Tuesday, December 3, 2019

“If He Had Not Come” by David R. Brock, Redmond, Oregon

One of the stories my mom read to us at Christmas time when I was a child was, “If He Had not Come”. Many decades later, though I don’t recall the details, I do remember the strong feeling I had when hearing it.  My concern, mostly anxiety,(though I doubt it had much if anything to do with the story itself) was that if Jesus had not come there would be no days off from school, no presents to buy and wrap, no secrets to keep from other family members about gifts to come, no new pajamas on Christmas eve (every year, without fail!), no stockings to hang by the chimney with care, no parties at school, no annual children’s Christmas pageant, no tree to decorate, no visit from Santa—maybe no Santa at all, no north pole, no elves, no Rudolph, no two front teeth so I could whistle Merry Christmas (as the popular carol went).

Almost 60 years later, my response to “If he had not come” has changed. Hopefully I’m wiser and a little more mature, a little less self-centered.  Don’t get me wrong, though, I still get a warm feeling when I hear, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  I would be sad if I didn’t hear “Joy to the World” or “Little Town of Bethlehem,” or “Good King Wenceslas” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or even  “Snoopy versus the Red Baron”. Even though I’ve spent wonderful summer Christmases south of the equator, I’d prefer a little snow for the holidays and a few Currier and Ives winter wonderland paintings displayed around town—preferably a town decorated with thousands of holiday lights. And, dare I confess it, and please don’t tell anyone, I do take an occasional stolen glance at a Hallmark Christmas movie! 

However! Beyond all of that, I wonder, If he had not come  . . .

  • Would we proclaim and promote the worth of persons, ALL people, as clearly as we do . . . at least when we are at our best?
  • Would we expect to find God among the poor and the outcast and the widows and orphans and in places where there is no room in the inn?  Would we provide for and honor those people as we are taught to do—in unforgettable parables, in acts of forgiveness for prostitutes and persecutors?
  • Would we have the courage, would we take the risks, to confront, to ‘turn over tables’ and drive out the corrupt and unjust as some among us do in the halls of power, the boardrooms of the strong and well-connected?
  • Would we hold on as strongly to the hope that God is with us yet; that somehow in spite of all that is happening in our troubled world, goodness and right will eventually prevail?
  • Would we strive as valiantly to create communities of joy, hope, love and peace—even in fits and starts and ‘failing’ and starting over?
  • Would God seem as close, as present, as concerned, as gracious, as generous, as active in our lives, as much of an advocate for our wellbeing?
  • Would we understand that we too can be and are called to be the birthplace of God in the world?

Could God, has God, does God reveal many of those truths through other faith traditions? Is God made incarnate in our midst even from the dawn of creation, not only in a manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago? Yes, but, as Marcus Borg wrote, “Jesus enfleshes, embodies, incarnates, God’s Word, God’s revelation, God’s character and passion in a human life. Christmas means that, for Christians, Jesus is and should be decisive. What we see in him, the Word made flesh, is our revelation, our light in the darkness.”

I don’t think we are asked to say ‘no’ to a lot of the accoutrements of Christmas. Go ahead and watch “The Muppet Christmas Carol”. Decorate a tree in a thousand lights. Stuff someone’s stocking with silly little gifts. It’s OK. What we are invited to do, however, is to say yes to the fact that God DID come to us in a unique way in Jesus. What we are invited to do is to understand that because God came to us and comes to us, we see differently, we live differently.  We give life. We nurture life. We choose life at Christmas and every other day.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Gratitude and Blessings by Lavera Wade

Early this morning as I ventured out to gather wood for the fire, I stopped for a few moments to listen to the tiny birds chattering about the frosty breath of a crisp fall morning.  The wonder and beauty of God’s creation opens my heart to the mystery and joy that is God.

I file the chatter of the tiny birds away as in prayer for tonight when I will thank God for the blessing of the joy, the sounds of the tiny birds and all of God’s creation gives me.  The list will often include the sound of the wind in the pines, time with a friend, my husband’s laughter, a kind clerk who helped me, the events of my day.

I have spent the last year in study with the Spiritual Companioning program.  This program has included devoting much time to various spiritual practices.  I have for the last forty odd years spent time each day in morning meditation, so was surprised at how much my life would be changed by going deeper into time with God. I read recently that Spiritual Practices are a bridge to God, that has certainly proven to be true for me this year.

