This sermon was delivered at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota on February 12, 2017. The sermon text was from Luke 7: 18-35.

Expectations are a funny thing.

They can help us to be prepared for what’s before us, they can help us to know what we’re in for, they can help us see God. They also can blind us to what’s happening, they can keep us from seeing what is happening right in front of our eyes, they can keep us from seeing God.

The truth is we all have expectations, we have expectation of ourselves, of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our friends, our pastors, our politicians, our athletes, and on and on. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but we do need to be open to seeing things in different ways than what we are expecting.

I also want to stop here a second, and say, for me, not all expectations are the same. I think it is totally appropriate to expect to be treated as a human being, it is totally appropriate to expect to be respected, and to be treated with dignity. Often however, those expectations mean different things to different people.

In our scripture, this morning, John the Baptist, hears about what Jesus has been doing. According to Luke they have not had any direct contact and frankly it doesn’t seem like John thinks Jesus is fitting the expectations of the one to come after him that will make the world better. So, he sends some of his disciples to ask the question, “Are you the one we are waiting for?”

Remember Jesus himself says, that God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor. God has sent him to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

For John, none of this has happened. Many scholars believe that at this point John is in prison, when this story comes up in the book of Matthew, that’s exactly where John is, captive. He hasn’t been released, he hasn’t been set free.

Rev Gord Waldie, of the UCC, tells a story about his first year in seminary over 20 years ago,

“one of the assignments in Introduction to New Testament was to look at a variety of texts and determine if Jesus is the Messiah that was expected. The texts laid out a “job description” of sorts — and Jesus fails. Not only does Jesus fail to free his people from the Roman yoke and setup a new kingdom like that of David and Solomon, he doesn’t even seem to have that task on his to-do list. John seems to have expected active and vigorous cleansing, more repentance and sin stuff. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing that either."

Jesus wasn’t fitting into John’s expectations for the Messiah.

I can’t say that I blame John much here. I mean…when I think about Messiah I’m looking for a big hulking guy, with huge muscles, with a big scary weapon to crush people. Basically I’m thinking of Thor, not the Norse God, but the Marvel character in the Avengers’ played by Chris Hemsworth or the Marvel character Luke Cage played by Mike Colter. Basically I'm looking for a character from the Marvel Universe. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, we can watch the movies or series together. I love them both.

But I digress.

I have always believed that people will live up to your expectations of them. If you have low expectations, that’s what you’ll get, if you have high expectations the same holds true. The problem is when you hold those expectations too tightly or specifically. We must hold our expectations loosely, like sand. If you pick up a handful of sand you can hold it in your hand, only if you hold it loosely, if you hold on too tightly, the sand will slip through your fingers.

When John sends his disciples to ask Jesus a simple question, he expects a simple answer. The question, “Are you the one we have been looking for?” is a simple yes or no question. Jesus, as we’ve seen, doesn’t do what we expect. In the last few weeks, we’ve looked at stories where he has defied the Pharisees understanding of the Sabbath, he’s healed the poor and the rich, he’s even declared the year of the Lord’s favor for those outside the temple. All of this is showing us who Jesus is, Jesus is not the messiah that people were expecting. When Jesus is answered a simple yes or no question his answer to John’s disciples is “look around what do you see? What do you hear?” I take a little comfort in that even John the Baptist, the prophet who proclaimed Jesus’ arrival isn’t sure because Jesus defies expectations.

We’ve started to see and hear things about our church. One of the things I’ve heard the most here is that we are a small church. It normally, goes something like this. I hear a story about some amazing thing that this church has done even in the midst of turmoil and then the person says, but we’re a small church. It’s seems as if it has become part of our identity, one that we aren’t proud of. To be honest, I can’t see it. I know the history of the church; I recognize its effects on our congregation, but I think we are powerful beyond measure. We are blessed with particularly gifted people to do specific work in Red Wing.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Let’s remember that. As we continue to be faithful to our calling, let us remember that other people’s expectations of who God is or what Churches do should not limit us. When they ask about our work, we can say, “What do you see? What do you hear?”

