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Archive for September, 2011

Think of it as jury service…

This morning I had to be downtown at 7:30 a.m. to show up for my first summons in Oregon for jury duty.  As it turned out a number of cases were settled out of court and by mid-morning half of us were sent home, including myself.  I have served on two juries before in California and was mildly disappointed that I didn’t get to serve on another one.  I was relieved that most of the day was given back to me when I didn’t expect it, but serving on a jury is a pretty enlightening and awesome experience.

Enough about that.  I wanted to share something that the county judge said that was in keeping with what I have also experienced as a pastor.  Early in his statements he said, “I don’t think of this so much as jury duty, but as jury service.”  The reason I make a point of this is that it seems he is picking up a subtle and dramatic shift in our culture.

I have worked largely with the WWII generation as a pastor and in my hospice work many years ago.  A very common value that I heard and felt was this call to duty.  “Duty to God and Country.”  As I have listened to my elders on this issue I have heard an underlying assumption that, in order for our democracy to work, everyone is obligated to fulfil their duty to serve the larger community–whether in military, religious organizations or non-profits.  I don’t disagree with this call to serve one single bit!  But, notice that I said call to serve rather than duty to serve.

When I think about my own internal reaction and the comments of my contempories I realize that something subtle and dramatic has taken place.  Quite honestly, I don’t feel I have a duty to do anything.  Duty and obligation does not motivate me.  I don’t do things because I have to.  I do them because I want to and I have chosen to do them.

I can hear the refrain already:  “The younger generation is all ‘me, me, me!'” I don’t think it is quite that simple and easy.  The judge today made a very small shift in his language, but I think he was appealing to the much larger shift that has taken place in our culture.  I am not going to say that duty is out, but from my experience the concept of duty has been steadily fading among the generations.

This is both subtle and very dramatic because I don’t think the concept of service is fading–only the reason for serving is fading.  What is going on here?  I think it is theological or, at the very least, has theological implications.  Duty has, as an assumption, that there are greater commitments and more important purposes to life than just serving our own selfish interests–such as duty to God and country.  Inherent in this view is what I would call a “low view” of the individual self.

For many of us the concept of duty is a fading institution, not because we selfishly refuse to serve our fellow humans, but because the motivation for service is internally-directed rather than externally-directed.  I don’t think we have had a shift from selfLESSness to selfISHness between the WWII generation and those following.  What we have had is a shift from a low view to a high view of the human self.  We discovered that the good God is not somewhere out there, but right here in our human psyches and souls. Therefore we serve not out of a sense of duty, but as an expression of our deepest best selves.

The church is a place for compassion, service, healing, grace, justice, peace, and love.  Some may commit to those values out of a sense of duty to the God they serve.  Others may commit to those same values because they appeal to the deeper impulses of God’s spirit in their own life.  One may deny the “low view of self” in order to serve the common good.  The other may serve the common good as a fulfillment of their “high view of self”.

The judge asked us to think of this morning as jury service rather than jury duty.  Either way, the voice of the common good called.  And we all responded for our own reasons ( and it wasn’t for the coffee and mileage check!).

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Uh oh, he’s a minister…

I was surprised on Saturday when I looked at the bulletin for Sunday and the only part I had in leading worship was a Q and A about my pilgrimage.  The thought of sitting in the pews waiting for a series of unpredictable questions made my stomach queasy.  I did  tell the church that I would be there on Sunday, but that because of my mid-week arrival and all the details of returning after 74 days, not to plan anything anything in the service that I would have prepare for.  They did honor my request.  But, I did not expect to be written out of the whole liturgy.  I called Erik, our Commissioned Lay Pastor, early on Sunday and asked him to give me some parts of the service so that I could re-intregate into the life of the congregation and the rhythm of worship.  I was relieved that I could assume my usual place in the chancel area.

For this first Sunday back I did not have to prepare a sermon.  They just asked me to take about 15 minutes for an informal Q and A about the pilgrimage.  There were questions about my greatest accomplishment, what is on my mind now, how many tires I went through, and if I sang to keep myself occupied.  The one question I wanted to share in the blog today was this one:  “How did you initiate conversations along the way?”