And this is how I came to the Prayer of Examen, this prayer penned by St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) founder of the Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits) is the one thing that Ignatius advised his priests they must do every day without fail.  This prayer has changed me, has changed my life.  I spend my days consciously, or without thought, preparing my list of blessings that I might thank God for each evening.  Some days I can hardly wait to begin my time in prayer so that I can express my gratitude for the life God has given me.

As I have spent my day collecting the blessings God has given me when I approach my King in prayer, my heart opens, and I can feel God’s presence in my gratitude.  The prayer continues by asking God to send his Spirit to guide me, and then I share the joy of where I have seen God’s face that day.  This prayer has brought peace to my soul, I find I have so much more compassion and patience with life events that in my past would have led to frustration and judgement.  As I continue with the prayer asking God to forgive me if I have left him out of my day, or if I have sinned. And to close, I ask God to grant me the grace to always be available to him.

November the month when Americans celebrate being thankful, of all the people in the world even at our worst we are greatly blessed.   May God richly bless each of you with His peace and love.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Daily Delights by Jennifer Brock Olson

“We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands. For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”                                                               —Brother David Steindl-Rast

Above is a favorite quote that has adorned my refrigerator for years. Over the years the practice of gratitude has served me well. However, as the concept of gratitude’s value became mainstream it has almost become something to accomplish. Like our daily steps, “gratitudes” are now something we count—a mindful way to increase our happiness quotient.  Fortunately, I recently began to add Krista Tippet’s “On Being Podcasts” to my gratitude practice. Krista’s interview with Ross Gay and their discussion of his Book of Delights has inspired me to begin looking for delights.

Delight is something that surprises. Delight incites glee. One smiles with delight and perhaps even giggles. Delight is fun. Delight is life affirming.

On August 11th, we attended the memorial service of Charlotte Peterson, our daughter-in-law’s grandmother. Delight was not expected, however it was found.

The piano itself was beautiful and the pianist was talented. From the podium in the church sanctuary Charlotte’s granddaughter Jessica used the word “kickass” as a descriptor for her grandma. (Jessica credits Charlotte for teaching her sassy is acceptable.)

The most surprising delight was the minister’s use of a one of my least liked scriptures. (Several passages in the bible have God’s messengers messing up the Message! This one with the Canaanite woman is especially troubling since the messenger is Jesus.) When Matthew 15:21-28 was read I may have actually shaken my head in dismay. And, when the minister took the podium to begin the eulogy he admitted the choice also confused his secretary.  (She even called to make sure he was not the one confused.) The minister smiled. He had chosen this passage specifically for Charlotte who was the definition of tenacious when it came to the welfare of her family.

The minister went on to present a new-to-me view of this biblical passage where Jesus tells a woman that his ministry was not for her—going so far as to compare her to a dog to which he would not throw away good food. The Canaanite woman held firm. “Even a dog gets table scraps,” she said. And, thankfully, Jesus lived up to his calling.

My new synopsis:  An outsider—a female outsider no less—stood up to having-a-bad-day Jesus and invited him to live up to his “The greatest of these is LOVE” message. I was delighted to take a new look at a scripture I’d trashed and at the same time learn more about my strong daughter-in-law’s feminist/womanist grandma.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Meditation on Hymn “We Shall Overcome” By Roberta Tilden

We shall overcome – I remember fervently singing this song when I was in high school.

I remember watching innocent people being beaten with clubs and attacked by dogs just because they wanted equal rights.  Been there done that.  I thought we had overcome fear and prejudice permanently.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Here racism is rearing its ugly head again.  What is a person to do?

Fortunately those of us who belong to Community of Christ have a real vehicle for change at our disposal.  We have been encouraged to proclaim Christ and create communities of Joy, Hope Love, and Peace.  I do believe that we SHALL overcome one person at a time.

Walking hand in hand to create communities where people truly respect each other, and love diversity is our calling and our hope. 

We can pray for peace but we must also work for peace.

