Me and My Friend Renee Mikell

Renee and me

Graduation day!

Renee and I met while we were in the Doctorate of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary, Cohort H. I love her call story. Renee had a high power executive job in Atlanta working in the Time-Warner building. Every day she went to the park for lunch where she caught up on her reading for the Disciple 1 Bible class. She started to notice that there were people in the park who seemed to have no place to go. She realized that they were part of the unhoused community in the city. Slowly, over time she earned their trust, and she ultimately had a full fledged Bible study in the park during her lunch break, everyday with unhoused citizens. As they studied together and prayed together, she learned more about them and the social climate of their culture. Renee eventually helped some of them gain access to the personal documents necessary to get identification, apply for jobs and locate social services. Witnessing the fruit of some of this work with them facilitated Renee’s call to ministry,

I met her after she had served for awhile in the Western part of Pennsylvania. For a three year period we would see each other twice a year for two weeks of class. We formed a friendship, and after graduation, Renee and I continued our friendship.

Renee is a deep seated person of prayer. She discovered how seamlessly God allowed her leadership skills to translate from nearly two decades of secular work to leading and nurturing a congregation, even as her preaching and teaching skills were being developed. After we received our doctorate degrees we continued to be in touch monthly to exchange spiritual direction. We were intentional about scheduling time to regularly talk and pray with each other sometimes for two hours (after our church committee meetings) late into the late night. It was a time that I deeply cherished. Something happened during those times of prayer that was sacred and holy. When you pray with someone you are not only sharing your soul, but you are also inviting God in the center of the relationship. They are deeply sacred times.

We always shared from our hearts before praying. We shared of ministry and family, joys and trials. The problem was, much of what I shared were ordinary issues and problems of ministry. Renee had a difficult ministry setting. She confided in me, and was comfortable sharing the trials she had faced while pastoring in a cross-racial appointment. Many members of the congregation were extremely unkind to her. She also used some of those challenges to shape the writing of her dissertation.

In the United Methodist system a pastor is appointed to a congregation by the resident Bishop. This beautiful woman of color was appointed to an all white congregation, and they wanted nothing to do with her. There were a few kind souls, but there was a larger group that was not only mean and nasty to her, but clearly told her, in their meetings that they did not want her to be their pastor. They would even talk about her in the third person while she was with them in the meetings. This was not just once or twice, but rather it was an ongoing, never-ending, situation. It was painful for me to listen to. I am not sure how she survived being there, but she constantly responded with grace and a charitable heart. I often asked her how she continued, and she said it was through much prayer and looking at them with the eyes of Jesus. These were CHURCH people who were unkind!

Three years ago their new Bishop appointed her to extension ministry as assistant to the Bishop. She is healing from the experience in her previous appointment while  adapting to her new role in ministry. She is doing a phenomenal job, and enjoying her new role.

I would not have been able to survive the things that Renee had to endure, all because she was African American, and a woman. To say that Renee has gifts and grace for the job of being a pastor would be an understatement. The prejudice and hurt that she had to endure was inhumane. Yet, she loved the congregation she served just the same. 

Renee and I are still good friends, but we do not have opportunities to exchange spiritual direction as much anymore because of her crazy, busy position as assistant to the Bishop, which she loves, and for which I am thrilled for her.

This is printed with her permission. 

So what can you do? We can stand up against racism! If you observe patterns of behavior that are out of line, speak up. Could there not have been one person in her previous parish to speak out against what was overtly being said and done to her? Would you have supported this gifted woman in ministry if this had been your church? The time is now, this has to change.

As in a previous story, here are some things you can do:

  • Do not allow racist jokes, or remarks in your presence or from your children or their children. They are really not funny. Stop it!
  • Teach your children well, that all people are made in the image of God and each and every person has unique stories. 
  • Read stories about the African American culture that highlight some differences that you might not be aware of.
  • Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. I was shocked to learn the kind of treatment that was being given to Renee, and she was an ordained pastor, with a Doctorate of Ministry degree in church Leadership!
  • Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them.
  • Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening. 
  • Write a story, like this one. Share a story on your social media. 
  • Use your vote for change.
  • March for justice.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times. 
  • Watch movies based on real life to include “Just Mercy,” “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson, and “Green Book.”

Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!

