Pastor Jim’s Blog: What We have Seen and Hearne

 
 
 
 

Stop and See Those Around You

Professional speaker Jim Cathcart often shares a certain story about how our lives impact those around us. One day, during a layover at the Atlanta International Airport, Jim found time for a snack in the food court. All the tables were filled and several passengers, himself included, stood in any available space to eat.

Then Jim noticed a busboy working his way through the crowd. His shoulders were curled forward and he kept his head down. He moved through the crowd from table to table barely making eye contact with anyone as he cleared away the dirty dishes. Well the sight of this overworked and anxious young man filled Jim with an overwhelming sadness. For someone this young to be so burdened by the weight of work didn’t seem right. He knew that there was something he could do or say to reach out to this young person.
 
When Jim finished his food and disposed of the trash, he approached the busboy. “What you are doing here sure is important,” he said. “Huh?” the busboy replied. “If you weren’t doing what you are doing, it wouldn’t be five minutes before there was trash everywhere, and people would stop coming here,” Jim said. “What you are doing is important, and I just wanted to say thanks for doing it.”
 
The busboy began to smile. His posture became more erect and he began to make eye contact with those around him.

A few choice words had served as a reminder that he was worth much more than he realized.

I think that this is a wonderful story to recall as we come to this fall season. We have begun yet another new year of Holy Moly, Bridge, Confirmation and CHAOS.  We will also see Women’s Bible Study begin while ministry meetings and social gatherings like Lutefisk are making this a bustling place!  As exciting as autumn is, it also brings with it a certain “frantic-ness.”  So often people become dismayed by the passing of the summer months and wonder where all the time has gone. They get discouraged by the amount of activities and so often feel like that busboy in the story. They end up walking through their days with shoulders curled forward, barely making eye contact with the world around them. Yet right here in the “frantic-ness” is our chance to share the Good News.  Like Jesus who was always able to remind people of their infinite worth, so we too can become bearers of healing.  It doesn’t take a great effort to pass on a compliment, share a smile, or take a moment to chat. It doesn’t take a tremendous effort to remember someone’s name, remember someone’s birthday, or introduce yourself to a stranger.  It doesn’t take a heroic effort to lend a helping hand, to exercise patience, or offer to listen.  These are the moments of Good News that we can share with each other in this season of autumn.
 
I think it was Mother Teresa who once said: “Holiness does not consist in doing great things; but in doing little things with great love.” If we pay attention to the little things, the small kindnesses, the brief exchanges everyday we can make a difference in the lives of so many people. Watch! They will stand up straighter. They will begin walking with heads held high. Their eyes will be brighter. A few choice words will serve as a reminder that they are worth much more than they realized!  Take a moment this busy season to realize and consider those around you.  Help them stand straight.  When we do, we can claim we are truly sharing Christ’s Light here at BLC!

With you a Christian.  For you a pastor.

PJ



Fr. Powers and the Gift of Presence!

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did.  But people will never forget how you made them feel.”  I like those words. I’ve seen them attributed to Maya Angelou, H. Jackson Brown and others – still, whoever first said them, they ring true. We honor and love and remember those people who made us feel honored, and loved, and remembered. 
It is certainly true in my life.

 

Fr. John Powers was the pastor (and now retired pastor) of my home parish when I was growing up.  I fondly remember serving at mass for him, listening to his jokes, watching how he preached by walking around the aisles in the church, seeing how he interacted with so many people of various ages and backgrounds.  He’d come into our school classes and spend time with us at recess.  He was funny and intelligent and could make anyone laugh at his corny jokes.  He had a spiritual charisma and charm about him.  I remember thinking to myself: “

I want to be like Fr. Powers when I grow up!”

I think in fact the real reason I was drawn to him was not only because of the reasons I just mentioned but because of his ability to be present.  He was one of the first people on scene at the hospital for both my mom and dad when they were each taken to the ER at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond, Indiana.  He was the one who presided and preached at my mom’s funeral mass.  He again preached words of hope and consolation at my dad’s funeral mass this past January.  Fr. Powers, or “SA” as he is affectionately known in the rectory to his closest friends, now uses a walker to get around, yet he still says mass and does his best to be present to people.  At the crisp age of 92 he still gives wonderful and though-provoking homilies and puts smiles on people’s faces.  To be honest, I don’t quite remember all of what he said at my parent’s funeral masses, but I do remember him be truly present to my grieving family. 
 
