Vehicles for Learning

top-bus-family-retina.png

My morning commute doubled this week. My mind is filled with fall lineups and new opportunities and there is energy in the air. What did you learn last summer? What do you wish to learn this year? Who are the ones around you who will learn with you and teach you at the same time? Questions like these are a the heart of learning.

These are not just questions and comments for kids. They help all of us understand and thrive in our context. We are all life-long-learners engaged in bringing energy and expertise and God’s love to our world. So I ask myself these questions too…

Last summer I learned that God’s message of grace, love, mercy and hope is good news for 30,000 teenagers and the adults assisting them to navigate Houston. Last summer I learned that there is tremendous wisdom in the people of Family of Grace for teaching our neighborhood about God’s grace. This year I want to learn and explore how we can continue to live and love and grow in faith here on Lea Hill. I am energized by all the folks in the “How Lutherans Interpret the Bible” class after church. I will have at least 2 and maybe 3 or 4 in my confirmation class. There are new faces in the choir and in worship and soon the Green River Students will be back. We are all set to gather in one another homes for meals. Sunday school begins this week. There are so many vehicles for learning heading our way!

All of this is teaching me how good it is to be the people of God in this time and in this place. All of this is forming who we are and will be together as we head into the year. I look around as see that we are a learning community, centered in Christ, serving here on Lea Hill.

Hop on a bus.

Peace,

Pastor Mark

Specks

DSC01405 2.jpg

El Capitan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

speck of a guy in an orange shirt...

I realized I hadn't blogged in months with the same jolt you feel when you've been assigned to capture a moment on camera and you suddenly realize you've been so wrapped up in the moment you've forgotten to capture it! April, May and half of June have passed. Thousands of pictures and miles and memories are scattered about and I am left to catch my breath and find a functional normal.

Fantastic climbers ascend El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. To others of us the thought of climbing such a sheer granite face is terrifying. We settle for walking a log at its base. Suffice to say I survived my encounter with the very large granite face and my brother-in-law recorded it. Another speck in the stream of memories I claim as my own that shape who I am. The fact that I marveled at its size without wondering what it would take to climb says something about me. I guess I'm the one who takes small risks walking logs while leaving the scaling of sheer granite faces to others.

We are specks in a world rife with conflict and challenge, filled with politicians catering to power not people and corporations serving shareholders not customers. Extreme violence has become the norm for the interaction of insular enemies both domestic and abroad and it terrifies me.

Facing such seemingly insurmountable problems, how do I, a person of some faith and limited influence respond? My first response is to find  a small log to walk to distract me from the immense challenge before me.

But my second response is to look and think deeply about what I see going on in the world and search my heart for what I will and will not support. My resolve to keep politics out of the pulpit has been ingrained in my training. My call to bring God's message of grace and love for ALL PEOPLE to the people of God gathered at Family of Grace is quite clear. Violation of basic human rights is not something I am willing to stay silent about. Separating parents and their children amounts to governmental kidnapping, holding children as hostages to punish their parents. It is wrong and forever breaks the trust a people have of their government. I am appalled and ashamed when the government of my country treats humanity with the same distain as a drug cartel.

I am a speck. I guess its time to start the ascent.

Peace,

Pastor Mark

Unimaginable.....

Font.png

When I set out into this holy space with my SLR, I never imagined the light I would capture. I went in to play, open to possibility.

I found that the surface of the water in the font reflected ablurred image of the stained glass wall. I found light and shadow reflected and refracted as it passed through the shell shaped font.

I found unimagined beauty and it turned to joy in my heart.

 

2018_GatheringLogo_color.jpg

In sixty or so days nine of us will set out into the holy space waiting for us in Houston at the ELCA Youth Gathering. We are full of imagination about how that may go. But there is also a part of each of us that goes to play, open to possibility.

What will we reflect as the spirit weaves together the sparks of thousands of lives? What will change within us as the light of the risen Christ reflects and refracts through us?

It is both unimaginable and a source of barely restrained jubilation as I look forward to see the lives of those I hold dear changed forever for the better.

