Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Learning from the eclipse--our place in the universe

The above picture was taken by a friend of mine who lives in Salem, Oregon.  “The Great American Eclipse” started on the Oregon Coast and cut a southeasterly swath across the United States.  This was the first time since February 1979 that a full eclipse was seen from the contiguous United Stated, but then only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.  The moon hasn’t covered this much of the sun as seen in the United States since 1918.  My friend shared that it felt like a snow day in Salem.  Shops were closed, people didn’t go to work, and a lot of special activities took place.    

We weren’t so fortunate in Blaine, Minnesota.  We were told that we could enjoy 87 percent of eclipse.  At 12:30 Sally Narr and I decided to sit outside for our weekly meeting.  The sky was cloudy—no chance to see the moon go in front of the sun.  But it got darker—or did it?  I wasn't sure if this was my imagination.  Sally and I kept saying to each other—it’s getting darker, right?  Some part of us wanted it to get darker as if we were rooting for the eclipse to take place.  Most of the cars driving by our church had their lights on.  Was this intentional or did the something in the car car recognize that it was darker and automatically turn the lights on.  If I hadn’t known that an eclipse was happening I would have thought that the clouds were extra heavy for the day.

I ended up watching videos of people watching the eclipse.  I can still hear the “oohs" and "ahs" in people’s voices when the moon went over the sun.  Their voices expressed a childhood delight. 

We had people from our congregation who traveled to be in the zone of totality.  If I wasn’t working I might have too.  Even if eclipses happen frequently all around the world, I could imagine feeling that something happened when the sun was blocked by the moon. 

For one day I was reminded that we on the earth are not the center of the universe.  We are one small speck in a huge galaxy of time, matter, and space.  Given the our place in the universe, it makes any current troubles that I have quite small. 

The Psalmist had it right.  What are humans in the vast cosmic galaxy of space?  (Psalm 8)  We really are nothing.  Watching an event that we could predict but not control was a helpful reminder of our place in the universe. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Connecting the dots

While driving on Radisson Road in Blaine on a Saturday earlier this year, I pulled out my phone to make a call.  The day was very busy.  I was trying to reach a family who were experiencing serious problems.  I rarely initiate calls while driving; however my own time pressures and my desire to reach this family prompted me to make the call.  As I was driving, the window of a large pickup truck that was traveling besides me was rolled down; the pickup truck decreased speed and veered a bit into my lane.  My initial thought was something was wrong with my car and the driver of the pickup was trying to help me.  I rolled down my window.  When I did the driver of the pickup—a Caucasian male in his 40’s—pointed his finger at me and yelled, “Get off the !@## phone.”  It took every piece of inner strength within me not to flip him the bird.  And let me be clear—I haven’t pulled out my middle finger in decades.  The experience felt like a male mammal marking his territory.

On Saturday, August 5 an “improvised explosive” device was thrown into the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.  The blast heavily damaged the office of Mohamed Omar, the center’s executive director.  Windows were shattered in the building.  The blast was reported at 5:05 am when about a dozen people had gathered in a room for morning prayers.  The Star Tribune reported that Omar, who was in the building when the explosion erupted, said one worshiper saw a pickup truck speed out of the parking lot after the blast.

Last Saturday, August 12 white supremacists, neo-nazis, and their allies marched through Charlottesville, Virginia.  James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove a car through a group of counter-protestors.  Heather D. Heyer was killed and many more were injured.  As I shared on my own Facebook page yesterday I highly commend Brian McLaren’s description of the events that he wrote on his blog (brianmclaren.net).  McLaren shared a trilogy of blogs where he explained why he was participating in the counter-protests, what happened in Charlottesville, and ways to respond.

To me these three incidents are dots on a cultural landscape that seems to be changing.  As a pastor I’m trained to connect the dots.  And I’m trained to help people in faith communities respond to what we see in the wider world.

Last Thursday evening the Steering Committee wrestled with a statement about what happened at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center and how to respond in solidarity to the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  We know that what happened in Bloomington could happen in Blaine.  We took the first draft that I wrote and thought hard about whether it reflected the Purpose Statement and Core Values of Chain of Lakes.  The Steering Committee made suggestions to that first draft.  The final statement was approved unanimously.  The Steering Committee stood in front of the crowd that gathered for worship at Chain of Lakes this past Sunday and read the statement.  After worship everyone was given a card on which a person could write his or her own personal statement of support to the people of the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  I will be hand-delivering this statement and these cards to the Blaine Muslim Community Center this week.

