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Archive for June, 2011

“Be safe.  Have fun. Come home.”  With these last words, Ian and I parted after enjoying our monthly breakfast, conversation and blossoming friendship.  As the day wore on the words “Come home” continued to resonate in my mind and heart.  I knew that they had struck a chord as he said them, but I was too busy and too focused on a crammed schedule to allow much time to actually feel them.

Sometime in the evening I had the first recognition of why my heart was stirred by Ian’s words.  In the page “About” in this blog I end it with this pilgrimage summary, “Looking for God.  Seeking the sacred.  Leaving home.  Coming home.”  When I wrote those words I knew what it meant to leave home.  I knew that I was leaving behind images of what home means here in Portland.  I knew that I had to let go of my traditional images of what being a pastor means.  I knew that I had to let go of my expectations of where my life was “supposed” to be at this point.

When I wrote those words “Coming home” I knew instinctively that pilgrimages end with a sort of coming home, except that home is almost always transformed.  It is rearranged.  Some doors have closed.  Others have opened.  Priorities shift.  What once seemed foreign may become intimate.  What was once intimate may become distant.  My head knew this instinctively, but my heart really did not have any idea of what home would look like when I returned.

Ian’s comment was the first inkling that I DO recognize where home is.  It wasn’t the fact that Ian had named a general reality in his blessing.  It was the fact that Ian himself, a person I have grown to love and respect and enjoy, had said it.  It is one thing to say that one feels a general sense of belonging in life.  It’s another thing to say, “I belong to this person or to that person.”

I don’t want to stretch this too far with regard to Ian.  I don’t want him to start feeling weird and have to explain all this to his lovely wife!  But, I heard echoes in his comment that began to ring true for me.  I do know that I need to leave home for a while in order to discover my true home.  Until his comment, I knew instintively that I would be having a “coming home” experience.  I just couldn’t dredge up images of what coming home might look like.  After Ian’s parting blessing yesterday I felt the first yearnings of what I am coming home to.  What is a general principle about pilgrimages is already starting to form into a very rough picture.

There is a wide canvas still to paint.  But, the first splatters of color are starting to show up.  I WILL be coming home.   This much I know about that:  Home will have a room for my two amazing children, Phil and Julie, and the loves of their lives.  There will always be a room in my heart for my good friends.  The walls of this place called home will always be painted with the colors of compassion, beauty, and service.  It doesn’t matter how far away I go.  Those things will never change.  And now I know that.  Thank you, Ian, for your gift!

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I received an email from one of the most important people in my life–an old college professor who inspired me and who had a pivotal role in taking me from a timid, shy student to a confident more self-assured young man.  He still lives in Caldwell, Idaho where I attended the College of Idaho.  I anticipate that I will be traveling through Caldwell sometime around July 18 or 19 on this pilgrimage.  I emailed him and said, “I really, really, really want to see you when I come through.”  I haven’t seen him for over 20 years.  So much to catch up on!

Unfortunately, he is out of the country for the summer in Jerusalem, a regular destination for him.  He wrote back and said, “THIS is the place for a spiritual pilgrimage.  Next time jog through God’s city and not Caldwell.”

I hate to be the student who disagrees with his teacher, but I think my dear old professor is wrong on this.  There was a time I probably would have agreed with him.  Spiritual pilgrimages were reserved for one of the great holy religious sites–Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mecca, Santiago de Compostela, and even Stonehenge.  To a Jew to return to Jerusalem was to stand on the sacred ground of one’s faith.  To a Christian to reach Bethlehem was to return to where the object of one’s religious devotion, namely Jesus, had its start.  And to complete a pilgrimage to Mecca was the ultimate religious act for the Muslim.

Pilgrimages to holy religious sites are all about discovering the places, the events, and the ancestors of old who have shaped one’s religious identity.  They are about returning to one’s religious birthplace.  I don’t mean to discredit the importance of this at all.  Where I believe that my  beloved professor is wrong is that in this age of spiritual eclecticism and exploration, the traditional holy religious destinations only capture part of the story of one’s spiritual origins and identity.

For me, this spiritual pilgrimage is as important (actually more so) as taking a trek to Bethlehem, Jerusalem or even Geneva (a Reformed Calvinist Presbyterian pilgrimage!).  I will be returning to all those places I have lived (except Wisconsin–just too far!).  I will be visiting all those places that have shaped me and nurtured me.  I will stop and pause, think and reflect on the people, the events, and the stories of a particular place–places that have become part of my unfolding story, places where my life has been given birth one way or another.

