In The End

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16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. (Genesis 28: 16-17)
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There are more than 20 miles worth of hiking trails at World’s End State Park.  It is worth getting lost in time there.

Who knew?!? The World’s End is just a little more than 7 miles away from Eagles Mere, PA.  I discovered this apocalyptic location when I went for a hike in the Loyalsock State Forest. We are fortunate to have a state park there. 19th Century Loggers completely deforested the old growth forests of Eastern White Pine and Hemlock. Clearly, millions of animals’ world came to an end because of Pennsylvanians’ needs for lumber. A new world came into being when  the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources purchased the property in 1932. The Civilian Conservation Corps began restoring the area throughout the 1930s and thereafter.

However, the end times for this pristine region are potentially occurring. The earth under the forests is rich in shale.  Seemingly Pennsylvania doesn’t own mineral rights in most of its parks.  Should a company such as Anadarko decide to drill for shale they will imperil the area’s environment and inhabitants including bears, otters, deer, turkeys, and more than 200 species of birds. (Kibbe, 2004).   Your thermostat is set at _______?

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Linkin Park’s “In the End” Video – May Chester Bennington rest in peace and rejoice in eternal job.

Why are you so grim today Jim (you may ask)?  Well,  I usually blame such episodes on my melancholic Celtic heritage.  Walks in the woods accompanied by my appreciation for this planet’s grandeur invokes a sense of commingled woe and wonder.

Here’s another matter disturbing my soul. I’m not a huge of Linkin Park. I have friends who are. Chester Bennington’s suicide shockingly grieves them. His battles with depression and addictions are documented. The suffering he experienced must have been overwhelming.  I have had friends commit suicide and I’ve thought about it too. Some of the weeds that spring up in our psyche go well beyond our genetic matrix. We live in desperate days and some people can’t handle it. I am sad every time someone or something dies tragically and unnecessarily.

More than 44,000 people commit suicide in the United States each year.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-34. (National Institutes of Mental Health, 2016). I doubt that most opioid overdoses are classified as suicides and they probably should be.  Everyone is worthy of love and belonging.

That last point is what’s got me wound up the most. In Sunday’s Gospel text  , Matthew’s Jesus shares a story about weeds and wheat winding up in the same ground.  The wheat was doing very well on its own until an enemy came along and through some weeds into the same soil. The workers desired to quickly pull out the weeds and the chief gardener directed them to leave them together.  “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew is the only synoptic gospel who shares this parable. It seems that Matthew’s Jesus wants Matthew’s listeners to pay close attention to whether or not they are righteous and faithful. Such virtues seemingly get you into the heavenly barn when the endtimes happen.  Nonbelievers or heretical folks…. well hang out for the eternal fracking party.

That’s nice and oh so bonecrushingly unfair .  The woeful human weeds, get burned while the righteous shine like the sun. I need a different interpretation than that one.  Maybe I’ll preach on Jacob and the ladder descending from heaven instead.

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Here’s a simple yet paradoxical theological point. Life is no picnic. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Celtic or a member of some other cultural group. You and I can’t control whether or not some greedy mining company is going to start fracking the beautiful forests in Pennsylvania. We can complain like hell and in the end it may not matter.

People who wrestle with depression and addictions need help. They sure as hell don’t need to hear that they are going to eternal damnation. What seems evil to me is to not to strive to protect God’s creation, God’s creatures, and our neighbors, especially people who wake up in the morning believing that this life isn’t worth living. Can we fix other people. No. Can we strive to be agents of God’s healing. Yes, this is delicate work and we won’t always succeed though we try.

For some reason, the presence of evil is inherent in God’s creation, and therefore in ours. I understand that many Christian theologians want to erase God’s divine thumbprint on evil. I’m unconvinced. The little I know about cosmology and biology is that the universe somehow operates with seemingly bad things harming seemingly good things. Black holes consume entire galaxies.  Suffering happens in the World’s End State Park, in the hearts of rock stars, and throughout gardens everywhere.

