Red Lodge Community Church
Connecting through the Spirit's Nudge
“…tired though they were by many a trouble, their overflowing happiness, and even their deep poverty, resulted in a flood of generosity.” 2 Cor. 8:2
“Attention is the doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder the doorway to reciprocity.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Braiding Sweetgrass”
How often, in our tiredness, do we loss attention? We find ourselves sleepwalking through life and we miss the opportunities for reciprocity, the opportunities to give back or start the giving. We are fatigued. Pandemic fatigue. Mask fatigue. Separation fatigue. Zoom fatigue. Tired though we are, we must allow ourselves overflowing happiness, overflowing generosity and overflowing reciprocity.
As I sat by my window during last week’s snowstorms I was mesmerized by the work of the robins and other birds in my Mountain Ash tree. Not only were they gathering the berries for their much needed trip south, they were also knocking the heavy snowfall from the branches, thus ensuring that the life of the Mountain Ash would continue for the next flock of birds, typically the Cedar Waxwings at Christmas time. If the robins hadn’t come to feast on the bounty of the October berries, the snow would have collapsed the tree and the berries for the waxwing’s Christmas feast would have died. In turn, the waxwings will finish off the berries in December, allowing the much needed dormant season of the tree to focus its rest in preparation for the spring bloom. And thus the cycle continues. Reciprocity of Mother Earth at her finest.
Tired though I was during the storm, I allowed myself the opportunity to give my attention to this doorway of wonder at these birds. I also saw how tired the birds were as they would, on occasion, fly into my big window. I was relieved that none of them sustained an injury; they shook themselves off and got back to the feasting and flying. That is what I find myself doing. Shaking the tired from my mind and going back through the next doorway of opportunity. Shaking the tired from my bones and going through the next doorway of wonder. The wonder that I find in prayer, laughter and grace. Won’t you follow me, tired though you are, through that doorway of wonder?
This week's Spirit's Nudge continues to be dedicated to the Indigenous People of Red Lodge. As part of our church's commitment to reparation, I would like to ask each of you to read our current Land Acknowledgment and then make a commitment to forming a group of people who will work on keeping our Land Acknowledgment appropriate and current. To find out more about "How to write a Land Acknowledgment" use your Googling gifts, be in conversation with Indigenous People and with each other. I look forward to having great Community Conversations around our work.
Red Lodge Land Acknowledgment
We begin by acknowledging, with humility, that the land where we sit and stand today is a traditional place of hunting and worship for Native peoples, here in Red Lodge they are the Apsaalooké [ohb-SAH-lookay]. "Apsaalooke," means "children of the large-beaked bird," who we know as the Crow People.
Today we also acknowledge with gratitude the indigenous peoples and Nations on whose land we live throughout Montana and Northern Wyoming:
The Blackfeet Salish, Kootenai and Pend D'Oreilles (PENDORAY)
Assiniboine (ASSINABOYN) & Gros Ventre (GROW-VANT), Sioux
Northern Cheyenne, Chippewa Cree, Eastern Shoshone & Northern Arapaho
Let us remember that we occupy their sacred land.
This week's Spirit's Nudge is dedicated to the Indigenous People of Red Lodge. As part of our church's commitment to reparation, I would like to ask each of you to read our current Land Acknowledgment and then make a commitment to forming a group of people who will work on keeping our Land Acknowledgment appropriate and current. To find out more about "How to write a Land Acknowledgment" use your Googling gifts, be in conversation with Indigenous People and with each other. I look forward to having great Community Conversations around our work.
Red Lodge Land Acknowledgment
We begin by acknowledging, with humility, that the land where we sit and stand today is a traditional place of hunting and worship for Native peoples including the Cheyenne, and the Očeti Šakówiŋ [oh-CHEY-tee shah-KOH-win] [Dakota, Lakota, Nakota], and the Apsaalooké [ohb-SAH-lookay]. "Apsaalooke," means "children of the large-beaked bird," however white men misinterpreted the word as "crow."
Today, we honor chief Plenty Coup, who worked hard to ensure the Crow survived as a People, and that their customs and spiritual beliefs carried on. Currently the Crow Tribe has an enrolled membership of approximately 11,000, of whom 7,900 reside on the Crow Indian Reservation, about 100 miles from Red Lodge, where they keep their traditions and ceremonies alive. 85% of the tribe speaks Crow as their first language, and their economy is derived from the rich resources of the Tribe's land.