I think one reason I really love Fr. Powers is because of the great friendship he had with my dad.  That friendship flowered after I decided to leave the priesthood to marry Amy.  He has done nothing but support me and that included being a good support to my dad.  They’d often talk on the phone and would even help the ladies in the church office on Monday mornings count the offering from the weekend.  They joked together (well Fr. Powers would laugh at my dad’s silly and sometimes colorful jokes)!  They were present to one another.  Fr. Powers would make it a point to walk over and see Amy, Anna and myself when we went to mass with Dad.  One of my favorite images of Fr. Powers when I was a young boy was seeing him walk around the parish grounds while reading his prayer book or breviary.  While being present to the Lord, he was witnessing the importance of taking time to pray for his flock. 

 

Throughout his 66 years of priestly ministry (ordained May 3, 1951), Fr. Powers baptized thousands of babies and adults, witnessed thousands of couples say ‘I do,’ said over a million masses, visited countless in hospitals and nursing homes, buried thousands of parishioners and friends, and yet I don’t think he’ll be remembered for those things.  No, he will be remembered for his
presence.  He took time for people.  And in that presence with him, you met Christ.  Reflecting on Fr. Powers it suddenly occurred to me that what we value most in life is not productivity but presence; not talent but time; not genius but gentleness.  Fr. Powers is someone who continues to show me what being present is all about. Everyone remembers how he made and how he continues to make them feel.  During the rite of ordination, there is a part where all the priests come and lay hands over those candidates being ordained.  There were hundreds of priests who laid hands on me on May 21, 2005.  Yet I knew when Fr. Powers laid hands on me because he gave me a light tap with his hand on my cheek then…I knew it was him without even looking up!
 
I think that John Powers really understood the ministry of Jesus.  As I read the stories of Jesus I think this is what attracted people to the Lord.  Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. He took time to speak with lepers calling to him from the side of the road. He took time to call Zacchaeus down from the tree to speak with him and eat at his house. He took time to chat with fisherman, and meet with tax collectors and listen to the pleas of Samaritan women. This is the predominant theme in the ministry of Jesus – he had time for people. And because he made them feel honored, and loved, and remembered, they in turn honored him, his followers loved him and to this day the church remembers him!
 

How might we be more present to people these days?  And I don’t mean Facebook, texting, snapchat, Instagram or the other means technology offers conveniences to our lives.  No, I mean by putting those things down and actually talking and actively listening to our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, fellow church parishioners, etc.  Maybe take a moment each day and ask Jesus for the courage and strength to be present in our lives to those around us.  Maybe it might be a note, a call or visit to someone who may desperately need our presence in their lives.  Paperwork and things to do will always be there…people will not.  In the end people will remember not what we did or said, but that we were there for them.

As we leave summer behind and prepare for fall with all the flurry of work and school, I’m trying to remember the lesson of one of my heroes, Fr. John Powers.  Yes, I want to be productive to be sure, but I wish even more to be really present to the people who come into my life and to my wife and two children who share my life.  I want to use my talents wisely to be the best pastor that I can be, but I wish even more to be a person who offers time to others.  And certainly I want to be a good administrator who others see as competent and intelligent, but in the end I want even more to be known as a man of gentleness and kindness.  In the final analysis what we value the most are presence, time and gentleness. I know that Fr. Powers would agree.  Thanks, Fr. Powers, for the gift of your presence to me and countless souls. 
 
~PJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Summer = Growing With God

Many people in this hemisphere tell time by the seasons of nature. Summer is a warm time of vacations, reunions, relaxing, and playing outside. The church year has a different way of telling time. In the liturgical calendar, time is measured by important events in the life of Jesus (like Christmas and Easter) or the church (like Pentecost). Coincidentally, the time after Pentecost up to Advent is known as “Ordinary Time.” There is also a short period of Ordinary Time after the Baptism of Our Lord in January until Ash Wednesday.  In this way, the rhythm of the liturgical seasons reflects the rhythm of life —brief anniversary celebrations and periods of intensity intermingled with longer seasons of quiet growth and maturing.

Ordinary Time is counted and ordered by the numbers of Sundays that follow Pentecost (for example, you’ll soon notice Sunday bulletins bear titles like “The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost.” In winter we count the number of Sundays after Epiphany. During Ordinary Time the church is usually decorated in green, the color of hope and growth. Think plants and trees, gardens and parks, all showing signs of maturity and fullness of life at this time. The lessons we will hear read in worship will invite us to go deep, to reach our roots down into the groundwater of our baptisms. The focus is on the life and ministry of Jesus and the church. We take this time to descend from the great mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to “pasture” in the verdant meadows of tempus per annum—Ordinary Time.
 