Will we live in peace someday?  Perhaps that is up to you and me.  Violence and racism can be catching, but so can Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace.  Live your commitment to the Christ and someday we will live in Peace.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Reunion Adventures by Lavera Wade

I have been a member of Community of Christ now for nine or ten years.  I discovered Reunion the first year and look forward to this adventure every year.
I love being in God’s creation, the sound of the wind in the pines, that special early morning soft smell of the woods, a call of a small bird, and the somewhere whiff of coffee, new friends and some I have come to love, as the years have gone by.
This year I was signed up to attend Cascade Reunion. 
I was asked if I would put together the Sunday Service for the Samish reunion and someone would use the outline for the service.  A few weeks later I heard a friend needed a ride to Samish and thought why not.
What a treat.  My new road trip buddy and I dashed off early, heading toward the west side.  Traffic was light.  We made our first stop at a small gas station about an hour out.  No road trip is complete without snacks.  We watched the traffic pile up in the eastbound lanes as we flew over the pass and onto 405.  I decided then to come home the backway over the North Cascade highway.
Arriving at Samish I was greeted with hugs from good friends and the news that our cook this year was Tyler Marz a chef, the meals were to die for. 
David Anderson was the guest minister, and I very much enjoyed the adult class, and the guidance he provided on the spiritual practice of dwelling in the word.  The young people attending were a delight to spend time with around the campfire. Several of them promptly agreed to serve during the Sunday night service.
Due to other commitments I had to dash home after only a couple days, the trip through the back-country home included amazing vistas, almost no traffic, and interesting discussions on NPR.
A few weeks later I was off to Cascade Reunion.  Again, the opportunity to find peace in God’s creation, as I listened to stories of faraway places, and devoted disciples as David and Carolyn Brock shared adventures of many years of service in the church.  More guidance on spiritual practices, silly campfire songs with amazing youth, and lots of hugs and conversation with dear friends.
On the way home my spirit was filled but sad, as the attendance at both reunions was minimal and the budget was made only by the generosity of everyone who attended. 
The end of August I will be attending the Women’s Retreat at Cascade, and in September the Mission Center Conference in Whitehall.  I look forward to these events because I know my spirit will be filled.  The hymn, “As We Gather” so beautifully calls us together.  As we gather may your spirit work within us, as we gather may we glorify your name.  Knowing well that as our hearts begin to worship, we’ll be glad because we came. 
This hymn was written in 1946 when so many more gathered.  It calls us today.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Women's Retreat by Ronna Vanover

To all women, 

Last year’s retreat was terrific.  There were so many different offerings!  I was not able to go to everyone I wanted to go to.  There were movement classes each day to help us get moving and to
stay moving.  I became aware of some great women and their struggle to be free to worship and be accepted for as they are.  The services were full of love, spirituality, and Christ’s essence.
I didn’t go to Story Corps, but was excited about the women who went and told their stories.  Please don’t miss your opportunity for special time to meet other women of Christ’s community!
I’m looking forward to seeing all you in August.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Tender of the Small Spaces by Sandy VanDerWalker

Dear Friends,
We are about to begin the retreat season at Samish Island Campground. I remember coming here a little over 2 years ago not having a clue as to the expectations and dynamics of my role as a volunteer in this place. The word volunteer can often carry a somewhat broad and abstract job description so I decided to start doing what I enjoy doing and what I felt needed to be done such as weeding, cleaning, and such. It didn’t take long for those routine tasks to become a bit frustrating and challenging for me. The work I was doing seemed so insignificant in the larger reality of this place.
Then I began to hear the amazing stories shared by our guests as to what this place means to them. I heard expressions of sacred, holy, eternal, peaceful, beautiful, and extraordinary. As I embraced these stories I found my daily tasks becoming a part of my spiritual practice. As I worked I tried to be intentional in becoming more aware of my surroundings from the sights and sounds above me to the warmth and diversity below me. I tried to be intentional in thinking about the guests who were present in this place or those guests who would soon be coming.
Through this experience I discovered what my job title and description is in this place. I now think of myself as the “Tender of the Small Spaces”. My job description is to help make the small spaces of this place, in their natural simplicity, warm and inviting for our guests. To help create opportunities for our guests to stop in the midst of those small spaces, wherever they may be, to gain a sense of connectedness, an affirmation of peace, a renewal of possibilities, or whatever they may be searching for. I am looking forward to seeing you this season and sharing with you in the tending of the small spaces in this place.
Blessings of Peace,

