invest in a lot of hand towels.

Be prepared for it.
Your child will make a big mess
Every chance they get.

“Rest” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Rest.” Today I decided to share an image of rest within a family. Remember, even on Palm Sunday, that there are many ways to use your cutlery. You cannot run off to a parade with cloaks and palms with messy hair… By the way, she’s never seen “The Little Mermaid.”

A dinglehopper!
My sister needs her hair brushed
I have just the tool!

“Blessed” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s #RethinkChurch prompt is blessed. My daughter actually took the picture I am writing a haiga about today. We were visiting the zoo when an albino-peahen showed off her lack of colors. She felt blessed by the moment and even brought it up in church as something that she was thankful for in her life.

Zoos are controversial in some eyes, but this zoo reminded my daughter why we should protect the wild world in which we live. Our world is filled with amazing sights which deserve to be protected.

O, blessed vision fair:
You have shown my child to love
And protect your home.

“Needs” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s prompt for the Rethink Church Photo-A-Day is “Needs.” I decided I would write a Haiga, but wanted to give some background. A lot of folks over the years have joked that ministers work “an hour a week.”

We work far more than that amount. I run to hospitals, go to Nursing Homes, write sermons, read books, counsel the troubled, plan outreach, visit the sick in their homes, and try to be peacekeeper in everything from committees to marriages. I have spent sleepless nights thinking about the needs of my church.

There really are nights that I have trouble even going to sleep because my church has needs that I cannot fulfill, but must rely on God to meet: such trust does not come easily even for clergy. There are nights I wake up with bad dreams as a result. Despite all the rumors, ministers often do not see God face to face. We, too, have to rely on faith.

An honest response to this prompt for me is to show an “empty” church. I do not show it because the seats are empty. I show it because the seats are full for me.

I see the folks looking for a word of life during a funeral, a word of acceptance during communion, and a word of joy during a wedding. I see folks in tears, folks with smiles, and folks laughing. I see folks in doubt on Christmas Eve who have been dragged in by their family and folks with a smirk on Easter morning who have been brought by their loved ones. I see those folks next to the hopeful. This space is a sacred space that encompasses all of those emotions, relationships, and more.

Holy space divine:
Please help me to do my best
And bless all the rest.

“Bring” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word of the day for the Rethink Church Lenten practice is “bring.” Being myself, here is a haiga. By the way, after nearly 32 of these, I am beginning to wear a little thin. Someone remind me to take a break from haiku after this is over.

Last Saturday we celebrated my wife’s birthday with a picnic at the local zoo. I caught this image which reminded me of Noah! Bring me two of every animal!

“Bring me two of each”
Says a voice over the years.
No, not you kiddo!

“Rest” Photo-a-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “rest.” Yes, it is Sunday again! Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! Today’s post is inspired by H, the ever restless toddler… Oh, child who will not get out of bed without milk (like your father and coffee/tea), go to sleep when you obviously need rest…

Rest is part of life.
We all needed to find rest
Before any rules.

“Worthy” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “worthy.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga!

For the last few months my family has been slowly stockpiling broth for our church‘s upcoming dinner on Holy Thursday. We have smelled the scent of leeks, chicken, carrots, onions, celery, vegetables, and (family secret (inspired but not limited by “Mastering Stocks and Broths” (Your work is pretty awesome Rachael Mamane and people should support your work))) and spices wafting through our house most weeks of the past few months. Between J.B. (not the music celebrity) and myself, we provide the broth for the matzoh ball soup for dozens of folks since our good friend Alice Hopkins passed onto the other shore.

Store bought broth is fine for most nights, but we love spending time learning about the intersections of faiths on Holy Thursday. Store bought is good, but not great! We work hard, but the end result is definitely enough. We love our church.

Chicken broth wafts up;
Our home is filled with the smells
Of community…

“Near” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “near.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! I keep thinking about how Easter is drawing nearer. Even as the darkness of Holy Week approaches, life already begins to spring forward in new ways!

Also, I wrote this post before it started to snow. Really funny April.

Ground breaks forth with growth.
Winter’s deadly cold gives way
As the spring draws near.

“Power” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “power.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! Here’s a picture of my eldest conquering her fear and flying down a hill on her rollerblades. She’s pretty powerful already!