How will you grow during this summer? I hope you will take some time to drink deeply of God’s good creation, whether in far off places or in your own back yard. Additionally, although Holy Moly, Bridge and Confirmation Classes take a hiatus for the summer, you are invited to nurture your faith at BLC in a variety of ways. Two guest preachers will be coming to BLC, each with a unique viewpoint about God’s work in our world and how we can grow our faith. On July 16th, retired pastor Chris Lee-Thompson will preach on mindfulness meditation.  Chris has studied and done a lot of work and ministry in the field of meditation and has led many groups through this way of praying.  Chris has even brought this ministry to the jails in the area helping those there learn about meditating and focusing on the movements of their bodies.  I listened to Chris at one of his presentations and thought our church family could benefit from hearing him!  On Sunday, August 6th, Pastor Jack Finney will be present with us to preach on praying and spiritual practices.  Jack focuses his ministry full time now on teaching people how to pray and grow in prayer.  Please make sure to be present at these special worship opportunities during this season of growing! 
 
If you are looking for something fun and social to do, we will be offering our 1st ever BLC Progressive Dinner on Saturday, July 22nd.  At 5:00pm we will gather at church for drinks and appetizers and then head off to different “host” homes for dinner and conversation.  The end of the evening will be capped off by making S’mores at the Bowe House.  This event is intended for all BLC adults- single and couples- and only costs $10.00.  The theme of the night is wearing your favorite sports team shirt (anything goes from Barneveld colors to the Chiefs)!  Come out and have some fun.  Sign up is in the gathering space at church. 
 
BLC participates in a number of community events throughout the summer—we will host the community VBS/Day Camp the week of July 10th-13th.  This is a fun faith filled week for our little ones and young kids to come and learn about Jesus by singing, playing games and enjoying the theme of God’s gift of water!   
 
The “Movie in the Park” night will be on Thursday, July 13th at the blue park.  A family friendly movie will be shown along with concessions being available.  All proceeds will go to Relay for Life.  What a fun event right here in town for all families! 
 
Speaking of community events, the “Over 55” Group will be a sponsoring a large sale for the benefit of the Food Pantry on Saturday, July 29th from 8am-3pm.  Plan on stopping by for great buys on good stuff which will help support our Community Food Pantry. 
 
Our health team sponsors a walking group each Tuesday at 8:30am.  We start in the church parking lot and walk the bike trail for as long as people can.  Please come out and walk with us…if that time doesn’t work for you, go out and walk when it fits your schedule!  Do something to care for your body this summer! 

 

So many opportunities for us to grow this summer at BLC!  What will you choose?  Pick something and grow yourself. 
 
~PJ

 



Spring Showers Can Bring May Flowers

I recently had a conversation with someone who told me about the loss of her first grandchild.  The baby was a stillborn.  What really struck me though in the conversation was when she said “You know, I just took everything for granted…the pregnancy, the delivery, the birth…we all just assumed the baby was going to be born and that was that.  Conceiving, delivering, birthing is truly a miracle.”  A miracle.  That got me thinking…

 Those words were good for me to hear as Amy just nears entering the third trimester of carrying our unborn child.  At a time when we tend to think of colors and pattern schemes for nurseries, themes for baby showers, day care providers, to breast feed or not to, we maybe should be thinking of the larger picture of this event: conceiving and giving birth is a miracle not to be taken for granted.  And beyond the miracle, there are levels of complexity that unravel with the birth of any child. 

 My mother-in-law shared with me some of what that complexity might look like prior to Amy giving birth to Anna.  She cautioned me to watch out for Amy and any blue feelings she might after giving birth.  I had heard about women suffering from some form of depression or “blues” following the delivery, but never had any first-hand experience.  When Anna was born back in 2014, I was working for the commuter railroad in Chicago.  Working for the railroad has great perks, but family benefits are not among them.  I took those words to heart though of watching Amy’s mood after the birth and especially when I returned to work after two weeks off.  I began to do some reading on the subject “postpartum depression” and what I read shocked me.  A majority of women experience what is often called the “baby blues”—feelings of sadness and frustration—for about 10 days following childbirth, but these symptoms are typically short-lived.  Symptoms that last longer than two weeks can be a sign of a perinatal mood disorder like postpartum depression and anxiety.  Approximately one in seven women experience some form of  postpartum depression, a medical condition that ranges widely in severity and is marked by persistent feelings of anger, shame, irritability, guilt and an inability to bond with one’s child. The symptoms, often rooted in hormonal or chemical imbalances, can be triggered or compounded by circumstances, including socioeconomic status, prior mental health history and birthing experiences like traumatic delivery, premature birth or trouble breastfeeding. The condition can have a dramatic impact on the well-being of families, increase levels of stress in a marriage and have long-term implications for the health of a child

 

50% of mothers who are diagnosed with postpartum depression have depressive symptoms during pregnancy.  Symptoms are often exacerbated by hormone changes and sleep disturbances.