What that work is, I’m not sure yet, we do so many great things already, but I’m hoping that you can help us figure it out. I hope that in a year or so, people will be saying, “Do you go to that Presbyterian church?” because they are not sure how we are able to do the things we do, we are doing things in the community that might not be typically considered, “Church stuff”. I hope we will continue to defy expectations, as we follow Christ along this journey together. Part of that will mean taking a hard look at our expectations of our church, our pastors, and ourselves. We will need to name them, we will need to evaluate them, we may need to throw them out the window. When people start to ask us about our church, we can say “what do you see? What do you hear?”

This world is changing, our expressions of faith are changing, but as Lutheran pastor, Erik Parker says,

"Imagine telling anyone who has regularly been in a pew for the past 15 years that it is possible that our currently declining and aging church may be full and bustling again in a few decades. They will laugh at you.

Well, maybe they would have [a few months ago].

But now all the things we thought were important are in reversing decline like flashy worship, entertaining sermons, lattes for sale in the lobby, Nickelodeon night for the youth, and all the other things we think will “attract” people mean nothing now. Churches, especially mainline ones, will need to focus again on the core things that we have always been:

We will need to be communities of refuge because people will have fewer and fewer safe spaces.

We will need to be communities of resistance in a world that is demanding division, conflict, and violence.

We will need to be communities of hope because we cannot just go back to sleep and pretend the government will have our backs while we spend our time mindlessly consuming stuff and entertainment.

We will need to be proclaimers of the gospel."

My prayer is that people see the Lord working through us as we provide voice to the voiceless, we provide safety for those in danger, we provide comfort to the afflicted and we afflict the comforted and may we always hold loosely, how and what we do, remaining nimble and available to respond when God calls.

May it be so.

Let's Go Deep

This is the manuscript as written of the sermon I delivered at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, on January 22, 2017. 

The sermon text was Luke 5: 1-11

I have a confession to make.

This week it was hard to writing this sermon. I have been distracted, distracted by the events leading up to this Sunday. The inauguration, the woman’s marches all around the globe. I have been distracted by the tenor of the conversations in our country. I have been distracted, but yesterday I was inspired. I was inspired by all things a presbytery meeting. I was inspired by seeing the pictures of men and women who are part of my life, speaking up and speaking out for justice, equality, and constitutional rights. I am hopeful, in what is happening in our country, in our town, and in our church.

In our reading from Luke today we here Jesus’s famous words, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

But how did we get there?

Jesus comes to the lake in Gennesaret, the crowds were pressing in on him and he stepped into Simon’s boat. There just happened to be room in the boat because there were no fish in it. After he finished speaking he began talking to Simon, who was called Peter, and said, “Why you don’t you put your nets out into the deep water. Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When he did this, he caught so man fish that he thought the nets would break, it felt like the boat was going to sink, he called his partners out, and before they could get the nets securely back in the boat, Simon falls onto his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

This is like saying, I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.

As Rev. Mary Austin says, “When Jesus presence allows them to catch way more fish than they think is possible, Simon Peter reacts with shame. He urges Jesus to get away from him, “for I am a sinful man.” Peter knows that he is experiencing more than fish – he’s getting a glimpse of the divine, breaking into the ordinary world of fishing. It evokes the later moment, after Peter has been with Jesus for a long time, when Jesus tells Peter to get behind him, because Peter’s understanding then is so limited. In this early moment, Peter sees clearly who stands before him.”

This is why in our worship services from the Reformed tradition, we open with a call to worship then we sing a song of praise, then we confess our unworthiness. When we come into the presence of the almighty, we can’t help but confess our sins, recognize that God is God and we are God’s children.

Jesus tells Simon Peter to put his nets out in the deep water. This is a big ask. The water, the deep water, is a scary place, it’s unpredictable, it’s dangerous, it’s chaotic. In fact, the Bible begins with the fear of the deep. Genesis 1:2 says, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,”

Peter and his crew had been fishing in the shallow water and catching nothing, Jesus calls them out of their comfort zone, out of the safety of the known. When they move into the deep they are shocked with what they find, and when they realize what they can do with God’s help. They begin a new and unknown adventure.

