Elsewhere

When it doesn’t belong anywhere else, it goes elsewhere.

Matthew 26:36-39a”Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, ’Stay here while I go over there and pray.’ Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, ‘This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.’ Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, ‘My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?’ When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep.”

As most of you know, I work another job on top of my duties as pastor of this Church. I have the distinct privilege of being with a company which works with parents that are in the process of reunifying with their children after they have been taken into custody by the State of Maine. It is mentally trying work, but it can be very rewarding at the same time. Seeing children leave our care and go back home to live with their biological parents after as much as two years away is an incredible thing to witness.

Unfortunately, I have seen the other side, too.

I have worked as a Family Visit Supervisor for almost one and a half years now. In that time, I have taken part in five “goodbye” visits where the children have been removed from the home permanently because the parents have been unable to recover from their mistakes and problems. Those visits are very difficult, even when you know deep down that it is probably for the best. One mother broke down and sobbed uncontrollably as I drove away with her two young children in my car. Another one couldn’t handle the pain and simply asked that I take away her infant son back to the adoptive home very early in the final visit. Still another father welled up with tears as he gave his three-year-old daughter a picture of himself and asked her to “always remember” him.

As I said, it can be a mentally difficult job.

Whenever I do these visits, I always struggle for words to say to ease their pain. Most often, the kids are not the ones that are hurting at that moment. It’s the parents. The parents understand the enormity of the moment. They understand that these “goodbyes” don’t lead to another “hello”, at least not for a very long while. I still haven’t found anything that I can say that would seem to make it any easier or give them a sense of hope. But I have found that an empathetic smile, a touch on the arm, or a simple look into their eyes has a way of calming them. For a pain that is so obviously beyond words, it only makes sense that words cannot contain a sense of hope.

I think that is what makes Jesus’ statements in the Garden of Gethsemane so profound for me. Jesus knew that the most difficult moment in his life was coming, and he simply wanted someone to be there with him. He wasn’t looking for anyone to say anything. He didn’t want someone else to do it for him or share the pain. He wasn’t looking for anyone to do anything, except maybe God. He was simply looking for someone to be there with him and care enough to not fall asleep. And he couldn’t even get that. He faced all of the pain of the cross completely and totally alone.

As I’ve said many times, we live in a world that is losing hope. But I think more than that, we live in a world that is losing “touch”. We can talk and debate and communicate and argue all day long, but we seem to be losing our sense of community. As our understanding of the world gets larger through the use of technology and media, our strong personal relationships seem to be suffering. As we are bombarded with images from across the globe, we struggle to know our neighbors, our friends, and our families.

Jesus would say that we have fallen asleep.

Is that an alarm clock that I hear?!

Good day, Bishop.

Thank you, so much, for a great annual conference in New England last weekend. I especially thank you for the recognition that the new local pastors received during the Ordination Service on Friday night. Having received my license in the last few months, it was nice to be recognized for that accomplishment. But more than that, it was wonderful for all of the local pastors to be recognized for the ministry that they (we) do within the Connection.

But I am writing you today as an act of confession. This year, I had decided to commute back and forth to annual conference for a number of reasons, not the least of which was my 8 month-old daughter ay home. Another reason was so that I would be able to provide pastoral leadership for our beach services on Sunday morning. They had just started up again for the summer and I felt as though the service needed the continuity, not to mention that we had added the serving of Communion to these services and I would need to be present to make that happen.

(This is where the confession comes in…)

After the 8 AM service on Old Orchard Beach, my wife and I took the baby home and had every intention of packing up the car and heading to Wenham for the final day of the annual conference. Unfortunately, through some act of divine intervention probably inspired by the unexpected beautiful weather, my vehicle missed its turn and we ‘ended up’ in Boston. So, we took advantage of this twist of fate and (sadly) skipped Conference Sunday.