My Friend William Chaney and Me

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I first heard him speak as a guest lecturer when I was in seminary. I loved his passion, energy, and message so much that I was compelled to run out of the class to catch up with him even before my regular professor was finished teaching.

I ran to introduce myself to The Rev. William Chaney. We chatted, I learned he lived in my same county, and at the end of our short conversation I asked, if it was ok to give him a hug. See, I knew then and there that William and I were soul mates—not the kind of soul mates for marriage, he already had a beautiful, intelligent, wife and they have a lovely daughter, but soul mates in that we both had an inner need to reach people for Jesus. We both have a deep desire to make disciples for Jesus, and we both know that the process requires new ways of thinking. That kind of soul mate—the kind that has a heart for Jesus and the people Jesus wants to reach. 

Over the next year William and I became fast friends. We shared time together with our respective families, we encouraged each other with new ideas for ministry, and we listened to each other’s stories. William had always loved the Exponential Conference held in Florida every year, and in the spring of 2010 I decided to accept his invitation to attend. We independently booked flights on the same Southwest flight. We were bound for Florida!

As it happened Ron, my brother-in-law who has since gone onto glory, had just retired and had managed to get a free condo that had three separate bedrooms, with separate bathrooms. Ron wanted to golf, and William and I could each have a separate room. Free is always good. It saved our respective churches some money, so we decided to stay there together.  William and I even arrived a half a day early. We had each procured tickets for Disney, and we spent that half day before the conference riding roller coasters. 

The conference was good, even if it was oriented to male pastors. (That is a story for another day, I personally know how to filter that prejudice out.)  William and I had dinner with several colleagues that we knew who were also attending. We arrived back at the condo late. We each said goodnight and went to our respective rooms, closing our doors behind us. 

The next morning I had not yet seen William and we were five minutes away from our appointed time of departure. I banged on his room door and asked if he was ready. He said he needed about ten more minutes.

When William came out of his room I said, “You don’t look good, are you ok?”

William: “I did not get much sleep last night.”

Me: “Why not, are you worried about something?”

William: “No, but I slept in the gym last night, until the security guard got me up, and then I moved to the pool.”

Me (very confused): “What, what happened?”

William: “I went out to take a short walk last night before bed. When I came back the door was locked with the chain, and I could not get back in.”

Me: “Why didn’t you call.”

William: “I did not take my phone, it was just going for a short walk.”

Me: “Why didn’t you knock on the door.”

William: “I did but no one heard me.”

Me: “Why didn’t you bang on the patio door until we heard you?”

William: “A black man banging on a patio door in the middle of the night?”

That is when it struck me full force. My friend William cannot do things that I can do. Some call it white privilege, others call it oppression. Whatever you want to name it, William cannot react in ways that I would react out of fear of being perceived as a threat to others. If he had banged on the door, surely someone would have called the police. So William, who did have his key card, slept in the little workout room on the mat.

Understand, my brother-in-law had retired from the CIA. He had locked the door with the chain assuming everyone was inside behind their closed doors. He ALWAYS locked doors well, and checked them a second time. There was no malice involved, just a series of unfortunate events. The next morning the chain came off when Ron went to get the free paper in front of the condo. With that, William came inside, and since we all had our own rooms, none of us knew William had been missing all night. 

William never said a word about the incident again. He handled it all with grace. But the incident has remained with me. As I continue to socialize and work with my African American friends, I realize they have to do things differently than I. They have to think twice about doing things that I would just do. They have to ensure that their actions are not perceived as a threat to others. They have to constantly be thinking, is this going to be taken the wrong way. 

William and I are still good friends and communicate regularly. It was about six months ago that his wife became outraged, over another unjust incident. She posted about the event, which William never mentioned. He and an African American District Superintendent had been working late in a church in an unnamed state in the south.  On the way home their car was stopped by the police. They had done nothing wrong. Not only did the police check their licenses, but he made them both get out of the car and searched them, for no reason! This is unacceptable behavior, and it has to stop. 

We cannot remain silent. We who do not have to suffer this kind of injustice need to speak up. It’s time we who do not have to think about our every action and how it will be perceived in the world need to take a stand for justice. Systemic racism has deep roots in our land. It is time we all repent. It is time to speak up, and it is time to ensure real change will happen. 