There are a lot of churches in the US that fish in the shallow water, it’s safe to say that this church has been in the in the deep for the last few years. You probably feel like you had no choice. But you did. You had the opportunity to say no to the Holy Spirit, but you didn’t. Given the recent history of this congregation could of sat on the shore, you could of folded up shop, but you didn’t you packed your nets back in the boat and went fishing. It hasn’t been easy, it’s been tiring, you felt like the boat was going to sink, you called in reinforcements, and the nets you have pulled in are filled with the knowledge that you are not alone, you are gifted, and you are capable of a lot more than you thought you were.

Christ is still calling; the Holy Spirit is still moving.

You know you can swim, you know you can fish. Now we are going to fish for people. We will fish for those who can’t fish for themselves. We will fish for those on the margins, we will fish for those outside the shallows of our own walls, we will go into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We will be with the lost, the lonely, the poor, the elderly, the young, the old, those in between, the parents, the kids, we will be there because we have before, we know how to swim, we know that God is with us, and we know that no matter what happens, no matter what storms come, we will be right here.

I know this from the deepest depths of my soul, we have seen the power of God to do miraculous things. Now it’s our turn to be co-creators with Christ as we step into this new, wild adventure.

May it be so.

You Said Don't Be Afraid (A Good Friday Meditation)

14034459259_d245cc820d_o This is a spoken word piece that I wrote a few years ago that I revisited recently, it's entitled "You Said Don't Be Afraid"

You can listen to the audio by following this link

You said don't be afraid

It is finished?

It can’t be finished…It can’t be over

You said follow me and I did,

You said pray with me and I tried,

You said trust me and…well that one was hard.

How can I trust you now?

You were the one; you were the Christ, the Messiah, the one who fed us, who healed us, who challenged us All that you said seems a lie, You’re dead, just like the criminals next to you,

Just like all that have come before you,

You were executed just like your cousin John. He even said you were the one.

You were supposed to be different,

You were supposed to change everything

You were supposed to fix it.

You said don’t be afraid.

How can it be finished?

Do you know how hard it has been to stand with you?

Do you know all the trouble you’ve caused me?

I had to watch you on trial

I had to watch you be humiliated

I had to watch you take it

You didn’t even fight back

You didn’t even stand up for yourself

I had to run for my own safety

I had to hide who I was

I had to watch you be whipped and beaten

If you were who you said you were why didn’t you do anything?

And now you’re dead

What now?

I can’t go back

I can’t start over

You spoke of freedom but everywhere I look there are chains

You said don’t be afraid

I was supposed to have an easier life

I was supposed to have a seat at the table

I was supposed to be part of something.

I was supposed to be a part of the change

I was going to be special

I was going to be safe

It was going to be easy

I was going to be able to be open about who I was

It was going to be different

You said don’t be afraid

But how can I not be afraid?

You’re dead

They won

And now they are coming for me.

I guess you’re right

It is finished.

(image by Pabak Sarkar)

This I believe...

A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ. It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

Diary of a Dad- Happy Holidays (December 16, 2014)

123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Happy Holidays”. Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas!

Happy Kwanzaa!

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Festivus!

It’s all just rather tiring isn’t it?

I’ll be honest with you I don’t have the energy to get worked up over whether or not you say “Merry Christmas” to me. The “war on Christmas” is drummed up outrage to keep us distracted from the real issues in our world and in our communities.

Did you know there were hundreds of families and kids who go hungry in Otoe County every day? Did you know that there are elderly folks in Otoe County who no one will visit this holiday season? Did you know there were veterans living here in Otoe County that feel left out and left behind? Did you know that for quiet a few people the holidays are the loneliest time of year and the grief they feel is magnified by the joy others feel? Did you know that there are people right here in Nebraska City who can’t afford to heat their houses?