But what we found was an amazing testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in Boston. We walked around the city and eventually ended up at Boston Commons. We found three separate churches holding open air services while we were there. One of them (Park Street Church) was holding a big event called Picnic in the Park. Another, the ‘Open Air Chapel’, was serving the Eucharist to anyone that wanted to partake while providing some light music and meaningful liturgy. The third, a Spanish-speaking congregation, was holding their own private service of Communion while sitting quietly on the grass. There was such a strong presence of the Spirit in that park. God is truly moving us out of our comfort zones (our own churches) and challenging us to not “hide our lamps under a bushel”. It was a such a wonderful expression of the things that you and many others have been talking and preaching about over the past several years (and longer).

So, please forgive me for skipping the final day of conference. But also be encouraged that God is still in control of this part of the world and that the Spirit is moving more and more every day!

Baptism

As I am writing this post, I am getting ready to perform my first baptisms this coming Sunday. If everything goes well, I will be baptizing four babies and one adult as well as bringing several people into membership. It looks like it will be a pretty special day in the life of this Church and for me personally. But all of this preparation has made me contemplate the mystery of Baptism.

Article XVII of the Book of Discipline states that Baptism is “not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth.” The Book of Resolutions has a lengthy section adopted in 1996 called “By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism” that goes into great detail about the theological understanding of baptism, its necessity, and what it means to the believer and to the church.

But at its heart, Baptism is still a mystery.

We are baptized because Jesus was baptized. On that, every Christian can agree. But that is just about the only point upon which we all agree. Some denominations, such as the Baptists, only baptize adults or people of an age where they can make a conscientious decision to be Christians. Others, like the Roman Catholics, require the baptism of infants so that they may be cleansed of “original sin” and can be sanctified before mortal death. Some denominations insist that true baptism only occurs when a person is fully immersed in water. Others feel that a light sprinkling is sufficient. Some denominations require special water to be used. Still others feel that any water will suffice.

And still the mystery goes on.

John Wesley held firm to an Anglican understanding of baptism which held that “in baptism a child was cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into the covenant with God, admitted into the church, made an heir of the divine kingdom, and spiritually born anew.” At the same time, he acknowledged that baptism was “neither essential to nor sufficient for salvation” but was the “ordinary means” by which God used to give us the benefits of Christ’s workings in our lives.

I don’t know about you, but that still doesn’t really make it any easier for me to understand.

The truth is that Baptism is one of the two sacraments recognized by the United Methodist Church, the other being Holy Communion. Sacraments by definition are outward signs of an inward state and are meant to be the best way that we can openly show what is happening on a deeply spiritual level. They are, in essence, always a mystery.

I remember when I was baptized. I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. I was called forward by my pastor and went through the ritual aspects of the baptism and eventually sat back down in my pew. And nothing at all happened. I wasn’t happier; I wasn’t more free; I wasn’t more generous, or less selfish. Life didn’t become easier or any less frustrating. I was simply a little wetter at the end than I was at the beginning.

What I later realized is that nothing is supposed to change when you are baptized. As Wesley says, baptism is “a part of the lifelong process of salvation.” It is an opportunity for the Christian community, what we call the Church, to formally recognize God’s work in your life through Christ. It is a community celebration of the cosmic kind and a point of contact between Heaven and Earth. It’s a mile marker along the highway of faith, but it is not the starting point or the end of the road.

It is a special time in the life of the believer and of the community at large. It can be a deeply spiritual moment, sometimes even more meaningful for the congregation than for the participant. It is often a time of celebration for families and renews the generational ties of a family to a particular Church or denomination. It can be all of these things, and more.

But, it’s still a mystery to me. Praise be to the God of Mystery, and for all of those who have passed this Faith on to us so that we may celebrate it’s mystery together.

Friday night. The baby is asleep. Robyn is out with friends. I’ve got Bob Marley on iTunes. (“No Woman, No Cry”… my favorite Bob Marley song.) I should be tired, but I’m not. My mind is all over the place tonight. I can’t seem to get my thoughts focused enough to actually get anything done. I’ll do pretty good for a day or two, but then it all falls apart again.

