#changetheconversation

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

We got back from our most recent trip to Haiti about eight hours ago. I, and three very humble, gifted, generous, funny, faithful friends had a full day of travel and retrospection. As is true after pretty much every trip the conversations kept steering to what could we do to “fix Haiti.” We didn’t use those words but that is the bottom line.

There are many responses rolling in your mind right now.

“Heal thyself” might well be one of them.

I digress.

By “fix” we are pretty much skipping over some of the greater truth to chase an economic solution.

Economic change is greatly needed there.

That’s exactly the thing we cannot fix.

To dwell on that is to come to a level of frustration that leads to spiritual stagnation that leads to defeat.

There is a line in a Book I read fairly regularly that says “the One who began a good work in you will see it to completion…”

We aren’t called to finish the job. We don’t even have a good grasp of what the beautiful result should look like. We are simply called to be participants in the project.

If we lose sight of this we also lose sight of something very sweet.

The good work is exactly that.

We can’t fix Haiti (or Anderson for that matter) but there are over 600 children going to school through the work that was begun in us. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti (or Washington for that matter) but there is a young woman with new clothes going to college. New clothes and college weren’t even an option, not even a dream. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti (or even change one hair on my head) but there is a very bright young man who is back in classical (secondary) school who’d dropped out because he didn’t have the $250 for the annual tuition. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti but I also can’t get the image out of my head of several people leaving our outdoor woodworking area with chairs, tables, stools, and HUGE smiles. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti but there is a freshly painted building with new pews to sit on where people gather to praise and draw strength and find hope in a place where these things are as essential as air and food. That means something.

I can’t fix Haiti but I can believe in a Friend who is in the process of doing that very thing - and fixing me in the process.

I got to the church building here in Rogersville about 11 last night. I checked my messages and mail. There was a note from a sweet lady who had a serious injury and several surgeries last year. She had no money for food - or for Christmas gifts for her children. You gave generously to her. The note she sent included the words “you have no idea how much that meant to us.”

She’s right.

As our Friend and I were winding up a fairly brief stroll this morning I felt compelled to confess the part of my life that wants to see everything fixed. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“I prefer to look at the fixers.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

#changetheconversation

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Life is exciting these days.

We are (hopefully) on the other side of the pandemic.

There is still lots of unpleasantness around but my filters are working efficiently.

The Cutie and I have another grandchild on the way.

And…

The congregation I have been honored to serve is very alive and very faithful.

We are seeing some new ways of doing things that are the realization of long years of teaching and seeking and waiting for this moment.

Here’s an example.

We get our income from a tip bucket at MSLB and a woven basket placed somewhat haphazardly in the narthex at the church building.

No waving a brass plate under people’s noses.

My successor is going to get a migraine. 😜

The bills are getting paid (notice all this rain 😂) and we are giving thousands EVERY WEEK in missions.

It took a virus to make it possible.

That is just one of the symptoms of the new ways we are being Church.

But this isn’t about that.

It is about something I told a good friend last week.

We were talking about the new life, new hopes, new ways, and new faces.

“I could have really run with this 20 years ago.”

What a waste of breath.

What a terrible excuse.

It wasn’t two minutes after I made that silly comment before I thought of Abraham and Sarah.

They told the messenger he should have come by 20 years earlier.

First they laughed at the Message that they were going to get active.

Then they probably giggled a bit as they got down to business.

Then something was born.

Here I sit, millennia later, learning from them.

And getting down to business.

That same messenger came by to see me.

I am giddy.

Something is being born.

Again.

The “reveal” is happening RIGHT NOW!

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked a soggy slog I was telling him about the challenges that are giving way to changes that feel so stimulating. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“The best days are before us.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 1 week ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I posted this photo on my Facebook page the other day.

The Cutie and I have a fair number of blueberry bushes and harvest has begun.

My Haitian daughter, Syliana, was curious. She asked me what these are.

She has never seen, tasted, or heard of blueberries.

There is every reason to believe she never will.

It really got me to thinking.