I read a quote from author, Steve Maraboli, the other day it said,

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

So instead of yelling at the cashier because they didn’t say the right thing to you, or talking to the manager about how there isn’t a Christmas tree in the window of their store, or there is one, or writing a letter to the editor about what a heathen place we live in and if we only said the word Jesus more we’d be better off; just stop, take a deep breath, and go about your day.

Every time you get angry that about some perceived “war on Christmas” or you even hear the phrase, “war on Christmas” I want you to put some coins in a jar, or a dollar bill, or some amount of money. At the end of the season I want you to take that all the money you’ve put away and I want you to give it to the charity of your choice.

Steve Maraboli reminds us of the story that was told by the one that Christians celebrate this season. The call that every time you clothed the naked, fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, and visited the prisoner you did so for Jesus the Christ.

I don’t believe Jesus wanted us to yell at cashiers who were just doing their job, I don’t think that’s a good model for our children who watch how stressed we become over the holiday season.

I do think that Jesus called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, even if our neighbors do things differently. I do think that Jesus called us to help those in need. In our world, our county, and our city there are plenty of people in need.

Maybe if we focused our energy on helping those in need rather than worrying what words they use to greet us, we might be able to actually do what Jesus asked of us.

One last quote that I thought was helpful (and a little funny):

“Being an atheist is okay.

Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay.

Being a Christian is okay.

Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist, or otherwise hateful person in the name of Christianity is not okay.

Being is a reindeer is okay.

Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not okay.”

Merry Christmas!

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: My in-laws came to visit and we had a blast celebrating all our holidays in one week.

Not Favorite: Faux outrage over unimportant things.

Diary of a Dad- The Season of Thanks (December 2, 2014)

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “The Season of Thanks”. This is the week of the year that we have decided to be thankful. We celebrate Thanksgiving with turkeys, mashed potatoes, dressings, and that one dish that no one can make as good as Grandma. We celebrate a fairy tale of Pilgrims in wide brimmed hats and big buckled shoes breaking bread with Native Americans in headdresses and moccasins. We wake up early on Friday morning, or go out after dinner on Thursday evening, to push and shove to get the “best deal” for another load of things that we keep buying in hopes that they will make us happy or our kids happy or will finally bring us fulfillment.

We do this every year and on December 26 we’ll say, “I’m not going to do that again.” It reminds me of the times you might wake up after working out too hard, or partying too hard, or staying up too late. You wake up sore, bleary eyed, and tired saying, “Wow, that was rough. I’m never going to do that again.” Yet we do it, over and over and over. We never get off the hamster wheel of consumption and pushing down our feelings with food, drink, and presents. We never actually stop what we are doing or how we are living, we just keep consuming, because that’s what our society tells us is the most important. GO SHOP! It will boost the economy, which will provide jobs, which will provide opportunity for everyone. If we only shopped more we could save our country.

Today, my heart breaks for our country, because I’m not sure it can be saved.

This week the issues in our country and how we deal with one another are being blasted all over every news station. People are protesting in cities all over the country, from Ferguson, to Los Angeles, to New York City and I don’t blame them. Regardless of whether you believe that what happened to Mike Brown is just or not, it’s impossible not to see that something is wrong with our country and as much as we’d like it to be different, people aren’t treated equally, white privilege exists, and racism still controls much of our attitudes toward people that look different.

I could show statistics and tell you anecdotes from all over the country about the way that people of color are treated differently in the United States, but I’ve had those conversations and if you don’t think it exists then no amount of arguing is going to change your position.

This week in the Christian calendar is the beginning of Advent; it is the start of the season that will conclude in the celebration of God coming to the world in the form of a baby we call Jesus. The season is a time of expectation and hope, a season of darkness and waiting, a season of fear and the unknown.

This is the season in which we live, this is the world that we occupy, the place where the violent death of an unarmed teenager can stoke the fires of passion that lead us to change. Even in the fires and the looting and the seeming unraveling of our country I have hope.

Hope that leads us through Advent.

