The Chasm

Pulpit Rock? Maybe?

Pulpit Rock? Maybe?

I love National Parks. I grew up going to school with park rangers’ kids not half an hour from the entrance to Mt. Rainier NP, and it was certainly monthly entertainment for my family to go hiking up the Nisqually valley. This last trip of mine was a four-NP run – Yosemite (an old friend), Great Basin, Capitol Reef, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, those last three all new stamps in my National Parks Passport. I didn’t see much of Great Basin, and you can see some pictures from Capitol Reef and Tuolomne Meadows at Yosemite on Facebook. But I was particularly struck – sharply so, by Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP.

After stopping in the Visitor’s Center and chatting with the attendant (and getting my Passport stamp!) I started up the Rim Trail, intending to hit the end of the road and walk out to the scenic northwest end of the canyon rim. I didn’t make it past the first overlook, which was called Pulpit Rock.

Or is this Pulpit Rock on the left?

Or is this Pulpit Rock on the left?

As I stood over the sweeping canyon, I couldn’t help imagining what it would mean to preach from this pulpit. I was reminded of St. Francis, sharing the good news to the birds of the air. Sometime, now I want to go back, to stand at that overlook and proclaim the Gospel – I’m not sure what stopped me, since the place was clearly built for it. Or, if I was feeling really crazy, to climb the pulpit rock you see on the left and preach from there.

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Yeah, those fissures seem…very cross?

As I walked away, I thought, great. Nice, theological stop. Now to the end of the canyon!

The next overlook was Cross Fissures. I pulled over.

I will confess that I could not see the eponymous “crosses” in the fissures. Or only just. Clearly, though, unless I’m mis-reading the meaning of the formation’s name, someone on the exploring crew, some grizzled trapper or miner, saw the Cross of Christ in the fractures of the stones.

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Devil’s Overlook, right next to Be’elzebub’s Viewpoint and the Scenic Highway of the Beast.

Okay, I thought. End of canyon! No more lollygagging!

The next overlook was Devil’s Overlook.

I pulled over.

Here my imagination overtook me. I could just imagine the Prince of Darkness, surveying his blood-streaked domain. If I painted a hideous cavern ceiling over my head in my mind, I could purely see the diabolical principality, and sketch screaming souls in torment at the base of the shattered chasm.

As I finally got in my car for the last time till canyon’s end (I gave Rock Point and Sunset View a pass), I thought about a phrase from my seminary days – “religious imaginary,” or, more to the point, “religious imagination.” I imagined, again, my trapper or miner or explorer, and how he saw in the shapes and fissures of the rock walls devils and preachers and the Cross of our Lord. I thought of a time lately when I saw faces in hillsides and animals in clouds, and how our religious imagination shapes our interpretations. Can we look into the stars and dare to see God’s story scrawled across the sky? Can we crack open a tomato and dare to see prayer beads? Can we look into the face of a homeless man begging on a street corner and dare to see the face of Christ?

I challenge you this month – give your religious imagination free rein. See where God is touching and shaping your life and the lives around you, as an early Colorado pioneer saw the hand of God in the carving of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

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The Trailblaze

On Saturday of last week I got roped into going up with a10422670_728048740591995_1510864702_o
group to do some trail work at Genesee Park, west of Denver in the hill above (and I mean RIGHT ABOVE) I-70. We were working with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, one of the cooler and better-organized non-profits I have ever encountered. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 volunteers showed up – we were divided into teams of eight. I could tell you all sorts of cool stories about various parts of the experience – the pure joy of being in the mountains, the familiar sight and scent of douglas fir, the delight of honest sweat in worthy manual labor, but the thing that really caught my mind was the endurance – the deliberate creation of something lasting and meaningful in our transitional world.

The hillside where we labored was subtly covered in old road grades and other signs of human habitation. I thought of the last two centuries, and who with horse or mattock or spade had cut into the earth, “to make” as Kipling wrote, “a path more fair or flat.” I thought of the history of human relationship with this land, miners and trappers and traders. I thought of its current purposes – a new trail to lead from campground to vale, where the bison roam on the hillside above the roadway.

As my pulaski dug into the hillside, pulling down the crumbling dirt to make the bench of a level trail, I thought about my parents. How I would drag them up the freeway into the foothills and walk them on a trail that my dad could manage, mostly flat, no stairs, and point to a few hundred feet and say “This. This was my section. Here’s where I pulled that infernal stump. Here’s where we rested and ate lunch. I made this. It will last.”

I love the building of lasting things. My words on my blog or on my papers will scatter – preaching is an inherently ephemeral act. We speak, and our words vanish into the eternal aether. Taking up axe and mcleod, though, and blazing a trail – a soft place in the earth where folks can find their way, something that lasts…

I’m very fond of this story, one that I think the church needs to hear more and more often. As American Protestants (and I worry, also, about the non-denominational, here) we do not think in these terms. We do not ask what it is that we will build that will last not only through the next pastor, but through the next century. Our mission as Christians is immediate and present – it is also eternal. What gift are we leaving to our grandchildren that will inspire them with a sense of our faith? What path are we laying to guide their feet in the Way everlasting?

I’m not sure, yet. I hope we’ll figure it out soon, though.

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Inspired, or The Day of Pentecost

A little more than two years ago, I was Image
ordained at a service at Mineral Presbyterian Church in Mineral, WA. As part of our process, I commissioned from my family a stole in honor of my ordination, and two banners for Mineral Presbyterian. I’m wearing the stole today, and you can see in this picture the Pentecost banner. the figures in the image have individual flames of fire (Acts 2:3) over their heads.  These tongues of flame are the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit, descending on these disciples. They begin to preach, and in such a way that all who heard them, from many different parts of the world, all understood. The Holy Spirit rested on them, and they were empowered to speak.

