Lake Susan, Montreat, NC

{During the forty days of Lent 2018, I am writing some reflections on panoramic photographs I’ve taken over the years.  Full disclosure, finally: most of these images were taken in a standard format and merely cropped to the wide view. But, so what?}

The image above may not be the iconic photo Montreaters expect to see of their beloved North Carolina “mountain retreat” setting. The massive stone façade of the Assembly Inn hotel as seen above the placid Lake Susan is the more familiar view (just below). Still, this panoramic image communicates the serene beauty of the place that Presbyterians, especially the “southern” ones, call their Mecca.

Montreat is more widely known maybe as the long-time home of the late Billy Graham. He lived in the hills, quite a hike from the conference center.  Montreat’s main gate is just a few miles up the road from Black Mountain, and that village is not far from Asheville. And surrounding it all is the Smoky Mountain range. A friend once admitted he wasn100_0405‘t a fan of Montreat because the high mountains encompassing the retreat and conference center made him feel terribly claustrophobic. But everyone else I know so loves Montreat that they dream of living there year-round, a four-season Eden, but with clothes on.

I was a seminary student from “up north” when I first heard of the place from my Southern Presbyterian classmates. They spoke of it so highly that I was immediately suspicious. Then I attended a conference there one summer. And then another. And then led several, maybe a dozen, and went back summer after summer. Youth conferences, music and worship conferences, peace gatherings, meetings…staying in that hotel, or in the dorms of Montreat College, or in rented cottages and homes, and for many years enjoying the grace of hospitality offered by dear friends, the Williamsons. 2333-1Joan and I looked forward to those music conferences like Trekees look forward to the next Star Trek big screen epic. We also looked forward to the day when we might look at real estate there. Then we did. And put that dream away very quickly. ($)

Climbing Lookout Mountain, walking the hilly roads through the area, attending the events in Anderson Auditorium — those opportunities would never be taken for granted by those fulltime citizens of the Montreat municipality, anymore than a Vermont farmer in the Northeast Kingdom would take the daily view of Mt. Mansfield for granted. But making the place a retreat destination is very special, an occasion of spiritual growth, continuing education, and shaping community with friends old and new.

Yet back home, finding that particular geographical sacred space, that place set apart for special times and holy possibilities is something that surely feeds the human spirit. It may be enough to spend a Saturday fishing, or to sit in the local library apart from the busyness that normally occupies our energies. Perhaps a hike in a nearby glen or a bike ride along a rail trail will help us accomplish a kind of retreat. Whatever turns you on, or around.

There was a time when church doors were open 24/7 for anyone who needed a rest from spiritual weariness or personal strife. Doors are locked against fear today. No quiet prayer in the pews is possible, with few exceptions. We have to create our own retreat spaces elsewhere. A garden bench, a labyrinth, even a table in a café in its off hours– these are ripe for private retreats, however short.

The thing about a big summer conference at Montreat like the ones we participated in is that schedules are usually full, people are everywhere…paddle boating on the little lake, heading toward the bookstore or toward some ice cream, racing to a seminar. Even the Lookout peak can be crowded on a sunny afternoon. So, you see that stone bridge in the panoramic photo? That’s often a good place to stand, somewhat apart from the rest of the retreating world, and watch the swan or the ducks. Retreat from the retreat, as it were. And ponder. Anything.

I only went to church camp twice as a kid. I couldn’t swim, so a week on a lake had absolutely no appeal to me. But when the camp took place at a conference center with a pool, I gave it a try. At the end of my second summer’s week-long “retreat,” we high school youth were to go off by ourselves with a small candle, find a place apart and light the wick, and then stay there in silence until the candle was close to going out. I chose a small wooden bridge over a stream that ran through the conference center property. I stood there by myself, candle flickering against the night breeze, and I did what was expected: meditated, prayed, and wondered. Even as the silence was broken by those who had blown out their candles and ignored the directions for being silent until cabin time, I stood there. And fifty-seven years later I remember that night, that bridge, that brief but oh-so-holy retreat.

