Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sidewalk Chalk

As I came to work last week, I found this welcome sign on the sidewalk at the entryway to the building. It was a welcome home greeting from the folks of East Anchorage UMC for one of their pastors, Fa'atafa' Fulumu'a, who just got back from attending the Course of Study for Local Pastors at Claremont School of Theology. Pastor Tafa, who graduated this summer, was gone for a couple of weeks and this was one of the many ways his congregation said "congratulations and welcome home."

This sign reminded me of sidewalk signs that adorn the course during a race. Many people get very creative in supporting their runners. I've seen sidewalk chalk of different colors saying encouraging messages. I've seen personalized and handmade banners and posters. One of my all time favorites was a sign left on a secluded section of a trail that said, "Run, stranger, run!"

Now some people take it to a whole new level. I've seen somebody blast music from their Bluetooth speakers. I've seen a group come out with their drums, helping runners keep their cadence. Some come with cow bells. And then there are those who meet the runners with treats! Donuts from a stranger. Gummy worms from kids. A friend of mine said he's even had a Bloody Mary offered to him by a spectator!

Sidewalk chalk. Banners and signs. Music. Cowbells. Gummy worms and Bloody Marys. I will testify to the fact that all of these simple things add up and give strength for the miles still to come. At mile 20 of a marathon, right as I hit "the wall" and want to quit already, these simple gestures have helped push me forward.

Simple words and acts of encouragement go a long way.
The account of the baptism of Jesus appears in all 4 gospels. Mark and Luke say it almost the same way. Matthew states it slightly differently and as always, John has his own take on it. In Matthew, after Jesus comes out of the water, the voice from heaven said, "This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17, NRSV). In Mark and Luke, the voice from heaven after Jesus is baptized says, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22b, NRSV). 

Notice the difference? In Matthew, God’s voice comes as an announcement to the people. “This is my beloved son.” It is a public proclamation to the people about who Jesus was. And that was important. A good introduction and reference. Jesus needed that as he was to begin his public ministry. But in Mark and Luke, God goes personal. Maybe it was just a whisper meant for Jesus: “You are my beloved son. With you, I am well pleased.” 

Jesus was about to launch his ministry. He was beginning something big, something risky and dangerous. He needed all the affirmation and encouragement that he could get. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” These words did not take away the burden of the task or the pain he had to go through, but it gave him the strength to move forward. I imagine Jesus going back to these words as he prayed alone or struggled with his mission. These words strengthened him as he was tempted in the wilderness, guided him through his ministry, supported him at Gethsemane, and held him through Calvary. It was a voice that defined Jesus for the rest of his human life and ministry. 

Simple words and acts of encouragement go a long way.

I would like to offer a word of thanks to everyone who have reached out and continue to reach out in love and support to Ron, Rachel and Rebekah Myers during this difficult time of grief and transition. It has been an amazing outpouring of support and presence! Thank you! Please continue to be in prayer for them, as well as for the UMC of Chugiak and for First UMC Anchorage.

I also would like to express my deepest gratitude to all who have reached out to me, saying that they are praying for me as I lead the conference through this tough time. Thank you. I felt them.

I am sure those words on the sidewalk meant a lot to Pastor Tafa. As I write this piece, I am reminded that he is in Seattle caring for his wife, Aua, who is recovering from a kidney transplant procedure. Please continue to pray for them as well. 

We are all running this race called life. Runners have a certain ethos that when we're in a race, we cheer one another on. We share high fives, smiles and encouraging words. May you be an encouragement to someone today, by your words and simple acts. May you be encouraged by someone today by their words and simple acts. And may this today be God's word and simple act reminding you that you are God's beloved child in whom God is well pleased.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Holy Interruptions

So last week's post was about establishing a daily life and work rhythm (see Finding my Rhythm). I had just posted it, was driving home and determined to live-out what I had just written, when my phone rang with the news that our colleague, Rev. Linda Jean Myers, had been brought to the ER as she was complaining of dizziness and shortness of breath. When I got to the hospital, she had already passed away. I spent the rest of the afternoon and late evening with her husband Ron and their older daughter Rachel.