Peace and Unimaginable Joy,

Pastor Mark

Old Friends

Yesterday I drove a couple hours to meet an old friend for lunch. We met in Summer Greek my first week of seminary 24 years ago. I was good at language, he was good at friendship. We grew up 10 years apart in very different family systems. We serve in very different contexts, we have different outlooks on life and the institutions we are a part of. But for 24 years he has kept calling and tracking me down. I have a bad habit of wandering away which he doesn't take personally. I appreciate his tenacity. And we have kept track of one another's comings and goings through the years. It is life-giving to have old friends.

friend.png

In a week or so Easter will arrive. I don't even remember my first Easter, probably because, chocolate bunnies and having to stay neat in my pastor's kid clothes didn't lead to pleasant memories. It wasn't until I started trying to get things "right" that I started to understand how Easter worked in my life. Self giving love is pretty far up the  psycho-social maturity scale, so the idea that death on a cross could be a sign of love took a while to sink in. But for all of my life God has kept calling and tracking me down. My obtuseness does not inhibit grace! Easter after Easter opportunities for new life abound. I still have the bad habit of wandering away, and I'm sure I don't get things "right", but I appreciate God's tenacity. I appreciate that God has kept track of me through the years.  And so here we are. Easter's coming like an old friend, bringing life to the wandering ones.

Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.

Holy Week Peace,

Pastor Mark

Rock in a Stream

StockSnap_XGMWB9UIA7.jpg

Is it Safe?

Called to Jump.

Sometimes the church looks like an old rock surrounded by fresh magma. We have well worn and polished surfaces and services. You can find places to stand, safely looking out at the ever-changing, never-travelled landscape. You can sit in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, looking beyond the altar through the windows onto 124th Avenue and experience a sense of well-being and peace, unaffected by the bustle on the street.

Notice that most of the ministry that we have been watching Jesus do, from our comfortable seats on Sundays, happens on the street, in the dangerous, ever-changing, never-travelled places.  A well at noon with a foreigner (John 4), healing instead of resting on the day of rest (John 9), overturning established religious practices (John 2). In all of these situations Jesus first jumps out of safety into the culture of his day, forms relationships with all sorts of outsiders and then witnesses to them God's love, and an invitation to come and see.

Maybe we too are called to use our rock in the stream as a jumping off place for ministry in daily life.

Peace,

Pastor Mark

Resisting Normal

I'm sitting, trying to write as I normally do, a pastor's report to council, a pastor's annual report, a pastor's blog, a sermon for Sunday. It's a new year, and new month, a new week and a new day. But I'm having trouble letting go of last year, last month, last week. When I left for my 40th high school reunion in November, little did I know how much would change. Mary died. Peter died. Christmas came and went in a swirl of services, snow storms and six grandchildren whirling through. And now in the stillness, post Christmas, post funerals, post busyness, when normal usually sets in, I notice myself resisting.

I am finding that trauma of the last few months is bigger than I thought it would be. Harder on my heart, more difficult in the community of Family of Grace. I am not able to put it behind me and get back to normal. I find myself called back into the community for mutual consolation as we adjust to a new normal, as we grieve together. And we make new memories as we console one another with the consolation we first receive from God.

We remember that God is with us, going before us to prepare a way, beside us to give us strength, and behind us to give meaning to our memories and pick up the pieces of our troubled lives. That is not a new normal, it is an old promise we see more clearly at times like these.

Peace,

Pastor Mark

IMG_1124.jpg

just

hold me grandpa....

No OTHER gods?

staten-island-advance.jpg

This Sunday the Seahawks play at 10am. ENTERTAINMENT opportunities abound. Every retailer smiles this time of year, hoping to collect our gift dollars. RESOURCES are scarce. Squabbles for the best work schedules and airline reservations happened months ago. PLANNING is rewarded. This Friday we have a memorial service at 2 and church decorating in the evening. Saturday at 4 is the Christmas Showcase. Sunday after worship we're making Advent Logs. TIME is precious. And  at the end of the scramble, the Seahawks play on Christmas Eve, and the Family of Grace Youth Group is presenting a play, "Text Message In the Manger" at morning worship.

How do we sift and sort our priorities and activities and have some sense of peace about this season? How do we set our feet on a path that leads to obedience to Christ's command to love God and our neighbor as ourself? This challenge is not new, just the names of the other gods.

Sometimes re-MEMBERING who you are and whose you are can help. We look forward and inward in Advent, preparing our hearts and our lives to receive God among us as a baby in a manger. It catalyzes a shift in perspectives and values that changes everything. EMMANUEL, God with us, is both a promise and a prayer.