Sometime in the last decade or so folks got to talking about “superfoods.”

Sweet potatoes, blueberries, and (I read this just last week) cicadas somehow get on this list.

Since yesterday’s message from Syliana I am abandoning the term superfood as I have come to know it.

It is clearly misleading on a couple of levels.

A “superfood” won’t sustain you on its on.

A “superfood” is a construct of the privilege I live. Sometimes very blindly.

To Syliana, and millions of others, “superfood”is whatever meager meal you are able to muster.

A cup of rice is a source of life and strength.

I can’t imagine something more worthy of the label “superfood” than that.

But this isn’t about that.

Not entirely.

It is about The Bread of Life.

Talk about a superfood!

It doesn’t just give you nutrients for a while.

It changes your dna.

Makes you super(wo)man.

It makes you aware of how lost you can be.

And how wonderful you can become.

There is a sentence or two in the Book I read that says “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

Makes sense to me.

It also suggests that instead of my craving superfood I can be superman.

Please give it a moment’s meditation.

I am hoping you will encourage me.

And maybe join me.

Message me if you’re interested in how I put on my cape.

Eh?

As our Friend and I ambulated a pre breakfast walk I was telling him how much I savor blueberries. He smiled at me the way he does and said..

“They will taste better if someone else savors something too.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 weeks ago

Shabat shalom!

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

It is Sunday and I guess I am feeling preachy.

That’s your notice to take the off ramp from this walk.


Since you stayed let me ask those of you in my charge to just quit it.

It is as if I haven’t been able to teach anything in all my decades of ministry.

I confess to a lot of shabby work but I made an effort to tell you our faith is more, infinitely more, immeasurably more, so very pleasurably more, than saying seven ridiculous things before breakfast.

So, if you must do it please do it out of my hearing.

It gives me a piercing earache.

You might want to consider doing it out of God’s hearing too.

She is very insulted when it happens.

Are you ready?

There is no such thing as a PRAYER WARRIOR.

That term emerged from the Christian fiction section. It has been appropriated by the best sellers and the effective manipulators.

There is no all-star team of intercessors who get God’s ear quicker, and with better results.

I suspect quite the opposite.

It is the despondent soul who feels lost forever whose lament cuts to the heart.

It is the little child who folds chubby fingers to seek help for their dad and mom, or their puppy, whose calls resonate with sincerity.

It is the impoverished Haitian who doesn’t know I exist, who doesn’t know if she will eat today, and has no resource other than her faith who seeks help most directly.

It is the drunk in their fog and the sinner in their wilderness whose groans are carried by the Spirit to a place of clarity and communion.

It is you, not some A team out there somewhere, who best speaks your heart.

If I read Matthew chapter 6 with any accuracy it is the “prayer warriors” who have gotten their reward - along with their title.

God isn’t taking votes for Most Valuable Pray-er.

How terribly insulting to think his heart is so shallow.

Let me make a simple request. It comes from my heart - and my head.

Please pray for me.

Even those who’d rather not.

All.

Of.

You.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked a Sunday stroll we commiserated about how the Body got lost in the NFL/NBA/MLB, the Emmys/Grammys/Fraternities and such. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“I hear you.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

It was a fine day.

Uncle Dowe messaged me at 5:46 a.m. with an encouraging word.

Breakfast at Fat Cats with Larry, Alan, and Karen (not that Karen) was good and the conversation was better.

I changed the oil in my truck with minimal mess. Minimal mess and me don’t frequently hang out together.

While underneath the pickup I had the most delightful telephone conversation with my friend Marie who is going to sing some gather by the river songs Sunday coming (not Sunday next). It is going to be fine.

The Cutie decided that it was the day to make sauerkraut so I harvested 20 cabbages. They were some of the most beautiful I have ever grown.

Whilst in the garden I got a call, on my watch of all things, from Linda about a prayer need that was urgent. The prayers commenced without delay. Later in the afternoon she called to say things were looking better.

Amen.

Anyway, we labored over that cabbage for a couple of hours and left it fermenting for the next six weeks.

