Embrace This Moment

“Life goes by at a frantic pace. Embrace this moment for yourself and share it with those around you. Savor this rocky mountain moment.” I read these words at the top of Tunnel Mountain, a small mountain within the city limits of Banff in the Canadian province of Alberta. Because Tunnel Mountain is so accessible, hundreds of locals and tourists climb to the summit every day in order to get some fresh air, exercise, and enjoy amazing views of the Canadian Rockies.

It’s the last week of my time away this summer, and Gary and I and two of our children are relishing daily hikes in the rugged mountains surrounding both Banff and Lake Louise. Although Tunnel Mountain is the shortest of our hikes, it is spectacular, partly because of the variety of people we encounter along the trail, including an elderly woman who hikes to the top five times a week and a group of seven young mothers with babies in backpacks.

People from many countries, languages, and cultures come to hike Tunnel Mountain. My heart and soul are at peace as I walk. I am fully alive and one with creation. I give thanks to God for the gift of being able to hike, especially when I read a large sign at the top. It’s the kind of sign you don’t see very often on the trail.

“Congratulations! You have made it to the summit of a mountain in the Canadian Rockies! Tunnel Mountain stands at an elevation of 1,692 meters (5,076 feet). Throughout the year, locals and visitors hike, run, walk, and even climb this mountain for fitness and to enjoy the scenery.

“If you think you are short of breath now, just wait until you get around the corner – the view is breathtaking! Continue along the trail for another 30 meters to enjoy the spectacular scenery. You have worked hard to reach the top, so take some time to sit back, relax, and smell the mountain air. Look around you and appreciate the hardiness of the trees and the wildlife that call this area home.

“Life goes by at a frantic pace. Embrace this moment for yourself and share it with those around you. Savor this rocky mountain moment.”

I am still savoring my rocky mountain moment. Whenever I have a chance to let go of my everyday life and get away, even if only for a day, it reminds me of how very beautiful our world is and how very precious human life is. Life goes by at a frantic pace for many of us, and we often forget to take the time to smell the roses and share our experience with others.

We find many people of all ages sitting on rocks at the top of Tunnel Mountain, enjoying the beauty. Some are building cairns, joining dozens of other cairns at the summit. A cairn is a human-made pile of stones. The word “cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn. From prehistoric times to the present, cairns have been and still are used for a broad variety of purposes, including as directional markers or simply as signs of God’s presence.

I am also pleasantly surprised to find two red chairs overlooking the Rocky Mountains. It’s part of the Canada Parks national campaign to promote their national parks with what is called the Red Chair Experience. Officials say they came up with the national campaign for the Red Chair Experience Program about five years ago in order to encourage people to seek out as many of the chairs as possible on their visits to the parks.

According to the Canada Parks website, “We anticipate these chairs will give people reasons to seek out these locations so they can enjoy the wonderful places they are put, to enjoy the nature that’s protected there for them.” We sit in the red chairs for a while, drinking in the beauty and serenity of the moment. We remark that even though Tunnel Mountain is not tall as far as the Rockies go, it’s a lot taller than the highest point in Iowa, Hawkeye Point, in the northwest, which is only 1,670 feet high!

There is another sign at the top about local resident Ann Ness, who is credited with hiking to the top of Tunnel Mountain more than eight thousand times over a span of forty years, sometimes twice in one day! In case you’re wondering, that averages out to two hundred times a year and is the equivalent of climbing the height of Mount Everest over 275 times. As I look out over the beauty of the world below and marvel at the variety of people who climb this mountain, Psalm 113 comes to mind.

Praise the Lord!
You who serve the Lord – praise!
Praise the Lord’s name!
Let the Lord’s name be blessed
from now until forever from now!
From sunrise to sunset,
let the Lord’s name be praised!
The Lord is high over all the nations;
God’s glory is higher than the skies!
Who could possibly compare to the Lord our God?
God rules from on high;
      6 he has to come down to even see heaven and earth!
God lifts up the poor from the dirt
and raises up the needy from the garbage pile
     8 to seat them with leaders –
with the leaders of his own people!
God nests the once barren woman at home –
now a joyful mother with children!

Praise the Lord!

Why praise the Lord? Why embrace this moment? Why look around and appreciate the hardiness of the trees and the wildlife that call this area home? Because God not only rules from on high, but because God’s majesty is expressed as a preferential option for the poor. Is it any surprise, then, that in the reign of God, the poor are lifted up from the dirt, the needy are raised up from the garbage pile, and those who are barren are gifted with a household of children?

Life goes by at a frantic pace. Will you take time to stop this week and embrace those around you with love and care? Will you pause to pray for all those who have been affected by Hurricane Florence and make a contribution to Hurricane relief through the United Methodist Committee on Relief? Will you appreciate the beauty of our earth and vow to gently care for this one precious world that God has so lovingly created?