Advent Peace,

Pastor Mark

Masked

I couldn't resist this selfie. Best blank face ever!
I wear masks. Sometimes my mask is a smile, hiding pain. Sometimes my mask is a frown, hiding confusion. Sometimes my mask is a snarl, hiding fear. Sometimes my mask is just a place to hide so I don't have to deal with people's responses to what they think they see on my face. My masks are very personal and tell a story of me I may not want the world to know.

I see others wearing masks too. Masking things for the sake of the communities to which we belong. Sometimes even hiding things from themselves, promising me that the masks are their true selves. Sometimes I poke at them to see if they flinch. Most of the time I respect folks' need to "put a good face on it." We all know the masks are there.

Into this ever shifting, "is it real or not?" reality God breathes life. Seeing behind our masks, promising to be with us through our pain, confusion, shame and fear. Promising life, grace and forgiveness no matter what we think we know about the person behind the mask.

As we remove our All-Hallows-Eve masks and move towards Thanksgiving in the secular world, let us also move from masks to thanks giving in our hearts. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Pastor Mark

Questions of Honor

On our way across the country Pam and I discovered the Minidoka "Relocation Center", one of 10 concentration camps established to incarcerate 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent that lived in the coastal regions of the Pacific States. Amidst the swirling fears of our country's current situation it stands down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, mostly forgotten.

Sunday's text is about the call of Moses by God to free his people from their enslavement in Egypt. Like most immigrants to the United States, the Hebrew people went to Egypt seeking a better life for their children. As political climates changed, they ended up slaves. God heard their cries and called Moses. This story from Exodus raises all sorts of questions for us about nationalism, freedom, immigration, human rights, our image of God, and our call to be agents of change for God.

The people of Minidoka planted a Japanese Garden adjacent to one of the eight guard towers, inside barbed wire fence at the entrance to the camp. In front of the garden they erected this honor roll sign. On it are the names of over a thousand men and women who left the camp to serve in the United States military.

How does our image of God affect what we honor and what we fear?
How do we honor Jesus' command to love God and love our neighbor in every facet of our lives?
How does grace set us free to honor God's call on our lives?

Reformation Peace,
Pastor Mark

Wings

A few years ago on Canon Beach an onshore wind was blowing,  a friend was feeding gulls and I was playing with light and perspective amidst a raucous cacophony of seagull sounds. It was a holy moment that reaches forward and forms how I think about wind and wings.

A few weeks ago. I flew to San Antonio and heard Barbara Brown Taylor read a poem by David Swanger that talks about how God moves through our lives and wings connect us to God's movement.

Wings come in many forms, friends, family, pastor, church community, events momentous and mundane, and even tragedy can inspire and lift. The people of Family of Grace are giving me a set of wings for the summer, sending me out to fly on the winds of the spirit. I hope to gather some practical honing of administrative skill at a mini MBA for pastors course. I hope to gather (write) some melodies and words for worship that we can use in the fall. I hope to wander in the spirit, resting, relaxing and reconnecting to God's love for me in Christ that will reach forward and form how I think about the mission and ministry that we are about here on Lea Hill.

Thank God for Wings,
Peace,
Pastor Mark

No Fun At Church


What do you get when Santa,  Kung Fu Panda, and clowns in gowns show up with "Timothy play-by-play " at your dodge ball tournament?

What do you get when you mix Mariachis, margaritas, Mexican food and lots and lots of baskets, paintings and a custom wooden toilette seat at a fun raiser for the Grace Care fund?

What makes disciples run back from Emaus to Jerusalem on the same day they first trudged the other way?

Joy.

The deep sense that things are much better than expected.

Knowing that beyond reason and what has always been,  that Christ is Risen, Christ is with us and Christ is also...
             ...having fun.

Whoever said church couldn't be fun
has not experienced resurrection joy at Family of Grace.

Christ is Risen!
Pastor Mark

Luke has been messing with me....

Image by Daniel Bonnell
Luke has been messing with me. Learn grace from my enemy the Samaritian, as he is the only one who stops to help? Learn what feels like to be one of the good flock of ninety nine sheep that don't wander that loose our shepherd to one wanderer? Learn about the imperative to celebrate when the lost is found, even when we all know how much its going to cost? And what if Zaccheus was already generous and Jesus just acknowledged him and broke the crowds prejudgement about wealth? Luke keeps challenging me to just breath and receive Jesus' gifts and parables and give up on justifying myself.

