I realize that I have been away from the adventure for some time. That’s not really the case, I think everyday is an adventure! It’s simply that I have not been sharing that with you as of late. Time for a change.
School is out for the summer. And while school may be out, I am actually teaching summer school, which is terrific. The students are amazing and the pay is mercenary. Love it. To this mix, I am throwing bags into the car and going on a road trip. I do not travel alone, my cousin has joined me from Scotland, and two friends, one from England and the other from Australia are tossing their bags in too. I have not settled on a “sexy” title for the adventure, simply the old church tour of Louisiana and Texas. Together we will be searching out thin places closer to my home, and further from theirs.
And I am really excited about the great fun that lies ahead. I have been looking forward to this since last August. So I invite you to join “us” here on the blog, as I continue exploring the places and ways God is moving among us.
Where is the next thin place?
I have continued my practice of running. Since I no longer have the excuse that I am preparing for a long walk in Spain, I have searched for a new rationalization for continuing. Of course, I have set a few goals for myself, that seemed outrageous in January, but now are dangling just beyond my current skill level. With more work and practice, they can be achieved. Now I simply call it “training.” I am training to run a five mile and two 10K (about 6 miles) runs this fall. Part of that training is being a part of a group that supports me in my running. They host many different running opportunities, like fun run’s during the summer (that’s right I belong to a group of people that call running in the summer fun!), and donut runs on Sunday (that’s right people run so they can eat more donuts). So part of the reason I run is because this is a group of folks that I can relate to, and even though I might be the slowest in the pack, they continually encourage me. And beyond the club that I belong to I find runners in general to be supportive people. I went for a run this morning at a local park. It was a huge challenge for me as I had set a goal of running 4 miles. And I achieved the goal, with kind words and support from almost everyone that ran past me, and from several walkers that I passed.
What if your day to day was that cool? Strangers, people you didn’t even know, said “keep going,” “you can do it,” or even “lookin’ good” as you proceeded through your day. What if you managed to do that? Not even for strangers, just for the people you come in contact routinely throughout your day, a kind word to encourage them or just acknowledge their existence. I can get caught up in the busy rush of everyday and forget this kindness, but when I am running I depend on these acknowledgements. Doesn’t cost us a thing, just the awareness that we are crossing paths with someone, anyone.
Make those places thin.
When I was a kid growing up the US was in the middle of the space race, who could get to the moon first. It was a huge deal, so big that televisions would be brought into our classrooms (yes, we did not have TV’s in our classrooms) so that we could watch “blast off’s” and “splash down’s” of the brave astronauts. They would send a helicopter out to the location where the capsule was bobbing up and down in the water, and bring the brave soul back to the ship. There would be a big hoorah for them as they returned to the ship, and then the astronaut(s) would be whisked off to isolation for quarantine for different periods of time. This was always a bit troubling for me. Why isolate them? Were we concerned that in the vacuum of space they had been exposed to some bizarre bacteria or virus, space flu as it might have been? And if that was the case, what about the poor folks on the chopper and then on the ship that were exposed to them pre-quarrantine? Yes, these are the things I worried about as a child.
And now I know the answer.
Reentry into any situation once you have been away from it for an extended period, or even just a dramatic period, is a daunting task. You really do need to be quarantined. I was away from my “normal” life for 11.5 weeks. And I wasn’t just doing one thing, like flying about in a space capsule, I was doing loads of different things. And I wasn’t in just one place, like outer space, I was in several different places, each with a different culture and on some occasions different languages. And I was in places that have delightfully comfortable summers. And the principle mode of transportation was walking (or train). And food, for the most part, was free of artificial chemical ingredients. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to return, but reentry has been a bit difficult. Starting with landing at an airport in the southern US and waiting for my ride in temperatures that were 90F plus degrees (that’s the upper 30’s C).
People ask what I did. Did I have a good time? What was the best part? Why did you go? Would you do it again? And for most of those questions there is no quick answer, and from the most part I am still processing, through reentry, my responses. I can’t give you a time frame for clarity. Unlike the astronauts, I don’t have the luxury of hiding out in seclusion. I reentered to the deep end of the pool, so understanding and reflection has had to make room for instructional plans and balancing my checkbook.