President Trump’s changing response to Charlottesville is a reflection of a multitude of similar dots that seem to be coming to the surface in America.  He is the result of something much deeper. 

I believe that people of faith and communities of faith must respond prayerfully, strategically, courageously and non-violently to this cultural landscape.  Dr. King Jr. is my own role model for resisting injustice.  And we must go out of our way to create multi-racial communities (when possible) whose values reflect the Prince of Peace. 

It’s painful to connect these dots.  The best response I can do is to pray longer and more fervently.  My prayers don’t preclude future action.  But these dots necessitate being connected to the ultimate source of life.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Solidarity with the Muslim community

The following statement was approved by the Chain of Lakes Steering Committee this past Thursday evening.  We will read it in worship tomorrow, August 13, at Chain of Lakes.  We will ask people present to write individual notes of support to the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  Please join us in worship at Chain of Lakes to express solidarity for the Muslim community!

Violence that intentionally targets the people of any religion is unacceptable.  The people of Chain of Lakes are horrified about the recent bombing of the Dar Al Farooq Center in Bloomington and the vandalism of the Al Maghfirah cemetery in Dakota County.  We affirm the comments made by Rev. Curtiss De Young, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches who said, “An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a church is an attack on all faith communities.”

Unfortunately, what happened in Bloomington and Dakota Country could happen in Blaine. 

The people of Chain of Lakes Church support our friends at the Blaine Muslim Community Center (BCC).  We recognize you as an important part of the community.  Your roots and our roots go back to the prophet, Abraham.  .

We are grateful that we live in a country where all religions are free to express faith.  Freedom of religion is a foundation of this country.   Chain of Lakes affirms and supports freedom for all religions.

Most of all Chain of Lakes wants to reach out in sympathy.  We cannot imagine the emotions that are going through the people who worship at the Blaine Muslim Community Center.     

As we move forward please know that the people of Chain of Lakes stands with you during this time and will continue to stand with you in the future.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Solidarity with the Muslim community

Early Saturday morning an “improvised explosive device” was thrown into the Bloomington Islamic center.  According to the Star Tribune (startribune.com) the blast heavily damaged an Inman’s office and sent smoke through the building.  Windows were shattered.  The blast was reported at 5:05 am when about a dozen people had gathered in a room for morning prayers.  Thankfully no one was injured. 

Any act of violence perpetuated on any place of worship is completely unacceptable.  Words can hardly express how wrong this act is. 

Fortunately the community is responding in solidarity.  I especially appreciated a comment shared by Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, "An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a church is an attack on all faith communities."  

Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said the reward for information leading to the capture of the perpetrator has grown to $24,000.

Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Islamic center, announced the creation of a GoFundMe page which has a goal of raising $95,000 to repair the damage.   I contributed to that page myself, and I encourage everyone reading this blog to contribute.  That site is: https://www.gofundme.com/support-dar-al-farooq-center

In the past year some leaders of Chain of Lakes have started to develop relationships with the leaders of the Blaine Muslim Community Center (BCC).  That place of worship is located about a mile from where Chain of Lakes worships.  At the Lobby Day for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC) this past spring, I sat around the table with many leaders of the BCC.  I shared with them the desire of the people of Chain of Lakes to be in relationship with them.  They invited some leaders of Chain of Lakes to be with them as they broke their fast for Ramadan. 

Yesterday I approached some leaders from Chain of Lakes about ways that our congregation can respond in solidarity to the BCC.  I’m guessing that people from that community feel frightened today.  What happened in Bloomington could happen in Blaine.  I anticipate that Chain of Lakes will be reaching out in solidarity with our friends at the BCC in significant ways this week.  I am planning on visiting the BCC in person this week to declare my own solidarity with them. 

I hope that all religious leaders will take some time this week to reach out in solidarity with Muslim leaders in their community.   Religious leaders cannot stop acts of hatred, but we can all share that we will not stay silent when these acts of hatred happen. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Remembering Dean Moore

A week ago today I traveled to Ringsted, Iowa with my parents and sister to celebrate the life of Dean Moore, my dad's brother.  Dean passed away on July 21, 2017 after 79 years of living.