We miss Montreat. We’re a number of miles away, way up north of it, and even going for a week there seems expen$ive. But while it may not be Eden or Mecca, it is a very profound reminder that spiritual getaways and personal escapes are good for the soul. A week? Yes! A day away? Sure! Take an hour’s break and breathe deeply? Of course.

Mountains, beaches, deserts. Or, a candle on the kitchen table. Locale is one thing, but the main thing is… make your getaway!





{This is the last in a series of forty Lenten reflections loosely based on ideas suggested by mugs found in the Kellam kitchen cupboard. As I wrote on the first day, this exercise was designed only for my pleasure. The discipline of writing each day has taken a couple of hours out of the 24, and has further frayed the already worn edges of the pages of J. I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder. I know I’ll miss this daily practice, but I will be glad to have the time for something else…like springtime.}SONY DSCThe first mug I wrote about was a commercially-produced coffee cup with the name “Jeff” on it, along with a kind of greeting card verse about what “Jeff” means. Now, on the last day of these forty days in Lent 2017, I turn to another mug with my name on it. It’s the companion to one with my wife’s name similarly inscribed. We were given these mugs by the Bick family when we left Richmond, Virginia after some 27 years. The Bicks were our neighbors and members of our church. I trust that they did speak for all our Richmond friends by expressing their love. We still treasure the mugs and the message.

Does that mug “fit” this day? Does it have context? Today, the Saturday between Good Friday and the Day of Resurrection, is certainly “the day between the days.” This last day of Lent is non-descript for most Presbyterian-types. We know it has deep meaning, but we don’t pay much attention to it, as we await tomorrow’s sunrise service, with its shivering little congregation gathered amid tombstones in the church cemetery hoping the sun will actually be visible on what is predicted to be a rainy day. And then later, in the church itself, we will sing lustily (pardon the expression) and find ourselves accompanied by brass players and pipe organ. We will hear the Good News of the Gospel (pardon the redundancy) proclaimed, add flowers to the bare wooden cross, and break out the Lenten-hid alleluias (pardon still another parenthesis, but that word shouldn’t have been typed/seen/spoken/sung until tomorrow. Sorry. OK, enough with the pardons!)

But today is just Saturday. Some call it “black Saturday,” because of the solemn mood of sadness or defeat that followed the day of crucifixion. Others refer to it as Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve. Many years ago, Joan and I participated in our first Easter Vigil, a three or four-hour service that chronicled the Biblical story of “salvation history.” There was music, drama, graphic and fabric art, the reading of Scriptures, with prayers and accompanying liturgy rich with spiritual depth. It was a powerful service, difficult to transport back home from the conference we were attending. But many Christian communities around the world do something similar on “Easter Eve,” some even longer services, most shorter; but all designed to keep the rich meaning of God’s grace and love and Presence in focus, so worshippers could move from Good Friday to Easter knowing the all-important context of what some refer to as cross and crown.

So, I’ve been writing about mugs, have I? But this series hasn’t been about ceramics, fair trade coffee, favorite teas, or how to use drinking vessels as marketing tools. The context has been Lent, a time of preparation, of anticipated spiritual growth. As days lead from the ashes of that first Wednesday to the dust of the Emmaus Road, some of us added mid-week gatherings of worship and/or study; many used Lenten devotional guides such as the one on the Kellam dining table, Walter Brueggemann’s A Way Other than Our Own*; Lenten disciplines included service projects, lectio divina, labyrinth walks, special music, and giving up Mountain Dew. All in the context of the Lenten journey of Jesus, a wilderness time of testing and surviving, a prelude to his life’s symphony of compassion, outreach, healing, and teaching. His was a life and death by which we measure our time on this God’s earth.

[* Brueggemann’s take on this day: Saturday is that in-between day of stillness and doubt and despair when time stands still in lethal flatness.]