After a long struggle with and through the New Beginnings process, we are, today, celebrating the end of the beginning. The discernment is done – now comes the work. We ask, also, that as the Spirit descended on the early church and commissioned them to proclaim Jesus Christ to all the world, that God might send the Spirit on us to live out our new mission. We share with you today this new mission in statement form, a new call to the ministry that we are already doing, and hope to do in the near future.

As St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 
our mission is to share Christ’s love across boundaries
of age, language, ethnicity, and class. 

We have many dreams and plans and ideas and hopes about how this new mission may look, but we ask you to pray with us today that God will bless the mission as we have received it, and that the Holy Spirit may inspire us to new work and new love with our neighbors, across many boundaries.

Pray with me, friends, for the Holy Spirit, and its inspiration, that we may do wondrous things together in Christ’s name.

Amen!

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The Memory

I had a very small (miniscule) debate with some sisters and brothers in Christ on the subject of Memorial Day a few days ago, and I don’t mean to gloat too much, except that I was TOTALLY RIGHT. It’s a problem system-wide in our society, that we’re not really entirely sure what our holidays, especially our civic holidays, are for. Especially when we talk about things like “Labor Day” and “Memorial Day” and, in Boston, “Patriot’s Day,” we’re not quite sure what’s going on, really, except that there are BBQs and beach days and leisure. More on many of those others later, but I wanted to say a word about Memorial Day, and its particular weight and meaning.

You see, on Sunday, I walked after worship up the hill to Fort Logan National Cemetery. I had no one on my personal list (although I was just informed by my father that I may have relatives there), but a few names of folks in the congregation. I had no gifts or flowers to lay – just my own prayers and words. I said hello to a few fellows I had never met, my heart and mind full of the interment of my grandfather, and the friends that I buried in Goshen, New York. I thought of my Canadian heritage, remembering the poppies that would be laid on Remembrance Day in Britain and France and British Columbia and across the Commonwealth.

Remembrance Poppies from Canada, with a soldier’s photograph

I remember the CDs that my dad would play every Memorial Day, especially John McDermott’s Battlefields of Green, and Charge!, which I cannot find online. I think of the Ashoken Farewell from the Ken Burns Civil War documentary and of the songs of our people, and of the loss of our soldiers from this country and its allies.

And that’s what I mean to say today about Memorial Day. We have a day for the celebration of all those people who died – there’s an app for that. But on Memorial Day, we remember those who gave their lives in service of this country, and those who, having served, have since died. It is a day to remember the graves of of servicewomen and men, soldiers and airmen and sailors who bought for us the precious freedoms of our society. Disagree with a war, disagree with a policy, say that our freedoms are under threat (they are), but these people gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”

So if you haven’t yet, visit the grave of a loved one who served, or a memorial to a long-forgotten war. Remember the cost of our nation, and the cost of our freedom, and hold those things precious. Cling to them, and remember.

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Solo Pastors in The 21st Century Church

revmmlj:

An interesting read – what do you all think? What would it look like if I spent less time fishing, and more time teaching y’all to fish?

Originally posted on achurchforstarvingartists:

My denomination defines “solo pastor” as one who does not supervise other blue_solo_cuppastors on a church staff.  He/she might supervise organists, educators, office administrators and sextons, but – at least according to the PCUSA – he/she is not a “Senior Pastor” or “Head of Staff.”  In other words, a solo sings alone.

Increasingly, there are more and more “solo pastors.”  (Attention Multi-Pastor Congregations:  this might be your future.)

According to 2012 PCUSA statistics:

  • About 3100 congregations have less than 50 members
  • About 2400 congregations have 50-100 members
  • About 2200 congregations have 100-200 members

Of all those congregations with 200 members or less:

  • About 3200 of the churches have an installed (‘permanent’) pastor
  • About 2600 of the churches have a temporary pastor (temporary supply, stated supply, interim, supply preacher)
  • Almost 2000 of the churches have no pastor at all (so they rely on guest preachers each Sunday and a neighboring…

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More Transgenerational Ministry

Presbyterians Today published online a thing about young adults and transgenerational ministry that I wrote with Ruling Elder Carla Lesh of Hudson River Presbytery.

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Worship Attire by Ruling Elder Kaye Lamb

The following is the counterpoint to my preceding post by one of my Elders, both intended for presentation in our church newsletter. Check it out!

What is appropriate wear for worship? Walt Disney said that if you dress like ladies and gentlemen, you will act like ladies and gentlemen.  Today people dress casually everywhere,  in fine restaurants, at work, and even for weddings & funerals  But what does God expect?

God gave very specific directions to Moses and Aaron in Exodus about  priestly attire which was meant to give dignity and beauty.  Aaron was to wear a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered shirt, a turban and a sash out of blue, purple and red wool and linen sewn with gold thread. The beastplate had precious stones – a ruby, a topaz, a garnet, an emerald, a saphire , a diamond, a turquoise, an agate, an amethyst, a beryl, a carnelian and a jasper all mounted with gold settings. All the pieces were elaborately decorated.   God expected the very best from his people when they worshiped him.

Even Jesus on the way to be sacrificed had  a “robe which was made of one piece of woven cloth without any seams in it” that the soldiers threw dice for.  It was too good to be torn and divided.

In our society, people who have professional jobs are expected to dress appropriately.  Job applicants are instructed to wear their best clothes in order to make the best possible impression.   Lawyers and business people always dress professionally.  Even charitabale institutions have learned that the best way to get people to support their cause is to appeal to their sense of dignity and beauty which means the best food, clothes, drink and accommodations.

Should we approach God to whom we owe are very being with anything less than our best?

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