This was an important question as I found that my approach to people took a subtle shift after about two weeks into the ride.  I began the ride being more upfront about my intentions for the pilgrimage, my role as a minister, the fact that this trip was sponsored by Eastminster, and my wanting to listen for the stories of people and where they fit into the current dialogue and shift between religion and spirituality.  I soon discovered that this approach was not very effective for the vast majority of people I met.

On a number of occasions as soon as the discovery was made that I was a minister either the conversation slowed to a halt or an awkwardness took over while we continued the conversation but danced our way around issues of religion, spirituality, faith, and God.  When I reported this to one of my members he was surprised and declared, “I don’t understand this.  You are one of the most open and easiest people to talk to that I know.”  But, what works for my members and friends after months and years of building relationships does not hold true for strangers on the road.  There people don’t really know me and can only rely on first impressions and a gut feeling.  When knowledge of my identity as a minister and my association with church emerged too quickly in the conversation their preconcieved perceptions drove the direction of the conversation.

It wasn’t long before I adopted a more comfortable approach for myself and, I imagine, for those people I met.  I just became a gray-beared guy out on a touring bike, riding through small towns, grinding over mountain ranges, and with an occasional grimace on his face from the usual smile.  I learned to share my story of this being a personal spiritual pilgrimage retracing my roots of all the places I had lived.  Sometimes the conversation ended there and other times we made a connection and talked more about the things that shape our lives–including the people, the landscape, and our backgrounds.  What I learned to do was to let go of some pre-conceived agenda of what my conversations were to be about and just let them unfold as two strangers who happened to meet out on the road.  In that context, my role as a pastor and my intention to listen for the religious/spiritual story in our communities, often became part of the conversation, but only as an expression of the connection we had already made rather than being the purpose for the connection.  I learned to let go of my agenda and just make connections.

My reflection today is just to ackowledge that those of us in the religious community have a perception problem.  More often than not when my religious identity became known or I interjected spirituality into the conversation an uneasiness took over.  I can only guess what was going through the minds of those who began to look for a way out.  Possibly, “Oh, I really am not interested in being preached to” or “I really am not comfortable sharing my faith with a complete stranger” or “I have to be careful what I say now!”

I don’t believe it has to be this way, but we have a whole history that has resulted in these negative perceptions and people closing up when the topic of religion comes up.  We have a history of making people objects of our need to proselytize or “save them” rather than treat them as people with their own integrity and dignity.  We have a history of a moralistic streak that judges a person for their language, behavior and thoughts (Oh, you really shouldn’t be angry or say those kinds of things!).

Imagine living in a world where people discovered that you were religious and they immediately opened up rather than closed down.  Imagine a world where the first thing a person thought was “Oh good, here is a person who will listen to me.  Here is a person whom I know will accept me for who I am.”  Imagine a world where the first images of a religious person feel like an invitation to something deeper rather than a warning to steer clear.

I started the pilgrimage with an agenda to let people know who I was and what I was doing in order to “get the story”.  What I discovered is that part of the story is that there is a wariness and a distrust of religious professionals and people.  I also discovered that the real story was to be found when I became just another traveler and pilgrim on the road.  I learned very quickly to let go of my agenda and just look for an opportunity to connect.  Besides that working better it was a helluva lot more fun!

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Invisible Hands…

I have been home for two days now and am slowly working my way back into life in Portland again.  I can see that I am doing all that needs to be done–going through mail, getting a calendar set up, meeting with people, calling the plumber, the paper, and the billing agency.  At the same time I don’t feel completely here.  I am somewhere in a foggy haze between the pilgrimage and my Portland life.  My body and mind feel a great relief finally having permission not to have to put the miles in to keep moving forward and not to have to set down shallow roots in dozen of places acrosss the West.  Yet, my mind isn’t ready to just pick up the same pacing in a new environment.  I do think that is one of the gifts of this time.  I experienced the richness of extended periods of reflection and contemplation.  I know that I cannot sustain that same level of deep introversion now that I am back.  I am also aware that I am not willing to completely give it up.  I cannot return home as if nothing happened;  I will need to find a way to honor and create the contemplative sacred space in my life without having to escape for weeks on end.

Invisible hands

The gift I had sent home to remind me of the "invisible hands" that carried me through

I knew at some point I was going to want to have some physical reminder of this pilgrimage and the spiritual work that I was engaged in during this time.  It was in Bandon, Oregon on the coast where I came across a piece of pottery by a local artist that spoke to me immediately.  It is a large red clay-colored urn with a number of hands fired onto the sides holding the urn as if to communicate, “You are safe and held in our hands.”