It turns out I have recurring tendency to fight grace, to argue with generosity and to discount my need for being saved. (I can do this myself, thank you very much!) The good news is that God sees through the lies I tell myself and saves me in spite of my rebellious self serving and preserving tendencies. My task here is to spread the word: we are saved by GRACE and this is not our own doing or even within the realm of our imagination.

We receive this gift and have no other thought than to leap for joy.
Peace (and undeserved joy) on your lenten journey to the foot of the cross,
Pastor Mark

Fast, Fast and Fast


Fast is found in every language. Humanity is attracted to speed. Faster, farther more, is a well worn path into a fleeting and fickle future, into which we are blown and rushed with no rest.

Hold fast we say, so the winds of change don't sweep us away. Fasten yourselves to what you love and hold on tight!


When we fast for forty days in Lent  we slow profoundly and leave familiars behind. In the absence of the need for faster, farther more; letting go of habits we have be clinging to, we open ourselves to the wind and direction of the Holy Spirit.

I invite you to pick up a 40 Days of Fasting booklet at the entrance to the church or download it here and move with the community of faith at Family of Grace through at time of slowing down and letting go. It is my pray that as we open our selves to change the Holy Spirit will set our sails on a course to renewed and deeper relationships with one another, with creation and with God.

Peace to you as you slow down and let go.
Pastor Mark

Gutenberg & Facebook & Snapchat

Last week I was at a conference with other Lutheran Pastors listening to a Luther Scholar help us understand the world in which Luther proclaimed the Gospel. 16th century Europe was a time of tumultuous change in all the areas a society can change. Into that comes Martin, pointing at Jesus, helping us read and understand God's love for the world in our native languages and using the latest technology of the day (Gutenberg's printing press) to bring his ideas to lots and lots of people.

I went to that conference a day after our church leadership decided that our focus for the upcoming year needed to be on communicating God's love by whatever means available, "broadcasting on all channels" (to use a early T.V. metaphor). As we explore what this means together, I invite your collective experience in exactly what this looks like. What media finds its way into your life? How can Family of Grace share the love of Christ in community using that media?

Social media is a new name for a universally human experience. Connecting with purpose. We are invited into the same long conversation that has been happening throughout history, and invited to share our good news. How will you proclaim Christ in inviting and engaging ways this week? Start by liking Family of Grace Lutheran on FaceBook and inviting your FaceBook Friends to do the same.......

Peace,
Pastor Mark


Imagination Management

Imagine they are strings of lights....

I just got in from wandering around the church imagining all the sounds and sights these walls have seen. I wandered into the sanctuary and turned on the Christmas tree lights and imagined folks gathering around lights this coming Christmas Eve. I closed my eyes and saw faces and remembered Christmas conversations in other places. Some days I love living in my imagination.

Other days I imagine all the things I could have done better, all the pain I have caused, all the opportunities I have missed, all the people I am estranged from, all the things I fear. Those days my imagination is my worst enemy.

In the reality of God's creative and creating love we are sent a savior. God with us. God for us. Imagine that!

Not the Kindom of God


Dan Erlander's drawing of the land God's people escaped.
I recently read an article questioning Christianity's support of power and politics. A couple of days later  I was working on a reformation sermon and thinking about Luther's search for a gracious God that  lead him out of institutional church structures and back into scripture. Those two thoughts pointed me even further back to Jesus and Elijah and Moses and Manna. 

It seems that when we move away from trusting God for daily bread we trade our freedom in Christ for bondage to a system that looks like the one on the left. Fear is at the heart of this trade. Fear that we won't have enough. Fear that things won't go as we imagine or expect. Fear that we will lose.

I've also been to four of the five cottage meetings and listened to thirty stories of how God is working in people's lives. There is an abundance to God's daily bread that I had never imagined. These stories  answer our fears with trust and give me a great sense of peace.

Give thanks that God is with us. Give thanks that the kindom of God is coming. And remember it does NOT look like the picture! 
Peace, Pastor Mark

Stewardship and Abundance


The first September of seminary was my family's first fall on the mainland. On Kaua'i pumpkins were scarce, imported and expensive. Our family had always only had one. In Iowa a mystery plant showed up in our front yard in the middle of summer and produced pumpkins for each of us and a few friends. We were surprised and delighted by such abundance.