Today we also acknowledge with gratitude the indigenous peoples and Nations on whose land we live throughout Montana and Northern Wyoming:
The Blackfeet Salish, Kootenai and Pend D'Oreilles (PENDORAY)
Assiniboine (ASSINABOYN) & Gros Ventre (GROW-VANT), Sioux
Northern Cheyenne, Chippewa Cree, Eastern Shoshone & Northern Arapaho
Let us remember that we occupy their sacred land.
Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.”
Jonah 3:5 “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.”
In August of 2015, my life took a crashing turn. My younger son, Kyle, and I came to a place in our life where a healthy relationship was no longer possible, and we stopped all communication. To say that I was brokenhearted would be the understatement of the century. Not only did Kyle end all communication with me, he walked away from his son Brady and daughter Mia as well. Please don’t judge him…just keep reading.
I was serving as a chaplain at the time and the church that I was a member of had a prayer shawl ministry. I would collect the beautifully woven shawls every couple of months and deliver them to the hospital as part of our chaplain’s ministry. One of the shawls happened to catch my eye and that “nudge” encouraged me to take it home to my grandson Brady. I explained to Brady that the shawl would bring him comfort and that we would pray while it was wrapped around him. Our prayer would be, “God…please help daddy get his act together.” As I recall I didn’t use the word “act” and Brady giggled. So, I left the shawl on Brady’s bed and went about my life…bereft and doing a whole lot of yelling at God. I’m not sure if Brady ever prayed that prayer again…until this week.
So, the prayer shawl moved with me. For some reason I didn’t leave it with Brady when I left Connecticut. Another nudge maybe? I yelled at God, packed it up and took it to the Adirondacks. When I unpacked it I yelled at God some more. When I left the Adirondacks, I packed it up and took it with me to my sister's, where I unpacked it and yelled at God a whole lot more. 6 months later I packed it up…again…and along to Montana came the prayer shawl. When I unpacked it here in Red Lodge, I stuffed it on a shelf in my closet, this time just shaking my head and walking away. Every now and then I’d see it and…yes…I’d yell at God again. I vaguely remember stuffing it into a bag of clothes that I was going to donate to the Senior Center when I did what every other American was doing this spring…my pandemic closet clean-out. I didn’t yell at God, I just shook my head, cried a river of tears, and tied up the bag.
On August 24, 2020, almost 5 years to the day, I got a phone call…from Kyle.
It went something like this, “Mom, I’m sorry. I’ve really screwed up. I’m in big trouble…and I need you.” The next month passed by in a blur of tears, phone calls and emails. And then on Wednesday of last week I finally took a minute (another nudge?) and tossed those 4 bags of clothes that I’d been pandemically cleaning out of my closets since March into my truck. When I got out of my truck to deliver the bags, one of the bags popped open…and there was that prayer shawl. My first thought was, “There’s that prayer shawl again. That thing just keeps showing up like a …. like a… Oh my Lord. IT WORKED!!” I grabbed that prayer shawl out of the bag, wrapped it around my shoulders, and brought it back home. I didn’t let go of that shawl for a full 24 hours. Yep…I even slept with it. To say that my prayers of yelling at God had changed to prayers of gratitude and repentance for the last 5 years would be the second understatement of the century. That payer shawl had become my sackcloth.
On Thursday I was, in typical Pam fashion, hustling and bustling at the church, completely distracted by doing too many things at once. As I walked by our bulletin board the “nudge” got me to stop for just a second and read a note that was pinned up there. It was a thank you note to our prayer shawl ministry, thanking us for the beautiful prayer shawl that they had received, letting us know how much it meant to them. I’m not sure when they had received their prayer shawl and I know that even if it was 5 years ago, it had done its work. We had done OUR work. Our “Love in Action” is the work of the hands that knit those shawls in prayer. God’s “Love in Action” is bringing peace and comfort to the ones who need it.
I may have originally brought this prayer shawl home for Brady… and now I see… I’m actually the one who needed it.
Abundance…we’ve got it! When I saw this cherry tree at the playground where Kora and I were spending some time last week all I could think was, “Wow! What abundance!!” Watching the birds fly in and out of the tree, the chipmunk hauling the cherries from the tree to its stash and hearing Kevin’s story of the bear feasting from the bounteous fruit earlier in the week gave me pause to appreciate the Creator’s supply of abundance for these creatures. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us to, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” This was one of those “If, then” moments. If God provides abundant fruit for the creatures of the earth, then God also provides abundance for us. After all, are we not creatures as well?