In relying on mugs to get me started writing each day, I’ve kept context in mind. The context of the season, the context of following Jesus, the context of my own day-to-day existence. Some days are, sadly, a big waste of time. Or, seem like it to me. I make that confession as I fall asleep those nights. “Forgive me, Lord. Didn’t do much for you or your people today. Wasted time and gifts. As the Psalmist prayed, ‘Put a new and right spirit within me,’ and offer me another day.” On those other days, my personal context is that of being and serving in a community of faith, and some opportunity pops up unexpectedly. Or, maybe it’s a family thing, where I find unconditional love so vital and energizing, that my prayers at night are full of thanksgiving. We all have some context in which we find ourselves– or are found.

Context is the weaving together of things that yearn to be connected. My life and someone’s need; my gifts and someone’s lack; my lack and their gifts. Faith and life. Daily living and revelation! Our purpose and the Shepherd’s guidance. Mugs and Lent. The context of a neighborhood, politics, (don’t get me started), local church or national denomination, the cloud of war or threat of terrorism, a child’s trusting eyes. Temptations, sin, dark thunderhead clouds hanging over. Context.

So, I wrote about mugs in the context of Lent. But more, in the context of my life. And if you have read some of these reflections (to call them meditations may be too generous), you know a lot about the man whose name is on the mug at the top of this day’s blog. You know something of my family, my church life and ministries, where I’ve lived and places I’ve been, what I believe, and — heck, even the name of our everyday china!

But, again, I haven’t been writing for you. I’ve been writing for me. I may know who you are. WordPress tells me who’s “following” my writing here, and others have happened by and sent private responses with names attached. But I’m guessing that if this writing stays “up” in some Internet cloud somewhere, I have no idea who you are. That said, the question is, do you know who you are? Now early in my 70s, I’m getting there. Knowing who I am, that is.

Today, the context is somewhere between the shadow of yesterday’s cross and the rising sun of tomorrow’s Light of the World. I have to admit, that I have had more than my share of that Light already. Grace has encompassed me. Love has surrounded me. Read that mug again! And God has gifted me with a strong family from which I have come and a beloved family I have helped to nurture. My wife, my children, and now my grandchildren. Wow! Plus, there was that Call…my vocation… full of exclamation points! (<There’s one now.)

The Apostle Paul once quoted a Greek poet as he preached a sermon in Athens. He referred to God as the one “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” There. That’s context. I am content in that context.

Yet, there is still tomorrow!

There is a new context that awaits, something downright cosmic, earth-shattering, mind-blowing, a whole new song to sing…there is tomorrow!

There will be Easter!



{Mug shots… one a day for these 40 days of Lent 2017. About two hours time (I write slowly) and approximately 1200 words ( I write wordily).} DSC05642.jpg

The mug I’ve chosen for today is one of a set of eight. I won’t be writing something about each one, by the way;  just this representative mug. We bought this whole set of china dishes, cups (mugs!), and drinking glasses for our 25th wedding anniversary. Apparently a lot of people bought this pattern, because we’ve seen it everywhere. It’s by Pfaltzgraff, and the pattern is called  Yorktowne.

It is our “everyday” china, as opposed to our “good” china. See, that sentence indicates how old we are, even more than the above reference to our 25th anniversary. We were married way back when brides and grooms (mostly brides) thought it necessary, or at least nice, to have two sets of china. Our “good” china is delicate and beautiful. I helped pick it out, so even I like it. But with its silver ring around the edges and its just plain expensive cost per piece, one would not use that stuff everyday, having it attacked by sharp knives, pointy-pronged forks, and harsh dish washers day after day. Thus, the need for sturdy everyday dishes.

When we got to the 25th year of marriage, we hadn’t exactly beaten up the everyday china to the point of having to replace it. We just decided it was time for a change, so we got this pattern. It was something we liked, and it was on sale on the Williamsburg Pottery. It was defective in some way, though the plates seem to hold food just fine, and the mugs don’t leak. Even after 25 years. This everyday stuff is sturdy.

And when I say every day, I mean it literally. Every day, I eat breakfast cereal from the Yorktowne bowls, and drink my orange juice from the little glasses. Every day, our lunch and dinner go on the plates. Every day, my skim milk at meals is in a Pfaltzgraff tumbler-sized glass. We rarely pull out the “good” china. That reminds me: at a pre-retirement seminar a few years ago, the leader asked the attendees how many had “good” china back home. Most did. “Use it!” he advised. “What are you waiting for?” Those of us of that “certain age” had been saving it for special occasions. At our age, maybe we should treat more days and times as “special.”

