Monday, September 17, 2018

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Fall-se Self

"What is your greatest obstacle to your deepest prayer?” This question posed by monks living in the Egyptian desert is as relevant today as it was in the fourth century. What blocks us from living out our deepest prayer is ourselves. Identifying how we block our own spiritual progress requires consistent self-observation, appropriate questions for self-reflection, and a supportive community. The Enneagram (ennea is Greek for nine) is an ancient map of process and self-discovery that is an effective tool for personal, professional and spiritual growth.

         I am excited about this fall. Having completed a pretty busy summer, it will be nice to return to familiar routines and practices such as enjoying Kirk Nights, hearing the choir on Sunday mornings, and writing for the church’s blog. This fall will be unlike any before!
A significant focus for me (and I hope for us) during this upcoming season will be exploring who we are as children of God. In sermons, casual conversations, and in studies, I’m sure you have heard me say once or twice that we must recover our original name—a line borrowed from my favorite monk, Thomas Merton. Like I mentioned in last week’s sermon, long before we chose our vocation or anything about this life, God chose us. What does this mean? What it means now is not the same as what it meant ten, fifteen, or forty years ago. Or does it? Perhaps there is something persistent despite changing years. For this reason, I am having our church study and reflect on the Enneagram. The best explanation about the Enneagram comes from Father Richard Rohr, who writes:
The Enneagram is a dynamic system. It was developed primarily in an oral tradition, in the context of relationships between students and teachers. A “dynamic system” is one that recognizes that humans are far too complex and nuanced to fit easily into simple categories; it supports the evolving, maturing human journey.
The Enneagram is not a strict law or code. Its categories are not meant to bind or restrict you to a certain way of being and living. People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but it actually works to free people from their self-created boxes.
I truly believe until we understand who we are as individuals, we can’t know who we are as a community of faith. If you have paid attention to the sermon series over the summer, you probably picked up on how being our most authentic self (both as individuals and as a community) has always been a struggle for God’s people. Did you know that the author of James argues that God never sends evil!? In contrast to those who can’t commit wholeheartedly to God and to the changing reality, God is faithful both to God’s own gracious, self-giving character and to God’s beloved. 
            James would also say that God has gifted us with what we need to be the people of heaven on earth. James might add (and so do I for that matter), the inner battle is rooted in our own self-centered desires. James describes such attractions as an almost irresistible lure that baits us like dumb animals. I find this explanation to be helpful: Once we bit, the natural history of desire plays out: with our cooperation, selfish desire conceives and births sin; and once mature, sin spawns death.
            However, God stands outside our natural progression of desire, sin, and death—as the one who is not tempted to be self-centered nor tempts anyone! Instead, God models other-centeredness; indeed, James teaches that all giving originates in God, who is always and forever the great giver. From the beginning of creation to the liberation of Israel, and to the Christ-moment, God shares freely and without discrimination. It’s as if to say: God is responsible for a competing progression: according to God’s loving purpose, God births believers through the word of truth; once birthed, these first fruits of new creation offer promise to all.[1] As the first fruits of God, we as the Body of Christ, are the tangible evidence of the in-breaking of God’s gracious and gentle rule. Which is why James essentially says, to know the word of God (or what God wants) and not to do it is silly!
            Just as God cannot be boxed in, neither can we as God’s people. For this very reason, it is important for us to return to center, to the Wisdom of God implanted in us from the beginning, so we do not forget who and whose we are. There’s no better time to let go of our false selves and all the baggage that comes with that person, than the season of Fall!

[1] McKnight, Edgar V., and Christopher Lee Church. Hebrews-James. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Pub., 2004. Page 342

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Treasures In a Half Shell

My treasure from a friend. Before the puddles dry up, I challenge you
to look for the places in your yard, the street, or park, that hold water.
When you find them, pause, remember your baptism and be thankful. Then,
share with others where you found these little pools of grace!

It could not have worked out any better.

About 12:45 pm is when the fire alarm started going off. Don’t worry, I didn’t cause it. Nor was there an emergency at all. The internet provider was aware of the outage and would have us up and running by 4:59 pm. With nothing but email and correspondence planned for the afternoon, most of which required the internet, I decided to make the trek home and work there alongside my two Golden assistance, who often provide better commentary than I ever could.

It was 3:13 pm when I looked at my phone and saw an update from the Weather Channel informing me that it was raining outside. One would think I wouldn't need my phone to tell me it is raining outside, but I did. I'm glad it did because it stopped me from working and brought me face to face with a restlessness I've been carrying around.

I don’t know why this happens to me every time it rains. Perhaps the child in me takes literally the story of God hanging her Bow in the air after the flood to remind God’s people of Her promise.
Perhaps it is the inner child in me waging war with the professional adult me insisting I go out in the rain with no shoes on and jump in a puddle.

Maybe it’s the pastor in me that breathes a sigh of relief for our farmers who see their prayers answered.

Maybe it’s the reality that I needed a kind word today, a refreshing word, a cool word, a word that offered assurance that no matter what has happened, I am God’s beloved.

 As I listened to the bird's silence and the flowers slurp up this free drink, something shiny on my patio table grabbed my attention. It was a treasure a friend gifted me with from a recent hike. It wasn't the type of treasure Jack Sparrow sought after, but instead, it was one of those gifts from nature. You know, like a feather from a Bluejay, or a perfectly round rock. In this case, the treasure was two mussel shells sparkling in the rain and dancing in the light of the sun creeping out from behind the clouds.