Patricia E. De Jong says, “Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended.”

May your heart be broken this season and may you be willing to be mended. Mended so that we can move forward together, acknowledging the real barriers we have to overcome in order to be the “shining light on the hill” that the Pilgrims envisioned. A friend of mine on Facebook posted a quote from one of her professors, “When people want to work together, they’ll overcome any obstacle. But if they don’t want to work together, they’ll use anything for a barricade.” Let us be people that want to work together not people that seek to control the conversation.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: Spending this Thanksgiving week with my family in West Virginia.

Not Favorite: Having to drive 14+ hours to have Thanksgiving with my family.

Diary of a Dad- You Are Enough (November 21, 2014)

123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “You Are Enough”. Are you ready?

Next week starts the onslaught! Shopping, cooking, going to parties, mandatory overtime, end of the year reports, company Holiday parties, kids’ recitals, dinners at church, decorating, you name it we will try to do it in the next month and a half, by New Year’s Day we will be exhausted, if we make it that far.

As we enter into the holiday season, I know for me things can get a lot more hectic and it never feels like I have enough. Enough time, enough money, enough gifts, enough rest, etc., etc. It’s already starting and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. We bemoan the idea that stores put out decorations for Christmas before Halloween but that is just a symptom, not the problem. The problem, as I see it, is that we have been conditioned to think that we need to do everything, be everywhere, buy everything or else we are not good enough. Good enough parents, employees, spouses, friends, or family members. I want to say to you today, “You are enough.”

Even if your child doesn’t get the latest and greatest new toy or gadget, you are enough. Even if you don’t make it out to that sale to get the “best” deal on those new towels, you are enough. Even if you don’t get your special pie baked for that family event, you are enough. Even if you miss some of those parties, you are enough.

In our world, we are constantly bombarded by messages that we come up short. To be honest, there are many days that I lay in bed before I go to sleep and I think about all the places I could have done more. I could have spent more time with my family, I could have spent more time at work, I could have spent more time at play, and on and on. Somedays it keeps me up long past my bedtime. Right now I am writing this column in my basement before dawn as far away from my family as possible because they are still sleeping. I woke up and thought about all the things I needed to get done and I couldn’t go back to sleep. It has already started.

I once heard it said, “The things that are most important are often at the mercy of the things that are least important.”

For me, in these last few months of the year, the things that are most important are the same as they have been for the first few, God, family, work (hopefully in that order). So I invite you to remember, as your calendars start to fill up over these next few weeks, to try and keep focused on what is most important for you. Do your best to resist the external pressures of life that pull and push you to do things that are of no importance to you but you have been told should be important. Do your best to say, “No” to some things, find the things that bring you joy (not that temporary feeling of happiness, but the deep, down to your bones feeling of fulfillment that comes with joy). Finally, and most importantly, remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: My church hosted an event called Table Talk at the Keeping Room on Tuesday, November 18. It was a great conversation and fellowship around the question, “What is faith all about?” We hope to do more in the future, hopefully monthly.

Not Favorite: Never feeling like I have enough time to do the things I want to do and am supposed to do.

Diary of a Dad- Now What (November 7, 2014)

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Now What?” On Tuesday, millions of people around the country cast their votes for local, state, and federal representatives. They voted on propositions, bills, laws, overtures, school boards, water districts, regents, and all manner of things were decided this week.

If you were to glance at my Facebook® timeline you would think either this was the great week or a terrible week. Some believe that we have reclaimed America; some believe we have returned to the Dark Ages. My guess is, it’s somewhere in between. Some of the people I voted for won, some of the people I voted for lost. Some are licking their wounds and some are rejoicing in their victories. Some of the things I was hoping for didn’t work out, some did. I was surprised by some results and some results worked out as I expected. I just don’t think there is a blanket statement you can make about this year’s election, although many pundits, talking heads, armchair politicians, and people on social media will try.

One of the beautiful things about our country is that, according to our Constitution, we, the people, have control of how we are governed and who will represent us. (This point is up for debate in our current political climate, but that’s somebody else’s column to write.) We made our wishes known by our votes, some won, some lost. That happened, the question is…Now what?