When I consider what “everyday” means as an adjective, I realize there are two sides to that term. Let’s begin with the less pleasing side. The everyday might be humdrum. When I wrote of the “vanilla” of life a few days ago, I touted the plain and simple. But everyday isn’t the same as vanilla; it’s just dull, routine, even thoughtless. We might complain to someone (or to ourselves), “Everyday is the same; I do this and that and this today, just as I did it yesterday, and tomorrow doesn’t hold anything else. Damn, I’m bored outta my gourd.” It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day,” but Bill Murray isn’t in it to redeem it, and it’s not funny.

We want to break out, break away, break free… break the everyday and escape to something new and exciting and enlivening. Everyday, there’s the same old job, some addiction to be satisfied, deep ruts to be negotiated without thinking. Life becomes stale.

But wait…there’s another side to everydayness that redeems the word. The sun rises everyday, whether it’s visible or not. If you woke up this morning, here’s a new beginning. Every day brings a chance to begin again, anew! Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are among the gifted affluent of the world who can count on food and clean water and a roof over your head every day. If there is a loved one (or a beloved many) in your life, you can count on that love always…always, that is, every day. See? Sometimes the everyday is that which is sturdy, as rugged and reliable as the commonplace plates used daily, and sometimes delicate and beautiful as the “good” china we consider special. In other words, dependable.

Yes, every day brings the possibility of an event or occurrence that causes anxiety or sadness. But that same day may be rescued by the accrued grace and blessing of previous days’ encounters with daily, even routine, joys and spirit-fed moments. Especially if we have paid attention at each day’s end, and prayed our gratitude for the gift of life itself, for every breath, every step, every sign of light and love.

I close with two songs. The first is really very old. Psalm 136 begins, “O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good, for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” That means every day.

Then there’s the one hit song from the off-Broadway musical “Godspell.” It is entitled “Day by Day.” The words came from Richard of Chichester (1197-1253):

Day by day, Dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Every day.

Not just during the forty of Lent,

but daily as the bread we pray for and count on and live on.

This is the gift of the everyday.

Let us rejoice in it, one day at a time,

but every day.

{Our friend Mary calls this series “mug shots.” Why didn’t that occur to me? Good one, Mary! The Lenten series continues, with reflections prompted by Kellam kitchen cupboard mugs…}DSC07359.JPG

When Ithaca’s First Presbyterian Church celebrated its Bicentennial a few years ago, it issued these mugs to church members and friends. With the logo of the Presbyterian Church USA, the church added the line “In Mission and Faith.” Nicely done.

One year before, the church I served in nearby Trumansburg, First Presbyterian Church of Ulysses, celebrated its Bicentennial, noting that First Church Ithaca was in reality, Second Presbyterian, Ulysses. (Ulysses is the name of the New York town in which both Ithaca and T-burg are located.) It was a good-natured rivalry, with both churches grateful for the work of the evangelist who had helped start both congregations two centuries ago.

When our Trumansburg Church wrestled with a slogan of sorts to attach to our Bicentennial print pieces, I suggested the line that we adopted, one I smile at now. “Looking Back…Moving Forward.” I thought that captured the need to celebrate the past and contemplate the future. But when one thinks about looking back and moving forward at the same time, that leads to bumping into things! One could get hurt!

On the other hand, FPC-Ithaca’s line on that mug is simple and straightforward. Yet, I wonder if there might have been some discussion about the order of the words. In mission and faith…or, in faith and mission. Which of those loaded words comes first in chronology or purpose? Do we find ourselves faithful and then engage in mission? Or do we act out our commitment to justice and peace, and grow therefore in faith? I guess I’d have argued for the former, the opposite of the church’s order. But then…

Naturally, both words go hand in hand for faithful, mission-oriented churches. Joan and I read this morning from Walter Brueggemann’s Lenten devotional book A Way other than Our Own:

Lent is the time for cold, sober reflection on that which our faith knows that we have mostly forgotten. The God of the Bible so wants human community to work, right here. But the God of the Bible also tells us what it costs for community to work. What it costs is a harsh criticism of the terrible advantage some have over others. God is indeed “pro-life,” for the poor, for the hungry, for the homeless, for the naked. When these become the center of policy, the city becomes both pro-God and pro-life.