Some things are definitely worth the work and the wait.

Homemade sauerkraut and homemade ice cream are on this list.

I mowed my garden lot. As I wound my way among the blueberry bushes I snacked on the newly ripened fruit. The limbs on the bushes are bending low with the bounty.

The Cutie and I went on a late afternoon cruise. The lake was calm. The weather was dang near perfect.

The herons and egrets and cormorants were showing out.

We’d never been to the prime rib buffet at the Lodge.

We have now.

As we motored back to the berth we felt the cool air, bantered about things great and small, and I felt a deep peace and a great hope.

All that, and other things, are in my wake now.

Today may bring the same.

Or storms on a grand scale.

Bring it on!

As our Friend and I walked a cool hike in a light South breeze we were talking about how things that seem small can make a ginormous difference. I was telling him how much I needed a day like yesterday in the books. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“That one is done. Be alert. New mercies today are promised.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

image
Posted 2 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I got this lovely photo yesterday via a text message.

And the Holy Spirit.

I’m guessing you clearly see the lovely portion and will overlook the other.

There are no words to describe what a sweet day that was.

The congregation I have been honored to serve for so long is exceptionally child tolerant.

Another way of saying that is “Christlike.”

It isn’t uncommon at all for a toddler to wander up to the chancel and join me in worship leadership.

But sometimes the parents are a bit stressed. They have been “churched” to think their children are distracting instead of attracting.

How did we manage to screw up so badly?

I digress.

As I remember the day, Hannah Cate’s Mom was dealing with a child who was getting on the fussy side of tired. My “preacher vision” sensed a departure from the sanctuary might be imminent.

As I was holding forth I strolled over to give Mackenzie a break. Doing the Pops thing is one of my greatest joys.

I turned HC to face the people, rested her weight on my arm, swayed a bit, and finished the sermon.

I turned her to face out so folks could enjoy her beauty - and hoping they would catch her attention and distract her for a few.

She conked out.

It was no doubt the calming effect of being in my arms.

Or the stultifying effect of my sermon.

I digress.

All that to say that I have been pondering this photo the last 24 hours.

Hannah Cate was one of four generations of her family in the worship service that day.

From generation to generation thinking enters this conversation.

Theirs and ours.

I know we are supposed to challenge and inspire and equip and convict.

Or at least that’s what I have been told.

But in a world where we are pretty much all on the fussy side of tired there are times, and places, that call for the accepting, loving, strong arms of a Friend.

And the peace to take a nap.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked among the morning songs of the birds on a lovely late Spring morning we were talking about babies and emotionally exhausted folks and the pressure to keep going. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“I napped in a rowboat in a thunderstorm.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Wednesday evenings are really fun for me.

I get to spend a half hour with the youth group. (I didn’t say it was fun for everyone.)

In this (hopefully) post pandemic period they are a priority and we are learning some eye opening and heart popping things.

But I have to talk a right smart.

We adjourn to a quick meal with the saints who assemble for fellowship and to show our family ties. For reasons that elude me not many adults have returned but those who gather are bringing some eye opening and heart popping contact.

Whilst we gather at the Welcome Table we talk a right smart.

Then the Bible Class commences. A dozen or so of us make it a habit to hang out together and hear some eye opening and heart popping insights burst forth from the Good Book.

You guessed it. I talk a right smart.

Then comes choir rehearsal.

My voice, always weak and never in tune, is worn out.

I told the Cutie a few weeks ago that I try to sing through the song for the coming week but mostly just listen to those being rehearsed for further down the road.

All the eye opening and heart popping and talking a right smart leaves me depleted for vocalizing.

Last night it was the same.

Except when we got down the rehearsal list to “10,000 Reasons” I sang again. And louder. Maybe not anymore in tune than before but I couldn’t not sing.

