Pressure

Posted September 27, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

          We took a casual neighborhood ride yesterday after church. Before we left I did my usual check of the air pressure in my tires. Habit, I guess since my road bike can lose up to 10 lbs. of pressure in 3 days naturally. Having not ridden the mountain bike in a couple of weeks I found it to be significantly low. It depends on the terrain one traverses, but the higher air pressure makes for a much smoother ride on the streets of the neighborhood. Surprising, I guess, isn’t it- the higher the pressure, the smoother the ride.
          Not at all like life! People typically perceive higher pressure to mean a more difficult ride on the roads of life. No one likes stress, but we all feel it! Pressure and its synonyms – strain, anxiety, apprehension, concern, load and burden are sometimes recognized as the warning signs of impending doom. My life feels full of pressure right now- dealing with a move to Texas, a new church that I want to make a good first impression on, saying a healthy farewell to our current congregation, getting Jennifer ready to travel to India and us to endure her being away, and feeling like we desperately need to sell our current house! Yep- stress!
          Consider the bicycle wheel.           It is a particularly apt metaphor for stressful times when much needs to be done. You see the bicycle wheel is an amazing contraption. It really is the only thing between your head and the pavement if you think about it. The hub carries the spokes which reach out to control the rim nestling your tube full of air and the tire. The wheel is the part that seems to hold the vast majority of pressure and weight.
          But here’s the best part for those of us who sometimes feel overwhelmed by the pressures of our lives- as you ride along there is only one spot, one moment, one present which you can choose to control, and that is the place where your wheels actually touch the ground. Sure you can look up the road and prepare for what it coming your way, or you can even look behind and fret about what you’ve passed. But you can only control the ride at this one very moment where you are right now.
          The more I ride, the more aware I am of how the pressures of life revolve around the universe like air in my tires. But we cannot be anxious about what is to come, for God will grace us with that soon enough. Nor can we look back and trouble over what is past, for the promise of what is past is forgiveness. We must be open to the truth that we can only make a difference one moment, one decision, one choice, one present after another. Now, is now. We must be in the present! If we’re not present to where our wheels are right now, we will surely fall victim to gravity- and that will bring us tumbling down.
          Ride on friends, keep your head up, and the wheels down!

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Feelings are Contagious!

Posted September 20, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

             This past Saturday our group rode up Observatory Hill for what will likely be my last time.  We rarely ride it anyway because it has a ridiculously sharp grade (12-15% grade), but once again it was fantastic!  Whoops and hollers resounded as we ground up the slope.  Shouts of encouragement and grunts of unnatural efforts resounded in the woods around us.  As it leveled off at the top, that crazed energy was quickly replaced by heaves and gasps of recovery.  It was tough and fantastic!  The kind of tough that makes you question your sanity on a little country road in the woods- and the kind of fantastic that reaffirms every pedal stroke you’ve ever taken along the way to the base of that hill!
            These days I am convinced that more often than not it’s the communal nature of the whoops and hollers around you that move you to the top!  They motive, excite and remind you that you are not alone in the journey (or perhaps the suffering!).  More and more on our way in from these longer rides when we hit the last two hills we get to chatting each other right up those hills.  “That a boy!”  “Good job!”  “Keep it up!”  “You go girl!”  The excitement and energy created through our words seems to literally fuel the fibers of our muscles.  No wonder those professionals can sprint upwards of 35-40 miles an hour in the final run up to a big finish!
            How well do you manage your feelings?  They are contagious whether we are aware of them or not.  Did you know that if you put two pendulum clocks in the room together they move toward synchronizing naturally?  It’s called entrainment.  It’s a physics principle that moves two bodies toward resonance so that they are “in phase” together like a marching band.  When you are in the room with someone else your presence affects them, and they, you.  So all the hoots and hollers in the woods help each one of us to get up those climbs because we are all in sync.
            Feelings really are contagious, up or down!  Church is the same.  What if you were really alive all of a sudden in a room full of people who seemed pretty drab and bored?  What if you were really truthful with someone who needed to hear that truth?  What do you think would happen?  What could you imagine coming to be, right there…..and how about fifteen minutes down the road……and even tomorrow?  “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you have been doing.”  “Speak the truth in love.” The great apostles in their ancient writings to the churches encouraged them, and indeed encourage us- to speak words of hope and words of truth.  They knew that the good news of Jesus emanated in each of us.  So, emanate and others will rise with you!

