Uncharted Waters

Monday, August 10, 2015

"The Camino"

I was recently given a fabulous gift of discovering—once again—what it is like to be a pilgrim. You might wonder what is meant by this term “pilgrim"? I have to admit, it is not a term that I use very often, but in this context “one who seeks” or “wonders without assuming to have the answers” would be a good working definition. To explain a little deeper…my church gave me the gift of a ten week sabbatical in which I was not to do any pastoral work, but to rest and refresh. I never have been a person who does well sitting still for too long so I did what anyone would who loves the outdoors, hiking, and meeting new people. I took six of those weeks to walk the Camino de Santiago, which is an 800km. path that starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and stretches all the way across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela (Actually if you walk 90 more km. you can arrive at the Atlantic Ocean). The Camino is a pilgrimage, or spiritual journey travelers have been walking for over one thousands years. Next to the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Camino is the oldest journey of this type within the Christian tradition. Well, that is enough about the history of it to give you some context. In the next couple posts I will attempt to pull out different things, which I have been reminded of on this journey and am still learning. However, the one thing I would like to bring out in this post is the freedom I felt this pilgrimage gave me to clear my mind. Once again I was able to see myself as a pilgrim or a seeker on a journey that has just begun. For far too long I have felt like I know my surrounds, those who travel with me, my goals, the obstacles that stand in front of those goals…etc. I have felt like my feet have begun to fall asleep. I realize that those who read this post have different careers and their journey is unique, although I think our worlds might not be too different in that we all get accustomed to our regular routine, which is not a bad thing in itself. We need regularity and predictability to a certain degree to stay sane. However, when our routine becomes so predictable that it begins to pacify or lull us into a state where we are no longer being challenged or growing mentally and spiritually it can become dangerous. But waking early each morning to a seven or eight hour walk each day for thirty some days, eating and sleeping in a strange place with people I barely know, who snore and have different habits than my own…has a way of breaking a person out of their routine quite quickly. One gem of understanding that I have been reminded of is Life is a journey and we are all pilgrims or seekers upon it’s path. Sometimes we lose our focus and find ourselves growing too comfortable in our routine, which can begin to hinder us from growing mentally and spiritually. The question I take away from this is, “How can we keep ourselves moving forward,” or better yet, “How can we continue to be seekers instead of sleepers along life’s journey?”

Thursday, October 17, 2013


As many of these discussions often begin, I have been reading an interesting book. This time I am reading a book entitled: take this bread, written by Sarah Miles.
As I have been methodically working my way through this woman's biography, which is basically what the book is, I have came to this chapter "Crossing II". In this chapter Sarah is reflecting how her partaking of the Lord's Supper (Communion) is changing her life. She also senses that just as she has been fed at the Lord's Table, so too God wants her to feed the poor in her community. However, the interesting thing about where she feels God would have her to feed people is upon the very altar in which she receives the Lord's Supper each week. Only one problem with this idea...what will her Episcopal Priest say about this idea? Then she remembered Jesus' own actions of "inviting notorious wrongdoers to his table" and then how Jesus basically ignored the "religious rules" of his day, and did it anyway (92-3). Well, she did get her priest's permission to serve the poor in their church building and even upon their communion table. Soon after this ministry started Sarah opened similar food kitchens all through her city. If you want to find out more about Sarah's story you should read her book and it is a great book. However, this experience has got me thinking about something not completely unrelated...and here it is. How often do we Christians close ourselves and our religious rituals off to outsiders? Now don't get me wrong...I am well aware of the "sacredness" of the Church's religious rituals, namely the sacraments that we recognize as Protestants (The Lord's Supper and Baptism) and that all who partake of them should be fully aware of what they are participating in and accepting when they receive them. However, the question still remains in my mind, "Who are we offering them to?" For those of you who I am about to lose in this discussion, because it is getting into the technical details of Church Theology, just wait a minute and you will see where I am going with this. I think the way we treat the "sacraments" and who we offer them to has a direct affect upon the way that we see the outsider among us and how we treat them as well. If we feel the most sacred part of our worship is just for those of us who are insiders and maybe are even "worthy" of these "gifts of God" (That's what the word sacrament actually means) than we have forgotten the very purpose of these "gifts of God". Namely they are "gifts" like everything else that God has offered to us and none of us are worthy of them. All of us have done wrong, just like Judas did wrong, you know the one that betrayed Jesus to his death, but the one who Jesus still offered fellowship and acceptance at his last meal. Sort of surprising isn't it? You know if Jesus would offer fellowship to Judas who could we possibly think of that should be denied this same "gift of God" and fellowship at the Lord's Supper today? Yes, I struggle to answer that question myself, but greater still...how does our lives reflect Jesus' openness to saints and sinners in our everyday lives? For truly all of life is "sacred" and so is every life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Next Christians