Savor this “rocky mountain moment” for yourself, wherever it is. Sit in a red chair and look around you. As you do, may your heart be sensitized to the cries of the needy. And may you always be ready to embody and share the love of Jesus with those who desperately need us to be the hands, eyes, ears, and body of Christ. Praise the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Everywhere to Everywhere

My first real mission experience was in the summer of 1972 when Mennonite Disaster Service asked for volunteers to help with flood relief in Wilkesbarre, PA after Hurricane Agnes. It was one of the deadliest and most costly storms in US history. I was a teenager and spent several days cleaning mud out of flooded homes. My most vivid memories were the awful smell and the deep gratitude of residents who had lost virtually everything.

Twenty-five years later, the church in Michigan that Gary and I were serving established a partnership with a Methodist Church in Cuba. My two school-age daughters and I were part of the first mission team that stayed with the pastor of the Herradura Methodist Church for a week. We worshipped, ate, served, and prayed with Methodist Christians who had very little materially but had a depth of spirituality, hope, and joy that was humbling. We distributed clothing and other necessities to our new friends, and we also visited a number of missions/house churches that lay leaders of the church had started.

As I preached in the church on Sunday morning, armed policemen were standing in the back of the sanctuary. I remembered the words of the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, who wrote in 1931, “The church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no church; and where there is neither church nor mission, there is no faith.” I wondered, “The faith of the Herradura Christians is so deep. Who was ministering to whom?” I have kept this hand drawn picture by a little girl in Cuba in my Bible for the past twenty years.

Last week I was able to put words to my sense that mission is always a two-way street where the givers and recipients are not always self-evident. I had a chance to visit the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) headquarters in Atlanta as part of the Ministry Study Commission and learned that The United Methodist Church is in mission from everywhere to everywhere. General Secretary Thomas Kemper reminded us of the building blocks of mission in The United Methodist Church.

Purpose: Connecting the Church in Mission

Vision: The General Board of Global Ministries equips and transforms people and places for God’s mission around the world.

Four mission goals:

  • Make disciples of Jesus Christ
  • Strengthen, develop, and renew Christian congregations and communities
  • Alleviate human suffering
  • Seek justice, freedom, and peace

Mission is the lifeblood of The United Methodist Church. Click here to read about the Board of Global Ministries theology of mission. Formal mission in the Methodist Episcopal Church, as it was called in the early years of the Methodist movement in America, began in 1819 when John Stewart and the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church started its first mission to the Wyandotte Indian Nation in Ohio. The first international missionary was sent in the 1830s from America to Liberia. Did you know?

  • By 2050, one of every four Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • China has the third largest Christian population in the world right now.
  • The United Methodist Church is growing in the Arab and Gulf countries, including Dubai, where a UMC church has been started by Filipino immigrants.
  • We have about 350 active United Methodist missionaries at any given moment (420 total in any given year). 60% are laity, and 40% are clergy.
  • These missionaries are from 27 countries, going from everywhere to everywhere. UM missionaries are assigned to more than 60 countries and serve as doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, church planters, and evangelists. GBGM has projects and mission partners in another 60 countries.
  • Churches become partners with missionaries when they enter into a Covenant Relationship. Much more than a financial commitment, this covenant is a dynamic relationship, as church and missionary pray for one another and communicate regularly.
  • GBGM coordinates and provides training for short-term projects for more than 100,000 U.S. Volunteers in Mission every year.
  • GBGM supports 300 hospitals and mission clinics around the world that focus on the health and well-being of women and children. This includes prevention and curative measures for major health issues such as malnutrition, malaria, HIV, and AIDS.
  • Global Mission Fellows is a leadership development program for young people between the ages of 20 and 30 who make a two-year commitment to go from everywhere to everywhere by working in mission worldwide. 57 new Global Mission Fellows were recently commissioned.

  • The Board of Global Ministries has regional offices in South Korea, Argentina, and the Philippines, where a small satellite will open. Another regional office is planned for Africa, and there is a mission liaison office in Jerusalem.
  • UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is well known as one of the first responding organizations to disasters around the world and also addresses issues related to health, hunger, and immigration.

Mission in The United Methodist Church is from everywhere to everywhere today.

Recently, two Global Mission Fellows from Zimbabwe and Malawi and a missionary from the US were detained and held by authorities in the Philippines, where they were serving and sharing God’s love to the world. 18,000 signatures from 110 countries were presented to release these young United Methodists, who were held in a country where The UMC is strong. Because of the persistent efforts of GBGB, an appeal from the Council of Bishops, and countless prayers, all three young adults were released.

Approximately 60% of the annual budget of Global Ministries is funded through apportionments. The rest comes from ordinary United Methodists like you, who go from everywhere to everywhere when your church supports a missionary or a mission project. You make a difference every time your church pays its world service apportionments, and you change the world whenever you make a contribution to UMCOR or go on a mission trip.

From everywhere to everywhere; from Wilkesbarre to Cuba, to the Philippines, the church exists by mission. Where is your place in God’s work around our world?

Learning How to Fly Again – the Sequel

I get in the car on Sunday, June 27 and head off to Conception Abbey in Missouri with a little anxiety. Remembering my last blog post before my time away, I pray, “God, I do not know how you are going to speak to me over the next eight weeks, but I give myself to you without reserve. I want to learn how to fly again and live a balanced life as my true, authentic self. Do with me what you will.” At Compline (Night Prayer) that evening, the Benedictine monks sing,

We praise you Father, for your gifts of dusk and nightfall over earth,
Foreshadowing the Mystery of death that leads to endless day.
Within your hands we rest secure; in quiet sleep our strength renew.
Yet give your people hearts that wake in love to you, unsleeping Lord.
Your glory may we ever seek in rest as in activity,
Until its fullness is revealed; O Source of life, O Trinity.