I chose this because the image and feeling of “invisible hands” carried me for much of the trip.  In the early weeks when I fell into a deep solitude I had the feeling of being held by hands that emerged out of the leaves, trees, lakes, and mountains.  If I had allowed myself to be held my Mother Church up to that point, in these early weeks I felt embraced more by Mother Earth and maybe even Mother God.  That feeling only became deeper as I traveled through Bozeman, Montana , where I was born and then into Loveland, Colorado where I needed to reconcile my awkward history with mothers themselves.  As I felt the absence of mother figures in my life, I gained a greater reliance in trusting life itself for my basic needs.

First day in desert

In Utah before officially entering the Nevada desert and a reliance on something deeper than myself.

There was a point in western Colorado and into Utah where I had accomplished much of what I set out to do.  My legs and my will drove me there with purpose.  Even though I also needed to take some time in Lake County, California where I was deeply shaped by friends and an emerging church, the ominous presence of the desert between me and them made my knees go weak.  I could feel that I would not be able to traverse that wilderness through sheer grit and determination.  At one level I felt defeated.  At another level that is where I allowed my friends, family and new blogging acquaintances to have a stake in this as well.  I had days when I felt like I was doing this for others and I allowed the invisible hands of my community to hold me, support me, and push me along a day at a time.  I felt those hands and more than any other time on the pilgrimage it was during the pre-Nevada desert days and during it that I went to the blog comments to look for some good words to remind me of why I was doing this.  I felt in many of the comments of the invisible hands to whom I feel linked and connected.

I believe in these invisible hands of love.  I could not see them, but I did feel their presence.  Even the young woman who totaled her car in front of me in the desert believed that invisible hands had kept her safe and that it was meant to be that I would be on that stretch of the road just as she lost control of her car.  Whether all of this is true or not I do not know.  But, I do know what I felt.  I do know that when I had no more grit in my belly something and somebody else stepped in.  God?  Spirit?  Invisible Hands?  I don’t know.  I do know that when the reservoir ran dry in me a deeper source filled me back up.  And now I have a physical reminder of what was invisible but very real before.  I am grateful for both.

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Day 74   Wednesday, September 21   Salem to Portland, OR   71 miles

 

Julie

My daughter Julie talking with Pastor Erik and Clerk of Session, Florence

The best part of the day was when my lovely, 22 year-old spirited daughter came into the reception at Eastminster after not seeing me for over 2 months and declared, “Oh my god, dad, you are ripped!”  This had nothing to do with alcohol.  I, of course, have not recognized the subtle changes in my body as they occurred slowly day by day.  But I have changed.  I lost over 10 pounds, became quite a bit leaner, and my face now has sharper contours that weren’t there when I left.  Indeed, I have changed.  My body is different.  My view of the world has shifted.  I feel more grace and more determination all at the same time.  I am psychologically stronger.  And I feel more whole, less fragmented and scattered.

Mt. Hood

A sign of home--Mt. Hood in the distance!

I mostly want to say thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who have supported me, prayed for me, encouraged me, and reflected back just the right question at the right time when I needed a nudge to go deeper, ride lighter, or shift my focus.  It would have been a very different pilgrimage if I had not remained connected to all the good people in my life–my children, Phil and Julie, the whole Eastminster clan, the growing community associated with Eastminster’s various ministries, my extended family, and some of the best friends a sometimes quirky and stubborn man could ever hope for.  I will apologize now to anyone who might have been offended by my complete solitude in the first weeks.  I had to let go of everything in order to re-discover what was truly important.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  I am h0me and the good news is, now I know it.

