Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Picnics


There are two images that come to mind when I think of picnics.

image from "quotesgram.com" 
The first is obvious:  Yogi Bear—the Hanna-Barbera cartoon bear who made his debut in 1958…27 years before I was born.

What I remember about the ‘smarter than the av-er-age bear’ character were his silly antics in the fictional Jellystone Park. If you remember, Yogi speaks in rhyme and uses a plethora of puns. My guess is that if you aren’t familiar with the show, then at one point or another you’ve heard one of his famous catchphrases:  “Hey there, Boo!” Or perhaps you have heard someone refer to a ‘picnic basket’ in the manner Yogi did: “pic-a-nic baskets.’

Yogi was always up to something and it was usually attempting to steal the picnic baskets of campers. This, of course, always made me want to go on a picnic, while at the same time made me quite terrified that at some point a tie-donning bear (why in the world is he wearing a tie anyway? Does he not know he has no shirt or pants on?) would jump out from behind the tree and steal my food!

My only saving grace is that we never had a wicker picnic basket. Just Tupperware, which I was confident Yogi wouldn’t be able to figure out.

Eventually this silly fear went away. Thank goodness, because some of my favorite memories are centered on a plastic table cloth, paper plates, and blue Solo cups covering a picnic table in a park with family surrounding me.

It was a practice of my extended family to gather for a picnic as often as we could during the summer, especially for those special occasions such as Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July.

I loved these days. Not only because of the food we had, but because it was a celebration, a different way of being with each other. Us grandkids would bring our ball gloves and play catch or hotbox until our faces were beat red and a sweat halo hovered at the base of our ball caps. Then, when it was time to eat, my grandpa would offer up the prayer, followed by a ‘speech’ letting everyone know how proud he was of us.

Then we would dig in.

Each picnic was practically the same. The food and the conversations were as predictable as the life lesson presented at the end of each Yogi Bear cartoon.

Therein lies the paradox of picnics. In the predictability of a picnic lies the promise of possibility when God's people gather to share life, tell stories, and break bread. Picnics provide the needed space for the Spirit to bind our hearts, as well as our appetites, to the very core of Jesus, who, when he was at supper with his closest friends, offered them peace, God's own peace.

What has become clear to me, friends, over the years is that the most sacred moments, the ones I return to for comfort the way I do with the mac and cheese, take place around the table with family, friends, and even strangers.

Ultimately, for me, picnics are not about the cuisine, rather they are about community. It is about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our picnic baskets, look into one another’s faces, and listen to one another’s stories.

This Sunday we will worship at Kickapoo Park at 10 a.m. Then, immediately following, we will gather around picnic tables and break bread. My hope is that you will join us and share your story with me over cheesy potatoes and fried chicken.

I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Though I can’t promise you Yogi won’t make an appearance…

Friday, May 13, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Burgundy Robes

“If we strive to be happy by filling all the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all life’s leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth.” ~Thomas Merton

Consider your place of worship on the day you worship.

Think about all that makes this space beautiful.

The organ pipes. The stained-glass windows. The choir members in their burgundy robes. Then of course, the people in the pews.

Now, consider the movement of the worship service.

From the moment those bells sing to indicate something is about to happen, to the very end when the benediction is offered, there is something going on.

Now, do me a favor, please.

Consider the silence.

Where does silence occur in your worship?

Good Reformed folk will be quick to point out our silence during confession. We are great at not only holding onto but also claiming our depravity.

Where else is there silence? Like, intentional silence? Not the silence where someone forgot their part or the pastor lost the bulletin.


Okay, we get it. You want us to pay attention to the silence.

But what’s the point? Everything we do in worship has meaning. Just check the Directory for Worship. Nothing is done in a half-hazard way.

I recently heard in an On Being podcast that can answer this question:

Mother Theresa was once asked about her prayer life.
The interviewer asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”

Believing he understood what she had just said, the interviewer next asked, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”

Mother Teresa replied, “He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.”

There was a long silence, with the interviewer seeming a bit confused and not knowing what to ask next.

Finally Mother Teresa breaks the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”

In a vocation and denomination that prides itself on words, here is something to remember:  the practice of silence is the prerequisite for coming to know God. Essentially, silence gives us the language to commune with God where are words are incapable of doing. 

Take time to listen, friends. To others. To yourself. 

With God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Grandpa's Gaze

My grandpa does this thing when I visit with him that I never really noticed until recently.

When there is a pause in conversation and I begin to glance around the room, when I look back at him, he smiles.

While I look for the next topic to discuss, he has not removed his eyes from me. His gaze warms my heart…but also has me wondering, what in the world is he staring at me for?

Do I have something on my face?

Is he wondering what he is going to have for supper?

Or is he contemplating me the way a grandfather does of a grandson, admiring who I am as a person because of who he is as one?

Regardless the reason behind it, it is a feeling I find comforting. His brief smile when our eyes reconnect is a type of blessing for me. It is as if he is saying, “I’m proud of you, grandson.”

He gets it. He understands the importance of being present.

The same cannot be said when I am with my friends.

Not because we don’t think the world of each other, but because, we are less present with one another.

When I’m with my grandpa, the only competition I have is age and the effect it has on ears that are 92 years old.

With my friends or other members of my family we are very distracted. Most of us have our cell phones on the table waiting for it to flash, ding, or buzz. And when it isn’t flashing, dinging, or buzzing, we have a tendency to pick up our phones, gazing into the lights the way my grandfather gazes at his grandsons, hoping to connect with someone something.

I wonder, how much do we miss because of technology?

As I caught myself doing this at lunch last week, I did a little research and Googled statistics about phone use.

Here is a stat I found in a Time Magazine article that overwhelms me but doesn’t surprise me:  The average person looks at his or her phone 46 times every day.[1] The article goes on to say, “Although 46 checks per day is the average, that number varies depending on users’ age group. Those between the ages of 18 and 24 look at their phones most often, with an average of 74 checks per day. Americans in the 25-34 age bracket look at their devices 50 times per day, and those between 35 and 44 do so 35 times each day.


That is a lot of unnecessary screen time.

Part of what makes Jesus so compelling is his presence with people. Granted, Jesus didn’t live in an age where he could ‘connect’ with people through a cell phone. He did, however, travel around with twelve people who were pretty demanding of his time. Jesus knew how to be with people, how to give them all of his attention, and in doing so, validated their lives and their humanness. People in the Gospels felt loved and knew they were loved by simply being with Jesus.

Perhaps you don’t have a cell phone and thus this post is irrelevant to you. Or maybe you do have a phone and you have more self-control than the average American. For that I applaud you.

For the rest of us, let’s make a promise to pay attention more to those with whom we are dining. Turn off the TV with the floating heads in the background, put aside the newspaper you always read during your meal with your spouse, and leave the cell phone in the car the next time you go out with people. Let’s promise that we will do our very best to be completely present to those we share life with.

And when there is a pause in conversation, don’t be so quick to look away or find something to say.

Instead, just be with each other, gazing at each other in a way God gazes upon us in all our humanity.

The way my grandfather gazes at me when we are together.

[1] Lisa Eadicicoo. Time. “Americans Check Their Phones 8 Billion Times A Day.” Accessed May 01, 2016.