According to Postpartum Support International, the symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance
  • Crying and sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest, joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Possible thoughts of harming the baby of yourself
 

RESOURCES:

+ Postpartum.net

+National Coalition of Maternal Mental Health www.NCMMH.org

+The Blue Dot Project: thebluedotproject.org

+Babies on the Brain: www.babiesonthebrain.com

   

I came across a recent story recounting someone’s experience with postpartum depression.  I share it here so you can get a sense of what happens:  For Marissa Nichols, the turning point came one night in 2011 when her husband went out to buy milk. Sitting in their apartment in Santa Clara, Calif., with her then 2-year-old daughter and infant son, she felt profoundly alone and in despair. They were feelings that had been growing since the birth of her second child and were compounded by the fact that the economic crash left her family in difficult financial circumstances. Nichols had recently quit her job to care for her children at the same time that her husband was transitioning from working as a teacher to training to become a police officer, which meant nights and weekends at the police academy.

 

The sole caretaker for much of the day, Nichols began to feel burned out and overwhelmed by daily tasks—trying to breastfeed her infant while also feeding a toddler or doing laundry at the coin-operated laundromat nearby. Her discouragement grew into dislike, which grew into what she describes as a “delirious, desperate hatred.” She constantly felt frenzied and then would “stop, break down, and wake up and do everything again.” She found herself taking out her anger on her husband, and the two fought often. Nichols occasionally texted her sister for support, but the days continued to engulf her.

She longed for her family life to mirror “this glorious covenant between God and his church,” with children as “this great fruit of our love.” Instead, she found herself thinking: No, I don’t want “fruit” anymore. I just want everyone to leave me alone.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to love anyone or anything,” she said. “I had nothing to rely on, and I didn’t see a point in being alive.”
 
Then, that night her husband left to buy milk, something in his departure triggered a reaction in Nichols.  I feel so alone in this,
she thought. She called the nonemergency number for the police and told them she was worried she would hurt herself. She was voluntarily placed in an overnight mental health facility and soon was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

 

American society often expects women to be all things to all people.  Marissa’s story is one of countless of what postpartum depression can do to someone.  We can all too easily overlook and forget the incredible burden that is placed upon a pregnant woman and the load she is asked to bare.  And then when the baby is born, mothers are supposed to change every diaper with a happy face and get up for that 2:00am feeding with a big smile.  There are unfair expectations put upon mothers and as a result we can miss the warning signs that they might be trying to share with us. 
 
A recent study found that faith communities—especially those in which there are “people who are willing to help and pastors who are willing to listen”—have helped to alleviate postpartum depression symptoms in women. Experts have suggested greater collaboration between churches and formal service providers could increase the number of women willing to seek treatment.  An informal poll of 116 women who had experienced perinatal mood disorders found that 84 percent stated they had not felt supported by their faith communities during their depression.  Despite increasing awareness of the condition, only about 20 percent of women who exhibit symptoms seek help for postpartum depression. This can be attributed, in part, to a lack of understanding of the symptoms, inadequate screening and fear of being stigmatized. Faith communities can serve as a missing link between women and mental health services. It is crucial, however, that faith communities seek out struggling mothers, as studies have shown that women who were experiencing depression were less likely to attend religious services. At a time when women might be most in need of a supportive faith community, they often are less likely to be a part of one.
 
Did you know that approximately 46 percent of women do not return to the workplace after childbirth?  For some this is a deliberate choice; others have no choice but to leave after facing the cost of child care, inflexible work schedules, the wage gap, lack of maternity leave or discrimination.  I think of our own community and church family where there seems to be an abundance of babies being born recently.  We’ve also unfortunately been saddened by the news of stillborns reminding us nothing should be taken for granted. 

All is miracle.  I don’t think we could ever do enough to lift up women who bare so much (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc) during pregnancy, childbirth and raising our children.  Let’s together keep an eye out for them.  Let’s hold them in prayer.  Let’s LISTEN to them and LOOK for warning signs of any depression.  Let’s share the load with them not only on Mother’s Day, but every day.  When we work together and lift each other up, the showers of pain and depression can turn into beautiful flowers.  Let’s give our moms more than odes and poems…let’s give them our attention, understanding, compassion and love.   