Our small group at church recently listened to a podcast on American Public Radio with Krista Tippett on her show Speaking of Faith. The subject was "The next Christians." (Thank you Jeremy for calling our attention to this conversation and hosting our small group's discussion of this subject) I have pasted the paragraph on the show's website that summarizes the conversation: "Two Christian leaders are working to restore Christian engagement in the world. Gabe Lyons [founder of "Q" a Christian group that hosts interfaith discussions] and Jim Daly [The new president of Focus on the family] discuss how they who are reshaping their part in common life, and the common good. This often surprising conversation addresses subjects like gay marriage, abortion, and the strident reputation that Christian evangelicals have earned in the past decade." I have also posted the link to the podcast for those who would like to listen to this conversation themselves. http://www.onbeing.org/program/next-christians/4839. I found this conversation very thought provoking and even surprising at moments. For one I was surprised that the new president of Focus on the family would even appear on "Speaking of Faith" which has a reputation for being a quite progressive program and two I was surprised with many of the responses given by Jim Daly himself. He was clearly attempting to "distance" himself and Focus on the Family from some of the "old guard" or "colonial" presumptions that have been equated with the "Religious Right" (More conservative and fundamentalist branch of Christianity). He used words like our "tone" needs to change, and we need to stop building "fortresses". He went on to say that in the past conservation Christians had been "gentle" to their own, but "harsh" on the rest of the world. This practice clearly needed to change, according to him. He said we need to hold our fellow Christians accountable for their actions and be compassionate and loving towards the rest of the world. The word that he wanted to use for these shifts that are taking place and need to continue taking place is "Refocus", which is the name of his recent book and quite quaintly a critique of his organization's name. However, he was quick to say his values have not changed (He still believes quite passionately about his perspectives on many of the issues which were discussed on the broadcast). The other person which shared on the broadcast was Gabe Lyons. Gabe came from a very conservative and fundamentalist background at Liberty University and his family attended the late Jerry Falwell's church. He said he was proud of his background and wouldn't change his roots even if he could. However, their came a time in his Christians faith where he felt he needed to repent and confess that he too was part of the problem Christianity had caused in the world through arrogance and pride. He liked to use the word "Restore" as what his vision for what Christianity is called to be about in the world. He believes Christians can begin doing this by engaging people of other faiths and even no faith in open discussion. He is convinced the outcome will bring about a change among all who participate in the on-going discussion, which will intern bring about a transformation within society through the help of the presence of God. As I said earlier I have found this conversation quite engaging and I also find it relevant for those of us who would like to see positive change come about within the church today. I would like to discuss further the ramifications of this conversation, but for now I will hold my comments to two questions. 1) What changes do we see still need to take place within the Church? 2) What part does open and sincere conversations with those unlike ourselves play in this change?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Resources that Matter

I recently visited Haiti, a couple weeks before Hurricane Issac hit and caused massive flooding in Port A Prince and the sounding areas. Like most people that come to Haiti to visit, I was shocked by the sites of poverty, unsanitary living conditions, rough roads and yet beautiful mountains and natural scenery. However, that was not all I was shocked by. I went with a group of pastors from the United States who dreamed up the idea of developing a pastor-to-pastor & congregation-to-congregation partnership with Haitians. We met with two groups of pastors from different parts of the country to talk with them about this idea. What shocked me was not that these pastors were willing to meet with us, they were glad to meet with us. What shocked me was when these pastors began describing for us the types of ministry they were doing with practically no budget and very few things that we would call resources. They also told us that they did not want us to view them as beggars, or lazy, because that is how many outsiders have viewed them...from the perspective of pity. They told us that Haitian Christians are people of strong belief in God and that the ministry they do is hard, but important work and God is blessing them. To be honest I was quite convicted seeing the conditions that they live in and I had already visited many of these pastor's church building, and knew they had very little material resources. However, in the midst of all these odds that had been stacked against them they were still serving God and quickly outgrowing every building that was erected for them to worship in. The more I reflect on this experience and the perspective partnership that is developing between us, the more my idea of "true resources" are beginning to change. Maybe the "almighty dollar" and "air conditioned buildings" are not as great of a resource as we have come to believe. Maybe a strong belief in God and the drive to serve others, even when our own resources are few, is a much greater resource? Maybe we have much to learn from those we thought had very little to offer? Maybe....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