Phil and Tedra

My son, Phil, posing with his fiance, Tedra at the reception

I anticipated a pretty emotional ride in to Portland today.  I awoke this morning with more energy than I have felt for many weeks as I knew this was the last leg, the very last leg of the journey.  Yet, by the time I had breakfast and had packed, my stomach began to tell me that I was feeling anxious about this re-entry.  I compared it to making an airplane landing at the end of wonderful flight.  You are really ready to get home, but there is still that anxious few moments just before touchdown where you pray, “Please God, just one more time, make this miracle happen!”  Then throughout the ride I noticed the same pattern.  At times my legs were driving me forward trying to get home as fast as possible.  Minutes later I could feel them let up as I began to feel some nerves about making this transition from the pilgrimage world back into my Portland life.  I didn’t really feel like I was home until I walked into my apartment.  It was just as I left it (thanks Maggie and Ken!) and I felt the first signs of relief.  There is much more of that to come as the whole experience has a surreal feeling to it.  I broke down at dinner as a wave of relief suddenly hit me.  My wise son said, “I was wondering when that was going to happen.”

Eastminster sign

A very nice "Welcome Home!"

I made my way to Eastminster where they had a planned a very warm “Welcome Home” for me.  It really did feel like I had come home.  We at Eastminster are in a very interesting position.  On an organizational life cycle chart our scores show that we are both in the “old age/dying” stage of life and the “birth/infancy” stage.  It is a time of rich opportunity even as it is also very fragile.  For the church and for me as a pastor it leaves us in an almost constant state of uncertainty and insecurity.  Yet, I arrived back and knew this is where I belonged.  Whatever is happening there, whatever is unfolding, whatever emerges out of the pilgrimage this is where God has called me to be.  I arrived in the parking lot and all I could say was, “I’m home, I’m home, I am really home.”

Capitol Building

The Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem

And then mixed in with all that are these nudgings that I felt as I rode by the Capitol Building in Salem.  I began college actually as a political science major before shifting over to religion.  I was active in Ronald Reagan’s campaign for president when I was 19 years old (be careful about drawing any judgments about things we did 30 years ago!).  In addition to the ministry I have worked also in county services and with state agencies.  Eastminster is partnering with the county on providing homelessness services.  And, in recent years, I have found myself thrust into positions of leadership on citizen boards in the city.

I am arriving home with these two very strong messages.  One, that whatever we have going on at Eastminster, this is where I belong as it continues to unfold.  Two, that I have increasingly found my ministry to be shaped by the dialogue and the partnerships that we have nurtured along in the broader community.  I have said in previous blogs that I have felt and experienced the lines between the sacred and the secular to be dissolving.  I am interested in helping shape how the whole community–government, churches, non-profits and businesses can all work together for  the common good.  It is religion in public life that especially draws me in.

This pilgrimage really has been about working out my own call.  It is becoming much clearer. The good news is that I am already where I need to be as it unfolds.  I am already in a church where we are developing community partnerships and working through the issues that that presents.  And I already am active in city planning and community development.  I think I found myself here by accident and now I know this is where I need to be.  My future will unfold from right where I am currently standing and I may only need to be more intentional about fostering the relationship between our churches and the larger community.

T.S. Eliot’s quote was spot on the whole time:

We shall not cease from our exploration.  And at the end of all our exploring.  Will be to arrive where we started.  And recognize the place for the very first time.

I am home.  All is well.  And now I am truly ripped and ready for the next challenge!

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Can’t wait now!

Day 73   Tuesday, September 20   Junction City to Salem, OR   66 miles

Willamette Valley

Leaving Junction City and riding into the Willamette Valley

 I cannot wait to get home now.  It’s more than just completing this long, wonderful and intense pilgrimage.  I can’t wait to see my two children and resume our shared meals and spontaneous Blazer nights with nachos and beer.  I have many good friends to catch up with and share stories and find out what events I missed in their lives and families.  I am excited about getting back to Eastminster and exploring and discerning what all this means for us.  I do know that we will not be able to resume where we left off as if I had just taken a short leave of absence.  I know that I have been changed and I can only guess that Eastminster finds herself in a new place.  The pilgrimage has stirred the pot and we will need to just take the time to see where our new priorities, yearnings, and future thoughts have settled.  It is a little scary and I am sure there is some anxiety, but I feel that this is a wonderfully rich time of opportunity and possibility.  I really cannot wait to get back and discover what new life is awaiting me in Portland and this work that we have begun.