I remember driving home that night trying to make sense of it all. I also recall thinking to myself, "There goes my rhythm. There goes my schedule for the rest of the week." I knew this concern took precedence over anything I had already planned to do. I now had to plan a memorial service and a sermon for that, provide pastoral care for the family and prepare another sermon for Sunday at Chugiak (Linda Jean's church) as well as provide pastoral care for them. This was in addition to a previously scheduled baptism and wedding I was going to do on Sunday and Monday. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I am NOT complaining. Surely no one had wished or even planned for this tragic event to happen. And I know that a great part of my new role is being a pastor to our pastors in the conference. And surely, the slight inconvenience of being thrown off my planned schedule pales in comparison to what Ron, Rachel and Rebekah are going through right now. I invite you to join me in continuing to hold the Myers family in your prayers. I also ask for prayers for the congregations that they serve: UMC of Chugiak and First UMC Anchorage.

I am not complaining but I am writing this as a rejoinder to my post about rhythms. Yes, we need to figure out our life rhythms and live by them. But we also need to be ready to respond to the unexpected events that come our way. Our rhythms need a certain level of flexibility to allow us to live in the moment.

Now I know that you task-oriented folks are squirming in your seats as you read this, shaking your heads and saying, "No way, Carlo. Have some focus." And I do. I understand schedules and deadlines and try as much as I can to keep them. But one of our calls is being able to respond to what each situation brings.

When I go for a run or participate in a race, I set goals for myself. While I am not in a race to win, I hold myself to personal goals like improving my time and my pace. Yet every run is different. Every trail and race course is different. And even a day on the same trail is different from the day before. While I can plan my goals and tempo, I never know what I'll get from the trail until I'm there. Sometimes there's rain. Sometimes snow. Sometimes there's a detour or an injured fellow runner. Sometimes there's a view to watch and take in. Sometimes, my shoelaces come loose. Sometimes there's even a moose! When I go out for a run, I never know what to expect. I just have to be ready to respond appropriately to these interruptions in the routine.

In the dedication page of his first book, "Jesus' Strategy for Social Transformation", retired Filipino UM Bishop Emerito Nacpil thanked his grandchildren for adding joy to his life. He called them "welcome and holy interruptions" while he was in the process of writing. 

Speaking of interruptions, as I wrote this blog, I've had to stop to talk with Pastor Janice from Kenai and meet her daughter and grandson. I've had to pause and congratulate Pastor Tafa on his recent graduation from Course of Study. I've had to speak with folks on the phone to answer questions and also to listen. And that’s ok. These are all "holy interuptions". They're all part of this race called life.

Jesus modeled this. While he stuck to a rhythm of life, he was willing to be interrupted by children, people in need, people with questions and people who wanted to talk.

May you be blessed with a routine and a rhythm of life to define your days. But may you also be blessed with "holy interruptions" to remind you that God is not confined to the daily routines you have set and that life is certainly not just about sitting at a desk facing a digital screen.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Finding my Rhythm

I am a distance runner in my own right. I ran 3 full marathons last year and am right now training for my first ultramarathon (49K) next month. And having trained for running long distances, I have found that I don't usually find my pace until after the 3rd mile. The first couple of miles are the most difficult for me as I struggle to find my rhythm. The excitement and anxiety of the starting line pumps my body with so much adrenaline that my timing is off. I try to keep in pace with the pack, pushing me to run at a pace I am not used to. It is in mile 4 when my body settles into a comfortable tempo that I could sustain for the rest of the race.