In this pledging season we take stock of what we can financially offer the church. Last year we had 57 pledging “units.” That generally means individual households. Did you know that we have the potential for over 100 pledging units? If you were to look at this cherry tree in May, you would see beautiful flowers covering the branches and you would consider the potential for the fruit in October. The same can be said of our church. We have the potential to not just meet our budget of $180,000 next year, we have the abundant ability to top it and create a substantial endowment. An endowment that would take this church into the future on solid footing. Pledging gives our Executive Committee solid numbers to count on for our budget rather than guessing how much might show up in the “plate” on Sunday.
Some of you may wonder how much you should pledge to the church. The Bible refers to putting a tithe, or a tenth, in the storehouse. Could you imagine the potential for our church if we all pledged a tenth of our income? Imagine if each of those buds on the cherry tree in May produced a bushel of fruit for the birds, chipmunks and bears in October. I think you get the picture. How is the Spirit nudging you in your pledge this year?
Vocation and volunteering, what do they have in common? Children have one vocation in life and that is to play. Through play they learn. Adults have the opportunity to join in that same vocation and if COVID has taken one thing from us, it has been the ability to play. How do we restore that vocation as life changes the way that we interact with each other? Through the joy of volunteering! This is the time of year when we look at what we do in the church through the role of volunteering for our councils, committees, and activities. The big question before us now is, how do we do that and remain safe?
Through the wonders of technology, we are able to continue in a forward motion of play. We have the ability to Zoom, Facebook and meet on-line. We are looking at ways to safely join together with protocols in place to do our very best to reduce our risk and learn to live with what we have learned about a virus that took us by surprise. If there is one thing that we have learned from children in this time it is how to play and learn together. We cannot live in seclusion to wait this thing out, we must come together and take advantage of our technology, applying our desire to play with our call to a vocation of volunteering.
While spending the last 2 weeks with my granddaughter I have been reminded that we turn our tools into toys. Kora has reminded me of how the natural tools provided by our Creator turned into toys. Smelling flowers, pulling seeds out of hollyhocks, chasing chipmunks and counting berries are just some of the ways that Kora has turned these tools of nature into toys. How can we do the same? Look around you. You have computers and cell phones at hand. You have books, pencils and paper within reach. Combine those tools and look at what you can do. If there is one thing that Red Lodge has to offer the world it is a resource-rich community of volunteerism that is vocation-centered. Vocation involves a “strong feeling…particularly worthy…requiring great dedication.”
Kora’s determination to learn “Itsy Bitsy Spider” reminded me of the great dedication that it takes to make a commitment to master a skill. The same can be said of our learning curve for applying technology to our new way of life. It means logging on to Zoom or Facebook over and over until we have figured out how to make it work. It means writing and re-writing articles for the Shalom, Weekly Wrangler and the Carbon County News until we’ve captured the message that we want the public to see. It means putting times and dates on our calendars so that we won’t forget to show up and have our voices heard. The challenge for volunteerism in Red Lodge is in re-engaging your vocation that had been the career that you retired from. What part of that vocation will you now apply to the life of your church? What part of that vocation did you always want to develop, and you did not have the time? This is the time to take the opportunity set before you and play with it!
In March of 2020, our church was on a path to putting herself on the map. We need to get back to that map. Our ONA status in the UCC needs to be completed. Our doors being open to the public as a family rest station need to be re-opened. Our commitment to re-creating our children’s Sunday school and the creation of a youth group needs to begin now. Dedication to working with the Northern Cheyenne people needs to find a different way of support. These are just 4 of the things that were on our map in March. They all take time and effort, and can be done in small group gatherings and on-line.
What is your “strong feeling” toward these efforts? Which one do you feel is “particularly worthy” of your time? And to which one are you willing to put forth “great dedication”? Ask yourself these questions and when the nominating committee comes calling in the next few weeks you will have the answer to their questions, “Are you willing to serve in the vocation of a particular committee? And which committee will that be?”
In love in action,
Community Worship Service - Red Lodge Community Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, and Calvary Episcopal Church
Last Sunday's community worship service held jointly by Red Lodge Community Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, and Calvary Episcopal Church was a great success and enjoyed by all! If you missed it, you can watch the video right here.
John 4: 19-20 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
In this time of COVID we have discovered that we are able to worship in places other than our church buildings. Can you imagine what our grandchildren are going to say when they look back at our historical worship? Will it sound like the Samaritan woman speaking to Jesus? “We worship on a mountain, and you say we need to be in a building??!!” I hope so!
Children are so much better than adults at figuring things like this out. After spending a week with Kora, watching her “figuring out” nature, I realized that I just need to follow her lead on outdoor worship. As she toddled around the mountain top she didn’t worry about the weather. She played hide and seek with a pica, smelled the flowers and splashed in the puddles. Perhaps this was the litany that was going through her toddler mind:
You are there, and then you are gone. I will wait for your return.