Okay, theodicy (why does evil exist?) is way too big of a problem for me. What seems much smaller and a little more manageable is that weeds and wheat are aspects of my human condition. They probably are for you too.

There are degrees of choice in paradoxical wheat/weed living.  First, when possible, enjoy picnics – especially when wandering onto life’s uncertain and potentially wicked roads. Don’t fall too much when  getting outdoors in PA. Minimize the weeds of depression with the wheat of wholehearted living. Listen to what the roots of pain are trying to teach rather than ignoring them. Identify when displaced dissatisfaction is working overtime. Seek out activities that are enriching. Give to people, especially someone in need of encouragement, compassion, and justice. And, keep searching for the World’s End with the hopes of not finding it until the appointed time and place.

Blessings along The Way

 

 

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Thoughts from Eagles Mere

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West End Ale Haus in Bloomsburg PA
West End is becoming one of my favorite places to have a brew, share my story, and learn more about Jesus.

I hung around for one more beer following Sunday night’s Bible and Brews gathering at West End Ale Haus. We  discussed the Parable of the Farmer and Seeds.  Is Jesus teaching us about God’s abundance? Yes.  Is Jesus directing his listeners to pay attention and be good soil for his teachings? Yes. Is Jesus teaching parables so he can confuse some of his listeners.  Yes, Jesus’ parables offer an array of optional learning.  Life is a parable. Listen, learn, and welcome to the adventures of spiritual growth if you trust yourself and God enough.

bp_2xipa1.pngThe conversations were awesome although I really wish we could find a bar where the acoustics are more cooperative.  Listening to 80s soft, rock while the server inquires about who is drinking the Southern Tier 2xIPA even as someone from the far end of the table offers a profound insight about Jesus’ teachings requires unique multitasking auditory skills.  Nonetheless, these are great gatherings, not just because we’re learning more about our faith. We’re getting to know one another. St. Paul calls that becoming “members of The Body.”

Somewhere during the night, our conversation wandered into what it means to find one’s self in bad soil (tough times).  I’ve been wrestling with some of my chronic family systems baggage as well as other anxieties for the past few days. I was moping about my crap until Erin shared her shitty soil story.  Some years ago, she experienced the following coincidental moments – All within two weeks time:

1.)  Her brother was murdered.

2.) Her husband announced he was divorcing her.

3.) She failed her medical exams.

4.) She suddenly had single parental and immediate responsibilities for her three young sons, with no place to live.

I was worrying about my sister. How I would manage my bills for August. Really?

Amazingly, Erin went on to share her story.  Co-workers she hardly knew supported her through the tumultuous waters. She discovered that the most threatening and uncertain days of her life led to her finding her most authentic work. She articulated what a great fortune it was to meet a man who would become her true soul mate.  She survived and we are all better because of it.

Erin possesses a unique understanding of people’s needs. She would not be able to share her story and her gifts as brilliantly if she had not gone through her soul’s dark night . The depths of despair entered her into the light of a resurrected and more purposeful life for herself, her children, and the people she loves and serves.

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“Anchored” by Jack Simonds

Eckhart Tolle suggests that people who navigate their way through the woods of one way of being into another are awakening to their truest self. Transformation requires letting one’s ego die so that a person may be reborn. (Tolle, 2011) Goethe wrote: “Life belongs to the living and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” Jesus in Thomas’ Gospel.  proclaims “Blessed is the person who has suffered (Laboured); he (she) has found life.

The shadowy cells of our subconscious selves innately and paradoxically cause us pain even as they prompt us to give birth to something or someone new.  I infer the reason that childbirth is equally painful and rewarding is because a mother loses a significant part of herself even as she provides new life to a human being.  In spiritual terms, a seeker must let go of the old way of being including the suffering associated with old wounds. Disciples must exercise their faith, discipline their egos, and demonstrate courage that is sufficiently strong to overcome doubts and obstacles alike. Two or three pale ales in the company of trustworthy and vulnerable friends help a great deal.  Someone who rescues you away from a dark night’s dungeons and safely holds you until the morning’s dawn is a divine angel who you should thank unceasingly.