Brueggemann’s two page essay on Isaiah 58 ends with a prayer that asks, “…Lead us into a deeper faith that challenges injustice and makes the sacrifices that must be made to build a society that is ever more truly human.”

The compiler of the essays is Richard Floyd, and he wrote the prayers that accompany each day’s devotions. I wonder if he thought very long about word choice. “…A society that is truly human.” One might have thought “truly holy” would be appropriate, if sounding a bit pious. A society more holy. But then I remember that statement of St. Irenaeus in 185 A.D. : “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” True humanity reflects the glory of God. Deep faith affirms that daily in whatever mission is at hand.

In mission and faith, a church feeds the hungry, welcomes the stranger, comforts the sick and imprisoned. Only if its people do. The mission statements that churches imagine, tinker with, finalize, and proclaim are only valid if people in the pews, fed by Word and Sacrament, leave the building and engage the world.

First Church? Second Church? Let’s just try to avoid being the last church.






{After a Sabbath break, Lent continues and we hit day number 11 and therefore the 11th mug from the Kellam kitchen cupboard. It’s a theme; that’s all I can say at this point.}

One would think that our cupboards would be filled with church mugs. My wife DSC07318.jpgJoan is a retired church musician and I am a retired pastor, so, yes, we have our share of mugs from the churches we’ve served. We have two of these from Bon Air Presbyterian Church (BAPC) in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a very special church to me, and to our family as well.

My first year in seminary, as part of a “Work of the Ministry” practicum, I was assigned to “shadow” the pastor Richard Perkins as he made pastoral calls, led committee meetings, and prepared for teaching and preaching. The church was (still is) a contemporary structure, and at that time the sanctuary was really an all-purpose room that served as dining room, recreation area (I recall volleyball and square dancing), and Sunday worship area. Folding chairs were set up, put away, set up, and put away…over and over. But it was a stewardship of space that made sense then, and I believe it still does. The rationale then still applies: why spend a million dollars on a room permanently dedicated to use as a worship center only a handful of hours a week?

The then-modern sanctuary with folding chairs didn’t lack a suitable feel for worship when we gathered on Sunday mornings, and using that same reconfigured space for fellowship and education made financial sense.

In my short time with Rev. Perkins I did not get to know him well, but perceived that he was dedicated to social justice and that the church took mission outreach seriously. Liberally, one might say.

Only a couple of years later, as a recently ordained minister, I would get to know the church more intimately. I was called to serve an ecumenical, interracial youth center as its “youth director.” The “Spanish Castle” counted among its strongest supporters the Bon Air Church. A Bon Air parent had suggested the need for such a neighborhood gathering place for teens, church members served on the Castle board, and its pastors rallied its cause when various controversies  arose (it was the 1960s after all).

And I found a church home there.

By the time the youth center closed a few years later, while Joan served as musician at another church, I took our kids to Bon Air. Our son was baptized there, and thanks to the moveable chairs in the sanctuary, the font was moved into a central position in the midst of the people. Eventually our two children went to the church’s preschool, then Sunday School, and youth group. They were confirmed there. I was involved with the youth group, and co-taught the senior high class on Sunday mornings. Joan was elected an elder. And the Associate Pastor Andy Sale led me and several youth and adults on a five day Appalachian trail hike.

I’ve titled today’s reflection “Mission.” Mission meant youth ministry, a peace group, building at least one (maybe more) Habitat for Humanity home on its own; supporting a halfway house for recovering alcoholics, welcoming Richmond’s homeless for a week each year, and helping found an ecumenical agency that unites surrounding churches in providing emergency help for people in need. That’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The list goes on. Still.