 ~P.J.

 



Becoming Yourself

Now I become myself.

It’s taken time, many years and places.

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’s faces…”

-May Sarton

What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!  How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own.  How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity- the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.  Vocation is not so much as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received.  The beautiful scriptures proclaimed in these church seasons of Lent and Easter really invite us to deeply reflect and ponder our vocation.  Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling us to become something we are not.  It comes from a voice “in here” calling us to be the person we were born to be- to fulfill the original selfhood given us at birth by God.
 

I think of Anna and our baby to be born later this summer as regards vocation.  Babies do not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want to make him or her.  They arrive with their own gifted form, with the shape of their own sacred soul.  Biblical faith calls it the image of God in which we are all created.  But we quickly are led to believe that we need to put on masks to find who we are. 

 

What “masks” have you worn in your life?  Even the roles of being a spouse, parent, pastor, grandparent, etc. in a sense “mask” who we are.  As the poet May Sarton reminds us, it does take time, many years and places to become ourselves.  We arrive in this world with birthright gifts and then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disavow us of them.  As we grow, we are surrounded by expectations, images of acceptability, and social pressures.  Then, and only by chance, if we are awake or aware, we spend the second half of our lives trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed. 

 

When we lose track of true self, one way we can seek clues to pick up the trail of our true self is to really listen, read and allow the readings from scripture to touch us.  It is there where we are reminded of our truest self.  We were made in God’s image and likeness.  The stories of Resurrection we will hear April 16th and through the Easter Season will be a wonderful trail of clues for us to discover and re-discover who we are.  You see the deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life”  It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I?  What is my nature?”
 

Spend the rest of these Lenten weeks and Easter season lifting off those masks you have put on through the years.  Rediscover who you are.  We are Christ-bearers, imprinted with the seal of the Holy Spirit at baptism.  The task is clear: go become what you are!
 
~PJ


Try Fasting This Lent

Giving things up for Lent, or fasting, is not just a spiritual practice for Roman Catholics.  Fasting has occurred since the beginning of time and can be seen and studied in both the Old and New Testaments.  However, fasting and praying is something that has grown foreign to many Christians today.  It was not something strange in the early Christian Church and it was also not something strange in the time of the Reformation and in the centuries thereafter.  Moses, Elijah, Ezekiel and Daniel fasted and prayed.  Jesus fasted for 40 days. Paul and the early Christians fasted.  In the early Christian Church they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.  Martin Luther was criticized because he fasted too much.  John Calvin fasted and prayed until most of Geneva turned to God.  John Knox fasted and prayed and the wicked Queen Mary said she feared no weapon like she feared John Knox’s prayers.  Jonathan Edwards who was God’s instrument in the revival in New England, fasted and prayed.  John Wesley fasted twice a week.  Charles Finney one of the greatest spiritual leaders in history was a man who fasted and prayed.  D L Moody was not unfamiliar with fasting and praying.
 

There are many kinds of fasts one can undertake: a complete fast, partial one or even spiritual one.  Perhaps these 40 days of our Lenten journey we can consider a spiritual or soul fast where we work on those things which deter us from growing in our relationship with Christ. What or who do you need to turn away from?  What vices or sinful behavior causes you to grow full of contempt instead of Christ?  When we fast, we are invited to seek out the Christ in our lives for strength, perseverance and courage.  Fasting moves us away from selfish behaviors and motives.   Try it.  You won’t be disappointed.  The following is a spiritual or soul fast for you think about and try anytime.  How many of these things do all of us need to work on fasting from? 

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

Go feast on God’s goodness and love for you and fast from all the things that only in the end drain and leave us empty.  Try fasting.  You won’t be disappointed.  “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13)
 
It was not Christ’s intention to reject or despise fasting… it was His intention to restore proper fasting”
-Martin Luther
 
~PJ

 



Peace Prints

 
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the carbon imprint we leave behind on the planet.  By our use of fossil fuels and consumption of goods turned into garbage, we are sure to leave our “marks” in this world.  By recycling, composting and perhaps considering using our feet and bicycles instead of vehicles we can help make a difference.  But what about peace prints?   Francis of Assisi has often been quoted as the one who wrote the beautiful words “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  We can choose to leave marks of Christ’s Light in our world, too.  Hopefully the following story I came across encourages you to think about the marks you are leaving behind.  
 