Sharon

My colleague playfully poses for the camera as is her style

I did meet for an extended lunch with one of my colleagues who only recently discovered my blog.  After reading a couple of posts she felt she wanted to meet and talk more about her experiences in the ministry and her sense of call.  She is wrestling in the same way I have wrestled with what it means to be a minister in this time of religious uncertainty and shifting spiritual values.  We talked about many things, but one thing bears sharing.  She said something that I immediately connected with and have heard is a source of frustration among other ministers.  What she said is that she is tired of constantly trying to “convince the church” that God can be experienced in other spiritual forms.  She is currently being certified as a yoga instructor, already has a degree in music therapy, and is in a program to be certified as a spiritual director.

 

Willamette vineyard

I recognize being back in the rolling farmland of the Willamette Valley

Like me, much of her connection to God is in the form of an “embodied” spirituality.  It is experienced physically in movement and exercise, in music and dance.  It is experienced in hiking in the mountains, walking meditatively through a park, or cycling on long stretches of country road.  She is currently in a time of transition in her church where her future is now wide open.  She finds herself ready to just start working with the people who want yoga, music therapy, spiritual direction, etc. rather than spending her time trying to convince the church that it has a place there.  I do understand the church’s intention to sponsor activities that fit within the scope of being a church.  It’s a fair question to ask how yoga fits a church’s mission.  I just want to know how hard former generations had to work to get quilting circles, rummage sales, and Ice Cream Socials sponsored in the church.  If I remember the story right, Jesus was big on wine, but I don’t remember anything about big bowl of Rocky Road.

River discovery

One of the nice discoveries as I patched a few rural roads together

I made a slight detour in order to visit with my colleague which left me with a fun little adventure for the afternoon.  I had a delightful time of just pointing my bike north and making spontaneous decisions about whether I headed more toward the foothills, stayed close to the freeway, or crossed over onto the western side of the freeway toward McMinnville.  I first started heading toward Silverton, but one road starting turning south and before I knew it I was going back to where I started.  At that I decided it was best to stay closer to the freeway and patched a number of smaller rural roads together until I came into the south side of Salem.  What I discovered is how much delight I get out of exploring, making wrong turns, backtracking, and trying to figure out the grid.  It’s like riding through a wonderful maze.  I thought about how this mirrors our sense of spiritual adventure these days as well.

Willamette Vineyard

A Willamette Valley vineyard just south of Salem

Most of my days on the pilgrimage didn’t allow (or more accurately I didn’t allow!)for this type of adventurous exploration.  Today, because my mileage was lower, I was in the valley where I wouldn’t have difficult hills to climb, and I was finishing up this pilgrimage I allowed myself to play a little.  As much as I am looking forward to getting back to Portland I am also going to miss being on the bike every day.  I did get tired of having to pull up my stakes every day.  I got tired of all the planning and preparation on a daily basis.  But, I never did get tired of the riding.  Something about the road and the rhythm calls me.  It won’t be long before I start planning another ride (but maybe 74 miles, not 74 days!).  Anyone want to join me!

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“Now what?”

Day 72   Monday, September 19   Florence to Junction City, OR   71 miles

Leaving Florence

Leaving Florence into some uncertain weather and beautiful landscape

I made the decision to start heading east back into the Willamette Valley a couple of days ago.  I have traveled along the coast all the way from Florence to Astoria in the years I have lived in Portland.  Once I reached Florence yesterday I was anxious to see some new Oregon country that I had not yet seen.  I chose a route to Junction City that added just a few miles, but got me off the beaten path and introduced me to some new roads.  Did I ever make the right decision!  I have a friend who cycles with me occasionally and I am looking forward to introducing her to this long, lonely, lovely stretch of serene road.

Hwy 36

Enjoying this lovely two lane road of Highway 36

I actually didn’t anticipate getting into such a wonderful cycling rhythm today.  My mind had turned to planning the best route just to get me home quickly and safely.  After riding the first 15 miles through somewhat foggy conditions and a few spotty showers, I made the turn at Mapleton to Highway  36 and set my mind to making good time over the next 55 miles to Junction City.  I wasn’t but a mile or two into this alternative route when I realized I had been given a gift.  It was a lovely two lane road with a creek running alongside it.  With only a few exceptions, the only vehicles I saw were a few service trucks supporting the occasional house along the stream.  I stopped and picked ripe blackberries along the way and took a few minutes down by the stream enjoying the rippling waves and the peaceful atmosphere.

Between Florence and JC

I felt like I had ridden right into a corner of paradise

What I realized as I fell unexpectedly into this wonderful side route was that there is a unique combination of factors that make a route perfect riding for me.  I do ride quite a bit in Portland, but I can say that most of the in-city riding is largely for the exercise itself.  When I get onto sacred stretches like this the riding moves into a moving meditation.  I had this many times on my trip—usually when I get onto the open road without distractions and when the difficulty of the riding isn’t so intense that all I can do is focus on the physicality of it.  It is hard for me to explain what I experience.  I enjoy other forms of meditation that are less physical and I find that I have to work hard to stay focused.  When I fall into a certain rhythm on the bike the meditation literally enters me without even inviting it in.  Too little exertion and my mind wanders.  Too much physical exertion and it’s all I can think about.  When the rhythm is just right I forget about my body, my mind quiets and I fall into a deep, empty, restful and healing place.

Memorial Church

Memorial Community Church on Triangle Lake

As I am nearing Portland and the end of this amazing personal pilgrimage my mind has turned to the question of “Now what?”  It is the same question that my friend, Dave, relayed to me after another cyclist had traveled by tandem to the tip of Chile over 6 months and found himself asking “Now what?”  I don’t feel completely at a loss.  I think the wisest thing is for me to return home and discover what Eastminster has also learned in this time (they invited in ten different speakers—some churched, some not—to share their spiritual journeys).  One of the things that has touched me tremendously is the number of people who have said that they have used this blog as part of their daily spiritual discipline.  I have really just tried to share what I have experienced every day and I am both surprised and humbled that others find words for contemplation here.  When I think about the question of “Now what” I do know one thing.  I can’t imagine suddenly halting my writing and reflection on this when I arrive in Portland on Wednesday.  It was never about the bike;  it was about my own personal wrestling, struggling and reflecting on my life, my call, and my place in the Church in this time of transformation and change.  The biking part will end, but the spiritual journey will continue.  So for now I plan to continue to write for as long as I still have something to say.  When the words run out, I’ll stop.

Share the Road

99.99% of the drivers heeded the sign quite well. Thank you!

The second thing that I reminded myself was that we at Eastminster have been following a little motto in recent years that is simply, “Follow the energy.”  It’s just another way of saying, “Listen to the Spirit.”  I do wonder what the next step will be, but I do trust that whatever energy, whatever interest, whatever conversation this pilgrimage has stirred up is the path that we need to follow.  At Eastminster we have faithfully followed this motto of “following the energy” and it has led us to wonderful new ministries.  We have partnered with the community to open a 60-bed homeless shelter, broken ground on a large community garden, and established an adult education program that has brought together both church people and spiritual explorers.  Will this lead to a thriving church community once again?  Maybe, but if it does it won’t be church as we have ever known it.  What I do know, however, is that as I return I feel secure that Eastminster and I are on the same page.  I don’t know where this will go, but I do know that we have a made a commitment to “follow the energy” and in that I expect that much of my answer to the “Now what” will emerge from that.

Laundry

Buddhism has a saying, "After ecstasy, the laundry." So true!

It seems somehow appropriate that I will be meeting with a new colleague tomorrow who had read my post yesterday on “Letting go, letting go, letting go” and recognized herself and the issues that she and her Church has wrestled with.  My sense is that many ministers are struggling with churches who are “holding on” but who really are ready to “let go” and think more about legacy than surviving.  If nothing else, I do hope this pilgrimage can serve to open up that conversation and allow us to be more honest with each other and our congregations.  On the other hand, maybe I am the only one, I am just making a grand fool of myself!  It wouldn’t be the first time.

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Day 71   Sunday, September 18   Bandon to Florence, OR   77 miles

Leaving Bandon

One of the many sloughs on the southern Oregon coast

It’s almost hard to believe that I still have a few days left considering how much my mind is now in Portland.  I am beginning to think about having to sort through mail, pick up my cat and car, see my two kids, reconnect with friends, and, of course, make the transition back into my pastoral role at Eastminster and community committees I sit on.  With less than 200 miles to go I get moments when I think I could power through those miles non-stop in order to get home ASAP.  But, I also am pretty aware now of how many miles I can handle on a daily basis.  I know if I ride anything more than about 80 miles I risk too much fatigue the following day.  Better to stay patient!