Next week I’ll be driving back and forth to the New England Annual Conference for the United Methodist Church. I’ve been invited to participate in the Ordination and Commissioning Service because I got my Local Pastor’s license this year. But I don’t think that I really want to go. It is a fairly long event, and they are holding it on Friday night after dinner. I think I just want to get on the road and drive, but I’ll see. You only get your license once, but it’s not like this is ordination. It’s a big deal, but I hate taking myself too seriously. It simply doesn’t mean much of anything to anyone outside of the people who will be in that room that night. And I’m not out to impress them.

I have to really try to figure out what I need to do this summer with the older kids. Bekah and Caleb need to have a good summer, but I am working a lot this summer. Maybe I need a new job. I don’t seem to be getting ahead at all. As a matter of fact, I just keep getting further and further behind. But Bekah and Caleb don’t care about that. They just want to see their Dad, and I really want to see them, too. The more time I spend with Izzie the more I understand just how much I have missed with them. I owe them more than a few hours out of the summer, but I can’t take the time off to be the kind of Dad that I want to be.

Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep tonight.

I got a phone call from my mother today. She saw the kids in New York last weekend while she was there for a college graduation. She called on Sunday night to tell me something, but we never connected until tonight. She wanted to tell me that Caleb (my 10-year-old) told her that I didn’t like him because I avoid his phone calls.

It broke my heart.

I’m not the type that really likes phones. I actually avoid them like the plague. I love my email. Email can be answered at 2 AM in my underwear. Phone calls are done at inconvenient times. And right now, I have a lot of inconvenient times. So I am not avoiding Caleb (or Rebekah) on purpose, but I do generally avoid the phone. (They even called me at 10:30 AM on a Sunday… I was preaching… they know I have to preach…)

So I called them tonight. They were both doing fine. I talked to each of them for a few minutes. And when I talked to Caleb, I made sure that he knew that I loved him and that I missed him very much. The fact is that I do miss him (and his sister) very much. I hate the fact that they live there and I live here. I fight the guilt of having this great life with Robyn and Izzie while I am missing all of the great moments in their lives.

For instance, tonight Bekah had a concert for her choir. She is in a select chorus of hand-picked kids in her town. From what I have heard, she is pretty good. And all I want to do is hear her sing. I wish I could be part of their lives everyday, but that option has been taken away from me.

But I have to believe that this is all for the best. The fact is that I just want to be their father. I don’t want them to grow up and think that I don’t love them. I have no idea if it will all turn out okay, but I have to believe that it will be.

At least that’s my prayer every night.

The baby let me sleep in today. She got up at 5:15 again, but all I had to do was move her and put the pacifier in her mouth and she slept for almost another two hours. She finally got up at about 7:00 and had a big breakfast (for her) and a bottle. It was wonderful. More importantly, she was wonderful. The morning is so awesome with her. It is becoming our special time together.

The problem is that it reminds me sometimes of just how much I miss my other two kids. I spoke with the kids on the phone on Sunday afternoon. Neither one of them had much to say. They had just seen some of my family on Friday and Saturday, so we talked about that for a bit. But most of the time we spent talking was just for the sake of talking.

Being with Izzie everyday has reminded me of just how much I enjoy being a father and how much I miss having Bekah and Caleb in my life all of the time. I had gotten to a sense of ‘normalcy’ with them out of state over the past couple of years. But now, with a baby around all of the time, I have realized just how much I have missed.

So, today I feel a little bit sad for the things that I have missed. And I also feel a little hurt and angry at how I lost them. But I can’t stay sad for long. After all, it would be far sadder if I didn’t miss them at all.

So tonight I will go home to my wife and my littlest girl. I’ll give them both lots of hugs and kisses, and I’ll look at Izzie’s face and see hints of her older siblings in it. Then I’ll put her to bed and thank God that I have such a wonderful and caring family.

After all, having children is a huge gift and an even bigger responsibility… no matter how long you have them for.