“I feel like a bird!”
Grow strong, my eldest daughter:
Soar on through this life.

“Name” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “name.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! Today’s haiga is inspired partially by Ash Wednesday and the reality of mortality exposed by Lent.

One day I will sleep
Perhaps under a stone name
While I walk elsewhere

“Hallow’s Eve”

Today the d’Verse Poetics challenge for today is hosted by anmol(alias HA) and is centered on the subject of geography. I wanted another try at the prompt as I found it quite intriguing.

People who know me know that I am a Whovian who adores Doctor Who. After Steven Moffat’s story entitled “Blink” was released I had a real problem. I am a minister and suddenly I was afraid of living statues. Actually, a nearby town had a statue with the weeping angel shape in their yard and I literally rushed past it in my car for months.

This past Halloween Night, I was on a retreat at the Malvern Retreat Center when a friend of mine from the past two years pointed out that there were lots of statues around. I had never taken a walk in the woods on Halloween. What better time than after the evening service when we were all required to remain silent until morning? In other words, no nervous humming, no music, and nothing but the sounds of the forest on Halloween.

I walked down into the grotto to the largest collection of statues. I would say that my heart was beating out of my chest, but I learned anxiety breathing techniques that kept me from having a conniption. I made it down all the way and refused to run back up the hill.

There was something terrifying about being surrounded by hills and darkness on every side. It was as if I was descending to my doom like some Greek hero descending into the underworld. I wrote this poem to explore the feeling of descending into the darkness down into the depths of a valley with the earth rising up around me on one of the scariest nights of the year.

By the way, the friend almost hid in the woods to scare me, but realized that I would probably have instinctively hit him hard enough that he would have woken up in the hospital. He was probably right.

Down dark paths I tread on Hallow’s Eve
After the silence has fallen on dark paths.
Statuary reminds me of teary-eyed angels
Creeping out through the nightmares of my own imagination.

My heart beats as I descend the path
Into the depths of darkened statued hollow.
Every footfall echoes off of the trees stripped barren
As lights spread themselves too far and too thin for my racing heart.

Leaves whirl across path and confuse sounds
As darkness fills imagination with fear.
I ponder dark cliffs and the path before and behind
I blink one eye at a time as I seek shapes hiding ahead.

In the deep hollow all ways lead up
Darkness falls around in every direction
The statues and I all stand breathless in the darkness.
Primal fear wars with grown mind as I turn, look up, and close eyes:
Curse Steven Moffat’s monsters.

“Wheels go around” Rondelet

Today the d’Verse Poetics challenge for today is hosted by anmol(alias HA) and is centered on the subject of geography. I pondered what to write about today and decided the best thing to do was to think about a bit of local geography that has been bugging my family for the last few days as we have sought to be outside walking, biking, and having a good time.

We live on a rectangular block. The one side of the block is up a hill and the other side of the hill goes downhill. Somewhere between the two roads there is a cresting place which always brings relief, especially on a bicycle. As the challenge was based on geography, I thought I would reflect on the weird geography around our block. My rondelet is called “Wheels go around.” Sometimes they go fast and sometimes they go slow, but they always go around when we are circling the block.

Wheels go around.
Quickly we roll down the far street.
Wheels go around.
We grunt: we climb up hilly ground.
As pedals almost stop and still.
We creep up towards downward thrill. 
Wheels go around.

“Wheels go around” Rondelet by the Distracted Pastor, 2019

“Pondered” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “pondered.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! I found this chalk drawing on the Greenway trail in Vestal! Random person, I like the way you pondered spring while the ground was still frozen!

Flowers will grow soon.
Still, some souls know chalk’s power:
Spring is in the heart.

“Rest” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “rest.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! “Rest” is a weekly thing. I found this on the Vestal Greenway. Yes, I saw your message. Thank you!

Random walk signer:
I see chalk that you left here
And I celebrate!

“Fruit” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “fruit.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! Why the head shaving reference? I once thought my value lay in how I look. I am not bald. I shave every single morning to remind myself that life isn’t about a full head of hair or how I look in general. May I suggest the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as a wonderful partner for your ministry in this life?

I shave my head now.
I once thought myself worthless.
Now I see the fruit.