What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-13-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-13-20

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the third week of Lent! We’re haflway through our season of fasting and prayer that ends Easter Sunday! How’s your practice been going? Last Sunday Connecticut shifted to Daylight Savings Time, so now when I get up for my 35 minutes of meditation-prayer, it’s not only quiet but also dark in the house. The pets scamper and wag until I fill their bowls with breakfast. Then I sit on my cushion while morning light slowly fills the sunporch. It sounds lovely. And it is lovely. But while the universe simply does it’s thing without anxiety or self-centered thought, I’m faced with my racing mind. I rehearse conversations I had the night before: “I should have said this!” I write sermons. I add to my to do list. Part of the value of sitting still in silence is accepting the mess that is my own mind. This is important because accepting my own mess is the first step in taking responsibility for it. 

While I sit as still as possible I bring my attention to the breath. (Remember: “breath” and “spirit” are the same word in the Bible’s original languages!) My mind inevitably scampers away like a puppy that isn’t yet housebroken, but that’s OK. Puppies scamper. Minds wander. That’s just the nature of puppies and minds. Nevertheless, eventually attention returns to the breath. The longer I remain still, the longer attention remains on the breath. Mind stills. The puppy settles down. I notice a clear, calm space near my heart center. Not everything’s a mess after all. A pure, unchanging oasis exists. I can access it. And so can you.

When my youngest daughter, Olivia, was old enough, Nicole and I invited her to take responsibility for tidying up her own bedroom. Mostly this meant putting her toys in the toybox and books on the bookshelf. Nicole and I did this not because we were trying to be mean, horrible parents, but because we believed (and still believe) that learning to take responsibility for your own mess is a key piece of becoming a mature adult. Nevertheless, Olivia spent hours sitting in the middle of her mess screaming and crying and yelling, “I can’t do it, daddy.” Hoping that Nicole or I would relent and clean up her mess for her. It was tempting. Who wants to listen to a child scream for hours on end? 

Instead, I would sit with her in her mess, point to a toy, and say, “Pick up that toy and put it in the box.” When she was truly and finally convinced that I would not clean up her mess for her, Olivia might venture to put a toy in the toybox. Then I’d point to another and repeat the process. It was excruciating and time consuming. No doubt it would have been quicker for me to clean her room for her. But I loved her, and I wanted her to grow into an adult that could take care of herself, so I persisted.

Our Scripture for this coming Sunday comes from Exodus 17. It is one of many “complaint” stories from the Israelites’ wilderness journey. Compared to the reliably brutal structure of Egyptian slavery, freedom in the wilderness was messy and anxiety provoking. The Israelites complained against Moses saying they would rather go back to Egypt than continue through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God’s response to the people’s complaints varied from providing for them to punishing them for their lack of faith.

A key to successful transition is handling anxiety and the resulting complaints. Some complaints express legitimate needs of the community. Even though Olivia was old enough to clean her room, she was not old enough to make her own supper. The need for supper was a legitimate need, so Nicole and I fed her supper, of course. Sometimes, however, complaints arise from emotional or spiritual immaturity. In this case, it is incredibly important for leadership NOT to give in to complaints. Rather, compassionate leadership will equip individuals with the tools to tend to their own mess. Just like each of us has a role to play in maintaining a safe space in church by taking responsibility for washing our own hands and managing our own health, each of us has a role to play in maintaining a safe emotional space by finding effective ways to manage our own anxiety.

Pastor’s Page March 2020

Pastor’s Page March 2020

March brings us to the church season of Lent. Lent is 40 days of spiritual preparation for Easter. The 40 days of Lent correspond to the 40 days of spiritual preparation Jesus did before launching his public ministry. Scripture tells us that Jesus’ spiritual preparation involved 40 days of prayer, fasting, and temptation in the “wilderness.” Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness echo the 40 days and 40 nights of the great flood that was God’s great “do-over” with humanity. It also echoes the Israelites’ 40 years sojourn through the wilderness, which was less about getting to a geographical location called Canaan, and more about shifting spiritual orientation away from a culture of enslavement and toward a culture of freedom.

“Wilderness” is the metaphor author William Bridges uses to describe the time between the ending of an old identity and way of doing things and the beginning of a new identity and way of doing things. In the three phases of transition–ending, neutral zone, new beginning–wilderness is the “neutral zone,” the “in between time.”

We as a congregation are rapidly moving into the neutral zone wilderness. So the timing of Lent is particularly fortuitous this year. It will give us an opportunity to study more closely the dynamics of the neutral zone and develop strategies for gracefully moving through it. 

Many people make spiritual preparation for Easter by taking on a spiritual discipline for Lent. Some give up caffeine or chocolate or alcohol in imitation of Jesus’ fast. I think that’s great. Do what makes sense to you. You might also consider simply making a commitment to worship every Sunday. If you already do that, consider inviting a friend. Wilderness journeys involve risk and discomfort. What do you think it was like for Jesus alone in the desert for 40 days? If inviting a friend feels risky and uncomfortable for you, Lent might be the perfect time to take that adventure. If you’d like some personal coaching around that, see me! I’m happy to help. 

Pastor’s Page February 2020

Pastor’s Page Feb. 2020

February is discernment month for First Church Granby. Feb. 9 following worship will be our annual congregational “discernment” meeting. I think it’s great that FCCG has one meeting a year devoted to the spiritual practice of discernment. There are many different approaches to discernment. You can find a number of different examples in the Bible: prayer and fasting, casting lots, consulting prophets, rituals involving sacrifice, pilgrimage. Gideon famously put fleece outside overnight to discern what God wanted him to do in battle. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. We won’t be doing any of these things. We will be doing prayer and conversation. But what all these have in common is the ancient human attempt to determine what God wants or what God is up to, in more formal language, “divine will.” 