The baby is sleeping, but the damage has all ready been done. She woke me up at 5:15 this morning. As of right now, it is Sunday morning at 7:09. The baby has just fallen back to sleep, but I can’t. I have to get ready for Church soon. I don’t know what is up with her in the last couple of days. She has been waking up early, having a meal, and then going back to sleep. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It allows me to get her ready for the day and still gives Robyn a chance to rest in the morning, but she is getting up too early.

On another note, my mother and sister went to New York to watch my nephew’s fiancee graduate from college. While there, they went and got my other two children and spent some time seeing them. I need to call them this afternoon and see how everything went. Mom and Chris said they may be in Church this morning, but we will see. I wouldn’t blame them if they are not. That’s a lot of driving.

Robyn should be very tired today. She is just getting off a three-night stretch. She will have two nights off and then back for another three-night stretch. After all of that, she will be taking her final in Anatomy & Physiology II. For the next week or so, she will be a little stressed. I will need to make sure that things remain relatively calm until then. On the (very positive) plus side, she will be signing up for classes in the next few weeks for the fall semester. I am incredibly proud of her.

There’s is lots more to tell about family life, but I have to wait for the court order to be lifted…

It’s all just too confusing. I wish I could go back. I wish I could go back to when it all made sense. Back when there was such a thing as a Truth that I could understand. It was so much easier. It was all right there. Faith. Grace. Truth. It was all within my grasp. All I had to do was work harder, read more, pray better. It was there for the taking. I could do it… with the help of Jesus… but it could be done.

At least that’s what I thought. Now, I’m confused.

I have to remind myself that the destination and the journey are one in the same. With “Emergent”, it’s all about the story. And the story (let’s call it Creation) is still unfolding. That is one of the hardest parts of this Emergent philosophy to explain. Maybe it’s because it is so contrary to what I (we) have always been taught. I first became aware of Jesus Christ in a conservative setting (whatever that means). But the whole idea of an emerging story means that the Bible is only the first and second chapters of that Book.

I sat with a group of leaders from a large inner-city Christian community center last week and tried to explain this Emergent thing. I really noticed that we have a completely different lexicon. One of them said that they were worried about me, especially because I was in charge of a church. The funny thing is that the people in my church have been easier to talk to about this stuff than the clergy I know.

So I have to keep reminding myself (and everyone else I come in contact with) that it’s about relationships and not knowledge. Right?!?

I also need to constantly remind myself that it’s about US and not about ME. The trouble is that there is not a lot of US out there. Community is so hard to build. It takes so much time and effort.

Is it just me, or do you feel kind of alone in this work sometimes?

I am always looking for new music for worship, but it has to be something that connects with unchurched people. I like to find popular music that can be considered Christian or spiritual when set in the context of worship.

For instance, my organist and I will be switching positions for a day in a few weeks. I will be doing the music for the service and he will be preaching. I did this so that I could try some music that he wouldn’t normally use. I will be using three songs from the Beatles (“Here Comes the S(o)n”, “All You Need is Love”, and “Let it Be”). I was also thinking about using “Revolution”. Several people have suggested using “Imagine”, but that seems a little too controversial. I say that as if using Beatles music at all isn’t controversial.

The church has always used popular music and put new words to it, but I was interested in using popular music without making changes to the words at all. I got the idea from a group of UCC pastors that designed an entire Communion Service using music by U2. They call it the U2-charist.

Are there other songs out there that people have used? I think of “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews or “Jesus is Just All Right” by the Doobie Brothers. There have to be many more.

Never Alone

I feel you in the morning
When at first I awake
Your thought is with me
With each decision I make

You’d been around such a short time
I watched your first breath
Now I have to go on alone
But for love, I need not look

Cause by what you bestowed
In our short time together
Will last in my heart
Forever and ever

Although you’ve left
And now walk above
I’m never alone
I’m wrapped in your love

I Feel peace
That your love continues on
Cause you live on in me
Even after you’ve gone

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