Friday, April 19, 2019

Every Day is Christmas by Barbara Miller-Collins

     Christmas is a busy time of the year.  But underlying the hurry scurry is the underlying theme of “love”.  Every day is Christmas to me.  Every day I am reminded of the love of Jesus Christ, His mercy and kindness to me.  My life has been preserved and extended for His purposes.  I survived stage 3B aggressive breast cancer in 1995.  A miracle happened again on December 7, 2018.
      Chris and I were returning from purchasing kitchen cabinets for our rental house.  I was dozing in the passenger seat of our car as we crossed the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers on SR 18 at milepost 34.  It was a dark night at 5:10 p.m. and we were traveling in a solid stream of cars in rush hour traffic going 60 plus mph in our Toyota Camry. 
     A sudden deceleration of speed and then a massive blow sent me flying forward violently and then I slammed backwards.  My eyes flew open to see dimly that we were stopped in a medium strip between two speeding lanes of traffic.  Our car was stopped at the entrance to an exit onto I-82.  The lights from the traffic speeding within feet of us were disorienting.  I was trembling.
     Our seats were now laid back fully with the portion under our backs broken and bent in a 35 degree angle.  They were inoperable.  The back doors would not open.  The rear view mirror had become a flying projectile.  The trunk had been shoved almost into the back seat.  The car frame was bent.  Our rear bumper and muffler were grinding on the pavement as Chris managed to move our car forward to a wider place in the medium strip between the I-82 exit and the busy SR18.  We sat shaking and in shock trying to orient our thoughts as to what to do.  The ¾ ton Chevy Silverado truck that had rear-ended our car at high speed was now stopped beside us.
      I looked up and saw a woman walking down the middle of the medium strip.   She had crossed two lanes of heavy bumper to bumper traffic to reach our car.   “Are you hurt?!” she demanded.  “What is your pain level?” I was incoherent, in shock.  "Give me your hand!”  She demanded.   I gave her my hand.  She prayed an anointing that my body would not suffer any ill effects and would be healed.  She asked God for healing, peace and comfort for me.  I felt the quiet peace cover me and the confusion lifted.  “Give me your hand!” she urgently commanded Chris.  Again, she prayed over him that any ill effects from the accident would be healed.  There were no injuries in the other vehicle.  A state patrolman gave us a ride to the hospital eventually.  X-rays showed no broken bones.  We were in some mild pain.  Chris’ bad knee had hit the dashboard.  The rear-view mirror had hit him in the ear.  My upper spine felt tight and my right knee was sore.  But we did not need pain medicine.
      Assessing what had happened; Chris realized that given the force that had crumpled metal so badly and broken our seats, we were lucky to be alive.  Miraculously, our bodies sustained little damage.  We were no more sore than what we were before the accident.  We were able to resume our daily activities quickly.  No additional medical treatment for injuries has been required in the 4 months since the incident.  Even the big financial loss of our car turned into a blessing.   We were able to replace it with an AWD vehicle before our family arrived for the Christmas holidays and importantly before record breaking heavy winter snows came to Washington State a few months later. 
     Chris and I feel inspired and miraculously blessed by the faith of this unknown disciple who in Christ-like love put her own life selflessly at risk to come and pray for strangers in their time of need.   She truly was Christ-like in her ministry to us. 
    John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.  God is love.  Christmas is love.  Let us love one another even as Jesus Christ loves us.  Let every day be Christmas.  

Friday, March 1, 2019

Giving up for Lent by Lavera Wade

Ash Wednesday is March 6 and I have decided to give up my obsessive habit of checking the news several times a day.  I will admit it has taken me over a month to decide that I can achieve this. 
I grew up in the Methodist church and was not in the habit of observing Lent as a time to give up anything.    I joined Community of Christ in 2011 and that first spring I had words with a friend about of all things how to load the silverware in the dishwasher.  Handles up or down, I believe I was right but did not want to end the friendship over how to load a dishwasher.  So I apologized for showing my frustration and thought nothing more of it.  A month later I found my friend reloading the silverware again her way.  And again I found I had to apologize after expressing my frustration.
After some reflection and because Lent was upon us I decided somewhat impulsively, I am going to give up the need to be right for Lent.  I shared that I was going to try for 40 days to just let anything I disagreed with go.  I was not making promises I would achieve this, and that this was not forever, just forty days.  I did pretty well actually and have each year given up some other habit just for lent and as best I can.  Sometimes I think it would have been a lot easier to give up chocolate.  No self-reflection required with chocolate.
So imagine my surprise when I googled “give up the need to be right”, in preparation for this article and found it is all about control.  As were the habits of the other years.  This year is about the drama, but that is another story.
I am involved in Spiritual Companionship training and learning about discernment.  Much of what I am reading speaks to how we often fail to seek God’s will in our lives, and try to call our own shots.  For me this has led in my past to some really poor choices.  It’s not so much the mistakes that have caused me the most sorrow. It has been the loss of peace and hope, that comes when I do not trust God to lead me in the right direction.  Thinking I can come up with a better idea.   To be honest there wasn’t any thinking just not including God in my life in any meaningful way.
I have learned through the years that God is always willing to work with us, making the best results out of even the most hopeless situation.  But my new journey with God, practicing discernment is to try to seek his will before I make a choice.  Asking God to send his Spirit to guide me.  I now spend time in Spiritual practices, and the prayer of exam, opening my heart so that I may be lead. 
And so I am excited to begin my Lenten journey this year.  I have three books that I am looking forward to reading.  All address learning more about developing a closer relationship with God.  As always I say this is only for forty days.  And I will do the best I can.
Blessings to you in your Lenten journey.   

