I Had A Dream

It is still dark outside, very early in the morning. Nancy is still asleep as are the dogs, but here I am at my laptop. I woke up early, as is the case at times, but this time I woke up from a dream, a dream I at least partially remember. This dream raised questions, was instructive and so I want to share the wanderings of my mind.

In the dream I was to officiate at a memorial service or was it a funeral or was it to be a “celebration of life?” Whose memorial? I do not know. Where was the service? I do not know. This dream simply raised the question “Do we know how to grieve?” I know that this is a heavy topic, one we do not want to read about, think about, for we avoid death, deny death at every turn.

Today in many, do I even say most, congregations we have “Celebrations of Life” and not memorial services. We are long past the decades of funeral services with an open casket, and we have even evolved into remembering all the positive stories about our loved ones rather than grieving the loss of our beloved.

Is that bad? No, not exactly. We need to remember, to remember the positive impact of our loved ones upon our lives. We need to share those stories. It is important and the sharing of those stories is also a part of the grieving process, and yet….

In our “Celebrations of Life” do we want to avoid Good Friday, death? Do we want to avoid Holy Saturday, the time between death and new life, the time of uncertain waiting, of longing, of grieving, of hoping beyond hope? Do we simply want to pole vault over death and grief to the resurrection, to new life? In the Christian tradition whole denominations seem to ignore Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus and energetically celebrate the Resurrection on Easter. We want to deny death, sugar coat it, avoid it and so we race to “Celebration.”

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (I Thessalonians 4:13b, RSV) Beth Allen Slevcove in the helpful book Broken Hallelujahs wrote, ” Grief work is culturally inappropriate behavior.”  (p. 95) But when we deny grief we deny reality and we are not prepared for the entry of resurrection newness. Again Slevcove wrote, “Our deepest places of hope and vision often correspond to our greatest places of wounding.” (ibid, p. 87)

And yet each of us grieve in our own way. Each of us grieve on our own time table. People grieve, not as I think they should or as others advise them, but let each of us grieve as we know how. May we grieve so that the reality of all our Good Friday loses are acknowledged and the questions and doubts and uncertainties of our Holy Saturdays are surfaced and then God will break open our tombs of death and even denials into the newness of the Easter Resurrection.

I had a dream and that dream left me with questions and so I leave you also with questions.

*How do you grieve the big and the little loses of your life? *Is there a place in your life to acknowledge death and to allow it to teach you the lessons that you need to learn? *How has Easter mornings brought about new life for you from the pain of Good Friday and perceived hopelessness of Holy Saturday?

“You are the most political pastor I have ever had!”

There was a knock at my office door. In marched a couple ready for battle. “You are the most political pastor we have ever had,” they began. I was completely caught off guard. It turned out that the tipping point for this couple was a comment that I had made in a sermon that I would like to sit down for coffee with Jimmy Carter or Bishop Tutu. They thought that I should have said “Martin Luther,” but to be honest, Martin Luther was not on my list of desired coffee partners, or more correctly mochas for me. The couple ended up leaving the congregation.

Many years later I used that situation in a sermon in another congregation. Shortly afterward a respected, retired member of the congregation came into my office and said, “You are the most political pastor I have ever had!” Now the statement became a teaching time for me, for it was said in love and not anger, said in support not attack, said in encouragement and not an attempt to prove a point. I learned how my “one-liners,” though never specifically talking about politics, were always from a certain political persuasion. I will forever be thankful for this “elder” of the congregation who invested in me, one of his pastors.

Now in retirement I ponder deeply the political situation of our nation and our responsibility as followers of Christ. Unfortunately feeding the hungry and taking care of the stranger, assisting the immigrant and supporting families pulled apart for political advantage are often not understood as rooted in our life of faith as Christians. It petrifies me that political leaders proclaim statements that are not based on truth, but are in fact lies, and millions of people believe such falsehood.

It greatly saddens me that so many people, even Christians, demonize opponents rather than learn from those of a different political or religious persuasion. I have heard of verbal attacks upon Muslim Congressional leaders simply because they are Muslim. What is the responsibility of the Church and of followers of Christ to confront such vilification? Can a Christian confront legal authority? Even more convicting, I ask myself, “How can I say and do nothing?”