There have been some who believe that Christianity was not meant to deal with such things as social concerns… “It is a great mistake to treat all the ideas which underlie the preaching of Jesus as though they were primarily connected with the ‘Social’ problem. The message of Jesus is obviously purely religious; it issues directly from a very definite idea of God, and of the Divine Will in relation to man [humanity]. To Jesus the whole meaning of life is religious; His life and His teaching are wholly determined by His thought of God.” (Ernst Troeltsch) What do we think of such opinions…is the Church to stick to “Strictly Religious” concerns and shield her eyes from the suffering and blatant injustice, which takes place round about her on a daily basis? I think not! From Jesus’ very first sermon in which he lays out the tasks laid before him...Luke 4:18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, vs.19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:18-21) Until Jesus' last moments on earth where he instructs his followers that they are not to be separated from the world, but that they are the very presence of God within the world, Jesus was thinking of others (John 17:15-19). Jesus was thinking of the very presence of God becoming a reality here and now on earth and setting all things as they should be. So what task does the church have laid before her in light of this understanding? Where do we see the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed? What truly is the “Good News” in which we have been instructed to proclaim? Is it only “Spiritual” release from present troubles or is it much more…? We have been charged to bring, through the power and grace of God, the whole message of the Gospel to those in need today. This message includes release from “Spiritual, emotional, and economic” oppression. This task can only be accomplished by all of us working together, with the help of God, to bring lasting change. This is our task…this is our mission!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Holy Week

As we have been journeying through Lent this year I have been using a devotional reading, which combines scriptures with reflections by Henry Nouwen (Renewed For Life). I have to admit, I sometimes struggle with the idea of Lent...It's not that I don't understand the theological meaning of it (Lent is our own journey of taking up our [cross/struggles] and following Jesus towards the cross). We are often told that as we deny ourselves we more fully understand our need for dependence upon Christ and I cannot disagree with this. However, like so many other times, Nouwen has a way of shedding new light on the subject. From his perspective, Lent is also an intentional time that we meditate upon God's great love for us as the beloved of God, "If you dare to believe that you are beloved before you are born, you may suddenly realize that your life is very, very special. You become conscious that you were sent here just for a short time, for twenty, forty, or eighty years, to discover and believe that you are a beloved child of God." Christ did not turn towards the cross...enter Jerusalem because he was coming to appease an angry God that demanded "blood". No Christ turned towards Jerusalem, and his inevitable death on the cross, because of his great love for us. As we gathered together this past Sunday we reflected upon what does it mean to be "Truly loved". Not because we are able to accomplish great things or prove our love for God, but what does it mean to be loved deeply and purely by the one that has created us and knows us best of all? This is a little intimidating to think about, because so many times we have difficulty loving ourselves. How would it change our perspective of Lent, the Christian calendar, and maybe even God if we looked at these events as a "Love story" in which God is reaching and embracing us?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


After a recent conversation, I have been thinking about the concept of "brokenness" as it relates to our lives and specifically for those of us who attempt to follow Christ. The dictionary defines brokenness as something, "Forcibly separated into two or more pieces; fractured." Now none of us wants to think of ourselves as broken, that's not a good image. When we think of things that are broken we think of things that are no longer sparkling, usable, and are often discarded. We think of pain! For good reason we avoid these types of images because this is not the picture of things we think are strong, valuable, or attractive. However, things that still have all their paint or are still flashy are things that have never been used, tested, and tried. My wife and I recently went on a hiking trip with shoes that had not been broken-in. You can imagine what our feet looked like after a couple of days of that type of treatment. Our feet and ankles were "sore" to state it mildly. But after several days of use those shoes started to feel better on our feet, although they weren't as pretty as when we stared. They had lost some of their out of the box shine. They had dirt and mud on them and in places some of the fabric had been damaged. Can we relate? I know that I can.
When we start out in life we too have the fresh out of the box shimmer and smell, but ever so quickly life's experiences change all of that. We get bumps and bruises that sometimes are hard to bounce back from. But we are told that to be successful, popular, and attractive we cannot have any of these so called "blemishes" (None of our fabric can be damaged). However, I have seen time and time again how God has used these blemishes or "yes" even brokenness to help me and others that I know relate to those who are currently facing similar circumstances in their lives. Don't get me wrong, I don't like pain anymore than the next person and I certainly don't believe "God sends difficult circumstances our way." But the scars we carry on our selves can sometimes help us relate and even encourage those around us. This reminds me of one of my favorite passages of scripture, "But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us" (2 Corinthians 4:7ff). It is through cracks in our lives that Christ's love, hope, and even joy can be made visible and shared with others. We are not perfect as we would like to be, but through the amazing presence of God at work in and through us...we can often be more useful to others.