Your fragrance fills my being. Does the yellow flower not feed the bees?
I am bathed in your presence, washed clean for yet another day.
If we just follow the children’s lead and play in God’s beautiful mountain top creation, our worship will come.
Acts 2: 17 “… God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
I have a vision. The first time that I walked out to Greenough Lake last year the vision of worship around the lake was just a nudge. This week when I walked to the lake that vision took shape. I could see it, hear it, feel it and even smell the rich pine surrounding us as we surround the lake. Worship in God’s beautiful creation. Just imagine it with me for a moment. All of us surrounding the lake, chanting prayers, humming hymns, moments of human silence surrounded by God’s presence in the sounds of birds, the wind in the trees and the rush of the creek.
In these times of tremendous fear and anxiety we are called to a place of visioning. To get to that place, we are best served by the stillness of God’s creation. The scent of pine and sage, water and loam envelopes us in a place of calm and trust. God’s Spirit is poured out on all of us as we experience the sun on our faces as the light in these very dark times.
Allow your anxiety to be stilled by the hush of the forested floor; walk with me to this beautiful place of peace.
Proverbs 16: 3 “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”
Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Do you find yourself wafting between these two verses like I do? One day it feels like everything is going right and then the next day…the Plague of Frogs has descended on our plans. One minute we are rejoicing in the sun and then next day we are grumbling when we see our newly planted pansies covered and frozen in snow. One day we were all rejoicing in worship and then the next day we were trying to figure out how to log on to FaceBook just to see a familiar face…and FaceBook needs a password.
Make a plan and watch God laugh, they say. That doesn’t sound much like the proverbial success that we were planning on, does it? I sometimes that if I hear one more person say, “This is the new normal” I will just sit down and…and…and what? Scream? Cry? Laugh until I cry?
We know that we want to “get back to” where we left off on March 16. And we know that we can’t. So, then, what do we do? In this time of lament and laughter we do need to re-group and go back to what we were working on and look to the Lord in our commitments. Look to the Lord in our questions, curiosities and hesitations. Look to the Lord in all that we were doing so that we know how to ask, “Have you forsaken me…or strengthened me?”
During a time of mediation this week God reminded me through that still small voice that I have the tools that it takes to get through whatever comes my way. Tools to think deeply, reflect mightily and ask myself the tough questions. And one of those tools is indeed the ability to lament. It is also the ability to laugh at the smallest of blessings…especially the still small voice that guides me. As we go forward let me remind you that it is OKAY to lament…and then laugh. Though these two verses seem to be the ones that I find myself reciting almost daily, the one that bubbles up from within the lament is Ecclesiastes 3, “There is a time for every season under the sun.” Right now we make plans and watch God laugh. That’s our season, and I am here with you…right smack dab in the middle of it with you, lament and laughter and all.
When the Spirit overwhelms us, we must respond. When we are frozen in place and cannot move, that is when we must listen. Just sit and listen. We cannot move and yet we must respond.
Silence everything and wait for Wisdom to raise her mighty head, and we will see the direction that She is leading us to, the direction to go in. Just wait. And then respond. The direction comes so clearly that we feel that when we move, we are moving in a dream. We will ask, “Is this a dream? Am I really doing this?” and we will receive confirmation that we are doing the right thing.
This takes work. Work to separate ourselves from asking for advice, from seeking a sign. We move forward in a way that is mystical and yet real. And when we have done what Spirit has told us to do… yes told us, not asked us, we will know that we have done the right thing.
As we wander through this life, we are not in it alone, we are in it together. Together with Spirit and the other. The other who needs us to listen and respond. This is not about us. It is not about what we want or need. It is about what the other needs and Spirit knows that and draws us into the relationship of care.
Spirit comes to us in Truth. A Truth that is as pure and unselfish as the love that confounds us and confuses us all. A love that sometimes we doubt, question, and run from. But it is through love that Spirit speaks, and that love is not selfish, it is all encompassing.
Let yourselves act in confidence…through Spirit, Truth and love.
Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from?”
“It is DONE!” The three favorite words of any student looking at a looming assignment. For me it was my Environmental Ethics paper… all 5000 words of it. It is such a good feeling of accomplishment when we can say, “It is DONE!” For many of us we have taken on tasks while being sequestered at home during this pandemic. Things like cleaning out closets, washing windows and cleaning up our yards. After each task is completed, we stand back and say, “It is DONE!”