I am using Reuben Job’s A Guide to Retreat for All God’s Shepherds as a spiritual focus, as I have during two other leaves. Never could I have imagined then that I would one day follow in Bishop Job’s footsteps as an episcopal leader in the Iowa Annual Conference. Bishop Job served the Iowa Conference from 1992 to 2000. In the Introduction, Job says, “You join a multitude of persons who have discovered that a time of retreat is often the setting in which God brings new strength for ministry and new clarity, courage, and direction to life’s journey.”[i]

I write in my journal, “I am here to hear your voice, O God. Whatever you have for me, I will listen and be attentive to. When I come away, I realize how empty I am. There is nothing to mask the silence, the despair, the loneliness. Yet I can hear you very clearly, God, and I know that you are near. I know that you love me and that I am enveloped in your grace. I seek to rediscover the power of your witness. I am totally dependent upon you.”

On the second full day, remembering my vow to learn to fly again, I sing a favorite Sunday school song from the very first church I served.

Some bright morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away.
To that home on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away.
I’ll fly away, oh glory. I’ll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.

I attend Matins with the monks and then go for a run. The day before, I discovered a trail through the Missouri prairie on the abbey property, so I lace up my running shoes and prepare for an adventure. About a mile away from the retreat center, enjoying a gorgeous summer day, I go down. It’s that quick. The grass on the trail is high, and I trip over something I cannot see. I fall hard on my left arm and know immediately that something is very wrong.

I turn around and run back to the abbey where I seek the help of Karen, an angel who is the Assistant Director of the Abbey Guest Center. She helps me change out of my running clothes and drives me to the nearest hospital a half hour away. The diagnosis: a broken wrist on my dominant left hand. Well, now that I have a broken wing, I guess I really am going to have to learn to fly again!

After the shock wears off, I realize that I will have to wear a splint or cast on my left arm for most of the summer. It becomes clear that some of my plans for July and August might have to change. How will I write? How will I type? How will I change my clothes? How will I hold a trekking pole and hike? All of life is risk, and I’m not one to play it safe. The darkness dares to descend, and I feel broken, humbled, and empty.

I remember how the apostle Paul describes Jesus, “who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:6-7a). Jesus, my savior, a suffering servant taking on the pain of the world, humbling himself to the point of death – death on a cross.

How interesting that my devotional reading that morning from Bishop Job’s A Guide to Retreat includes the words of Macrina Wiederkehr from her book, A Tree Full of Angels. Wiederkehr shares an anonymous quote found in the home of David Larson, M.D., “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take that step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen…there will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.” In the midst of the sudden darkness of uncertainty about the rest of my time away, will I be given solid ground or wings to fly again?[ii]

As I sit in the darkness with the monks at night, I know that I have no control and can only rely on the mystery of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Learning to fly again has its frustrating moments. I’ve discovered, however, that the kindness of friends and strangers around the world in helping me navigate when it was a challenge was an incredible blessing and example.

My spiritual life was deepened as, wherever I traveled, I sought out those who were in need or were also learning to fly again and prayed for them. When I was not off the grid, I also prayed for whatever situations in our world were critical.

I prayed for all those affected by the tornadoes and severe weather in Iowa in July. I prayed for Molly Tibbetts and her family, from her disappearance on July 18 after she had gone for a run in Brooklyn, Iowa, to August 21, when her body was found. I wept for her family and friends and also for so many other women in our world who have been victims of violence.

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 I prayed for Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, when news became public that she was in Hospice care. I gave thanks for the incredible depth of faith that played a role in her music and for her church home, New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. I prayed for John McCain and celebrated the heroic life he lived, having served as a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” in Vietnam for five years. McCain not only became a US Senator who was instrumental in restoring relations between Vietnam and the US, but he was a person of great personal integrity who was able to bridge the divide between people and political parties.

I prayed for all those affected by a shocking revelation in my home state of Pennsylvania and five other states. Over a period of seventy years, more than a thousand children were molested by more than three hundred Catholic priests. The lack of response, transparency, and accountability by the Catholic hierarchy seemed unfathomable. I also prayed for our beloved United Methodist Church and the path that is leading toward the special session of General Conference in February of 2019.

As I return to work, I realize anew that the way of faith, by its very nature, is obscure. You and I grope in the dark, searching for a foothold, a glimmer of light, a sign of hope. The vision is not always clear, yet our faith has deep and abiding roots. May the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the unconditional love of God for each person in this world, and the sweetness and power of the Holy Spirit, guide us into such a future that the world will look at us and say, “Those United Methodists! O how they love Jesus! And, can you imagine? They learned how to fly again!”

[i]Reuben P. Job, A Guide to Retreat for All God’s Shepherds, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1994.

[ii]Job, p. 34.