It will come. I know. And I will share.
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
Some hard words in the lectionary for this coming Sunday; all in all it appears that God is about troubling the comfortable. We have words from Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus, all focusing on the same thing; it’s simple but not easy. Jeremiah the prophet is lamenting, which is something he is quiet good at doing. Jeremiah has been a prophet for some time and is beginning to realize that this job may not be as glamorous as described in the brochure. “Sure, I’ll be God’s prophet. Proclaim God’s word to the people, absolutely. No problem. Glad and honored to do it.” That’s what Jeremiah said when he was a young man. Now has a more seasoned prophet he is coming into the awareness that when people are comfortable with a certain “understanding” of God, they have no desire to hear what God has to say. People, even today, like their God to think and act like them. That’s what happened with Peter in the Matthew text. Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, but to be the type of Messiah that Peter wanted, not the Messiah that God intended. Jesus, being God’s prophet, quickly and sharply told him how wrong he was, called him Satan. Peter was comfortable with a Jesus that was going to be victorious over Romans, not crucified by them. Peter didn’t get the whole picture, until later.
Paul sums it up nicely, do not conform be transformed. God intends us to be different. The very commandment given to us by Jesus, LOVE your neighbor, makes us different. People today who want a limited God, or worse seek to limit God stop reading after “be transformed.” They don’t continue with the text “by the renewal of your mind.” God intends that we be a thinking people, that we not be passive sheep that are never changing, never renewing. Growth calls for change. Hearing the words of a prophet of God, taking them in should change us. Transform us. Heart and mind. That’s a challenge of the faith.
It could be a thin place.
The best part of all. A new group of confirmation kids has descended upon me. They are small. They are cute. They are smart. And, their numbers are growing. This was to be a small group this year, although I think I will stop believing the church leaders that tell me that. Each year they say, “Oh this will be a small group,” and each year the numbers keep expanding. In the course of one Sunday the group went from 10 to 15, that’s a huge exponential jump. Regardless of how many of them there are, together we will work out what God has in store for us.
We start out slowly, so that those that join in later can catch up, by learning what it means to be in confirmation. We will explore what it means to be church, and what history has to do with all of this. What it means to be United Methodist, and what’s up with worship, the hymnal, the Book of Discipline and the Social Principles. And then from there we explore who God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are, and who they are to me. Through this process we will engage in Bible study, missions and fellowship together. We will attempt to finally be the confirmation class that beats the youth in kickball. In the end, sometime next March or April I will ask them if this is the type of life they want to lead, one that puts God and others at the forefront. If they want to call themselves Christian.
So when people say “the church is dying,” I will have 15, maybe even more, reasons to tell them they are wrong.
It’s back to school time, which means it’s back to work time for me. And this first week back is always a mixed bag of feelings. First, there is the joy of seeing everyone at the “be back” gathering. (Be back, the day we all have to be back to work). Hugs and expressions of joy shared with everyone. Chances are if things are going well at the College, and things seem to be going very well at the College, we as faculty members won’t see our colleagues that we don’t share an office or division with for the next four months, because we will be too busy. Second, at the meeting those who are administratively in charge will introduce to the old hands all of the new hands that have been brought on board to fill spaces. Then we will be subjected to presentations of many different varieties and qualities, all in the name of preparing us for the new semester. They haven’t changed much in the 19 years I have been attending them, except for the events that follow them.
Back in the dark ages, when the College was under the governance of the school board and as it came under the control of the state, what follow the be back meeting was two or three rigorous days of registering students. At first it was the rigors of finding places to put 3500 – 4000 students. Then it was how to put students into on line courses. That has changed. This year, 2014 when we arrived at the be back meeting there were almost 8000 students already registered for classes. Registration begins for the fall in late March. Which means the challenge of this week is actually finding a class that students can enroll in.
So I am excited about what lies ahead. I am challenged by a new group of anxious students, whom I have to quickly calm down and get them to work.