My memories of Dean were always connected to the “home-farm,” a small plot of land that was west of  Ringsted.  Dean lived in a two-story farm house at the entrance of the homestead while my grandparents lived in a small house about 150 yards away.  Dean lived almost his entire life in that two-story farm house.  He grew up in it as a boy with his four brothers and one sister; my dad was the youngest in the family.  Dean then raised his own family in that house and lived there until the last week(s) of his life. 

When I was growing up many family celebrations were held on the “home farm.”  Because I lived in Worthington, Minnesota, I was a “city slicker,”a label Dean would never stop using to describe me.  These family celebrations involved a huge pot-luck dinner after church on a Sunday and then exploring the farm with my cousins.  The farm was Dean’s territory.   With a mischievous grin on his face he would warn me about playing tag on the barn roof, or sliding down the rope on the tree house that was at the top of a tree that seemed at least 50 yards in the air, or playing in the many junked cars on the farm. 

And just as Dean probably wanted these are the “activities” my cousins and I would find ourselves doing. 

As a “city slicker” I fell into the trap that Dean set.  I had to be rescued by my dad from playing tag on the barn roof (farm kids would jump off the barn roof, but a city slicker wouldn’t).  I blistered my hands from sliding down the rope on the tree house.  I had to go to the emergency room when I hit my head while playing in one of the junked cars. 

Dean wouldn’t want me to get hurt, but he loved to remind this “city slicker” of my “mistakes” (and he would remind me in a loud voice with colorful language). 

Dean was a twin—his brother Gene was his “womb mate.”  So the phrase “Dean and Gene” was part of our family lexicon.   The two of them ran the farm.  When I spent a week on the farm every summer Dean and Gene would come into my grandmother’s house at about 10:00 in the morning for a break.  They would solve the world’s problems together—with some help from my grandmother’s sweets. 

I hadn’t seen Dean for a while, but I always carried these memories with me.  And I always knew that on a small homestead surrounded by corn that was literally as tall as an elephant’s eye lived a man who gave his life to farming the land.   His roots ran deeper than that tall corn. 

On Tuesday, July 25 a short family funeral was shared at 1st Presbyterian Church in Ringsted, Iowa (the church through which my own Presbyterian lineage came).  It seemed that the whole town came to pay their respects to Dean.  The line went down the center aisle of the church and out into the warm and muggy July night (good corn growing weather).  After the visitation the community went to the local bar (Dean paid) to pay their last respects.  The atmosphere was raucous and loud.  Dean would have loved it.

Dean wasn’t a religious man, but he always believed in some sort of God.  The Psalmist wrote about him. 

“He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
That yield its fruit in its season
In all that they do they prosper”

Praise God for the life of Dean Moore!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Leaving Synod School with hope

This past week I had the privilege of attending Synod School at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. 

Synod School is a combination of family vacation (many families come to Synod School every year to spend time together), church camp at a college (all of us live in dorm rooms, eat dorm food, and worship together in the morning and evening), educational opportunities (the workshops and speakers are helpful for people interested in religious leadership and also for people interested in engaging our culture), and Presbyterian love fest (people here have a deep appreciation of the PC(USA).  

Within the Presbyterian Church many people question why Synods exist; however spend some time at Synod School and the need for Synods is obvious.  This year close to 700 people attended Synod School—a record number. 

The highlight of Synod School for me was listening to Rev. J. Herbert Nelson speak.  He serves as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) also known as PC(USA).  I loved what he had to say about the ministry of justice.  One quote of his that resonated within Synod School was “Get off your Blessed Assurance and do something for the Lord.” 

What also resonated with me about his speaking was:
·         His spiritual foundation.  In my memory I cannot remember a national, PC(USA) leader so authentic and open about the importance of prayer, worship, listening to the leading of God;
·         His honesty.  He grabbed me the first day when he shared that the PC(USA) has been in depression.  He also grabbed me when he said that any governing body that has three task forces figuring out the way forward is in trouble;
·         His openness.  J Herbert ate meals in the cafeteria, walked the grounds with the rest of the group, and was willing to talk to people when he was approached;
·         His passion.  This man is committed to significance for the PC(USA).  His passion alone is worth listening to him speak.    

I had the privilege of taking a class by Rev. Mark Sundby called, “The Productive Pastor.”  He is the Executive Director of LeaderWise.  https://leaderwise.org/mark-sundby/
Just taking a class by Mark Sundby is worth attending Synod School.  I came home with all sorts of tools for my own toolbox that will help me be more productive.