As a dad, we try to help our kids understand what they can control and what they can’t. We help them to respond to decisions they have made, live with the consequences, and move forward. We try not to fight old fights. We try to learn from our experiences, make decisions based on those experiences, and try new ways to respond. The thing is, I think we all need to work on that, I even find myself learning while my daughter is learning.

I think we in this country keep fighting old fights; some of those fights need to be fought because they are ongoing. Some of those fights have been decided and we need to move forward, together.

I’m not sure of what’s next, I’m not sure where we, as a town, state, or nation is going, but I do know that the only chance we have is to work together. That doesn’t mean together focusing on our own self-interest but together trying to work for the good of the people, all of them.

This Nebraskan did. Go vote #inNECity! #electionday2014

A photo posted by Greg Bolt (@ggbolt16) on Nov 11, 2014 at 6:20am PST

If you follow me on social media or talk to me for a little bit you probably know that I have some really strong opinions and am willing to share them. My highest value is being inclusive, that means everybody, even if we disagree. Too many times in our current climate, people who disagree are considered the enemy and that’s not helpful, because it’s going to take a myriad of ideas from many different perspectives and political, social, theological, and economic ideals to move us forward.

The votes have been casted, the ballots have been counted, what will you do to participate in making sure we continue to be a great nation.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: Halloween with my children at the Ambassador.

Not Favorite: Social media posts that stoke the fires of division.

Diary of a Dad- Stop, Look, Go (September 12, 2014)

123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City Newspress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Stop, Look, Go”. I don’t watch news on TV or read many papers (except the News-Press, of course) because I don’t think their very helpful, in fact, I think they can be harmful to our society. You see the entire media industry, from advertisers to newspapers, is based on fear and scarcity. There are millions and millions of videos, blogs, newspaper columns, entire television networks based on the idea that if you are scared or if you feel like you don’t have enough you will buy more stuff, or you’ll vote a certain way, or you’ll fight those who think differently than you.

I’m as guilty as the next guy for living in fear. I fear for my job, my child’s safety and education, I fear for the country, that we keep electing people that refuse to act in the interest of the people that elected them. I fear that every time I play basketball I’m going to break my ankle. I am what my family calls an “awfulizer”. I can think of the worst possible outcome for every situation, but I’m hoping to turn over a new leaf.

I’m going to try to live in abundance rather than scarcity, I’m going to try to live in gratefulness rather than fear. I’m going to try to be happy.

During a TEDTalk, Brother David Steindl-Rast said, “Gratefulness can change the world…If you’re grateful you’re not fearful, if you’re not fearful you’re not violent. If you’re grateful you act out of a sense of enough and not a sense of scarcity and you are willing to share. If you’re grateful you are enjoying the differences between people and are respectful to everyone…this doesn’t make for equality but it makes for equal respect, that is the important thing.”

You can watch it here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtBsl3j0YRQ?rel=0]

Too often we see “the other” as wholly unlike ourselves. We see differences as something to be feared, we see people who have different theological, political, economic, social ideas as evil rather than members of our community. When we are scared it makes it easier to hate, easier to dismiss, easier to blame. We are afraid that we will lose something, our voice, our way of life, our country, but when we are able to be grateful for our differences we begin to see those who we thought were “other” can strengthen us by providing opportunities for change, for learning, and an opportunity for a more joyful and happy life.

Steindl-Rast offers a simple way to make the move from fear and scarcity to gratefulness and abundance; Stop, Look, Go. Make “stop signs” in your life. Maybe that’s a post-it note on your light switch that reminds you what an amazing thing it is that we have power in our homes, or a note on your steering wheel that tells you to pause and take a deep breath before you start your busy day. When you stop, it gives you an opportunity to look. Open your eyes, your nose, your ears and notice the things around you, open your heart and notice the opportunities that moment provides for you. Maybe it’s just an opportunity to enjoy that brief moment of pause before the next thing. Then go, respond to the opportunity, enjoy the moment or maybe you’re being called to something further, respond to a need, a neighbor, to help put a smile on someone’s face, and be grateful for that opportunity to respond, even if it’s hard.