Each of us can do something. What can you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask forgiveness for times when you did not notice how you might have contributed to an injustice.
  • Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. This is a place where I had to start after William asked me the question, “A black man banging on a door late at night?” That was ten years ago!
  • Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them. Listen to their stories.
  • Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening. 
  • Write a story, like this one.
  • Use your vote for change.
  • March for in peace for justice.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times. 
  • Read material that helps you understand the world from a different perspective.
  • Watch movies based on real life. “Just Mercy” is a good place to begin. 

Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!

(This article was written at my initiative with permission from William Chaney and his wife, Michelle.)

How Can I Keep From Singing & COVID-19

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(Miss Pam’s sits at the piano with her choir and orchestra, with Beckie conducting.)

What does singing praise in church look like as we come out of quarantine? For that matter, what will choirs and music academies do without the gift of song being united in vocal artistry? While none of us know that answer, we do know that Germany, in coming out of quarantine, has temporarily prohibited places of worship to sing due to the aerosol particles  that are projected when a person uses proper technique in singing. There is sufficient scientific evidence to show that six feet apart is not enough when projecting your voice, as one does in singing. Orchestras, places of worship, choral groups, praise groups, and bands are all scrambling to find new solutions to sharing and performing music.

Music is an integral part of the human design. The hymn writer Robert Lowry asks, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (This rendition of the song by the young people of the A Cappella Academy is particularly wonderful.) In every part of the world music, both song and instrumental, plays a role in soothing the weary soul, in praising God, and in creating communities formed by the love of both creating song and those who appreciate listening to song. Some of us would argue that a world without music would be void of one the greatest gifts God has created within the human capacity of creativity.

As a theologian, I would also argue that music is also pleasing to God, the giver and creator of every living creature. From the beginning to the end of the biblical witness we see that music is used to praise God. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Moses sang a song of praise when the Israelites were delivered from slavery, the Psalms themselves are meant to be sung, King David was notably one who regularly created music and sang songs of praise and lament to God. Isaiah the prophet, when he had his vision, was transported to the heavenly courts and witnessed the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.Nehemiah had a music festival dedicated to God when the wall was rebuilt, and David danced before the Lord with no shame as to his lack of dress. The minor prophet Zephaniah also remind us that God rejoices over us with singing!

When we move into the New Testament, we see music continues to be used by God’s people to worship God. James says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” Paul and Silas were praising God even when they were in jail when a mighty miracle–an earthquake occurred to release them from captivity. Paul tells disciples, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Music is pleasing to God.

In my own experience I have heard God speak to me when I was caught up in praise songs to God. One time was during a men’s Emmaus time of closing. The church was packed with men singing songs from the heart to God, and I heard the voice of God speak to me in my personal situation. Another time when I was leading worship, the choir was singing God of Heaven, and God clearly spoke to me and told me to move my place of residence into the town where I was serving as lead pastor. The voice was clear to me, and I began to cry, all from hearing God during a time of praise through music. When we are focused on praising God through song, our hearts can be softened to hear the voice of God! It has happened to me, maybe it has happened to you!

What are we to do with the potential paradox of not being allowed to sing in worship and the fact that music and singing songs to God give pleasure to the Lord? How do we put these two contrasting ideas together? We remember that the Israelites, when they were captives in a foreign land were tormented and cajoled to sing, and yet they stated, “by the rivers of Babylon we hung up our lyres and wept. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

We might feel that way too. Corona Virus has turned our known world upside-down. The obstacles are many; We cannot meet in person for school, concerts, movies or worship. Some are facing economic challenges and lost jobs, others are experiencing shortages of food, some are fighting for their lives, and others are on the front lines as essential workers doing the fighting. Some have lost loved ones, and experienced deep grief. How can we keep on singing?

And yet, (there is always an “and yet”). And yet, the prophet Isaiah, speaking to those who are weeping by the rivers of Babylon says, sing to the Lord a new song. Isaiah gives hope for the future, hope of something new, hope that God has not abandoned, and a promise that God is still with us. We can claim those promises too. And we, too, can look for hope even among the devastating times we are currently experiencing. How do we do that?

First, we remember that we can use songs to praise God while in our own homes and in our own personal lives. It is important to do so, even when we do not feel like praising God. We praise God in the midst of the storm. If you have not done so, try to sing or play a song of praise right now. Maybe this one will speak to you, as the song writer says, “Even when it hurts I will praise you!”

