Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Never Alone

Taking-off from Mile 6 - Photo by: West Gateway Trails
So I ran the Winter Solstice Marathon in Willow this past weekend. And like I said in my previous post, I was doing it as a prayer run. I was "running for those who can't." On the solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I was running for those who are in the darkest times of their lives and longest nights of their souls.

A colleague of mine said she felt the prayers. She even mentioned a specific time of the day when she felt it! I have also been getting emails and messages from friends, thanking me for running the dark path with them. 

On the eve of the race, I sent a text message to a friend with a link to my blogpost and the words: "I'll be running for you tomorrow." My friend texted back with a heartfelt message expressing thanks and ending with, "Now I know... I will never be alone." 

Now I know I will never be alone. Isn't that the good news of Christmas. Emmanuel. God is with us. We will never be alone.

I ran on Saturday with my running buddy, Stephen, his wife Marie who did the 5K and our friend Clare who ran the Half Marathon. It was a fun day with these three. I was not alone.

At Mile 22 - Photo by: David Johnston
It has been a year since I last ran a race with Stephen. In fact the 2013 version of this marathon was our last. And because my family and I have moved to another part of town, we haven't been running together as much as we did when we lived in Chugiak. Honestly, I've missed running with him and it's been lonely training alone. It was so great to run with Stephen again. And I sure was thankful he was there to pace me through those 28 snowy miles. I was not alone.

As we celebrate the birth of the Christchild, I pray that Emmanuel be a continuing reality for you. God is with us. God is with you. You will never be alone. Go forth and be a tangible expression of Emmanuel to everyone you meet.

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Running For Those Who Can't

I am running the Willow Winter Solstice Marathon this Saturday. It will be another prayer run for me. This time, I'm running for those who can't.

Let me explain. From its name, the Willow Marathon is held on a Saturday closest to the winter solstice, the day when the darkness is longest. In some churches, a Longest Night or Blue Christmas service is held and is specifically planned to minister to those who are in the midst of darkness during this season of joy and cheer. It is for those to whom Christmas is a burden because of certain life situations they are in.

For those of you who are in the longest nights of your souls, for you who are living in the darkness of your life situations, I dedicate this run to you.

This is for you who have lost loved ones, and you who are going through difficult times.

This is for you who are going through painful divorces, you who are worn-out trying to work it out and you who are going through stressful life transitions.

This is for you who have been diagnosed with sicknesses, you who are going through treatment and you who are in recovery.

This is for you who are lost and you who are struggling for direction.

This for you to whom Christmas will never be merry and bright because it is a painful reminder of tragedy, abuse and conflict.

I run in solidarity with your darkness and pain. I will be praying for you through the dark night. I know that the suffering I will go through in running those 26.2 cold, snowy miles will be nothing compared to the pain you are in right now.

I will pray with the hope and assurance that the next day would be longer and the night would be shorter. I will pray with the hope of increasing light for you and your situation.

For those of you who don't feel any compelling reason anymore to continue running the race of life, I will run the race for you and with you. There is hope, my friend. That is the real good news of Christmas.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bridging the Disconnect

There is no other time I feel more disconnected from the Philippines, than at Christmas time. It's just not the same! Now don't get me wrong. Celebrating Christmas here in Alaska over the past 6 years has been meaningful. But there are certain nuances, certain traditions and ways of celebrating that are unique to my homeland that I truly miss and crave. And the disconnect from friends and loved ones back home is truly magnified during this season. Listening to Filipino Christmas carols in my car or from my computer usually brings tears to my eyes as my soul acknowledges this disconnect. Thankfully, the wonders of technology allow me and my family to connect with our loved ones across the seas.

Being disconnected is a reality we have to deal with as residents of Alaska. In my traveling to the different ministry contexts around the state, the reality of isolation became very evident, more so in the contexts like Nome and Unalaska. Yet even in churches on the road system, it can get pretty isolating.

It is not unusual for our churches to feel disconnected from each other and from the Conference. I am hoping to be a bridge for the latter and we are working to find links for the former. One of the common responses I've gotten from my church visits was a sincere thankfulness for joining them in worship, meals and holy conference, for taking time to listen, or for just being there and being fully present.

It is also not unusual for our pastors to feel isolated. This became very evident at the recent Clergy and Professional Church Workers retreat. A thirst for genuine connectedness was expressed and was quenched by the time together in fellowship, prayer and conversation.

Fr. Richard Rohr characterizes our disconnect in this way: "Each of us replicates the Wholeness of God and has a certain wholeness within ourselves—but we are never entirely whole apart from our connection with the larger Whole and the other parts." He goes on to say that, "Religion's main and final goal is to reconnect us (re-ligio) to the Whole, to ourselves, and to one another—and thus heal us."

We are called to bridge the disconnect. One way we can easily do this is through prayer. Beginning in January of 2015, aside from the weekly e-newsletter, people will be receiving an email before the weekend, calling them to pray for specific concerns of a local church or ministry setting. The idea is to have the whole conference connected in prayer for a specific context every week. These can be lifted up during the worship service and during individual and small group prayer times. A schedule is being developed and churches and institutions will be asked a week or two in advance for specific things that need to be lifted up in their contexts. We thank Pastor Gary Grundman of Chugiak for this idea. It is my sincere hope that all would take this seriously as a step towards being better connected.

There are other ways that we can respond to the call of bridging the disconnect. Make an effort to reach out. Make an effort to stay in touch. Call each other. Send an email, a text, a Facebook message, a card or a letter. The United Methodist Church is a connectional system. We thrive on our connections. When we are disconnected, we falter. We need to nurture and take care of our connections and make sure that no one feels isolated. I encourage our clergy to build networks of support with each other. I encourage our churches to reach out to one another and build partnerships in prayer and ministry.

I believe that the time we spend connecting is time well spent.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why Advent?

A couple of years ago, I was asked to write an article about Advent on the Faith Blog of the ADN (then Anchorage Daily News). I was asked to reflect on the theme: Advent as an Antidote for Acquisition or Consumerism. I thought I'd share that with you today as we begin our Advent waiting.

Advent provides an alternative to the commercialism that has come to define the holidays. It calls us to a time of waiting. It is a time of preparation, calling us to focus on what we truly celebrate during Christmas – the birth of Christ.

More than just a countdown to Christmas, the progressive lighting of candles on an Advent wreath give us themes meant to light our way through the season.

We are called to HOPE. And it’s not just hoping for gifts under the tree. Advent calls us to dig deep within and name what it is our hearts are truly hoping for.

We are also called to find PEACE, which is an antithesis to the hustle and bustle of the season. As my mind grapples for answers to senseless acts of war and violence around the world, my heart looks to God for peace.

Advent calls us to LOVE, not just to give but to love, realizing that the gift of Christmas is not a shiny new car or the latest phone model, but the love of God wrapped in our own flesh. 

And we are called to JOY. Advent prepares us, not just for the momentary happiness that comes from material gifts, but to rejoice in celebrating God’s wondrous gift – Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

The season of Advent not only calls people to say no to the consumerism of the holidays, it also offers a different way of celebrating. Think of the Advent themes as adverbs. Instead of busily, stressfully, expensively and commercially, Advent prepares us to celebrate Christmas hopefully, peacefully, lovingly and joyfully.

May you have a meaningful Advent season as we all prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Your fellow disciple,