This soft spoken, Benedictine monk has one more quote that I wanted to share with you:

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that makes you happy.”

Let us do our best to be grateful for the opportunities that present themselves, and let us stop, look, and GO!

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here’s my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: We had an opportunity to have lunch with some old friends from Oregon this week. I also began the season as my daughter’s U6 soccer team coach. Go Cheetahs!

Not Favorite: During the storm on Tuesday afternoon when the tornado sirens went off, my kids were in the basement of their daycare, I was in my own basement. I did not like being separated from them, especially when those sirens went off.

I love to connect social media. You can see more of my writing and thoughts on my wife’s and my blog (nebraskabolt.wordpress.com) or follow me on twitter. (@ggbolt16)

Walk-Ons, Ordination, and Christ

Saturday mornings are spent at my house watching ESPN's College Gameday. My wife and I love football and we really like the human interest stories that they tell. This week was no different. This week they profiled a few FBS Football players who walked on (no scholarship) to the football team and were rewarded with a scholarship when one came available. Beloved and I were a mess at the end of this video.

You can watch it here: Earning Their Keep

I was a walk-on baseball player. I never received a scholarship for the being there, I ran, sweat, and bled just like the few guys that did have some scholarship. I know what it means to play for the love of the game.

Beloved was struck by, Mississippi State Sophomore linebacker, DeAndre Ward's explanation. 

It was great to be able to walk into the multi-purpose room and be able to eat with the team...

The place at the table, a table that he has been sitting at, but never felt fully "one of the guys". Isn't that what we do at Communion? Christ invites all to the table, the breaking of bread, even those that have been sitting there the whole time, even those that don't feel as if they belong. Christ opens up a spot for us. This morning when I opened up social media, this article asking the question "Is the Simplest form of Church Just a Dinner Table?" reminded me of my call to include and to help all find a place at the table. I think the timing was providential.

What had me in tears for a good ten minutes following the segment was the image of, Arizona State Redshirt Junior defensive back, Jordan Simone talking to his mother right after he had just received his scholarship. It reminded me so much of the phone call I made right after being approved by Cascades Presbytery to be ordained as a Teaching Elder in the PC(USA). I had worked and worked towards that goal, a journey that had begun long before I knew it, but to receive the applause and recognition that my colleagues believed that I was called was such a seminal moment in my life and ministry. I finally felt like I belonged, I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders and I was overcome with emotion.

I think we all are looking for a place at the table, to feel like we belong, to feel like it's worth it.


Why I Will Never Use Sprint Again!!

I moved to Nebraska City, NE from Redmond, OR in January. When I got here realized that I was at best getting Sprint coverage but more often than not I would have Extended coverage and never 3G. After my wife, Heidi, I, my brother in law, Alec, and sister in law, Margaret, all using iPhone 4S phones were never able to find 3G in the surrounding area I decided to change service providers because Sprint service did not work where I live. I assumed, wrongly I guess, that Sprint would know about their lack of service in the area and I would not be charged an early termination fee, especially given that I signed a 2 year agreement 3 years ago. After talking to Lauren from Sprint for 2+ hours, many interactions with last week, different @sprintcares people on twitter since, talking with George on the phone last night, and Mensa on the phone today it seems that if I had made the phone call to customer retention proving that their service did not work before porting my number out I would not be charged $600 for a EFT.

But since I didn't and apparently, not being able to provide regular 3G or data to a customer is not a viable reason to terminate their service. I guess now I will pay the $600 for the one phone call then never give them any more money again.


Big Tent Christianity- Part 3

The other day I got an email from Steve Knight asking me to participate in a Synchroblog for the Big Tent Christianity Conference happening in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. I'm hoping to join other Christian bloggers, including Beloved, in setting out a vision for what the church will look like in the future.

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