That is how I felt this afternoon when my “word counter” hit 5085. DONE. SEND. RELAX…and then…repeat. The next two papers are not as long or detailed, but I know that after each one I will say, “It is DONE.”
We are all looking forward to the day when we can look COVID19 in the face and say, “YOU ARE DONE.” But what we also must realize is that we are going to continue with those next steps…relax…repeat. What?? Repeat?! Yes, we now realize the ease and extent of how a pandemic works. The scientists and theologians both agree…we will be repeating this someday. This is just the beginning of a new way of the world. No longer is it just the flu that we must be aware of.
How do we relax then? I know that once my doctorate is finished it will be another item on my long list of lifelong goals checked off, not unlike cleaning out my closets, so I can relax. But knowing that somewhere out there on the horizon is another pandemic looming? I look to the Word for my instruction on how to relax. And I lift up my eyes to the mountains, knowing that God will move them for us…again. This morning as I shared my thoughts on Good Morning, Red Lodge I realized that I said that the mountain had moved out of the mist. And I did not correct myself. God can and will move the mountains for us.
We just have to relax…and stand still long enough to see them move.
May God’s peace surround you as you relax…and stand still long enough in trust that God will move that next mountain just like God has all of the others before this one.
1 Thessalonians 2:17 (NRSV) “As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”
Oh how we long to see one another…and we wait for that day when we can once again join TOGETHER in worship, meal and celebration!
Knowing that our community needed to “keep our spirits up” until that time, Bill (the Mayor) and I (the Minister) came up with the idea for a “positivity” campaign. With the help of Junction7 we have been able to plaster our “Together we can do this!” signs all over Red Lodge and those signs are now finding their way across the country. (Please note that this was a personal endeavor and we are funding it through our own donations and those from the community, not the city or the church.)
While this campaign came out of a sense of relationship and community, I can’t help but see the spiritual connections that are celebrated as well. First, we followed a nudge to talk about this as a possibility (ok, so we talk for hours on end every day…so that’s not a stretch), but when this idea “clicked” it was at the very same moment. The nudge had done her work yet again.
We are all longing for a return to our “place” of worship and celebration. We are yearning to be reunited with friends and family, a “yearn to return,” if you will, to what we once knew. “Longing with great eagerness” as Paul put it, to see each other face to face. In the meantime, we are blessed with the technology of Facebook, FaceTime and other social media platforms to “see” each other as best we can.
Some of the conveniences of those technologies will continue long after the “Stay at Home” orders are lifted. Some of the discoveries about quiet reflection time, long walks and home cooked meals will become our new normal. Some of the delightful things that we’ve discovered under the guise of being sequestered for long afternoons we will then yearn for when our doors are once again open to the public.
Separation creates a yearning of the heart that brings us together in a way that is challenging, especially when we do not have an end date. So as we continue this time apart, we know that “Together we can do this!” Together in thought, prayer and technology. Together in our yearning and in our new discoveries. Together in our hearts, minds and souls.
Together with you in every way,
“One protection we desire: that we not stumble in this life.”
From the Prayer of Thanksgiving
Every time that I approach my truck from the berm side to clean off the windshield, I am aware of the unstable-ness of my left knee. I can’t tell how deep the snow is before I hit ground and I’m not sure of what is under the snow…ice, stone, water…so I take a deep breath and very carefully plant my foot and make sure I’m stable before taking a good long reach across the windshield to clear the snow and pray under my breath, “Oh Lord don’t let me stumble.”
In this time of uncertainty, that has become my regular prayer. “Oh Lord, don’t let me stumble.” I want to get my sense of running through life with a certain feel of reckless abandon back. Like that of my granddaughter Kora in this picture, I want to just pick up my feet, spread out my arms and run like there’s nothing that is going to send me sprawling flat on my face. “Lord, do not let me stumble.” I want my pace to be uninhibited by a fear of making a mistake that will hurt someone. I find myself measuring my words before they leave my usually unfiltered mouth. “Lord, do not let me stumble.” I want my steps to take me places without having to look down and watch each one. I find myself hesitating before answering a question or giving an opinion. “Lord, do not let me stumble.” I want to have un-checked conversations about the future that go late into the night without fearing I’m being misunderstood. “Lord, do not let me stumble.” I want to pour out my praise to God without checking it to see if it’s praising God for something that I have that has brought pain to someone who lost it. “Lord, do not let me stumble.”
I have been trained and educated for disasters, including pandemics, for over a decade. And yet, here we are and all I can think is, “Oh Lord, don’t let me stumble.”