While I did work professionally in another church during part of the 22 years we lived in the Bon Air suburbs, I was finally called to serve BAPC as Associate Pastor (halftime) and focused my work in liturgy and congregational care. This church was our family’s spiritual home for so many years, a congregation filled with glorious music, nurturing educational programs, courageous mission outreach, faithful preaching, creative worship, and dear, dear friends.

It’s Lent, and I must mention one more Bon Air Presbyterian offering while I was there. Joan and I grew professionally and personally in countless ways from our denomination’s Music and Worship Conferences in Montreat, NC. One year the focus was on the Book of Common Worship, and that included a section on Daily Prayer. One Lenten season I suggested that the church offer a service of Morning Prayer for forty days. Assuming this would be a small group able and willing to meet each morning at 7:30, we gathered in the intimate space of the choir loft in a circle of, yes, folding chairs. We sang, read scripture, prayed, and sat in silence each morning. I have to admit that by the time Lent ended I was more than ready to let that daily discipline go, despite its “success” and how our participants had grown together! But forty days!

Nonetheless, or all the more, we repeated that Lenten discipline two or three more years before Joan and I moved from Virginia to Vermont.

We visited the Bon Air Church several months ago. The all-purpose room sanctuary is now completely renovated and dedicated to worship space. No more volleyball or square dancing. There’s a gym now for that. But there are still moveable chairs, new ones far more comfortable than the clanky ones that folded. And mission is still at the heart of the church’s ministry. Numbers are down, partly because the church helped plant new congregations deeper into the Richmond suburbs, but also because the “mainline” churches aren’t as mainline as before.

Still, when I pick up this mug for morning coffee (of course, a fair trade brew), I am reminded of the deep meaning of the term “church home,” and I am grateful God led us there and fed us there. We give thanks for all the saints at Bon Air, whether at rest now or still laboring to make the Good News a breath of fresh air for all God’s people!



DSC07322.jpg{Another day in Lent and another mug that prompts some reflection. Mug/day #4.}

I’ve noted that each mug in the Kellam kitchen cupboard tells a story. Well, this one sure does, doesn’t it? Place, date, occasion. Done. Except for the rest of the story, and the tie-in to Lent.

My childhood pastor, the Rev. Wilbur J. Kerr, helped me choose Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA. Rev. Kerr knew I was headed toward ministry and thought a good Presbyterian school would help prepare me for seminary. He cautioned me though, “Don’t major in Bible or religion. You’ll get enough of that in seminary. Consider history or literature.”

It was good advice. And I didn’t take it. The school convinced me that their “tri-major” of religion/philosophy/psychology was perfect for pre-ministerial students. Oh…OK. No sense all these fifty (!) years later revisiting whether that was a good trail to follow. As I look back on my college years, what strikes me as far more important, faith-wise, was the Christian nurture I received on that campus.

Classes, daily chapel (required, daily chapel in the first couple of years there), college Vespers on Sunday nights, participating in Campus Christian Forum (like “youth group” for us young adults), retreats, the pre-min “fraternity” (which, of course, included women), conversations (remember “bull sessions”?) — all this in the context of:

  • the civil rights movement and Dr. King
  • the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • the Kennedy assassination
  • the so-called “charismatic movement”
  • the Viet Nam war
  • immersion in  Biblical studies and exposure to world religions
  • looking for dates.

And flunking out. Yep. I owe my academic failure to at least three things, one each for every time I was put on probation. First semester, I got a part in a theater production and spent more time in the green room than studying. In my sophomore year, I spent more time in the campus radio station than studying. Junior year, I spent more time in the campus darkroom than studying. Three strikes, and you’re out, for at least a semester.

When I got word from the dean that I was to be a goner, I went right to the chapel, and I prayed. I thought I was called to the ministry. What have I done? Lord, what am I going to do? And how, in heaven’s name, do I tell my Dad, the one whose hard earned money was paying for this failure? There’s a song by Burton Cummings of The Guess Who that sings:

I’m scared, you know I’m shakin’
I’m layin’ awake thinkin’ about it now
I’m terrified
Never been much on religion
But I sure enough just fell down on my knees…

The thing was…I was “much on religion” but I was still scared. About the next days, the next semester, the direction of my life if I didn’t complete college, go on to graduate school, and become the life-long student that good and faithful ministers are.

