Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Balcony Time

One of the things we enjoy in our new house is the front balcony on the second floor. From there we watch the rain or the snow fall, wait for the northern lights, admire the views and observe what's going on in the neighborhood. Our older son loves how he can wave and say "hi" to friends who are passing by.

For those who have started following this blog, last week I said that I was not posting but was spending time in the balcony. "Going up to the balcony" has been used as a metaphor for stepping back to assess an issue or a situation from an "unengaged" position. It means taking time to reflect, think and process before acting or reacting to the issue or situation at hand. Because most of the time, our emotions get the better of us and cloud our judgement. Many times, we act and react poorly because we were impulsive.

It's like giving yourself a timeout. When you're in a heated discussion that's going nowhere at a meeting, it may be as simple as leaning back from the table for a moment and observing. When you get an email that really agitates you, it may mean resisting the urge to respond and letting it sit for a while. I've sometimes done this and its amazing what details I find when I re-read an email with a clearer mind and calmer spirit. After balcony time, a nasty email doesn't sound so bad.

I love running because it allows me to spend time in the balcony. When I am out on the trails, I am forced to "disengage". And when I am alone with my thoughts, I am able to process things and see issues clearly. After a long day at work, it is helpful for me to lace up my shoes and go for a run, not so much to clear my mind than to organize them in a way that's not chaotic and overwhelming. Many times, after a run, I am able to work through a conflict situation and able to come up with a course of action. I am able to understand the other person's point of view. I am able to flesh-out disjointed ideas and concepts into an organized plan. Many sermons I've preached came together while I was running. Many times, I've gone out on a run all stressed out and overwhelmed but have come back calm and composed. The time in the balcony helps me see things as they are, not as I initially perceived them to be.

In the gospels, we read of Jesus' habit of going to a solitary place regularly. Yes, he was praying. But I believe he was also spending time in the balcony, reflecting on and assessing the situation from an "unengaged" position. In Mark 1:35-39, we read of Jesus' change of plans after stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

It pays to be decisive. But decisive does not mean impulsive. May we take time to sit or stand in the balcony more often. There are many concerns and issues that confront us today as the body of Christ. We need to respond and respond in a way that God would have us respond. And for that we need to spend time in the balcony so that we are not impulsive but decisive.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sharing our Stories

AK Professional Church Workers' retreat at Birchwood Camp
October is supposedly (at least according to social media) Pastor Appreciation month. So, let me take this time to say: I appreciate all my colleagues in the Alaska United Methodist Conference and I celebrate the wonderful variety of gifts and graces that they offer!

Last week, we got together for our annual Professional Church Workers' retreat at Birchwood Camp. Our schedule this year was a departure from the "learning retreats" we've had in previous years. It was a time to share, reflect, hang out, play, rest and simply be. There were inputs from a Spiritual Director and a couple of our colleagues but these, too, were geared towards community building and spiritual reflection. Many said it was renewing, refreshing, what a retreat should be.

One of the things I really appreciated about the retreat were the offline sharing of stories. Conversations were not programmed. They just happened organically- during meals, on the walking trails, in the cabins, while knitting or hanging-out. Of course there were programmed small group discussions, but these only led to deeper conversations outside of the sessions. Relationships were definitely forged and strengthened among colleagues.

Sharing our stories- sharing how God has been working in, through and inspite of us. This is and has always been an important component of faith development. The Hebrews passed on stories of their culture and their faith to the next generations through feasts like the Passover.

When I visited our UM churches in Southeast Alaska a couple of weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the great stuff happening in those churches. They are engaging their mission fields big time! Ketchikan has a day shelter for the homeless. Sitka has become a spiritual refuge for those disillusioned by church politics. Northern Light has a thriving native ministry and food pantry. Aldersgate has a feeding program for children in their neighborhood elementary school. Douglas had just received a grant and was getting ready to do the same thing (they started last week!). The cooperative youth ministry among our three Juneau churches is thriving. These are definitely stories to share!

Kids at Aldersgate packing food for the neighborhood school
My heart was warmed in seeing and experiencing these ministries. And I am sure there are more in our other churches around the state. I cannot wait to see them!

One thing I vow to do as I hear and experience these wonderful stories is to be a vessel by which they can be shared all around the conference and across the connection. I offer my passion in photography and my interest and experience in video production to capture images and short clips about the great things happening in our Alaska UM churches. My vision is to have a page on our website where these stories are told in images, articles and videos. These will be offered, not to brag but to celebrate, to inspire, and to offer something for others to learn from or copy. Ultimately, it is to build each other up.

Growing in faith is ultimately a matter of sharing our stories with each other. As David Kinnaman said in his book, You Lost Me, "...disciples cannot be mass-produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time." As we go about our "business" of making disciples, may we be about the business of sharing our stories with each other, building relationships and faith.

your fellow disciple,