I did not know her, but her life and death- a story of willingness to see with eyes of faith and forgiveness for those who can be difficult to love- is inspiring us still today and leaving her prints of peace all around.

Sister Karen Klimizak was a Sister of Saint Joseph.  In 1985, together with Father Roy Herberger, she helped establish Hope House, a communal home for non-violent ex-offenders in Buffalo, New York. Hope House offered a home for men where they could believe in themselves and work toward a better life and future.  She once wrote in her journal, “You leave your fingerprints on everything. We need to be people who leave our imprints of peace wherever we go in our world.”  Sister Karen promoted non-violence through the creation of dove-shaped peace signs that read, “I leave peace prints,” to contrast the fingerprints left at a crime scene, a visible mark of peace as opposed to a visible mark of violence.

Sadly, on Good Friday, April 14, 2006, Sister Karen returned home after participating in Stations of the Cross.  She was murdered by a house resident when she walked in on him trying to steal her cellphone to sell for drug money. Knowing that one day someone she may be working with could cause her harm, she wrote these words in her journal fifteen years earlier, which were spoken at her funeral. Addressed to the person that might harm her she said, “I forgive you for what you have done and I will watch over you, and help you in whatever way I can.”
 
Now almost eleven years later, the story spoke of how Sister Karen’s dove peace signs continue to be seen throughout western New York; a reminder of her steadfast vision of forgiveness and nonviolence.  After reading this, I could not help but think how many people, circumstances, and situations in our world, our church, our country and our own personal lives challenge us to find courage to love those viewed as unlovable. The story of Sister Karen’s life was encouraging to me, and a reminder of how we must all use compassion, mercy, humor and creativity, even when we are stretched to the limit. This, after all, is how we live as the light of Christ in the world.

 

We all leave our fingerprints, carbon prints and spiritual prints behind in this world.  As we prepare for Lent, the start of baseball and the beginning signs of Spring, let’s think more intentionally about how we can leave PEACE PRINTS everywhere we go through our words, actions and deeds.  Sister Karen’s hand prints literally continue to influence us as the SSJ Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence carries on her vision of a world without violence.  Is this just a pipedream?  NO!  With Christ all things are possible. Go make peace prints in your part of the world and let the transformation take place!  You can check out more of her story and what we can do at www.sisterkarencenter.org
 
Go, be instruments of peace and leave your mark,
~PJ


Winter

Winters can be difficult.  Plain and simple.  The weather in the northern hemisphere is not so friendly.  In fact, it’s darn right gloomy, dark, snowy, icy and bitter cold.  Some enjoy this kind of weather and use it to their advantage to partake in snowmobiling, ice skating, sledding, skiing and ice fishing among a host of possible activities.  But because so many of us get caught in doors for these months, there is an increased amount of depression, blue-ness, and sadness that can occur in us.  Medically speaking, you may have what’s called “seasonal affective disorder” or SAD. The condition is marked by the onset of depression during the late fall and early winter months, when less natural sunlight is available. It’s thought to occur when daily body rhythms become out-of-sync because of the reduced sunlight.

Some people have depression year round that gets worse in the winter; others have SAD alone, struggling with low moods only in the cooler, darker months. (In a much smaller group of people, the depression occurs in the summer months.)  SAD affects up to 3% of the U.S. population, or about 9 million people, some experts say, and countless others have milder forms of the winter doldrums.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Sleeping too much
  • Experiencing fatigue in the daytime
  • Gaining weight
  • Having decreased interest in social activities and sex

SAD is more common for residents in northern latitudes. It’s less likely in Florida, for instance, than in New Hampshire. Women are more likely than men to suffer, perhaps because of hormonal factors. In women, SAD becomes less common after menopause.

So, what can one do who might be struggling with SAD?  Light therapy has been proven effective to treat seasonal depression. It can be used in combination with talk therapy, antidepressant medication, and supplements of the hormone melatonin, which can help synchronize the body clock.  Getting outdoors in sunlight also helps some people with depression symptoms. So does getting regular exercise, maintaining social activity, and talking with friends.  Resist the urge to overeat. Most experts recommend a diet with enough protein and plenty of complex carbohydrate-containing foods such as whole grain products and starchy vegetables (instead of simple carbohydrates such as candy and soda).

Writing about winter depression has been on my mind the last month or so.  And just recently my father suddenly passed away.  It was a shock to my entire family.  And so now even more than other times I need to be aware of depression with the winter time as well as what one experiences when grieving.  We all grieve differently…crying and crying at times uncontrollably, withdrawing from family and friends, overeating, etc.  There are many in our congregation who have experienced death and loss just in this past year so this is something we all need to be aware of and even more so how we can help someone experiencing grief and/or winter depression. 