If my identity were solely rooted in the Christian narrative, then yes, visiting Bethlehem or Jerusalem would the ultimate pilgrimage destination.  But, my identity is just as rooted in the rugged wilderness of the Rocky Mountains.  My spiritual values were shaped as much by the people and education I received in San Anselmo, CA.  Who I am today has its origins in Caldwell, ID and my relationship with my professor as much as in Jerusalem and my relationship with Jesus.

So, dear professor, it’s off to Caldwell I go.  My only regret is that you are in Jerusalem!  But both of us are where we need to be.  See you next time, my friend!

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Over 20 years ago while I was in seminary I entered a contest to memorize the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession for prize money to fund my graduate degree.  Did I bore you already? It used to be that teenagers becoming confirmed in the Presbyterian Church had to memorize it just to become a member.  I had the luxury of choosing whether or not to memorize it with my only motivatation being prize money.  I did happen to win the top prize after memorizing the entire 107 responses perfectly.

Now, twenty some years later I only remember one of the answers to the Shorter Catechism.  It has, in fact, become a sort of spiritual mantra for me in recent years.  The question is the very first question, “What is the chief end of man?”  The correct response is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This one remaining nugget of the Shorter Catechism has seemed to float back into my consciousness recently.  The reason is my soul has been increasingly yearning for the “enjoyment side of life” in recent years.

My therapist and I have been exploring a theme that I am coming to the end of something in my life.  This pilgrimage is part a tool to usher that in as well as a sign and symbol of something that is already taking place in me.  I can’t tell exactly what is coming to an end nor what exactly will emerge.  What I do know is that this particular Shorter Catechism question lies at the center of a process of letting go and welcoming.

I can see now that I have spent a great deal of my life on the “glorifying God” part of this equation.  I am not saying that I have done that particularly well,  but if we spend most of our lives either glorifying God or enjoying God, my attention has been turned to the former rather than the latter.  It’s not that I am consciously deciding that it is time to balance the scales.  It’s more that my soul and body just aches to cross this bridge from “working for God” to “enjoying God and Her goodness.”

This ending that I feel coming has to do with an orientation or a worldview that said, “If I work hard enough and long enough, THEN I will be able to enjoy the riches and blessings of life.”  Guess what?  You already see it coming, right!  After three decades of working and responsibility I still feel like I am saying, “Just a couple more years and I’ll get there.”  The problem is I just no longer believe that anymore.  How many more years do I have to work in order to earn that much deserved time of enjoyment?

It’s almost as if I have lived as if I had misread that first question to the Shorter Catechism.  Somehow I picked up a wordview that said if I glorified God long enough then I would be allowed to enjoy Him or Her or Them (it’s fun to play with the pronouns!).  Alas, I am discovering that one does not earn the right to enjoy God by doing good works.  One enjoys God for the pure sake of enjoyment like a flower that has no other purpose but to bring beauty.

I have a long ways to go, but something tells me that my days earning time off or working until I feel like I deserve to enjoy life are coming to an end.  My soul simply won’t stand for it much longer.  In the meantime, this ancient Catechism has become a modern mantra as I learn to live into what it means to “glorify God AND enjoy God forever.”  Apparently, the two are not mutually exlusive.  I am a slow learner, I admit!

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Eastminster Church where I am pastor was somewhat wary and hesistant about taking this pilgrimage when I first mentioned it.  I knew that I would have to do some pretty crafty convincing.  It wasn’t as difficult as I expected.  In many ways they were probably more concerned about my safety than they were about calling this “work.”

I never felt that this pilgrimage was solely for me or “all about Brian” as I feared some might think.  After all, as a committed cyclist of some 30+ years, who wouldn’t want to get one’s employer to pay for a ten week bicycle tour through a Western paradise!  The truth is, this was never intended as an extended vacation; it has always been about trying to mirror the emotional process that the church is also experiencing.

In speaking with the congregation I shared with them that the questions I will be asking on the pilgrimage are the same ones they have been asking as part of a church drifting in the wilderness of a new and changing culture.  Here were the questions I shared with my congregation:

  • Do I have the ability to complete this?
  • What are my limitations?
  • What unknown gifts and strengths will I discover?
  • How will I face those days when the road ahead looks too imposing?
  • Who will join me on the journey?
  • Where will I be surprised by God’s presence?
  • What will I do when I feel all alone on this journey?
  • Why did I leave home?  What was I thinking?
  • What will home be like when I return?
  • Can I survive this?
  • How will I be changed and transformed by this journey?

Now that I think about it aren’t these the same questions we all ask on the journey of life?   We’re all in this together!