There’s nothing unusual about this shell. In fact, you could probably go and get one from the same creek they did.

What was different about it today? What about this ordinary shell gave me that peace my spirit needed and the hope my heart desired?

Nothing except instead of the hard outer shell facing up, the underside, or the part where the soft, inner body once resided, was open wide to the rain collecting water--like a pool, or a baptismal font.

Something ordinary and seemingly useless suddenly became a medium for an expression of an inward grace—that God’s here and alive in the world even now.

That’s the story of God though, isn’t it? It is one of relentless pursuit on God’s part and determined resistance on our end. And yet, no matter how much we run amuck and mess things up, God is there to offer forgiveness and healing, rest and assurance that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.

As the rain lets up, I’m left grateful that the fire alarm went off and the internet was down. I had to change location, and in so doing, was given a new perspective of a shell transformed into a cup of grace.

Maybe I would have missed the storm and the little reminder of God’s goodness in the world. Perhaps not.

What I do know is that today a little after 3:30 pm, I remembered my baptism and was thankful, and it worked out quite alright.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Vacation Bible School

This isn't so much of a post as it is an announcement.

VBS is coming to St. John UCC and First Presbyterian Church! So tell your friends and neighbors, family and coworkers, that they won't want to miss out at this unique VBS opportunity.

We will explore the theme of God as Creator, Christ as Healer, and the Spirit as life-giver. Each night will use different activities to bring the story of God to life--painting, singing, dancing, creating, playing, and being!

Want more information? See the picture below. Still wanting to know more? Feel free to email First Presbyterian Church at requesting a pdf flyer. Or call the church office at 217-732-6141.

This will be an excellent time for your students to connect with each other, the mentors who will be helping at these events, and the God who knows us by name.

See you on Tuesdays: June 26, July 24, and August 21!

Note: we encourage you to pre-register but it is not required!

Embark on an Adventure
leading straight to
the of God!

Children: Pre-K to rising Freshmen

June 26
@ First Presbyterian

July 24
@ St. John UCC

August 21
@ First Presbyterian

5:30-5:45       Same Day Registration & Check-in
5:45-6:15       Free dinner, provided by your St. John & First Presbyterian friends
6:15-6:30       Worship
6:30-7:20       Godly Play—From Nothing to Something: Activities and Lesson About Creation

7:20-7:30       Closing Ritual

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Rest Word

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from the Holy One. God alone is my rock and my salvation; God is my fortress, I will never be shaken. ~Psalm 62:1-2

What an exciting time of the year!

School is out for the summer. Teachers can catch their breath before they begin planning for the next academic term. Students get to participate in extracurricular activities like music camp, church camp, and all the sports. Parents and grandparents, perhaps they aren’t as excited since this means finding babysitters or planning events to keep their little ones busy. Gardens are bursting with life as the extreme heat of summer moves in along with those pesky, isolated thunderstorms. The air smells of bar-b-cues and freshly cut grass. The neighborhoods are coming alive, festival season commences, and farmers come to the market with their early harvests and are even preparing for the autumn harvesting season.

A different rhythm has started. Things look and feel and smell and taste different. It all is good.

In the church, we start a new season. Well, not really. We enter into a familiar season known as “Ordinary Time.” The golds of Easter and the red of Pentecost have been neatly folded and placed in their hiding places until they reemerge for next year’s lectionary cycle, Year C. Like the grass in our yards, the paraments on the pulpit lectern, the one draped on the altar (table ?), and the pastor’s stole turn green. During the time of the year when communities come alive with activity, for those of us who follow the liturgical seasons, church may seem… well… dull, bland, and

Ordinary isn’t bad. Ordinary is good. In fact, I think it is an invitation. It is an invitation for us to continue the practices we have picked up thus far and to explore further what we may need to let go of to see God’s presence in our lives. It is a season ripe for naming God’s presence in cookouts and block parties when you’re knee-deep in the garden or watching your kids run through the sprinkler. This season on the other side of Pentecost is also the perfect time to respond to the Spirit’s prompting in your life to volunteer at the food pantry, lead a lesson at Vacation Bible School, or write that note you’ve been meaning to write your dear friend who is having a hard time.

For me, I’m using the reentry into “ordinary” time by revisiting my Epiphany word. Y’all remember these we handed out at church, eh? They were little starfish with words written on them, and they were meant to inspire you to do whatever word you received. Mine was “rest.”

Rest. So ordinary, right? Yet, my calendar is as full now as it was in Advent and Lent. My little Jeep Cherokee named Vic will traverse all over central Illinois for appointments and visits. In the coming weeks, I have meetings in Peoria and Petersburg, Pleasant Plains and Middletown…and beyond. If there was ever a time for me to stop and reflect on my epiphany word, it is now.
            When I am in a rush, I am easily distracted and not often present with the people in my life.
When I am busy, I am not usually my best self.
When I’m tired, I’m quickly overwhelmed and am left buried beneath despair and fatigue.


It’s as though the Spirit knew on Epiphany what my spirit would need after Pentecost… in the ordinariness of life. Welcome, summer. Welcome, Ordinary Time. Welcome, rest.

God rested. We must, too.

What was your word? How might you ponder its meaning in your life? How can you embrace God’s guiding light in your life?