Rev. Sarah Dickenson and I led a class called, “Healthy People; Vital congregations.”  Sarah is the pastor of Discovery Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska.  http://www.discoverypc.org/
The class originated from Sarah and my discussions last year at Synod School.  Both of us are deeply committed to the PC(USA), but last year both of us were frustrated.  We shared our frustrations with each other.  Out of our conversations came a course.  Sarah did much of the work in designing and leading the course.  Both of us were very pleased with how the course turned out and hope that the content of what we taught will be implemented in local congregations.

The last day of Synod School I shared a Facebook post where I wrote that I’m more hopeful about the PC(USA) than I was when I came to Synod School.  The basis of my hope is a combination of the leadership of J Herbert Nelson; the recognition that many of the Presbyterian conflicts about churches leaving are behind us; and the recognition of the gifts of the people who attended Synod School.  There were some very talented individuals who walked the campus of Buena Vista this past week.  The gifts of those people gave me a sense of hope that God is going to do something with a group of people called Presbyterian. 

Thanks Synod School!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Worship at Chain of Lakes with the Cameroonian community

This past Sunday, July 23 Chain of Lakes Church had the privilege of hosting a service of thanks that involved the Cameroonian community.  The joyful noise that was shared in that service still has to be reverberating with everyone who was present.

Edet Afonchwi approached me recently about holding a service of thanks.  Edet has attended Chain of Lakes for almost two years.  She was born in the Cameroon.  For a significant part of her childhood she was not able to live with her mother.  Edet now lives in the Lakes Development of Blaine—within walking distance of the property that will someday (sooner rather than later) have a Chain of Lakes building.  Recently Frida, Edet’s mother, became very ill.  Edet was not sure if Frida would live.  Edet flew back to the Cameroon and to be her mom.  Miraculously Friday was able to live; and not only that she was able to travel to the United States to live with her life. 

Edet is extremely thankful that she can care for her mom in this phase of her mom’s life.

I was touched by Edet’s story.  I believe that one way to think of a local congregation is a collection of individual faith journeys.  I proposed that we share her story in worship—giving thanks for how God helped heal her mom—and also give thanks for the enormous gifts of the local Cameroonian community. 

Many Cameroonians grew up as Presbyterians.  When they came to the United States and started looking for a place to worship the Presbyterian church was the place they looked.  All of the north Metro Presbyterian churches have been blessed by the presence of folks born in the Cameroon.

Our new church (soon to be an established church) has had many memorable worship services where the Cameroonian community is present.   Since coming to Chain of Lakes I have learned that when the Cameroonian community learns about an event they will show up in mass. 

And this is what happened yesterday at Chain of Lakes.  People came streaming through the doors of our facility on Davenport.  At least twice the ushers had to go look for more chairs.  We ended up with 190 people in worship—at least half were born in the Cameroon.  Our worship space seats 100.  Imagine how packed we all felt—Yay, God!!

But the memory of the service wasn’t the number of people who attended—my memory is the fervency (to put it mildly) with which the Cameroonians worshipped God.  A local Cameroonian choir started worship yesterday by singing.  As they sang many in the congregation sang with them.  The songs were known and sung with joy.  The choir was dressed in their beautiful white, yellow and black garb with head dresses.  Many who came to worship were dressed in native, Cameroonian clothes. 

After they sang Edet’s family and other sang for the congregation.  Again they sang songs that the Cameroonian community knew.  Even though many Caucasians didn’t know the songs, we could relish and worship because of the spiritual energy that was being shared.  Imagine people packed together, with joyful and fervent singing, with energy and loud sounds. 

I preached on giving thanks and encouraged us to think hard about letting go of the idea of insiders and outsiders in a congregation.  God owns our life together as a congregation.  Each of us can grab the hands of others as outsiders—because of grace God has turned all of us to insiders.  Our task as congregations is to discern what our owner wants.

Towards the end of worship Frida came forward.  Edet shared how important it was to have her in worship and how significant it was for her to give thanks.  All of us raised our arms and prayed over Frida.

I know I can’t speak for all Caucasians, but I can say that we Caucasians have so much to learn about worship from our Cameroonian friends.  As a pastor I am extraordinarily grateful that I can could lead worship yesterday—being present and participating with our Cameroonian friends.