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The Opening…

I was able to get out for a good 45 mile ride yesterday with a decent amount of climbing.  I need a few more of those with some increasing miles before feeling like I can tackle getting over the Cascades just 2-3 days into the pilgrimage.

I am suddenly starting to feel an opening.  Today I was ready to return from the ride with two fairly significant blog subjects–on Christian identity and Mother Earth.  My only hesitation is that both of them had “aha” kinds of feelings behind them.  I just was not ready to have revelations this early in the process.

It is as if with the activation of the blog and the nearing of the pilgrimage there is a sudden opening to see my life in a new light.  I know I have felt this before with preaching.  I have had periods where the creative juices just seems to flow from some deep psychic source for weeks on end.  Then there are those months when I feel like I am trying to pull ideas out of an old dry creekbed.

Anyway…I can feel something starting to come alive.  I can sense a window beginning to open to my soul.  I was surprised that I had a couple of aha’s yesterday.  I was not ready for that and I am just not quite ready to share those yet.  So remind me tell you about them sometime.  I have them stored away in my mind for when the time feels right.  Until then, I am glad to see the window starting to open a crack.  I wonder what else is going to blow in while the window is open.

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It is supposed to say “Rain or shine,” right?  I set out a mildly ambitious goal to ride 1000 miles in the six weeks prior to the pilgrimage in preparation for the trip.  In order to start and finish the trip in the ten weeks I have available I need to ride about 65-70 miles a day, 6 days a week.

I know two things about my body and my will.  The first is that 65-70 miles a day is not overly ambitious for me given my years of cycling.  The second thing I know is that I can’t just simply start riding that many miles without having trained and worked up to it.  I was “supposed” to be at 500 miles today, but I have only ridden 360 miles.

The problem is this–It’s still raining here in Portland, OR.  I have learned to describe myself as an “avid fair-weather cyclist.”  I am more of a “shine or shine” cyclist.  Once the sun comes out I get itchy to get on the bike daily and I get frustrated when meetings keep me from touching the saddle on a warm, sunny NW day.  But, until that happens I can barely force myself to get on the bike when the sky is gray, the rain is falling in a consistent drizzle, and my mood is as dark as the sky.

Today is one of those days.  Yesterday was perfect.  Clear and sunny.  High of 73.  Today is drizzly and wet.  Cold.  Yuck.  So, I will be heading off to the gym where I’ll swim a mile or so just to keep the heart pumping and not lose too much momentum.  It’s not cycling, but it’s something.

I suppose you might not care about all of this, but I write it because I am learning something about myself in this process.  I find riding in the sun, cutting through farmland and soaking in the odors of flowers and countryside to be wonderfully relaxing and nourishing.  I want more of that.  I want it now!  I should be training for this pilgrimage, but I find that what I really want is to nourish my soul.  I can’t even seem to put that off another day for purpose of training for “nourishing my soul.”  So, I am off to the pool where I will dive into the warm, salty water and let it caress and soothe me.  And hopefully, I’ll get just enough of a workout that Day One of the pilgrimage doesn’t hit me like a Mack Truck!

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Soul Pacing

3 weeks and 2 days to go.  As the time nears to set off for the first few days of the pilgrimage I can feel a picture emerging of the first few days in this new reality.  Actually, I don’t know whether this picture will be a few days, a few hours or a few weeks.  What I do know is that for as long as it takes I have to let my soul determine the pacing of this pilgrimage rather than some predetermined schedule.

I can feel a deep tiredness in my bones–the result of spending the last few years recovering from a divorce, digging deep to make sure that I survived financially, and that my children survived emotionally.  In addition, I am one of those pastor types who can not help himself but to pour himself into the work of the church and involvement in the betterment of the community.  I love what I do.  One problem, though.  I have a tendency to pour myself out until I have nothing left to give.  Pacing has never been one of my strong suits.

I have this image of the first few hours heading south on the I-205 MUP (multi-use path) of my body literally beginning to shake.  Something about being able to set my own pace and determine how far and how fast I want to go gives freedom to a sudden rush of anxious relief.  It feels very much like that sensation one gets when responding to a crisis.  During the crisis one performs brilliantly and as soon as the crisis is over, the person often collapses and is swept up in a flood of nerves.  I don’t think I am going to collapse.  But, I do see myself slowing the pace down dramatically, wonderfully and just in time.

I wonder what will happen.  Will I fall into this new pace for just as long as I need it to recover and then return to my usual ambitious overly-scheduled life?  Will I discover a new pace of life that grabs me and won’t let me go?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I am going to let my soul take the lead and let my schedule follow along.

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