Assessing Our Values

Posted September 13, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

Reflection questions from a book I’m reading…
            Do you recall a particular moment in your life when things were perfect?  What was going on?  Who was with you?  Where were you, and what values were being honored in that moment?
            This past spring I was riding in the Habitat Cover Indiana Bicycle Tour.  It was a 6 day tour, riding city to city around the state raising funds and awareness of Habitat for Humanity and its mission for fair and just housing for all.  A few of us riders liked to go hard and go long.  One day we rode near the well-known Bean Blossom Hill nestled in the beauty of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest so another rider and I decided to add a couple of miles to the day’s route just to get it in.  It was a spectacular spring day, cool, crisp and clear as can be.  The trees were rustling gently as we approached her and it was a long slow pedal, especially that 3rd and final kick up, but we made it with an extra “Whaahoo!” at the top.  Things were perfect!
            Things were perfect because just two of us were “crazy” enough to do it.  Things were perfect because all we had to do was get from point A to point B.  Things were perfect because it was a tough climb.  Things were perfect because climbing is always better with a friend.  Things were perfect because I had never done that climb that early in the season.  Things were perfect because I knew that people who need fair and just housing so often have a harder climb than I.
            When things feel perfect we are likely experiencing a resonance with our values.  When our values are honored we feel alive and fulfilled.   Think about those moments for you.  What was the quality that stood out to you?  Were you valuing stability…change…strength…joy…empathy…hospitality…compassion?  There are a number of reasons your moment was perfect, but there is indeed a special connection between your experience of that moment and the specifics that you value.  That moment stood out to you because it resonated with what you hold most dear.
            I’m hopeful that FCC Lufkin has had a productive interim period because they need to know and show what they value most when I arrive to join them in their work!  I hope that First Christian can trust God with those perfect moments in their past and allow God to work in their present, and on their future!  Together we will explore how those values have shaped their church and feed into their future.
            I’m also hopeful that SCC will spend the next several months identifying its values in such a way as to define its future anew as well. 
            We know that in order to really make progress and change happen in our lives we must do the hard work of defining and redefining what is essential among our values!  It takes healthy reflection to know who we’ve been, so that we might be able to imagine who God is inviting us to become! 
            What values do you see yourself honoring most?  And what values do you see God inviting you to honor anew? 
            I can’t wait to ride that hill again in 3 weeks!

The Next Beer Summit?

Posted September 10, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

          “How can he possibly say that God told him to burn the Qur’ an?”  That’s the question that was asked this week in conversation with some church folk.  True enough, I thought, but then how’s come I’m going around saying God called me and my family to move from Indianapolis to east Texas to minister with a new church there?  What’s the difference?
          Community! 
          Now, I don’t know much about this preacher or his church in Florida which somehow feels like God is asking them to burn someone else’s sacred book.  But I do know he is not a Disciples of Christ minister and his is not a Disciples congregation!  Nor does he connect with any other denominational affiliation.  Clearly they are an isolated entity and he is an isolated theologian.  But you can’t do theology alone! 
          I don’t know a single theologian that would condone his act or claim about God’s call.  I don’t.  I don’t know anyone who would support such an act that seems to so violate Jesus’ central ethic of love.  I would love to know who he discussed this “call” with.  I would love to have been in the room when the idea was suggested.  I would love to examine the inner workings of the church and see how authority played out in their conversation and deliberation.   However, not having that privilege, I believe that most ministers outside that circle would agree that this event  is clearly the result of a pastor who is isolated.  I cannot imagine a communal conversation with compassionate and spiritual people that would come to the conclusions they have!!
          Community and connection is the key to understanding God’s call on our lives and for our institutions!  We have all kinds of choices these days.  We live in a complex and highly connected world.  It is vitally important that we stay in relationship with all the many conversations around us.   The act of burning someone else’s sacred object only ends that conversation.  Remember when they used to burn crosses?
          Thank goodness the discernment of God’s call in my life was a shared process.  My family, several search teams and church leader conversations, much prayer and even a few trusted friends clearly affirmed for me the direction God had for my life and the lives of my family.  But it’s not just the affirmation that I was seeking- it was the questions!  If all we are getting is pats on the back, then all we will do is continue that behavior.  If no one is questioning or doubting or wondering, then who’s to say you can’t go off the deep end while people are cheering you on!??!  It is the questions that you are able to ponder for a time, and the challenge they offer that spur on the conversation.  I am convinced that the conversation, as long as it is honest and mutual, is what genuinely leads to clarity of God’s call!          