Secondly, while we cannot gather in person, we can join in the many different ways offered to gather virtually on-line. Choose one or two or three worship services to attend, and when they offer up songs in worship, sing with all of your might right where you are seated–you can even stand in place and sing. I have personally enjoyed the smorgasbord of worship every weekend, and I sing right along with all those who are praising God in all the many formats that are offered. Sing to the Lord! The people gathered together, even virtually, give glory to God.

Thirdly, while we recognize that music is a great gift to use in worship to praise God, we also recognize there are other elements used in worship. Right now one of those elements might be silence. Can you hear God speak to you in the silence? It was the prophet Elijah who listened for God in the wind, rain, earthquake and fire on Mt. Horeb, but God spoke in a gentle whisper. God spoke in the silence of the mountain. Silence is one aspect of contemplative practice. Could it be that right now we are called to hear God in the silence?

Fourth, we can listen deeply to all of creation singing praise to God. In particular, Jesus says to those who try to stop his disciples from praising him, “If the people stop the very rocks will cry out.” Psalm 148 states that all the earth will praise God, to include the sea creatures of the ocean. Right now the birds are singing, listen to them, and join in praising God. Pastor Louie Giglio has a great teaching about the stars, the whales and the symphony of all creation singing praise to God.

Finally, in the deepest part of my heart, I know this to be temporary. Music is so integral in the life of God, that I cannot believe that the music in our hearts used to praise God in community, from song to instrumental, will be silenced to eternity. Use this time to pray to God to lift this pandemic from us. Personally, I believe in a God of miracles. We know that the God who created all of creation can also lift a pandemic. Lift your voice in song, and your heart in prayer as we repent for not trusting God, and join in the cacophony of all of creation in singing a new song to the Lord. Pray that all the heartache felt around the world from this virus will be lifted. And, when that lifting happens, remember to give God all the praise and glory. How can we keep from singing? We don’t have to, while we wait and pray, we can simply learn to sing praise to God in a new way.

A Tribute to Dr. Dean Griffin

What does a life look like that is trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? The short answer is that the life lived is a reflection of the image of God-the very image in which each human being is created; in the image of God.

Recently a good family friend passed away. Dean and his family were always a part of our family. Like other close families, we did life together. Growing up, the Griffins always stopped by on Christmas afternoon, for the annual Easter egg hunt, and summer family barbecues, to name but a few occasions. Dean’s family took me skiing in Canada. It is because his family hosted a French AFS student that Cora and I became lifelong best friends. Our family stories are intertwined.

Dean was a jokester and he talked to everyone around him, to include every waitress and nurse who cared for him. For Dean there were no strangers. Some called it flirting, but it was so much more. Dean was really about the person with whom he was talking. Dean cared about people. He listened to their stories. He was curious. So much so that his family hosted two exchange students. He loved people, and he loved life. (Ok, and he loved The Turtle, too.)

Dean had a life call on his heart to care about people. For that very reason he started teaching, and eventually became a family physician. Who knows how many patients Dean walked beside? Who knows how many he cared for? Yet in all his caring for people, in all his talking with “strangers,” Dean was reflecting the image of his maker, The Great Physician.

You see, there is another one who cared for people, One who was an abiding presence with humanity; none other than God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the one who taught us to abide with each other, the one who taught us to care for each other, the one who taught us to serve each other, the One who taught us what love looks like.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and said, “Go and do likewise.” (John 13:15) In that same chapter Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved. This is servant love, this is self sacrificing love, known as agape love. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ( John 13:35)

Dean sacrificed of his time and of himself as he served others; on call as a physician, on the high school football team sidelines as team doctor, in numerous service clubs, for his community, and his family. His wife, kids, and grandkids were the apple of his eye. He cared for people he did not know by talking with them, listening, and learning their stories. He was an abiding presence in his community of Westminster and beyond.

Dean was not perfect, no human is sinless. But he followed the Perfect One who taught us how to love by offering himself on a cross for you and for me, to take our sins and imperfections upon himself, so that a gateway beyond this life would be open, and a future hope and promises by the God of all creation can be realized.

It is a gift to grow up in community who cares for each other. I am grateful that God brought our life paths together, and grateful for the gift of love and friendship that Dr. Dean Griffin and his family brought to my family and me. And, I am grateful that Dean followed in the footsteps of his Maker, reflecting the image of God in which he was created.

Growing in our Relationship with Jesus

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She can read!