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Permeability of the Spirit By Brad A. Martell

“Permeability, porousness, works both ways.  You are allowed to move through the woods with new eyes and ears when you let go of your little annoyances and anxieties.”           – Gary Snyder, A Place in Space, 198.

Trudging along the trail, head down staring at only a few feet in front of each boot step, I was weighted down with more than what was in my backpack.  It was raining, cold, and dark in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.  Encased in my Omni-Tech raingear I was armored against the elements.  And encased in my acerbity I was trying to armor myself against the annoyances and anxieties I was carrying in my emotional and spiritual backpack.   
Lori and I were in our first semester of our master’s in environmental education.  I was having an extremely difficult time understanding the experiential learning model at the core of the program.  I was experiencing lots of confusion and struggle as I was not letting myself be open to a new way of learning.  I wanted the same kind of experience I had in college – give me the syllabus, tell me what to read, write, and what will be on the test.  Before my master’s I understood (and was quite happy with) education that fit a certain structure and process.  It was predictable with clearly defined boundaries.  But when I boarded “The Bus” (Audubon Expedition Institute master’s program) I found my footing precarious.  I had not yet grasped the understanding that education was not just “book learning” but it was every encounter, relationship, and experience in my life. 
Going into the backpack, I was so frustrated and anxious about when I was going to get my “assignments” completed that I was fighting against being present, porous, and paying attention to this particular experience with my community, engaged in wholistic learning and being mindful of the woods.  I was wearing a literal and metaphorical shell to protect me from the physical, emotional, and spiritual “elements.”  However, as much as I fought against the moment, there was something that began to soak in and bring me out of my protective shell. 
Wild natural places are where I feel closest to the Spirit.  After a few days I was able to discard the worries and anger I “packed in.”  I was able to sink in place and be present, porous, and paying attention to the wonders of the woods, the fellowship with my community, the peace of the Spirit.  My anxieties diminished and my agitation was soothed.
The day we hiked out there was a light rain, but I didn’t put on my raingear.  The warm rain felt refreshing falling on the bare skin of my face, arms, and legs.  I was practicing permeability, porousness to allow the flow of the Spirit to soak into me.  In that spiritual soaking I was made new. 
What is holding you back from being permeable to the Spirit?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Companioning Program by Carol Ann Reiff

Walking onto the Happy Valley Campground I sensed a spirit of love and welcoming from each of those who were called to serve us and who had been praying for us.  Terry and I remarked that we felt as one with the group from the beginning.  All nervousness about this program fell away.  I think all those who came were just hungry for connection with God from the start.

When the first class by Laurie Gordon ended, I felt like dancing before God!  Laurie, a retired Research Biologist, Spiritual Director and Evangelist in Community of Christ, showed us how God is always beyond our understanding of God.  I was filled with humility and joy.  Her classes were only part of the experience of worship I was blessed to enjoy.

When around 100 voices joined together to sing, I wondered if people were chosen because of their ability to sing.  The worship leader was Katie Harmon-Mclaughlin, a Spiritual Formation Specialist.  I came so needy and I was not let down.  The Spiritual Formation Team taught us many ways to connect with God:  Holy Attention, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Dwelling in the Word, Prayer of Examen and more. 

We walked among the redwoods; hiked the mountain behind us; ate delicious, nutritious food; and visited with old and new friends.  In small covenant discipleship groups, we shared stories of our own journeys and learned how to listen to others.

I came to this experience feeling so flat and in need of uplift.  I’m now so excited to continue on this journey with others and with God.  I believe God has brought me to this place and I feel thankful that God has never let me down on my journey.