Our President usually characterizes the people coming to our borders from the South as rapists, killers and drug peddlers while also saying in a tweet, “And some I assume are good people.” I make the opposite assumption: most are good people fleeing violence, seeking peace, and seeking life-giving employment and I assume that some are rapists, killers and drug peddlers. This is the same tension that is within me as I walk down any street in the United States. There is a tension, a quandary in which I find myself, for I assume that there are people of good repute and others with evil intentions, and I am called to be discerning while at the same time to reach out to all, to love all, and to see Christ in all.

I have recently come across the poem Easter Morning  by William Stafford.

Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
“Repent,” and you say, “Come on in,” and it’s
Jesus. That’s when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, “I’m still here,” and you know it’s true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, “I’ve got a deal
for you.” And you listen, because that’s how
you’re trained – they told you, “Always hear both sides.”
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you’re getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I’d say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”

We are left with a tension, even a decision. As followers of Christ I cannot simply stay safely behind a locked door because it is the best for me and mine. No, I am called to open the door, perhaps with the screen locked, but I lean forward to be a servant of ALL PEOPLE, for in all people I see Christ.

And now if someone is to say, “Stan, you are being too political,” I can answer “You’re right. I am political and so were the prophets of old and so was Jesus and so were his followers as they proclaimed that they were to follow God and not what the governing authorities proclaimed.”

My position might not always be safe. Nor perhaps my assumptions and even my beliefs might not always right, but my choice is to open the door and see Jesus in the faces of people on our southern border.

Snow Days…Waiting Days

So many of us in Northwest Washington are experiencing a barrage of snow, day after day. Yesterday, as snow continued to pile up, I reflected upon some questions from Paula Mitchell, my spiritual director, who recently led “A Day of Prayer and Reflection” at First Presbyterian Church in Port Angeles. Some of the questions included the following:

  • Where does your life seem to be unfolding too slowly?
  • Where are you tempted to hurry growth?
  • Where are you impatient?
  • What might God be teaching you as you wait?

The correlation between the need to be patient during what I and others call “the slow work of God,” and the attitudes and actions needed during “snow days” is strikingly clear to me. The reality of present life dictated by snow and the working of the Spirit of God is definitely complementary. My wife Nancy and I are waiting for God to lead us in the next phase of our lives. So what have I learned?

  • There is absolute beauty during snow days, especially when one has the luxury of shelter and warmth. It is one thing to see the beauty of snow but it is so much harder to be attentive to our invisible God. So the question is “How do I observe God’s beauty when God seems to be so slow?” The answer can be found in being attentive to “what is,” not what I want or what I expect. I am slowly learning to be attentive to what is in front of me at the present time and that is a foot of snow, but how do I see God in that snow.
  • During snow days we take care of the tiny birds on our deck. Care for the birds is what is in front of me at the present time. That is what God is calling me to do right now, not something grand and glorious. Simply care for the tiny birds. I do not have to sit and wait for something else to do, but rather simply take care of God’s creatures.
  • Waiting for God, as well as waiting during snow days for roads to open up or warmer weather to come, is all out of my control. Sounds obvious, but for a person who likes to be in control, waiting and giving up control are on-going lessons to be learned.
  • Waiting in snow days, and especially waiting through the apocalyptic snows that have hit Sequim, WA (the banana belt region of Western Washington) demands that I reign in my restlessness and stay off the roads. The answer is the same in my relationship with God: I need to wait, not rush ahead, but rather enjoy each moment.
  • During this week of intermittent snow there have been “break days” when the snow has stopped, snow plows have been at work, and there is an opening to go out for a mocha and visit family and friends. In waiting for God to show us what might be the next venture in our lives, there are times we simply have to “do what is in front of us,” what is needed at the moment, such as “go out for a mocha and visit family and friends.” That might be exactly what God has in mind for us at the moment.
  • These snow days have also allowed Nancy and I the time and opportunity to invite one of our neighbors over for dinner. Waiting for God does not mean we do nothing but sit and pray. We do what we can do in the moment….such as having a meal with our neighbor.

What has God taught you during the snow days?