For me, the key to not stumbling is to be stabilized in my trust. Trust of God, trust of myself, and trust of the other. Trust that the ground beneath me may move, shift and be altered…and that God will lift me back up when I fall. I will be lifted by not only my strength, but by the strength of the one who discovers that I have stumbled along the way.
“Oh Lord, don’t let me stumble…and when I do, thank you for giving me someone to lift me back up.”
The video offered below is a Public Service Announcement with safety tips for grocery shopping and bringing home take out food. We hope it serves you well in this trying time.
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
“but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Oh how I have missed writing The Nudge these last few weeks. It isn’t that the Spirit hasn’t been nudging me…oh my no. Those nudges are coming fast and strong, guiding and encouraging, holding and lifting me as I learn to fully live into this role of pastor, teacher, mentor, coach, student and person.
Person? What? Learning to live into being a person? Yes… actually, that has been one of the greatest works that I’ve been doing recently. Learning to fully accept the joy that comes from following that nudge, learning to trust myself in my decisions and celebrating life to the fullest. It also means doing the work of living in the present. The sign that hangs above my desk at home reads,
“The practice of staying present will heal you. Obsessing about how the future will turn out creates anxiety. Replaying broken scenarios from the past causes anger or sadness. Stay here, in the moment.”
Some of the nudges that I received over a year ago did not make sense at the time. Now they do. While I am working hard (really, really hard) at not “replaying broken scenarios from the past” it’s fun have those “aha” moments of, “Ohhhhhh THAT’S why I got that nudge that day….” and I am so glad that I followed it. So here I am, living fully into the nudge, fully into my person-ness, fully into this journey of discovery, adventure and spirit. I hope that you will continue to accompany me on this journey of joy.
(trigger warning, this blog post is about suicide)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (from Psalm 22)
I’m beginning to think that suicide is like polio, a disease that strikes us when we are least expecting it, with no warning and total devastation, except…we don’t have a Jonas Salk. And rarely do we get the chance for an iron lung.
I first learned of suicide as a “thing” when I was 11 years old. Someone’s uncle had died by suicide and I remember being mystified. Shortly after that the hit TV series M*A*S*H came out and the theme song, “Suicide is Painless” became a tune that we all hummed…without even realizing the words. And then when I was about 13 a close family member made their first suicide attempt…and I began life under the pall of the suicide threat for the next 30 years. My family member finally found the right kind of help and is still with us… for today. My own journey with suicidality lasted from 1996-1998; that was two very scary years that I hope never to repeat. With the right medication, a great psychiatrist and a good divorce attorney I got through it. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Our children are killing themselves. There’s no easy way to say that. As a Trauma Chaplain I held the hands of too many parents whose children had died by suicide. In the shock of the moment they were, and may very well still be, completely perplexed. On a rare occasion a family member would admit that there had been multiple attempts, but for the most part it was a first, and horrifically regrettable, only attempt.
We have absolutely no idea why the human brain decides to self-destruct. We know some of the stories; bullying, relationship failure, financial failure, addiction, pharmaceuticals, school failure, a host of mental illness diagnosis; but in the end we do not know what causes the human brain to choose death. It seems to simply self-destruct.
As I sit by my window in the early morning hours waiting for the sun to rise and the snow to start, I open my hometown paper…and there’s another one. 30 years old, a fellow classmate of my nephews from back home. Gone too soon. I text my daughter-in-law just to say hi…but really…it’s to check in…and I find myself humming an all too familiar tune…”Suicide is painless It brings on many changes”…but we can no longer take or leave it if we please…Amen.
From the Psalms…”Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King.”
I often wonder how “city folk” understand eco-spirituality when their lives are filled with constant noise and movement, concrete and metal, haze and light? How do they see the moon amongst the streetlights, the stars amongst the glow of the city? How do they smell spring with the smog and hear the birds amongst the din of traffic?
I’ve lived in two cities, Philadelphia and Hartford, and I remember how it felt to get a glimpse of a sunset or to hear a robin chirp. My heartbeat would quicken, and I would stop whatever I was doing to take it in. And I would wonder, “How do people live their whole lives in cities?” The Old Testament Scriptures speaks of cities as being “fortified” and a place of being “established.” In the beginning God might have created the Garden of Eden, but it didn’t take long for humankind to put up a gate and lay claim to the property rights. Zion is referred to as the “City of God.” One of my favorite hymns is “Marching to Zion,” where all the righteous march to the City of God. I’d rather be sitting in a field watching the moon rise through the trees or sitting along the creek bank listening to the rushing water and taking in the wonder of the mountains.