I had done a triumphant funeral yesterday afternoon. I took my Mom to the beauty shop yesterday morning. Long needed rain had fallen. The roof over my head kept me dry. I had $3.50 for a milkshake. I got photos of a young woman smiling boldly after some much needed dental work and of the restrooms being built in Dufour, Haiti. I had at least a dozen people ask for prayers. What an honor to be the one they turned to. Old Uncle Dowe is moving into assisted living. He is already plotting the Bible Study he will lead in the chapel “two doors from my apartment.”

In the darkness you are shining a bright light.

In the despair you are living an amazing hope.

In the sadness you are offering a joy that has come for all people.

In the greed you are sharing in ways that are becoming to a church that wants to be known for generosity.

And I got to hug the children!

10,000 eye opening and heart popping things exploding all around me - and welling up in song.

Even after I had talked a right smart.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked after that little hailstorm we were mentioning you and your works of love and faith. It was a talk that held no promise of ending so he smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Let’s sing.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I gave my grandson one of those flashy gold tokens you use at the car wash vacuums.

I told him it was a Bitcoin.

We are both blissfully ignorant of what a Bitcoin is but I am fairly certain you can’t finance a car vacuuming with one.

Or maybe you can.

I saw where another “major player” fell victim to a cyber attack yesterday.

It is being held hostage by ransomware that launched an assault from some shadowy “criminal ring” in Russia, or Neptune maybe.

My sole defense against a cyber attack is an abundance of poverty.

And Baby Yoda.

I don’t care to return to outdoor toilets despite the nostalgic memories so many seem to have about them.

I’m quite happy with air conditioning.

I don’t think we would have survived the last year without Amazon Prime.

Does this mean I want it both ways?

Am I wishy-washy?

Is my comfort zone shrinking?

What?

Perhaps it is best to make progress.

But at a slower pace.

On the other hand, I sing “Old Time Religion” with a smile on my face and doubt in my heart.

In many ways the old time religion held folks captive to a lesser life.  It reinforced prejudices that handicapped us all.  It built walls that are taking a mighty effort to bring down.

I don’t want to tarry even a nanosecond if I can get closer to the ground of my being, the Creator of all things good, and the lover of my wishy-washy self. And I certainly want to do more for those folks we’ve pushed away from religion.

I want to throw myself with abandon at a deeper spirit, and broader acceptance, and a warmer welcome.

I even want to rush my ability to forgive as I am forgiven, accept as I am accepted, and be at peace with Daily Bread.

I am picky about my pursuits I guess.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked after that deluge we were talking about getting ahead - and falling behind. He heard me out before smiling gently at me the way he does and saying…

“There aren’t many Bitcoins showing up in the offering plate.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Perhaps a pastor friend or two can relate.

It was a disaster and I was in the middle of it.

I knew it was happening but somehow couldn’t alter the course.

It was Trinity Sunday last and I had prepared my sermon as usual. Maybe better than usual.

I haven’t been able to see well enough to read for quite some time so I don’t have a text and seldom do I have notes. The folks who attend both of our Sunday morning services can attest that the sermons are the same.

Normally.

Trinity Sunday not so much.

At MSLB I didn’t feel well, things distracted me that normally I convert to an emphasis, I got started in the middle (don’t ask me why), I fumbled my illustrations and missed my points, and I could not for the life of me get it back. In all the annals of sermons preached there has never occurred such stumbling, mumbling, and bumbling.

The ending was painful for me but surely an enormous relief for the beautiful and long suffering folks who had gathered.

Only the strong of heart and faith among them will return next week.

I kicked myself for an hour, indulged in a goodly bit of self pity, then faced the largest and most attentive crowd we’ve had at the 11 o’clock since pre pandemic.

It certainly wasn’t the greatest sermon ever preached but at least it was the sermon I intended to preach.

In the hour between the close of the MSLB and the beginning of the 11 o’clock, besides a butt kicking, I didn’t review my notes and I didn’t write my resignation letter.

I sat outside in the sunshine, listened to a mockingbird sing an aria, sipped a cup of coffee, watched the cars streaming into the parking lot, saw the saints hugging and greeting one another, smelled the fresh breeze, came to terms with something past I cannot change…

And prayed.