I look around and think of all the things Family of Grace is and has been a part of as a community and I have the the same sense of surprise and delight. As stewards, people of faith are charged with tending and keeping all that God's abundance provides. As we gather in October for cottage meetings to tell our stories, I encourage you to expand your definition of stewardship to include time, talents, resources, skills, and gifts. As we stop and ponder and tell our stories we will be lead into thanksgiving, and from thanksgiving into praise and from praise into fearless generosity. We will be surprised and delighted by what God is doing in our hearts and in our community.

Such abundance.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Newness

New Lutheran Campus Ministry Staff from around the United States

Middle row, stage left, that's me, with a crazy assortment of new friends. They are ordained, lay, diaconal, young, old, male, female, gay, straight, married, divorced, widowed, rich, poor, intellectual, average, thin, fat, bald or bearded people, however you might think to categorize and describe us. All of us feel called by God into ministry with students as they journey through the life-changing years of higher education.

This ministry is new to me, and yet not new to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA  has been on college campuses for over a hundred years. At Family of Grace, we have been ministering to students at Green River [Community] College in a hit and miss, see who shows up on Sunday morning way, for all of our years as a congregation. In addition we have been involved with international students, hosting and supporting language development. This September we are raising the bar and doing a new thing.

On the first Monday of classes September 19th and every Monday morning of the quarter, campus ministry will happen in a tent by our parking lot (used by commuter students), offering coffee, chocolate, tea and conversation from 7-10.  On Tuesday nights from 4:30-6:30 we will offer a meal, activity and conversation calling it a party with a purpose. And we will continue our Friday night international events, hosting 5 of them throughout the quarter.

Our hope is to come alongside students and support them on their journey, helping them know God's mercy and love are with them. Our hope is to be a place where commuter students and international students and the members of this congregation can walk together and play together and learn from one another. Our hope is to lift the voice of a grace filled theology of the cross to be recognizable alongside all the other voices they will hear. We have high hopes for this new thing.

You can be part of this new mission by taking some time to walk with students or by supporting this ministry financially or with your other gifts. The calling and mission of Family of Grace Lutheran Church is to "Share the love and grace of Christ in community." Come, let us do this new thing together.

Capitol Capital Cap it All

Visited D.C. for the second time in my life last week.
I spent the week where wealth and power meet to maintain the status quo. I was there to study campus ministry with Lutheran Campus Pastors from across the country. We worked hard to network together a voluntary system to replace the recently defunded ELCA system. I'm told money is tight in the non-profit sector. In the afternoon I walked the National Mall thinking about the trillions of dollars that change hands in this country each year.

On the way home my shuttle driver was from Sierra Leone. When I got in the van he was listening to a preacher in another language. He saw the sign on the church where he picked me up and asked about Lutherans. When he was a child Lutherans had helped at his refugee camp and he remembered. He said if he had not been Muslim he would have become Lutheran. I asked him about the Koran. He could not read it but he intoned a prayer that he had learned by rote. It was beautiful. He said it was like our Lord's Prayer, praying for God's will to be done and for daily bread. He wanted to connect. He wanted me to know that he thought that God had saved his life back in Sierra Leone. He said thank God for Lutherans.

Lutheran World Relief showed two faithful people a way to find common ground in a city that thrives on dividing, name-calling and polarizing. Priceless.

Fresh

Owen got baptized this week. 
His head is wet. His eyes are bright. His friends and family are gathered to share God's joy.
We've all made promises to help raise him to know God and God's love for the world. 
We've all been swept up in a moment of shared grace, remembering our own baptism.

Owen leaves tomorrow. 
Back to his home and his growing life somewhere else. 
Lots of times love means letting go. 
There is rhythm to life as we come together, connect, share and go. 
We do the same as we gather for college, for work, for worship 
or to be God's people in this place and time. 
Change is constant. Love is constant. Mercy and Grace are constant. 
Tears flow freely as we say hello and goodbye 
over and over, almost in the same breath.

I give thanks for these fresh moments God gives, in worship, in working with students, in working with God's beloved ones young and old as we come together as God's family.
There are fresh faces in worship, fresh faces heading towards us for VBS and campus ministry. 
Remember what if feels like when our heads are wet, 
our eyes are bright and we gather with God's family to share God's joy.
We are baptized. We are loved. We are children of God.