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Inlet Light Play – (The Lake at Eagles Mere, PA) – Photo by Jack Simonds

Morning’s grace for me has come via the invitation to spend a few days with very close friends in Eagles Mere. We played board games, drank wine, and ate spaghetti last night.  I’ve napped for about three hours since I’ve been here. I’ve dreamed dreams that seem to be important though I can’t quite get my conscious mind on what my inner being is working through or trying to convey to me. Life is a parable asleep and awake.

This morning, I took a three mile silent walk in the woods and wondered. Two white-tail does kept unconcerned eyes and ears upon me as I stepped. My mind and soul reflected upon my newfound friend’s tenacity. She inspires me. I am encouraged further by Christ’s presence in the gathering of people where I now live  because of the previous dark nights and bright mornings I’ve experienced. What does it mean for us to be New Testament people in 21st Century CE circumstances?

I sadly pondered whether  I would be able to re-accomplish what I did some 20 years ago when I encountered my darkest night. My Air Force career went up in smoke because of my sexual orientation.  My boyfriend walked out on me. My faith in the world’s goodness was temporarily shattered. I abandoned relationships under the clouds of an investigation and returned home to re-start my life. A group of unknown Episcopalians took me in and cared for me as a family member. I was reborn and it hurt like divine hell. The costs I paid for it I would prefer not to pay again. Who can say?

In the midst of my own ongoing worldly and spiritual uncertainties, I continue to believe. God’s Graceful gifts are like living with someone who always runs late. The miraculous beauty of living spiritually is that love is present on this side of death and always on the other side.

Blessings along The Way …

Sowing Seeds

 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed.

american meadowsI’m a novice gardener.  I plant flowers and vegetables requiring very little oversight. Last year, my spouse and I decided to set up a raised bed with wildflowers attracting butterflies and bees.  He and a colleague did almost all of the labor.  I bought the seeds and distributed them into the bed in a very haphazard, California free style approach. Seeds of all sorts got tossed into the bed together and the silent battle for soil, water, and sun began. The Mexican Sunflowers won the season.  They grew the fastest and tallest. Xenias and Purple Coneflowers didn’t do as well.

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A farmer went out to scatter seed

This year, I adopted a new strategy in the church garden where I serve.  The garden was an overrun mess. Fortunately, the church hired a landscaper to do the hard work. I cleverly avoided mulching the yard and digging out most of the weeds. However I chose one spot to leave rough. I hacked the weeds and grass out of it but I didn’t treat it with any mulch or much potting soil.  Then I threw some wildflower seeds into it.  That was about a month, maybe six weeks ago. Some of those seeds have taken root as you can see. I water them whenever I water the rest of the gardens. Fortunately too, we’re having a wet and muggy July here in PA. Thus, there are some weeds and grass that are resurfacing along with the wildflowers in the area. Summer seasonal garden games – take two.

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Other seed fell on good soil

On the other hand, I decided to be more intentional about a small section in another garden area.  I used potting soil as a base for the seeds.  I thoroughly disposed of the weeds and grass.  Once the seeds were settled, I watered them thoroughly.  I asked the landscaper to be gentle with the wildflowers with mulch in the one area while leaving the other area alone.  You can see that the seeds in good soil are thriving, for now.

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Jesus’ parable of the sower, (or parable of the soils) [or parable of the seeds] depending upon your point of view, is excellent. A parable is a lesson that offers listeners an understandable way to view the world. However, parables at their best incorporate a challenge as well as perhaps an unexpected ending.  New Testament scholar A.J. Levine writes that Jesus’ parables are “designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.”   (Amy-Jill Levine, March, 2017, para. 2). Matthew’s parables are particularly confrontational because Jesus presents a great deal of judgmental outcomes.  The sheep are separated from the goats as an example. (Mt. 25: 31-46). Jesus declares that The Kingdom of Heaven is much like my garden – in more ways than one. One man plants good seed and another man plants weeds in the same space.  The weeds and the wheat grow up together. The outcome of the plants’ battle for sun, soil, water, and care is uncertain “until the harvest.” They must grow up together.” (Mt. 13: 24-30).