Divine will is a notoriously difficult thing to determine. The Bible is full of stories of individuals who claimed to know the divine will when, it turns out, they didn’t. The results are usually unpleasant. So humility is the first and most important quality to bring to discernment. The second is patience. Scripture says that “the Spirit moves where it will.” God answers in God’s good time. And sometimes the answer is silence. In which case, we might decide to sit with the question a while longer. But I want to encourage us that it is indeed possible to discern God’s deepest longing for us. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed it happen in congregations. We’ll know we’ve nailed it when there is a moment of connection, joy, and release. God’s will may not be pleasant. God may not be inviting us to do something we particularly want to do. But there is joy and release knowing it’s the right thing to do. There is a deep sense of connection knowing that in the long run discerning and doing God’s will leads to abundant life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.

So don’t miss worship Feb. 9 and stay for the meeting after. Our transition coach, Claire Bamberg will be joining us and facilitating a discernment discussion on the topic of “What is Your ‘Why’?”

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-16-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-16-20

I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning this week on meditation retreat. I came home and took a nap. Why? Because sitting on the floor in silence while maintaining as still a posture as possible for 10 hours a day is, in fact, exhausting. Why do I do it? Scripture says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Humans like to move. We rush around doing this and that. But even if we’re “vegging out,” our minds jump from this thought to that thought. The practice of meditation is stilling the body and mind together to become completely still like water on a pond. It turns out that the Bible is true! I can attest that cultivating stillness does, in fact, create circumstances in which God can be encountered in a profoundly life-changing way.

When asked my purpose, I tend to say “Helping people connect to God.” How can I help people connect to God if I am not myself living out of that connection? As a personal purpose statement, “helping people connect to God” seems to work for me. Working with our transition coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, has taught me to ask a different question, namely, what is your “Why?” I realized this week that “helping people connect to God” doesn’t answer the “why” question. Why help people connect to God? Great question!

I don’t know the answer, yet, exactly. Maybe something like this: I know the pain of being separated from one’s deepest longing. I also know the joy of connection. A world of joyful, connected people is a world I want to live in. 

As a congregation articulating a “why” is vital to our future. More important than what we do is being clear why we do it. Claire will be leading us in a congregational conversation about our why. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to watch these short videos and think about what is your “why” and what is FCC Granby’s “why.” The videos show why the question of “why” is so important.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-26-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-25-19

A print of bricolage artwork that hangs on the wall of my church office speaks to my understanding of hope. It shows two sparrows with twigs in their beaks flying above a jumble of houses and buildings, some tipped over. The landscape is jagged clump of fragments above which float fluffy green-gray clouds and an orange sun that looks a bit like a basketball. (I don’t know what the weird, brown, rock-looking things in the sky are. Giant meteors?) It’s not a particularly attractive piece. I bought it primarily for the quotation at the top: “. . . We are not in the least afraid of ruins . . . We carry a new world here in our hearts . . . .”

The quote is from Buenaventura Durruti. I didn’t know who Durruti was when I purchased the print from a funky little craft store in downtown Providence. At the time I was pastoring a dying congregation through a major transition, and the words along with the image resonated with me. The congregation knew that things were falling apart. They saw all the empty pews every Sunday. And they were afraid. Their fear, however, just made things worse. The more they tried to control the situation, the faster things deteriorated. Part of my job was to help the congregation calm down, step back, and accept that things would never be the way they were. The spiritual practice of simply sitting in the ruins of what once was creates a space in which a new world can arise. Later I learned that Durruti died fighting Facists during the Spanish Civil War. Key to Durruti’s struggle for a more just world was the ability to courageously face the ruins while carrying a new world in his heart.

The sparrows in the bricolage remind me of Jesus’ teachings on fear. In the Gospel of Matthew he says: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father . . . So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (10:29, 31). Durruti also found courage in Jesus’ words, specifically the promise that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Durruti could face the ruins because he trusted the promises.

Once in a while as I work with a church in transition a member uncomfortable with change will say, “You are ruining my church.” That is 100% untrue. All I am doing is facing the falling apart that is already underway and inviting others to do the same. Why? Because I am committed to living not some fantasy world where nothing ever changes but in the reality that a new world is possible if we get out of the way long enough to let God bring it forth.

A new world is absolutely possible. It can’t be controlled. It can’t be manufactured. It emerges on it’s own timetable and in it’s own form. Our job as Christians is to observe and nurture it. That is difficult to do if we allow either despair or anxiety to take over. 

Hope is the theme for the first Sunday in Advent. The difference between Biblical hope and false hope is that Biblical hope courageously faces the impermance of every human endeavor. There are always ruins to face because always somewhere something is falling apart. Biblical hope as opposed to false hope trusts not humanity’s ability to create the world we long for but in God’s ability to keep God’s promises and our ability to cooperate with God’s work in our world. In the immortal words of songwriter Leonard Cohen: 

Ring the bells that still can ring 

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything 

That’s how the light gets in

Maybe your new world isn’t in some far off place at some far off time. What if it’s shining through the ruins right now? Will you notice it? Will you nurture it? Will you, even now, celebrate the abundance to come?