But there is help!  There are therapy groups who help people walk through their grieving.  Agrace Hospice and Ministry (https://www.agrace.org/griefsupport/resources.html) offers wonderful ministry to those suffering loss especially new widows.  Talking and listening to other’s experiences can help us realize we are not alone in our suffering and that others do know what we are going through in our emotions.  If it’s not a therapy group, I hope and pray you find someone to talk with- a friend, a fellow church member, or myself.  People can’t help if they don’t know you are hurting and in need. 
 
As we journey these winter months together, let’s remember to be gentle with one another.  It’s all too easy to get the winter blues and take out our frustrations on others.  Pray for one another.  Each of us have our personal crosses that we carry which pain each of us deeply. Let’s help lift each other up.  Hugs, hand written notes of support and reaching out to others hurting can bring healing.  Get on the phone and reconnect with friends and neighbors.  And remember, the winter months come and GO.  Spring will be here…signs to us of new life, sunlight, growth, and God’s abundant grace. 
 

We all can be JOYFUL AGAIN!

~PJ 



12 Gifts of Christmas

A few weeks back at worship I handed out Advent chocolate calendars.  Like myself many years ago, the kids were thrilled to receive these gifts.  With the adults I tried to emphasize the gift of time Advent offers us: 672 hours, 28 days and 4 Sundays…this time is meant for us to unwrap the meaning of Emmanuel- God with us.  In adulthood there is probably no daily nugget which could reproduce the same kind of excited expectancy in the December run-up to Christmas. But given how frantic those December days can be, and in honor of the “12 Days of Christmas” song, perhaps the pointers below might help you to make this time less stressful, more enjoyable and Christ-filled! 

 

  1. Start with stillness. There is always so much to be done between the beginning of December and Christmas, so before starting go somewhere quiet where you can shut out the drumbeat of demands and be still. Gaining a sense of poise might be your greatest gift to family and friends, as well as fellow workers and shoppers and, of course, any harried shop assistants you might encounter! As Gandhi wrote, “Be the calm you want to see!”
  2. Let love lead you. Once you have gained that inner poise, take opportunities to spread seasonal “peace and goodwill”. I have certainly been pleasantly surprised to find how reordering priorities to put love’s possibilities first can instill a sense of calmness and control which allows you to get everything done more smoothly.
  3. Valuing family and friends. Many of us send greetings or letters to family and friends this time of year. As you sign, seal and send your Christmas cards treat each one as an opportunity to value the person you are sending it to and offer them in prayer while you do it.
  4. Be kind to yourself and others. Science and research has shown over and over again that kindness is good for your health. As we hustle and bustle, let’s remember to be polite and that we are all in this together.  So, let others go ahead of you in line.  Be patient with the sales clerk.  Apologize if you bump into someone. 
  5. Shop simply: I’m often struck at how we over complicate these days with fancy gifts and trying to outdo others. The best gifts are simple and come from the heart not the wallet. 
  6. Embrace spontaneity. We are all busy these days of December with parties, shopping, baking, traveling, wrapping, visiting, etc. Don’t see these things as a “to do” list but rather as an opportunity to grow, learn, reconnect and enjoy life. 
  7. Be grateful. Scientists are accumulating evidence which verifies what spiritual thinkers would affirm from experience: a gratitude attitude can reduce anxiety and depression. To those for whom the holiday season exacerbates such problems the good news is we don’t have to wait for a big reason to be grateful. Stop and smell the roses: appreciate the everyday things of life!
  8. Enjoy yourself. Why not? If you’re full of gratitude and exuding calmness and kindness why shouldn’t you cruise happily towards the kind of Christmas you enjoy? Appreciate the festive lights. Warm your hands on a bag of roast chestnuts. Share in the growing anticipation of small children. Look forward to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story special. Pick up your bible and meditate on the Christmas story and let the message inspire you.
  9. But don’t forget others. Okay, it’s not all bright lights, warm chestnuts and happy kids. For some reason the season of goodwill seems to bring out the worst in many people’s experience. Loneliness feels more lonely. Alcoholism seems to be more obvious. Domestic tensions can spiral. Spare a prayer for those in need and, when you can, make a difference in practical ways. The message of Christmas is that peace and goodwill are God’s intention for everyone. We can try to bring out that reality by giving from the heart.
  10. Peace interludes. Pausing for moments of mental stillness can make all the difference in how you think about yourself and act towards others. In turn that can transform your day. This doesn’t need to mean breaking your stride and finding a quiet corner to be by yourself, though sometimes that can help! It means being honestly aware of your thoughts and when they start going round in circles or racing in a wrong direction steering them back to that place of spiritual poise.
  11. Forgive even if you can’t forget. This is the Nelson Mandela approach to rocky relationships. It is amazing how long family feuds and broken friendships can last if we’re not careful. As the Mayo clinic recently put it: “If you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.” We can’t always change others. But we can change how we think about them and act towards them.
  12. Give beyond the gifts. And finally it’s Christmas day! There is a reason to celebrate Jesus. One way to look at his life is that he showed us how the qualities we choose to express can improve our experience and touch our loved ones and neighbors. I’m always touched seeing families and individuals who give their time on Christmas day serving others.  Not everyone is off on Christmas.  Not everyone has food on Christmas.  Not everyone is warm and jolly on Christmas.  This Christmas let’s bring Christmas to them. 

