Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Sunday After Christmas

On this Sunday, I pondered what it might mean to make a place in our lives for the Christ-child. An image that came to mind was one of "child-proofing" --- the way one might do in their own home when they bring a child into the world. What might that look like as we prepare a place for the Child who's birth we honor and commemorate.  Here are those thoughts as delivered to Trinity Church (Jeffers/Ennis, MT).

You can find it at:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Life in Balance

Never regret anything that has happened in your life; it cannot be changed, undone, or forgotten. So take it as a lesson learned and move on. – Steve Dropkin

I got up this morning and discovered my size has changed. So has my shape. What happened? The holidays? The feasts?

Actually, nothing changed. That’s the problem; I have always been on a See-Food diet which, as you may know, means that when I see food I eat it. That’s what it is there for, isn’t it?

So, here we are, back at the end of an old year with a new one staring us down through blood-shot eyes, daring us to make this the year things will be different; this will be the year we finally stop intending to make changes, and actually start making those changes.

It seems so hard, but is it? The hardest part at first seems to be getting the world to cooperate. As I sit here enjoying my coffee, I’ve got three cherry cordials (courtesy of a loving neighbor) just waiting to make my life a bit sweeter; I’ve got an unopened box of nut-covered chocolates (an expensive variety – from a kind and thoughtful parishioner) sitting quietly on the side, prepared to provide an emergency dose of sucrose if the event my blood sugar drops dangerously low; and I have a 2/3 finished tin of popcorn varieties to handle any salt cravings I may have during the upcoming bowl games.

So you see … it isn’t my fault!

Still, it may not be my fault, but making healthy changes is my responsibility. It has been about six decades since anyone actually put food into my mouth. No one has had to pretend the spoonful of gruel is a planeload of passengers coming in for a landing.

The Bible teaches us that there is more to life than food; that there is more to being a human being than our bodies, and yet our bodies are very much a part of what it means to be human. We know hunger, we know cold, we know thirst, and we know pain.

It would be a mistake to ignore our bodies for the sake of focusing solely on spiritual development or improving our minds. A life in balance must examine every aspect of what it means to be human: to care for our bodies, to nurture our soul (by which I mean the intellect, will, and emotions), and to improve our conscious contact with God (which is what I mean when referring to one’s spiritual development).

So with 2013 knocking at the door, what will I do? Will I continue life on auto-pilot and hope for the best, or will I finally take responsibility for becoming less of a body and more of a person?

The answer should be self-evident. The advantage of turning the page on the calendar is that it puts a clean line separating what was from what is and from what is yet to come. There is something quite satisfying with making a decision and moving forward. It doesn’t mean we regret our past; on the contrary, we embrace it for being part of the fabric of our lives.

Our past is quite helpful. It provides us with the experience to make better decisions. What gives us wisdom and experience? A life of making bad and unwise decisions, but that’s OK, for that which does not kills us makes us stronger (Nietzsche). So, we move forward; we make changes; we become the person God always knew we could become – and isn’t that comforting?

So, with 2013 just around the corner, don’t think about resolutions. Set a reasonable goal or two and develop a plan that will help you get there. Identify one or two stupid things you would like to stop doing, and start doing them less often. Don’t beat yourself up when you slip. Just pick up and start over again.

In that way, you will begin to see your size changing – whether the size of your body, ego, soul, or spirit. It is going to change one way or another. All you need to do is figure out in what direction you want it to go, point your nose in that direction, and move.

At least that’s what I think in this, our valley.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Developing a Place to Start

The start is what stops most people. – Don Shula

Earlier this week I was on my way into the church for a breakfast meeting and heard the hooting of a nearby owl. I looked up and found the bird perched atop the cross. As luck would have it, I had my camera in hand, so after dropping my bags off in the parish hall I stepped outside and looked for a decent vantage point from which to take my shot.

I set the camera as best I could for the early morning darkness and fired off a couple of quick snaps before the bird flew away. I never could get him or her to look at me straight on, but the composition wasn’t bad.

I transferred the pictures onto my computer and noticed that one was definitely out of focus, while the others had focused satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t good, and so the pictures are mediocre at best.

That’s the problem with being a snap-shooting photographer. I can take snapshots, and some are passably nice to look at, but I am certainly not a professional. I can point and click, but no one working for National Geographic will ever fear for their job with me on the hunt.

I would like to be a photographer – not at a money-making level – but I would like to be able to see a scene and record it with sufficient aplomb to know I got what I wanted, and not just “cross my fingers and hope for the best”.

So, what stops me from improving my skills?

The “start” is what stops me.

I looked at my camera’s basic operating manual, and while the words appear to be English, I don’t know what they’re telling me. I don’t need a book, you see; I need a guide or a mentor. I need someone with skills and experience who can walk me through the various disciplines of photography and show me, not just how a camera works, but the whys and wherefores of the craft’s light and magic.

The good news is that there are people like that. I have them in church. I have them for neighbors. They are also available in the local school’s adult education program. The resources are all around me. The sole limitation is my getting from “want to” to the “doing”. I need to stop stalling out at the start.

It seems that much of life is like that. Many of us have things we say we want to do; places we want to go; and people we want to meet, but we can’t seem to get past the start. We want to weigh less; it is far easier to simply stay off the scale than to start watching what we eat, or to start exercising more.

We want to retire as millionaires, but we can’t save money as long as there’s a rifle we’ve always wanted, or that sweet pair of boots, shiny new truck, or super computer sitting on the shelf.

Getting past the start – that’s where so many of us get stuck, but as someone once said, “The main cause for failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want at the moment.”

Maybe we need to find the gumption to delay momentary gratification long enough to let the urge pass, and then to take the steps necessary to accomplish what we really want.

Maybe, instead of putting together a wish list for Christmas, we could put together an action list. It doesn’t have to be a bucket list, but hopefully it will get you beyond the pail (pun intended).

Maybe I will sign up for that photography class after all – then see what develops in this, our valley.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent 2

The lessons for Advent 2 focus on Peace. In this sermon, I talk about how our peace is to be found in the God who desires to bring us home, who desires to spend eternity with us (and us with God), and how God able to bring sanity into a world that is chaotic and adversarial to change.