As our Friend and I walked a memorable hike we were talking about disastrous sermons and dramatic reversals. He smiled at me the way he does before his words from Sunday at 10:59 a.m. echoed…

“We got this.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Usually when I shave I start on the sides and work to the middle.

Every now and then I will start in the middle and work out.

I’m a wild and crazy guy like that.

Yesterday as I was preparing my shaving equipment I entered a time warp. It was 1972 and I was in basic training at Fort Jackson, SC. A miserable place if there ever was one.

I had maybe three whiskers on my chin.

The drill sergeant woke us at 4;00 a.m. to teach us how to shave.

No kidding.

Thing is, young people in 1972 had a rebellious side. We gathered before the wall length mirrors over the sinks in the communal latrine. After the class the platoon started peppering him when he asked if there were any questions. Do you go up or down on your chin? Do you use the same amount of lather on each surface? Do you change the blade weekly? How much bleeding is normal?

It went on for quite a while.

The drill sergeant, quite a genius, finally figured out what was happening, said a drill sergeant word or two, and told us inspection would be soon and we better be ready - in so many words.

All in all I suspect that hour of shaving lesson cost the government a couple of thousand dollars.

One platoon now. You do the math.

But this isn’t about that.

It is about our (or maybe it’s just me) need for routine.

Not in all things of course.  Adventure is good.  But in some core things. Some things you do in the midst of adventures too.

Habit if you will.

Not in everything but in the things that bring peace.

A book I read several decades ago had a line in it that read “the only change worthy of the name takes place on the level of habit.”

You do it as naturally as you breathe.

For some, and I certainly hope most of us, no planning goes into brushing our teeth.

I have to make a conscious decision to not shave.

And I love those epiphanies when I realize I was thankful, or used by God, or moved to tears, or busted a gut laughing, just at the graces around me that I have come to expect out of habit.

It is my habit, you see, to take these walks.

Sometimes I start way out on the edges.

Sometimes I get crazy and start at the core.

But I have a queasy feeling all day, and bad breath to boot, if I don’t live the habits that matter.

Eh?

As our Friend walked with me on the coolest Memorial Day morning in my memory we fell into an easy rhythm. It was almost as easy as breathing. I was telling him how natural it feels to be in his presence in these predawn meetings we have. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“That poor drill sergeant.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago

Shabat shalom children.

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

It was one of the most common “sayings” when I was in the army.

I haven’t been in the army since 1977 but I still hear it.

Sometimes I say it.

It is entirely likely that I can’t say it enough.

“That’s above my pay grade.”

When confronted with a task you aren’t qualified to do and when assuming such a task would bring a responsibility you can’t bear you would reply “that’s above my pay grade.”

Sometimes it was a cop out.

Sometimes it was an attempt to pass the buck.

As the years have become decades I have come to realize it is the truth that can set me free and give me hope.

It is above my pay grade to sort out climate change and pandemics. I can do what I can do but when it comes to what you, or someone in Hoboken does, I need to let go when I get to my limit.

I doggone well better not catch you knocking the teeth out of an airline attendant though.

Or talking ugly.

I digress.

It is above my pay grade to analyze, or psychoanalyze, the motives, histories, and actions of people I don’t know- and most of the people I do know.

And it is infinitely beyond my pay grade to judge or condemn them.

If they hurt a child you dang well better know I will intervene.

Just be kind.

It is above my pay grade to understand the Divine and it is vastly beyond me to take on God’s responsibilities.

I get pretty nervous when I hear others confidently doing so.

Something ain’t right.

There is a beautiful peace to be had from accepting the graces that come unbidden and unforeseen.

It is above my pay grade to understand friends, and a Friend, who are unrelentingly faithful to a cracked pot like me.

Still, there you are.

I won’t be asking questions about that. I will just cash the check.

Eh?

As our Friend walked beside me on a Sunday morning that could be described as “crisp” we were having a very limited talk. It was all I could handle but it was way more than I needed. When he saw how I was coming to terms with my limits he smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Now we can go places.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago