Thursday, May 29, 2014


In loving am I loved
In forgiving do I find myself forgiven

In blessing are we blessed
In giving do we find ourselves full
I’ve been contemplating the future, of late.  The reason? Most likely the reality that I’m going to be a grandparent, contemplating a little one, the next generation, a continuation of our family. I wonder at the model of parent I’ve been: good? Good enough? Sufficient? Other? – However, whatever I’ve been able to provide, whether instruction, lessons, or material, my son will now take, remember, embrace, discard, as he sees fit – as he and his spouse feel lead to do so. The choices they now make as parents will be made upon the foundation we have been able to provide for them, we wish them well and are praying for them as they begin this new family. Exciting and fun to imagine where they’ll be in 5 years or 10-20 years.

Turning my sights to 1st Phoenix: where will we, be in 5 years? God willing, another 10-20 years? There are some of us who are wondering where we’ll be in a year.
 Funny thing about anticipating and looking into the future, it seems to drawn me to wax nostalgically, well how did we get where we are now?  Upon what foundation “do we live and move and have our being”?(to quote the Apostle Paul.) Yes, in broad strokes, we stand upon the foundation God’s grace in Jesus Christ affords us. But more specifically, and more directly – we stand on the evidence of others’ (preceding generations) faithfulness with the gifts and talents God brought through them.
I’ve had opportunity of late to share about the church history:  chartered in August of 1875 [139 years this year if my math is correct]  and building built in 1927-28.  I’m not sure in which conversation; it might have been the group from the High School that volunteered to help clean out the basement; I’m not sure. But it sparked the question:  What if folk had hesitated and stalled and pushed off building the community space we now worship in? Had they put it off for a year? A couple of years? That would have put the construction into the beginning of the Great Depression, 1929. How would that have impacted folks’ faith and trust and sense of stewardship of the gifts and talents God had given them?  I’d like to think that even in that economically challenged time period, our forbearers would have stepped out in faith, trusting God to see them through even through financially difficult times. I wonder if any of them looked back in 1929, at the building they’d just had built and thought, “was spending this money a mistake?”  The reality is, the church building was built and has stood at the center of this Phoenix community since.
I’m reminded at this point of the ‘Footprints’ poem, the story of the person looking back over their life, noting those places where there were two sets of footprints and places where there were but one set. The message of the poem, is those times where the single set of prints was evident are the times when Christ was carrying the individual through the tough-times to a place of greater stability and strength.
Many of us can look back through our lives and see how the church (this particular congregation maybe) has been that source of strength and stability walking, nay, carrying us through tough times and are so very grateful for its presence in our lives and the life of this community.  In these times of reflective gratitude, we can be mindful that this presence of Christ’s Body, First Phoenix, is with gratitude to the ways men and women have sought to faithfully share the blessed resources God has given them throughout the se years, giving selflessly in life and generously in death.
I invite us to be prayerfully thankful for the footprint of God’s grace that is First Phoenix and for the ways that it is expanding, growing, and deepening. And as we do, might we imagine how it is that folks in 5 years or 10-20 years might look upon our stewardship with similar gratitude to the God, in whom we live and move, and have our being.
Pastor Mike

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Life's Interruptions

There was quite a happening in our little neck of the woods. Created bit of a traffic jam as passers-by and onlookers stopped to see what the hoopla was about. There were as many who happened by as had intentionally sojourned to the blessed event.  So much traffic and demand to partake lead to special signs being posted with directions on how to proceed.
No, I’m not talking about the Grand Opening of the relocated Phoenix Dutch Bros.® I’m talking the birth of a colt out on So. Stage Road.  I’d observed this pair of leopard spotted appaloosas in the field just down the road from our house since we moved in. Apparently I was none too observant, as I missed the fact that one of the pair was very much ‘great with child.’ Sunday driving home following worship service, I came up near the field and saw the cars and people gathered and wondered what was going on.  As I got closer, seeing the bed of straw with the newly birthed colt laid out with mother standing protectively proud over her, my wonder was replaced with awwww. (or awe.)
It seems people will and do make time to be attentive to life.  People will go out of their way, will create a traffic nuisance, will make a fuss to witness such acts as the birth of a colt, to bear witness to life happening.  This was/is indeed a blessed event.

Well, closer to our church home, we too are experiencing signs of life stirring; signs of possibility; signs of hope. I hope alls y’all are more observant than I (re: the colt) and aren’t missing it, because there are some beautiful expressions of Life happening in our midst.  The Phoenix Community Kitchen is one such growing expression; the Phoenix Food Pantry is another.  These two have been integral to how we, 1st Phoenix, incarnate the presence of Christ in the midst of the Phoenix Community. 
Adding to these community focused services, we can add the Phoenix Clothing Bank (The Walk-in Closet). The grand opening is slated for May 17th (coinciding with the Phoenix, City Wide Yard Sale).  Although the idea of a clothes bank had been thought of and even dreamed of in the past, it took the motivational nudge of one of our Phoenix High School Seniors to be that catalyzing energy that pushed this into motion. Serving as her Senior Project requirement for graduation and as the basis for her Girl Scouts Gold Award Project, Kayla is making a great investment in her community.
Closely tied with this clothing endeavor is that of helping folks prepare for the work place, to help provide professional attire, help develop better interview skills (and more) in ways to share assistance with those who truly are interested in finding their way back into the work force.
Another aspect that’s developing within our community centers in the agricultural: learning the skills, the techniques of farming. Its been observed that there exists in this valley (and particularly surrounding the Phoenix/Talent communities) lands that are laying fallow- unfarmed. Using these lands as the training facility, folks who are interested and willing will learn to raise crops, take the crops to market, and earn some money in process. The hope is that the landowner will begin seeing some financial benefit as well.
One final (but not last) I’ll share now, is the use for the church’s Manse: we are specifically finding inroads with the VA and/or other agencies that could help us locate a veteran family in need of a decent house to rent (or some other way of making the space available for use by folks who have/do serve our Country.)
One more – We’ve partnered with Phoenix Counseling Center to provide a summer youth program for some of our local youths.
The offering of these ‘Rays of Light’ into the Phoenix/Talent community is taking shape as a larger community entity, in which First Presbyterian Church is a major component. With significant representation from the congregation, a steering committee (with representation from each of these individual entities) is meeting and discerning our next steps. The name we’ve gone with:  1st Phoenix Community Center.
When you see signs of Life beaming through 1stPCC, stop and take a look. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. 
Grace and Peace.

Pastor Mike

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hello, Silence, my old friend.

Psalm 65: 1 – Holy God, to you, even silence is praise.

We really have a love/hate relationship with silence.  ‘Silence is golden.’ Silence is deadly. ‘Silence is bliss.’  Remember the Quiet Game?  Parents LOVE it; and kids, once they figure it out, not so much. We love silence when others practice the art, yet go out of our own way to avoid the uncomfortableness of no sound.  The background noise (white noise, it’s referred to) of having the TV, radio, other people around masks the discomfort we experience by silence and pulls the wool over our eyes to the ways we really don’t like the sound of silence.
There are certainly times when silence is longed for; think 2am when you’re trying to get to sleep.  The brain just keeps running, the mental thoughts keep rolling around and around on that squirrel-cage between our ears. This (and others like it) are the times when we wish we were better practiced at the art of ‘being still and knowing that God is God’ (paraphrased).
But, as a society, silence is neither emphasized, nor valued. My thoughts as I’m listening to an obviously unplanned break in a radio-station’s programmed listening:  ‘Oh, I bet someone’s going to get in trouble for that.’ Silence , it seems, is equated with a lack of production and a loss of potential revenue.  Silence is laziness embodied. Silence definitely seems to be undervalued in our society.
Unless, or course, we are having a ‘discussion’ with somebody, in which case, we long for silence: the other person’s silence, that is, for it serves as our invitation to launch again into what we have to say, think, or feel.
How trite, yet oddly appropriate is the parable of the phone call with God.  The telephone call is made, God picks up the heavenly receiver and offers a gracious salutation with an invitation to share what’s on our heart; we accept; we offer the minute details of our heart’s desire and then upon completion, we hang up. it’s as though we say, “Thanksbye,” never giving the space for God to answer. 
Why do we (I) neglect the silence?  How unfortunate that this seems to be the case, for it is in this silence that God speaks, as Elijah discovered in the sheer silence up on Mt. Horeb. 
I spent a lot of time with silence these past months of our sabbatical, listening to and sorting through those voices and priorities competing for attention. In that time, something I’ll share with you here became more abundantly and deeply clear – God’s abiding presence with us (me) through all we (I) say, do, and think; and God’s desire to journey with us (me) arm in arm, hand in hand through the pathways of the garden of our Life.
In the coming month (s) as a part of our prayer life, I invite us to devote 10 minutes a day to the sound of silence: Okay, make it 5 minutes if this is something new for you. In these minutes following the prayerful petitioning we offered to the Lord, I invite us to be attentively quiet, paying attention to the minute sounds silence can bring to our awareness:  the fan, the creaking floorboards, the wind blowing against the windows, the sounds of a pet’s feet as it pads across the room, that still small voice of the One who neither abandons nor forsakes.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit, the mighty Wind of God, would give us ears to hear, hearts to respond, and minds to discern what truth God leads us into.          
Pastor Mike

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What language will you speak?

Communication is everything.  The words we use, the tone we set, the syntax, the language all participate in this thing we call 'communication': not simply how one transfers information from one individual to another, but how that one invites another into a particular thought process or set of ideas and ideals. Communication.  

I've sat with frustration, as have many others, over communication issues, seemingly particular to immigration. You know the rhetoric:  "If those people are going to come to our land, they've gotta learn to speak our language." This ideology goes further then to presume: no it goes on to assume that because another is unable to speak 'our language' that one must be stupid, ignorant, un-worthy, less than deserving of basic inalienable rights. 

This ideology frustrates me; I spent several years working in a Physical Therapy office and saw a number of folk who came in with a variety of work related injuries; one particular individual I'll recount worked for a flagging crew.  He was hit by a car as he was holding one of the warning flags.  He spoke little/no English; conversing thru an interpreter, I learned he'd been a biological engineer (?? is that right?) back in Mexico, but accepted what work he could because he didn't speak the language, and he shared his frustrations with the assumptions that he was less than intelligent based on that qualification alone. Truth is, anybody who wanted to know, wanted to speak, wanted to hear what he had to say was able to spend the time find the avenues to make communication happen, if they thought it was important enough. 

But we, as a society, hold the arrogant mindset that says 'They have to learn our language if we are going to deem them worthy.' This is lived out in rhetoric in governmental paperwork, shopping centers, road signs, and we rail against the ignorance and arrogance; we push against the isolatory exceptionalism. 

Funny how a little thing like language - a willingness to learn another's language can have such an effect on society - on how we view those who are different from us. Amazing how a thing like language can either bring people together or further polarize and isolate. 

Even more amazing is that even within a common language some messages 'speak' while others fail to do so. By 'Speak' I mean - 'to illicit a particularly desirable response'.  I was struck by a particular video this morning - 

Now, it's fairly obvious that this  is a staged scenario - easy to play off as trite or simply aimed at tugging the heart-strings.  But yeah.  It does tug at those strings.  It speaks to the nature of communication and the role the message plays in how we invite others to participate in that message - either as proclaimers or responders.  Do we wish people to respond? People can either respond positively or negatively - they will have a response one way or another, being mindful that ambivalence and apathy are a response as much as generosity and compassion are a response.  The deeper question is - what response is a desirable response?  What response is the desirable response?

How do you find people engage the message you proclaim? Do you find yourself upset that people are not hearing? not listening? not gettin' it? What language are you speaking?  Do you speak the same language to those who 'get it' as you do with those who don't?   Maybe if you just speak louder, that'll help;  maybe if you slow your words down, that will more effectively impress upon them what they're supposed to do; maybe if we call them names and ply them with shame and guilt for their lack of understanding - maybe that will help.  

If the message is really that powerful, that meaningful - I think it's worth the time, commitment, and attention to learning how to better proclaim that message in a way that people can most appropriately engage and respond, even if it means learning to speak a multiplicity of divergent languages.  

What language will we choose?


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Traitor Joe

sorry, no ill intended toward the fine company that is TJoes  - just couldn't pass up on the play on words.
yeah, we'll show you how we handle traitors around here.

Scripture lesson from Mark 12 for this week (vs.  28-34), as much as they describe a dynamic Jesus lived through his journey on the way, what might they reveal of how this dynamic was lived out in the later 1st century Christian community Mark is addressing?

The account in these verses follows directly on the heals of Jesus encounter with the Sadducees: they set up their straw-man scenario about nature of marriage in death, feeling certain they'd adequately trapped this would be prophet, messiah - this one who most recently had come into town with accolades given to the Son of David. In His proving them wrong, Jesus had nothing more to do than open up the scriptures - "This scripture which you, I, we hold near and dear???/  This is why you are wrong - Oh so wrong. Maybe you should spend a little time reading that which you profess to believe so dearly." (that last sentence was a bit of editorial interpretation that may/may not be directly stated within Mark's missive.)

Enter the scribes - lest we forget (neglect) to note who this scribe represents- what attitude and perspective he brings to the discussion:  I direct you to vs. 18 of previous chapter.  "and when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him." While there was maybe no love lost between the Sadducees and the scribes - they had an agenda which they (he) was complicit in carrying out.  Do away with him. Get rid of Him. By any means possible, do not allow this' One coming in the name of the Lord' (vs.9 of ch.11) - by stealth, (vs.1,2 ch 14)  sneaky sneaky/ deceptively if need be??

Enter this scribe. He comes to Jesus having seen the quick, decisive, authoritative work he'd made of the Sadducees'; he comes with curiosity peaked? with a desire to know? seeking another opportunity to discern a weakness to later exploit?  Who knows what this scribe's motivations were - what it offered up was an opportunity for Jesus to show really how far apart they were not.

Jesus listened to what the scribe was asking - what he was saying, and in the depth of His response revealed a truth that the scribe may or may not have found comforting - his and His experience of the scripture, the truth revealed of God's hope and guidance and affirmation for human interaction are not that disparate, in fact they're likely within the statistical margin for error.

I've gotta wonder what the talk around the local watering hole was like that next morning. When the powers that be met out at the gate to talk of the happenings, to hear squabbles and disputes and render judgements on such matters, what judgement did they render upon this scribe.  "Traitor!!" ? "You and your stupid question - left the door wide open for that rabble rouser to reveal Truth - to speak a Word that does not make him look like a crazed lunatic - to show us in a way that reveals how small and petty
we really are, maybe. Damn you!!"

Was traitor the worst name levied at today's scribal envoy?  Was he able to show his face at the morning gatherings? Did he have to backtrack and walk-back his discussion and revelation in order to appease a particular narrative and agenda? Did he find himself ostracized, shunned, excommunicated - at least until he'd paid the appropriate penance?

How well was he embraced by those who were following Jesus as He journeyed the way?  did they shun him? did they ostracize him because of who he was?  How total was our scribe's alienation?

Jesus listened to those who wanted to kill him; He listened for a hint of agreement, nugget of commonality,  a seed of shared value through which He was able to come along-side this one scribe.  Was there nothing worth listening and hearing from what the Sadducees had to say? Was there nothing within what the other scribes had to share? I don't know.  Did this one scribe's experience of the Son of David leave a lasting mark upon his life? - - dunno - What I do know (we know) is that it left a significant enough of an impression that Mark thought it integral to share with his community. (were they dealing with dynamics of inside and out? Us vs. Them? Who is faithful and who is not? I wonder if Mark was trying to encourage them to be particularly mindful of what the 'other' was saying; to hear and listen for those places where we're not so far off from one another? Maybe it's in this listening posture that we will recognize the ever-present nearness of the Kingdom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

waiting and making space for the other

taking home communion to shut in creates a heightened realization of the space we must, we do make for others:  when praying the Lord's prayer communally- many of our shut ins would finish 30 seconds behind, were we to pray these words of our Lord at our usual and customary pace.

 But, in order to make room for - allow the space for these beloved children of God, these faithful servants of the one whose words they are attempting to repeat - we slow it down. we pause longer than we might otherwise pause.

It's what we do for those who for whatever reason just aren't able to keep up with the fast pace our language sometimes dictates. It's the way we stick together.

we make the space - we allow the time -

for those unable to follow in the steps of those leading from within.

It's this compassion for one another that holds the body of Christ together.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What's that staring back at me?

 Who do you see when you look in the mirror? What do you see if you look in the mirror? Whom do you see when you gaze deeply into those eyes you find staring back at you through the looking glass?
Most likely, you spend as little time as necessary in front of the mirror.  I mean, really, why waste hours (minutes, days) staring at one’s own reflection, what’s to be gained from such a practice? Likely we spend only as much time as it reasonably takes to brush our hair and teeth, wash face, shave, put on make-up, etc. (This seeks to be a bit more inclusive list than my own morning ritual might otherwise afford;)  But I’ll warrant, that even in those brief moments of mirrored gazing, one’s attention is invariably drawn to those personal aspects we wish would otherwise go away. Skin blemishes, warts, moles, pimples, freckles draw our attention like moths to a porch light. We zero in on how we ‘look’. How do these pants make me look? Do they make me look taller? Shorter? Do these glasses make me look smart(er)? These are merely representative of the vast number of insecurities we live with – insecurities that marketers exploit (rather effectively, I might add).
There is no demographic that escapes the fine-toothed-comb of critical exploitation. We want desperately to be seen as beautiful, hip, lovely, likable, fun, charismatic, carefree, more youthful. – More than that, though, we want to see ourselves as all those things and we’re willing to pay whatever it takes to attain that appearance.
Of interesting note: that which is defined as ‘beautiful’ has never been constant, but is always relative to that which is more difficult to attain.  Hence: in times and/or places of mean resources and scarce food supply – a more robust, fleshy person with more body fat is seen as the ideal, which then defines ‘beauty’ to which ‘everyone’ aspires. Whereas in times of plenty, abundance, and ease (relative), the idealized body image gravitates to the skinnier, dare I say anorexic appearing model of ‘beauty.’
The point is – we constantly aim at a moving target; which even if we hit dead-center, moves from beneath our mark, leaving only our feelings more deeply unmet.
Within the industries of fashion, cosmetic, health related industries there is no demographic isolated from the onslaught of negative imagery.  From the young girls wondering if they’re too heavy, to the boys feeling they need steroids to look masculine; from the women to feel they must some how augment their body in order to be more feminine to the man who’s told he really doesn’t have much life unless he’s got a full head of hair: no one escapes.  The underlying fear that is preyed upon is that unless we change, we are unlovable.
Sad to see the church, likewise preying upon this fear.
 How much different would our image of ourselves be if, rather than the recurrent rhetoric of fear and criticism, we heard a steady and genuine chorus of ‘You are fearfully and wonderfully made’ or ‘You are loveable just as you are.’ We sing the song ‘Just as I am’- why should we not extend that same grace and courtesy to include you ‘Just as you are.?’ Or better yet, what if we could affirm for friend or foe, ‘I love you just as you are, because of who you are, because you are made in God’s image.’ Do you think that if we shared this message often enough, people might begin to view themselves as beings created in God’s image, whose love could be taken as a given rather than something that had to be worked for. The affirmation may invite the question ‘What does it mean to be created in the image of God?’ (how would you answer that question?)
Maybe, instead of hurriedly passing by that mirror, we’d stop and spend a few moments staring deeply into those eyes staring back into us, and in that time, just maybe we’d experience a bit deeper insight into what is means to be a child of God made in God’s image. And maybe, we might catch that same glimpse in the gaze of a stranger we pass on the street. (or maybe we’ll see the glimpse we find in the stranger’s eyes reflecting back into our own.

To my congregation, whom I am blessed to serve – I love and adore each of you and am blessed for being invited to pastor here in Phoenix, Oregon.  Thank you for these past 7 years.
Rev. Mike