I realize that my opinion sounds like judgement against the city folks, but it is more of a curiosity about how we managed to get from a garden of perfection to a world of crisis. How much of that has to do with humankind’s need for fortification and establishment? And at what cost? This semester I am enrolled in “Environmental Ethics” and part of the requirement for that class is to sit and observe my neighborhood. I am thankful that my neighborhood is fortified with trees, deer, turkey and moose. I am thankful that my establishment allows for the free movement of friends, family and visitors. And while I sit and observe what I have around me, I cannot help but wonder, is this not the original intention for the City of God?
“The stillness within will never be greater than the stillness with-out.”
What a wonderful nudge to sit with as I watch the sun remain in the sky for just a few more minutes today than yesterday…and the day before that…and the day before that…
It is such a relief when I realize that the sun has hung in the sky for a little longer today. A few more minutes to enjoy the stillness within my soul, which in turn will give me the ability to embrace the stillness on the outside. To embrace it and to create it.
Of course, the idea of creating stillness on the outside of our lives begs the question, “Can we ever be completely still?” It runs along the idea of total self-sufficiency. Depending on the level of “off the grid” that one would seek to live, we are challenged to ever be fully self-sufficient. Just having a vehicle at our disposal requires some kind of dependence on others. Having access to communication, emergency services also requires even the mountainous of mountain people to reach out to society.
The same is true for the stillness that lies “with-out” as the Spirit put it. While we walk (or ski or snowshoe) in the woods we may be away from the rumbles of vehicles, the ringing and dinging of phones, the ticking and tocking of clocks, we are still in the midst of a natural world that is completely full of the peaceful sounds of…stillness.
That stillness in the natural world…water rushing over rocks, leaves falling from trees, limbs swaying in the wind…those are the sounds of the Spirit with-out. And THAT stillness…THAT stillness can only be realized when the stillness within is just that…still.
As the sun hangs in the sky just a little longer, the temptation to fill that time with busy-ness, errands, the “one more thing” of the day is a temptation that in and of itself needs to be…stilled.
Rather than filling those extra hours of sunlight with extra “things” on my calendar, I plan to fill them with the sounds of stillness…and a deeper relationship with the sounds of the stillness “with-out.”
From a reading of Romans, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
There’s something about waiting for the snow. As I see photos being shared on Facebook from my friends and family back east, getting hammered by yet another typical Western New York snowstorm, I find myself gazing wistfully at the mountain waiting for the snow fog to cover her peak and work its way down Broadway. As I write this on Thursday morning, the peak is clear…but it’s coming…I can feel it…
I know that I need to prepare a little better for the snow that’s on its way. I need to clear the rest of the ice from December’s snow off my back walk. I need to break up what is left of the ice on my berm so that I don’t slip and fall on this next round. And I need to make sure that there’s enough salt and sand on hand for when I need it. I also know that I need to stock my pantry just in case it’s a little too slippery to make it to the store. All that…for a little snow that will be melted within a week.
So what is it about the snow that I desire? The way that it covers up everything and wipes the slate clean. All of the gray snow, the sharp edges of the ice, the sand covered berms, the brown grass that has peaked out from under the left-over snow from December. Everything will be fresh again.
Isn’t that how God’ grace works? It makes everything fresh again. Every morning, every moment. Whether I have mucked things up with trying too hard or not trying hard enough; whether I have glossed over something too quickly or spent so much time on something that other things have gone undone; whether I have not spent enough heart-time on heart -things and too much time brain-time on brain-things…God’s grace says, “Here…let’s cover all of that with my unconditional love and full acceptance…and try again…”
And I know that once that new snow comes today and tomorrow it will not last. Within a week there will once again be sandy berms, brown grass, icy sidewalks and an empty larder. But it’s Montana…and just like God’s grace…there will be more snow…and another opportunity to start fresh…again.
I love discovering new roads in and around Red Lodge. I headed out Willow Creek Road the other day to pick up a “new to me” dining room table. What a view! Sometimes it takes a trip down a different road to help us see what is right in front of us. As John the Baptist cried out to the people gathered at the river, “Prepare the way!” I wonder if he wasn’t saying, “Go a different way!” Or “Open your eyes along the way!”
That is what it takes, sometimes, to get us through this very difficult holiday season. Trying to figure out how to navigate the tricky relationship difficulties in our lives while celebrating the birth of the One who has come to heal all our tricky relationship difficulties is not easy. It takes a different way. Of course, I do not have the road map that guarantees anyone the correct way to navigate those relationships, but I do have a compass to help us stay on the road, to “keep it between the ditches” as we say back home. That compass is the one that points us to our “true north.”