Danny Dreyer, in his blog ChiRunning, says "Your body loves rhythms ... it thrives on them. Your heartbeat, your breath rate, your need for rest are all based on rhythms that occur naturally in your body or that you've established in your life. The more rhythms you establish, the better your body likes it. When your body has a rhythm to follow, it doesn't have to work as hard. It knows what to do and when to do it."
Your body loves rhythms ... it thrives on them. Your heartbeat, your breath rate, your need for rest are all based on rhythms that occur naturally in your body or that you've established in your life. The more rhythms you establish, the better your body likes it. When your body has a rhythm to follow, it doesn't have to work as hard. It knows what to do and when to do it. - See more at: http://www.chirunning.com/blog/entry/running-with-a-metronome#sthash.9ToniP33.dpuf
Your body loves rhythms ... it thrives on them. Your heartbeat, your breath rate, your need for rest are all based on rhythms that occur naturally in your body or that you've established in your life. The more rhythms you establish, the better your body likes it. When your body has a rhythm to follow, it doesn't have to work as hard. It knows what to do and when to do it. If you go to bed at the same time every night and you get up at the same time every morning, your body knows, "Now I get to rest, now it's time to get up." When you begin each day with a rhythmic consistency, it allows the rest of your day to unfold more easily than when you dive into the day with no rhyme or reason. - See more at: http://www.chirunning.com/blog/entry/running-with-a-metronome#sthash.9ToniP33.dpuf

Finding my rhythm. That is what I always strive to do in the first few of miles of a long run. As my body settles into the running rhythm it is used to and comfortable with, then I begin to enjoy the run, the scenery and the people I am with.

I am into the first mile of this marathon called the Superintendency and I am trying to find my pace and rhythm. Just like a long run, there is excitement and anxiety in this first mile. I'd like to start strong, but I also want to last and finish strong in the end. I ask for your continuing prayers. I also ask for your patience. The rhythms of this role are quite different from that of pastoring a local church. I am still looking for the right tempo and cadence, trying different combinations, that will make me effective and efficient, as well as faithful.

What about you? What are your personal rhythms of life? And what are the life rhythms of your family and your faith community? Are you aware of them? If so, are those rhythms optimal for growth and faithfulness? Or is there anything that needs to be tweaked? Do you need to slow down? Or maybe speed up? Is there a need to re-order your days or perhaps change the way you do things? If you are not aware of your life rhythms, I invite you to start paying attention to them.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says, "There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth." (Ecclesiastes 3:1, The Message). The chapter goes on to outline proper times of doing things, suggesting a pattern, a rhythm of life, and calling us to pay attention to this rhythm and live according to it.

As I run this race, I always remind myself that it is a marathon and not a short sprint. I have to pace myself. I remind myself that I have been created uniquely and have to run at my own pace and not at a pace dictated by others. I remind myself to find a rhythm where I am not only able to run but also enjoy the run. I encourage you to do the same.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

At the Starting Line

More than a year ago, I set-up a blog intending to write spiritual reflections about my, then new-found, love for running. It never happened. Between my pastoral responsibilities, my role as husband and father, and training for my first marathon, I was too busy and did not go beyond reserving the blog name, "Reflections of a Running Reverend". I did run my first marathon last year (as well as my 2nd & 3rd). But my blog never made it past the "starting line."

Today, I find myself at another starting line as I officially begin this new role as Superintendent of the Alaska United Methodist Conference. My predecessor, Dave Beckett, ran the race with perseverance and passion. And he ran it well! Now the baton is in my hands. My prayer is that I would handle this baton faithfully until it is time for me to pass it on to the next person in line.

As I stand at the starting line of this new role, I thought it would be a great time to start blogging as well. This blog will be a chance for you to get to know me and have a glimpse of what's in my heart and mind. As the name suggests, it will have running metaphors and reflections, as running has become for me very spiritual. It will definitely have photos, since one of my other passions is photography. It will have videos, another of my interests. And since I have a bachelor's degree in math, I may occasionally talk numbers and stats.

The beauty of our itinerant system is that we are always given a new start. Here in the U.S., July 1st is always a starting line for United Methodists. Whether you are in a new race (i.e. a new appointment or a new pastor) or a new lap (i.e. a reappointment to the same church), I invite you to always look at the beginning of the new appointive year as a fresh new start, a spring, a resurrection, for you, your family and your faith community.

As we run the race of life together, I echo the words of the writer of Hebrews, "...let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1b-2a, NRSV).

Your fellow disciple,