          I sincerely hope that this issue is resolved in a positive and spiritual manner.  But I’m really curious about what kind of “Beer Summit” they’ll have at the White House with the preacher and the Imam when I doubt either one of them really drinks!

We’re Moving to Texas!

Posted September 7, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

            “It’s official!”  I always think that if it’s been announced from the pulpit at church- it’s official.  Actually it became official when we sat with our church board chair in his office on Monday morning and handed in our resignations.  Twenty-three combined years of ministry at Southport Christian, for us, have now come to a close.  We turn our eyes toward Texas, where the First Christian Church in Lufkin awaits our arrival as we join them in their labors of ministry where I will be senior minister.
            We’re very excited, but we are also sad.  In many ways Southport Christian has grown us up.  We finished seminary while there, we got married there, had 2 children while there and now are looking at opportunities beyond the nest.  “It’s time” – that’s what many of you said to us Sunday as you passed the doors to embrace us.  You know the changes we’ve been through.  You know the changes Southport has been through.  You’ve identified how we’ve been there to support and sometimes carry the ministries through transitional states.  It’s been a joy.  It’s been an honor.  It’s brought us so many wonderful blessings to be engaged with such caring people as we’ve labored together in the name of Jesus.  Mission trips, Bible studies, meals and picnics, renovations, youth groups, baptisms and funerals, sabbaticals and senior ministers- we’ve done it all together.  It is my hope that you all continue to carry the love of God in your hearts as you seek the future of your church.  It’s been quite a ride!
            “Texas?” we repeatedly heard Sunday morning from church friends as they began to congratulate us.  Yes, Texas.  God doesn’t always deal us the obvious answers.  Texas surprised us!  There was no doubt about half way through our visit that this was indeed the place for us.  We found the people to be wonderfully friendly and the church to be very dedicated to active discipleship!  Typically they say that the search team of a church is composed of some of the congregation’s best members, top-notch.  Well, this search team was awesome and if that reflects the quality of the congregants- then we are in for a wonderful ride!  I am really looking forward to making this transition- especially since we’ll be beginning in November!  (Hopefully no 100 degree days then!)
            “Texas?” my 7-year-old daughter asked.  Yes, Texas.  They have great schools in Lufkin, a zoo, a great little Tex-Mex restaurant where there’s always ice cream in the foyer, and the youth building of this church has 4 big screen tvs for Wii and X-box.  She jumped for joy!  It will be hard to make the change for her, leaving friendships just starting to have meaning, but we have no doubt that in some ways she’ll be a rock star as she becomes the “new girl” for a while.  No doubt she will make new friends with new meaning in her own life.  After all, she won’t be just a little girl for much longer.
             “Texas?” my mother exclaimed!  “But what about my girls?”  “Yes, Texas” I assured her.  It has been nothing but miraculous that we have had the luxury of being no more than 3 hours apart for this long.  Many of my seminary friends are spread all over this country by now!  My parents have been overwhelmingly generous and supportive with their time in visiting with our girls and caring for them as well.  They have given gifts of the heart through these years, as they too have been a part of every step of growing up.  But, truthfully, it will no longer be a 3 hour drive.  It will be hard to settle into, I’m sure, but it is time for this nest to change.  It is time for us to embrace what God has given to us.  But you better believe that my mother will find a way to get herself to Lufkin Texas every chance she can get.  We’re certain that her new favorite cruising port will be Galveston TX, because it’s only 3 hours away!  We are so grateful to God for the support and love of both JC and Caroline Steele, and Paul and Pat Lantis.  We’d never have gotten this far without them!
            Texas?  God is mysterious.  God is surprising.  We know that God has something in store for us, that we can’t even envision.  The mystery of letting yourself be led by the spirit is something that people too seldom experience.  But, we worked hard to be open to God’s leading through this whole process.  It was not our will that we would chat with FCC Lufkin and find some amazing and familiar people.  It was not our will that in a skype conversation we would see just how wonderful the spirit of hope was in FCC Lufkin.  It was not our will that the city was really welcoming and easy to get to know.  It was clearly and directly influenced by the greater power.  It was the right fit.  On top of their beautifully bright sanctuary, they had the ministries that spoke to us and I had the gifts that spoke to them.  God had the match in mind before we even spoke.  That’s the mystery of this great life of service to our Lord- the idea that if we truly let go of control, our lives are shaped in amazing ways! 