 



Expect Nothing, Appreciate Everything

Last week I preached about how fruitless it really is to try and predict the future.  For us disciples of Christ we need to constantly remember we have come from God, are going to God but right now and right here we belong to God.  It’s easy to say but hard to do.  And with the recent election season, I can’t help but think so many of us are now obsessing about the future- the future of our country, the future of our church, the future of our work and careers…and we worry about our health, paying the bills, about a recent diagnosis.  We worry.  But as our faithful friend Millie Swedlund would often remind us “worrying is sinning,” we seek that perspective and faithfulness where we expect nothing and appreciate everything.  I recently came across an article written by John Pavlovitz, a writer, husband, and father of two young children that really struck a chord with me and I hope for you too.  He entitled the pieceThe Day I Die
.

On the die I day a lot will happen.

A lot will change.

The world will be busy.

On the day I die, all the important appointments I made will be left unattended.

The many plans I had yet to complete will remain forever undone.

The calendar that ruled so many of my days will now be irrelevant to me.

All the material things I so chased and guarded and treasured will be left in the hands of others to care for or to discard.

The words of my critics which so burdened me will cease to sting or capture anymore. They will be unable to touch me.

The arguments I believed I’d won here will not serve me or bring me any satisfaction or solace.   

All my noisy incoming notifications and texts and calls will go unanswered. Their great urgency will be quieted.

My many nagging regrets will all be resigned to the past, where they should have always been anyway.

Every superficial worry about my body that I ever labored over; about my waistline or hairline or frown lines, will fade away.

My carefully crafted image, the one I worked so hard to shape for others here, will be left to them to complete anyway.

The sterling reputation I once struggled so greatly to maintain will be of little concern for me anymore.

All the small and large anxieties that stole sleep from me each night will be rendered powerless.

The deep and towering mysteries about life and death that so consumed my mind will finally be clarified in a way that they could never be before while I lived.

These things will certainly all be true on the day that I die.

 

Yet for as much as will happen on that day, one more thing that will happen.

On the day I die, the few people who really know and truly love me will grieve deeply.

They will feel a void.

They will feel cheated.

They will not feel ready.

They will feel as though a part of them has died as well.

And on that day, more than anything in the world they will want more time with me.

I know this from those I love and grieve over.

And so knowing this, while I am still alive I’ll try to remember that my time with them is finite and fleeting and so very precious—and I’ll do my best not to waste a second of it.

I’ll try not to squander a priceless moment worrying about all the other things that will happen on the day I die, because many of those things are either not my concern or beyond my control.

Friends, those other things have an insidious way of keeping you from living even as you live; vying for your attention, competing for your affections.

They rob you of the joy of this unrepeatable, uncontainable, ever-evaporating

Now with those who love you and want only to share it with you.

Don’t miss the chance to dance with them while you can.

It’s easy to waste so much daylight in the days before you die.

Don’t let your life be stolen every day by all that you’ve been led to believe matters, because on the day you die, the fact is that much of it simply won’t.

Yes, you and I will die one day.

But before that day comes: let us live.




“This is what Yahweh asks of you- only this: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God” –Micah 6:8
 
“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace.” – David Steindl-Rast
 
“All attack is a call for help. When you know this, you begin at once to look deeply into the question of what kind of help is being called for” –Neale Walsch
 
“Every morning I turn my face to the wind. It is not difficult to scatter seeds, but it takes courage to keep facing the wind” –Middle Eastern wisdom saying