As I near the end of this stage of the pilgrimage I am letting down and letting go.  I am not being as disciplined about my preparations, planning, eating and daily schedule as I was during most of the trip.  I stayed up fairly late last night and didn’t leave Bandon until almost noon.  Earlier it felt if I allowed myself to get lazy with my preparations that it would likely come back to haunt me later.  Now, staying up a little later or having one extra tube instead of two doesn’t seem to be too big of a deal.  If it made sense I would even send some of the extra tools and emergency supplies home.  I am no longer out in the wilderness and if something did go wrong there are people, towns and even home close by now.

North Bend Bridge

Crossing bridges became a common occurrence today

The terrain and weather today lent itself well to some soft, graceful time of reflection.  I had very few hills to climb.  I was either on a very quiet side road or on a wide shoulder on newly paved Hwy 101 where I didn’t have to worry about cars.  And the comfortable temperatures and lack of wind allowed me to go into my head as I didn’t feel like I was fighting the conditions.  I found that I began to think about the questions and themes that I began this pilgrimage with.  I am aware that people will begin to ask me what I learned, how I was changed, and was it what I expected.  I haven’t put a lot of mental energy into that yet as I can feel this deep letting down taking place.  I feel really tired—relaxed and tired.  It doesn’t feel like the mental exhaustion I have had in the past when I have pushed myself to0 hard.  As I am letting down it just feels like I could allow myself to take a nap at almost any time of the day.

I began the pilgrimage with three themes that I felt were important for me and the larger Church—letting go, bridging communities and mirroring the wilderness experience of the larger Church.  Of all of those it feels like this pilgrimage has been primarily about letting go.  There may have been some bridging between the the institutional church and emerging spirituality, but quite honestly what I mostly experienced in my conversations is that the glue has already hardened and people are pretty comfortable in their own place.  I didn’t see people yearning to come together.  I do feel that my personal pilgrimage mirrored a great deal of the wilderness experience of the church and I will be spending more time reflecting on that in coming weeks.

Inland lake

Although I followed the coast I was inland for much of the day where many lakes appeared

Letting go has emerged as the primary feeling and theme for me personally and also for what I want to share with the larger Church.  I have come away from this pilgrimage with the belief that our churches have been asking the wrong question.  One of the most common questions that is asked is, “How are we going to get young people in the church?”  I am convinced that this is the wrong question.  That question is based on trying to survive and sustaining a model that clearly has not been very successful in recent years.  I am convinced that the question our churches now need to be asking is, “How are we going to pass on our tradition to younger generations?”   The first question is about holding on to church as we know it.  The second question is about letting go and entrusting our children and grandchildren with the estate we call our Christian tradition.  I am convinced that most of our mainline congregations should really be in the life stage of estate planning—deciding who will take over our assets after we have passed on.

Pacific Sand Dunes

I followed a long stretch where sand dunes were the main recreational attraction

This is really the gift that the people of Eastminster have given to the broader Church.  In many ways we have been in a privileged position that has allowed us to hone in on the core issues of our denomination and churches.  We knew that the “handwriting was on the wall” about how long we could sustain the church ministry and my position as pastor.  With the potential end looming just a few years in the future the Session (Board of Directors) made what I consider a brave and wise step—they said out loud that whatever time they had remaining would be spent in leaving a legacy in the community rather than performing another series of life-saving measures.  They actually did what counselors encourage the elderly to do—plan how to pass on one’s estate.  It is the normal process of letting go that we expect as individuals. The same holds true for our organizations.

I started the pilgrimage with these three themes—letting go, bridging and mirroring.  I am emerging with a conviction that the primary spiritual work I must do and our congregations must do is to let go.  It’s time to turn the old family farm over to a new generation and trust that they will honor the essential values of the farm even as they remodel, adapt and transform it into a more modern form.

Florence

Arriving on the waterfront of Florence, OR

Tonight I had a wonderful dinner at the Bridgewater Oyster Bar and Grill in Old Town Florence.  It was one of the best meals I have had yet (or maybe I just took the time to really enjoy and savor it!).  I am heading east tomorrow and will soon be in the Willamette Valley.  I can hardly believe I am saying those words.  I have literally lived in another world for ten weeks and am just about to arrive “home and recognize it for the first time” (T.S. Eliot).  I am ready.

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