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other seed fell among thorny plants

I was working in the rectory garden earlier this summer when I came upon some pieces of an old baptismal font.  They were separated from one another and hidden under some hydrangea bushes. I rolled them out and set them aside.  Just a couple of days ago, our landscaper set the font up in the yard. It is weathered and I’m not really sure how it go there, or why?  Perhaps a giant wind or some strong-armed parishioners moved it out following a fire or some other calamity.  The winds of history sweep across our memories and facts get lost in the ground.

Alexander J. Frick and H.F. Hawke donated the font to the church, sometime in the middle to late 19th Century. Mr. Frick was confirmed at Christ Memorial Episcopal in 1843. He was buried in 1915. He served as a Union Officer during the Civil War including the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to Danville following the war to continue his law practice. (Deeben, 2000).  Mr Hawke’s historical record is a little more difficult to determine other than he was a prominent contractor.

The garden font got me to thinking about baptism.  Baptism, in terms of our Christian faith, is where seeds first get planted. The priest, family, sponsors, and gathered community have no way of knowing what will happen to the baptized person whether they be young or old.  Those of us who baptize infants do so because we know, especially in churches as old as this one, that life’s gardens are full of all kinds of soil. Some children sadly die when they are young. Other children die on battlefields.  Mr. and Mrs. Frick had at least one daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptized at Christ Memorial. Perhaps she began her Christian life in the font that is now in the garden?  If not, certainly many, many children were immersed, buried, and raised up in Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the seeds of their life began to grow roots.

Each human life is a seed, sprout of God’s creative process.  Some of us are really fortunate perhaps even privileged. We land in good soil. Our parents are generally stable. The family’s wealth is sufficient – though not overly so. The marriage of the mother’s and father’s genes are strong, resilient, and healthy.  The tragedies of war, abandonment, and generational poverty do not pillage the parents or their children.

Sadly, the other fields of life are ripe with seeds too.  Pennsylvania’s coal country isn’t too far from Danville.  Poverty is rampant there and families can’t easily pull themselves up to higher levels of wealth and education.  The soil doesn’t yield as much coal. Natural gas and other factors have changed the economic landscape. People are suffering. The Church’s work is to become compassionate workers in such rough soil.

However, as often as not, the seeds of our humanity spend time in all of sorts of soil, maybe coincidentally. The Christian life, at least for me, is an ongoing gardening process. I need to trust that the Holy Spirit’s wind will blow me out of the weeds when I’m lost. This is true and I still require the kernels of my faith to prompt me to be open to such transitions.  All people spend time on the roads of their lives being tossed to and fro. The possibilities of dying spiritually and mortally are ever present and uncontrollable. Richard Rohr gently reminds us that those of us who seek a truly transformed life must come to expect and live into the unsettled ground of order, disorder, and reorder.

Gardening verifies a universal truth – life is chaotic.  This year’s harvest of flowers, fruits, and weeds is hardly at all within my control.  I remind myself first thing in the morning to water the plants when it hasn’t rained in awhile.  Contemplative Prayer is a similar habit. It requires me to often till and let go of silent, anxious spiritual garden plots. I can’t control how much sun the seed gets or the wind will do, or how many birds will come to eat today or tomorrow. I can choose to remain connected to God who blesses me with all of these conditions.

Jesus encourages his followers with the words: “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear.”