Texas.  Lufkin Texas. 
            Southport Christian, Indianapolis- Thank you!  It’s been amazing!  We know there will be many goodbyes shared through the end of October.
            First Christian Church, Lufkin, we look forward to November, and sharing with you in worship and an imaginative future in God’s work together!

Shorter Climb Than It Used to Be

Posted August 30, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

          Over the hills and through the woods our group traversed our best training humps as we climb toward the Hilly Hundred this year.  We were thrilled to find brand new pavement through the entire section of Rob Hill and Beach Grove hill!  New pavement and new lines meant a whole new us!  We were flying (down) and grooving (up)!  In fact, after the 5th climb of the day, two of us at the front noted how we thought that particular climb was easier than we expected it to be.
          As we paused for a fill-up at the bottom of Rob, we wondered if maybe they had paved those hills just a little lower than they were before.  Someone went so far as to suggest an engineering equation with the probability that they must have paved on a hot day, and let some of the asphalt slide down the hill, thus making the bottom taller and the top thinner, therefore ultimately shorter from top to bottom.  That theory was pretty funny!
          I guess the truth it spoke to me was that hills, obstacles and troubles ahead are often not nearly as difficult as they first look from the bottom.  Speculation that hills are easier than they used to be is probably common when you’ve been at the bottom of that hill before.  
          In our lives of faith and fun no one promised easy.  God only promises to accompany us as we pedal to the top and bless us as we look down and appreciate all that we have passed.  I hope that in the coming days you will take time to look back and appreciate all that you have passed….that’s what I’m going to do for a while.

Decisions, Decisions

Posted August 23, 2010 by spiritualspokes
Categories: Uncategorized

            We’ve all been there!  You finally get a group together standing in the parking lot and decide you are going out to eat.  Then- IT happens- that dreaded period when no one can decide where you are all going to eat.  “I’ll narrow it down to 3, and you pick” is the game we often resort to in our family.  Otherwise we could drive around saying “I don’t care” for hours and resent one another by sundown because we are famished. 
            Have you ever been in a group faced with a real decision?  I wonder if this isn’t the problem.  It seems like we have very few opportunities to make decisions that really impact our lives.  Instead we just kind of go with the flow, and base our happiness on the happiness of those around us.  “That’s fine with me, if it’s alright with you” is the line that often concludes the dinner decision and reflects a real insignificance to the whole decision.  If we were more alert to what real decisions were in our lives, perhaps we might be better equipped to make them, and to allow the less important decisions to be, well, less important!
             This past Saturday when we woke up to rain our ride group had the same experience!  No one really wanted to decide where/when/how much we might ride.  We were supposed to join the “Gary’s Ride” and go long, but rain certainly cut into that plan.  So, via email we delayed….and delayed….looking at the pavement….waiting for someone else to make the call.  Finally my phone rang and it was indeed our officially designated group secretary.  “What do you think?” was the first question I hear.  “I don’t know” was my response.  Eventually, I talked myself out of riding altogether that day, and spent the whole day with family, which was great!  Never mind that it was sunny by noon.
             I wonder if we put ourselves in stresses way, by participating in a game that seems to really reflect a lack of self-definition.  I wonder if we put too much of ourselves into choices that don’t really matter, and worry ourselves right out of the choices that really do matter!  What is it the scripture tells us? 
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 6:25-27, NIV)
           
Now, where am I going to dinner?  Perhaps there are bigger decisions afoot!  What are you really worried about today?