And then, out of school for a few weeks, I got drafted. Did I mention Viet Nam?

But I was good at flunking, and my physical was no exception.

I went back to Westminster after a few months at IBM, where my Dad had opened a door or two. He had been so full of compassion and grace when he got the word from the dean (not from me; I was in hiding), and my church, too, was persistent in its support of its wayward, not to say prodigal, son. And there was Joan, my date, and then my steady, and soon my fiancée in whom I majored in my senior year. My seminary acceptance letter almost sounded enthused about my coming.

I’ve titled this episode of the mug-of-the-day “Nurture.” Because this whole four year trial-and-error-and-redemption period nurtured me in the faith in ways so unexpected and undeserved that it was the “gift that keeps on giving.” I was guided by teachers, cared for by family and church, and nourished by God’s unwavering presence and pesky insistence that I keep moving, even when scared or uncertain or utterly confused.

So, where have you found nurture? Empowerment? Embrace? Companions along the way? This is Lent, a very good and proper time to consider what nourished your faith, and, importantly, whom you might nurture with your unwavering compassion.

Oh, a footnote about that mug. It’s not exactly the truth. Joan graduated that June 6th. I didn’t have enough credits until after summer school. But they let me have the mug anyway.

dsc07319{Day three in Lent 2017, and I see this mug in the cupboard. It prompts the following:}

A couple of decades ago, I served as Director of the Video Education Center at our denomination’s “graduate center for educational ministry,” the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE). Occupying two rooms in our administration building was the independently-run Ecumenical Resource Center. What a treasure!

It offered curriculum resources, media, workshops, and seminars, and individual consultation for church educators, both the pros and the volunteers. Plus coffee.

The mug’s design includes the globe, plus a now-primitive audio-visual contraption, three multi-ethnic constituents (I suspect they’d reconsider the Asian stereotype these several years later), and print resources. Four quadrants and a cross. It might look as if the cross is separating the images, but to me it’s more like they surround it.  At PSCE, we used to say that everything the Church did was “Christian education.” Words and deeds, counseling and worship, singing and meetings…all opportunities for teaching/learning. All helping disciples (learners) grow in knowledge of and commitment to the one whose cross now stands empty.

The resource center was ecumenical; that is, it helped Baptists, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Episcopalians, and everybody else nurture faith, and love God and neighbor. It turns out that, yes, the word ecumenical has to do with being “world-wide,” but at its root is the more narrow concept of “house,” a place inhabited. All of us on the Lenten path started from the same house, it turns out. So, we could say shared discipleship is housekeeping.

As the reverse side of the mug says, the resource center crossed cultures and traditions, recognizing what we all have in common, and not wringing our hands over the theology that might divide us. To be sure, we are divided that way even within our denominational closets. But in this age of shrinking churches, when budgets can’t (or won’t) support resource centers anymore, ecumenical or otherwise, crossing over cultural boundaries and valuing one another’s traditions adds strength to the very center of who we are as the people of God.


Crossing cultures and traditions

Back to that word “disciple.” We commonly think of that word as being a synonym for a “follower” of Jesus. But its root meaning is learner, pupil, student, or even apprentice. When modern day disciples are on their Lenten journeys, following Jesus to the cross, they (we) may adopt certain practices or disciplines. (Too bad that the word “discipline” has come to mean punishment these days. That’ll teach us a lesson!) Those practices are really learning experiences. By fasting (giving something up for Lent, we used to say), by engaging in acts of generosity, hospitality, or compassion, by devoting more time and energy to prayer or meditation — are not all of these what we might call extended “teachable moments?”

This mug thing of mine, using humble vessels to prompt some thoughts as I walk my own path toward Easter, is a learning experience for me. I was hoping it would be. My apprenticeship in housekeeping is just beginning.

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