Happiness is not necessarily an easy virtue when wrestling with the weeds or being cooked by the sun. And, none of these realities negate the glory of God’s gracious harvest, today or when the end times come.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

Consultative Curiosity

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Photo by Jordan Whitt. Get curious and check out more photos at Unsplash

I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart; try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign tongue. … (Rainer Maria Rilke)

I applied for a consulting job one time.  I completed a variety of personality assessment, competency exams, and interviews. I wound up getting the job.  I resigned about a year later. It wasn’t much fun and I wasn’t a great consultant – especially for the municipality clients I worked for at the time.  On a more positive note, I learned something about myself because of the final interview. The interviewer said: “Mr. Strader, when it comes to learning, you’re like Winnie the Pooh.  There isn’t a honey pot out there that you won’t investigate.  Keep that trait up.”

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Mindful of The Gap

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Check out Joe Gardner’s photography and other thought-provoking images at Unsplash.

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. Matthew 11: 20-22

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Warnings such as this one prevent us from falling into harm’s way.  What other gaps do we avoid that are not as life-threatening and definitly worth risking?

I rode the underground in London for the first time in 1985. I recall wondering how the cautionary pronouncement influenced my behavior.   Transport for London in a particular British manner invites their passengers to “Mind the Gap.”

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Riding it out on Boston’s MB

The transport’s purpose enables travelers to reach safely their destinations. Similar transport systems offer warnings to avoid litigation as well as for thier folks to arrive intact. (definitely check out the MBTA’s Safety  Bounce video.”

I recall another attention getting invitation about gaps from the 80s.

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Fall in the Gap, 80s style

These advertisers encouraged folks to “Fall into the Gap.”  Yikes!!! Did we really buy those clothes and listen to those tunes. Seemingly. you can still find great deals in “The Gap.”

 

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In(ter)depence Day – Thank God for our Veterans, and then ______?

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Photo by Ben Wright. Find more fine images of Ben’s and other photographers at Unsplash.

A bright and excited eight-year-old girl asked me a favor a few Sundays ago, back around Memorial Day I think. It was about 15 minutes before worship. That’s about the worst time to ask me for a favor. “Can I sing the Star Spangled Banner in church?”  I put on my liturgical and pastoral dancing shoes. “No. How about you think about singing American the Beautiful around Independence Day.”  She gave me a disapproving facial reply and reluctantly agreed. She then went away. Crisis averted …

I went on to lead worship and forget about her request. Until, this past Sunday – once again about 15 minutes before worship. “Remember, you said I could sing America the Beautiful!” She was really excited and ready to sing her solo. “Ok, let’s figure it out.” Thank God for an adaptable, skilled, and supportive altar party and, flexible congregation. Leading worship sometimes requires about as much flexibility as navigating high-performance military aircraft.

Our young singer was outstanding. She did a lovely job of singing the first verse by herself. The congregation joined in with her on the other verses. God’s Grace was shed on all of us who were there to listen and offer our thanks.

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2 July Eucharist at Christ Memorial

 

Later on, I invited her and another young worshipper to celebrate Communion with me at the altar. People seemed pleased and inspired.  I was nonetheless conflicted. I had to make a decision that I otherwise might not have made. Read more

July’s Cornerstone – Christ Memorial’s Newsletter

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Read more about what’s going on at Christ Memorial Episcopal Church this month here!

Christ Memorial Episcopal Church in Danville, PA published a monthly newsletter.  The news includes events like those we publicize on the church’s Facebook page. Hey, Beer and Bible Study on Sunday nights, that’s cool isn’t it? I offer an article or two resembling the sorts of musings I offer here.  Anyway, check it out to see. Tell us what you think is spiritually worthwhile and what you would improve upon. Engage us with your Spirit-led insights and rebukes.  Oh – check out Mark Sargeant’s interpretation of Marc Chagall’s rendition of Isaac’s binding here.

Anyway, check it out to see. Tell us what you think is spiritually worthwhile and what you would improve upon. Engage us with your Spirit-led insights and rebukes.  Be our guests online as well as when you are in the neighborhood.

Blessings along The Way, Jim