That compass is prayer. Prayer in the form of stopping, breathing and saying, “Ok. You’ve got this, God.” Prayer in the form of crying out, “I just don’t know what to say next.” Prayer in the form of, “I know I can’t do this right now, so I’m stepping out.” And prayer in the form of listening for the still small voice to give us the next coordinate.
While driving down Willow Creek Road, I realized that even though I was driving my big ole’ truck, it was very slippery and I needed to navigate the twists and turns slowly and deliberately. The same can be said of navigating these painful and difficult relationships during this holiday season. Carefully…slowly…deliberately…using our compass of prayer to tell us when to turn, stop, and re-calibrate our way.
John the Baptist was the compass for Jesus, preparing the way for Him to come and be among us. If Jesus had someone to be His compass, well then I’d say that we certainly qualify to need one as well…and allowing Christ and the Spirit to be that compass through prayer is one of the best tools to take along on this precarious journey this season.
It figures that my plans for a snow Advent are not quite coordinating with the weather. Blue skies and sunshine don’t match the snowflake leggings and stole. Sunshine and bright days don’t give us the opportunity to reflect on darkness and light. The ease of traversing Broadway doesn’t give us pause for the marginalized who are caged.
This week’s studies have taken me a little deeper into my own reflections as I read about microaggression, anger and ethics. A little light reading, anyone? So, while the sun may be sunning and the bright blue skies brightening, my Advent journey has been as dark and searching as our church’s history suggests it should be.
To say that I was overjoyed at the hearing the songbirds at sunrise this morning would be an understatement. The sound of hope! The light of the morning blazing through the murky depth of self-reflection was definitely welcomed.
From the first chapter of First Corinthians: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I do truly thank God every day for each and every one of you at Red Lodge Community Church. You have made and continue to make my personal transition here a blessing. You have made and continue to make my vocational transition back to settled parish ministry a gift beyond any possible imagination. May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving week.
Philippians 3:13-14 “ Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I love having an active Christmas cactus. I say active because I’ve had Christmas cactuses in the past that never blossomed. They would just sit there, all forlorn, all year long. I’m sure it had something to do with the window they were in, or the cat that ate the buds, or the fact that I never watered the poor things. Last year I received a beautiful Christmas cactus for Christmas, and it has blossomed three times in the last year. Each time the heavily laden buds successfully bloomed into beautiful bright flowers.
There are a few things that I’ve learned over the course of the year about Christmas cactuses. First, don’t move them. Wherever you set them once you bring them home is their forever home. They don’t like to be moved. Second, feed them a cup of coffee every now and then. They like their Joe! And finally, don’t let your pet eat their buds. Now, with the exception of preventing them from being consumed, the other Christmas cactus care ideas could very well be old wives’ tales. The location and caffeination just happen to work for my blossoming Brazilian beauty.
Do you ever wonder about your ability to turn your buds into blooms? Just because you have a budding idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to bloom into a blossom of a ministry. That doesn’t mean that you don’t keep trying, though. We learn by failing. Indeed, it can become wearisome to keep trying things over and over. And yes, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be, or they are meant to take a season or two off. I don’t know if I finally succeeded at raising a living Christmas cactus because of my new ideas, my fortitude at keeping the thing alive or the luck of the draw in receiving a hearty plant. What I do know is that when I mentioned to my mom that I was going to try a Christmas cactus one more time she was happy to impart her wisdom as to why her 30 year old Christmas cactus that was now the size of a small child always produced voluptuous volumes of beautiful blossoms throughout the year. (Of course, the fact that mom hasn’t had a housecat in 40 years probably helped as well.)
One of the things that I love about our church and my ministry here is the fact that we try new things. And we are allowed to fail. Unlike my Christmas cactus, we don’t get stuck in the same place. We move on, we try different views. (And just like my Christmas cactus, we are fueled by vast amounts of caffeine!) Next week I will be in Pittsburgh teaching other pastors how to transition their churches from a place of dormancy to a place of renewal. One of those lessons is about trying even though they might fail. And I will also be sitting in on classes about new ideas for ministries. New ways to fail, and how to fail well.
By the time I return the beautiful pink buds of my Christmas cactus will be falling off. And I know that in a couple of months the tiny buds will again appear, stretch and grown into another round of bright pink beacons of hope. A reminder that not giving up on trying something new sometimes takes a few years and it is always worth the effort…as long as you try with a good strong cup of Joe.
Red Lodge Community Church - A place where Spirit and so much more happens!
308 S. Broadway
Red Lodge, Montana