My eldest granddaughter is an emergent reader. Recently we were on vacation together, sitting in a tourist tram, and I asked her to read the words in the front of the tram. I waited, figuring I would have to help her with the more difficult words. Yet, slowly but surely, she read the entire sentence! “Come as guests, leave as friends.” I was surprised, yet excited for her.

It is a thrill to watch this 5 year old have a new world open up to her as she grows in her ability to read. New opportunities are now at her fingertips.

I realized the same is true of us in our relationship with Jesus. When our knowledge of God moves from head knowledge to heart knowledge, an entire new world opens up to us. When we realize that Jesus, God in the flesh, desires nothing less than a personal relationship with each of us, we begin to see and understand that new opportunities are available to us. Those opportunities were available all along, but now they can grow and be nurtured in new ways, because Jesus has just become real to us.

Just as my granddaughter is an emergent reader, so, too, many of us are emergent followers of Jesus. We are just discovering what lies ahead. She has to continue pressing on to read well, and we have to press on, in the words of Paul, to grow in our faith. This is a time to continue your discoveries. This is a time to seek out growth, seek out going deeper in this relationship with Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life. What are you doing today to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus?

And, if you are one who has not discovered this reality, that Jesus is real and wants a relationship with you, this can be a time to seek him out, to allow emergent discoveries to become a reality in your life.

Just as my granddaughter is discovering that reading is so exciting, you will be amazed at the exciting path that lies before you when you allow Jesus to be central in your life.

Slowing DOWN for Advent

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The tree limbs are bare, the rocks look cold as they stand watch over the valley. The change of season has arrived. Some of us are struggling with the shorter season of light, some of us are wondering if the kids will ever settle down, some of us are filled with grief as the holidays are approaching because our situation has changed, others of us are busy with the hustle of the Christmas season. Whatever it is, it seems like the Christmas season has been filled with everything except Jesus. Enter in the season of Advent.

Advent is this beautiful gift that gives us pause–Advent helps us slow down. Advent means “the coming,” and we remember both that which has historically happened in the birth of Jesus, and we look forward to that which is to come; Jesus promised that he would come again.

Advent gives us pause to remember the words of the prophets who remind us that God will be with us, and remind us that God’s word will be fulfilled, “..So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living word. Jesus is the word made flesh, Immanuel, God with us, God who became one of us.

So what does this season of Advent mean for you and for me? We have been given a “pause button.” We have been given an opportunity in Advent to look more deeply. Maybe this is a time for you to pause by spending some time with God in reading the word, or spending some time praying for the promise of Jesus to come again, or maybe this can be a season of inviting the Holy Spirit to give gifts for the building of God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Whatever it may be, know that we are given this season as a gift to grow in our relationship with the One who became flesh.

The cookies, gift buying, card sending can wait, use the pause button of Advent to preparing your heart for the One who is, and who was, and who is yet to come again. The tree limbs are bare from leaves, but our hearts can be opened wide for the coming of the Christ Child once again.

What is your favorite way to pause in Advent? Here is a song that might help in your pause.

The Broken Angel Wing

The Broken Angel Wing

angelThe angel was given to me by the family of a dear friends of mine who passed away this year. No sooner did the angel come into my possession than her wing broke off. At first I was devastated, this was part of Phil and Norma’s collection that had been gifted to me, and I remember well the years they had collected these figurines, especially the angels that played horn. But, as I reflected on the broken wing it occurred to me that we all have brokenness in one way or another. Maybe this broken wing was a reflection of who we all are as created beings. Do angels get broken wings?

I cannot answer if angels get their wings broken, but I do know that we humans know brokenness. Humans have brokenness all around us. These days it seems that everywhere we turn we have hurt or loss or health issues or unwanted changed situations. Change is hard, brokenness is hard.

And yet, we also know that even in the midst of brokenness and broken wings, we can look to the God who created us who says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) Even now while we are in these 12 days of Christmas we remember the light of Jesus Christ that has come into the darkness, and “the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

For me, this broken wing has become a symbol of hope in the darkness. This has become a symbol to remind me that God cares for all of the created order of the universe; humans, angels, those who have gone before us, and the earth and all that is in it. God cares for us in the midst of our brokenness, loss and changed situations.

God cares for you too. There might be hurt, there might be a broken wing or two, but God still empowers us to fly in new and unexpected ways.

As we look towards the new year, may you be able to see hope in a new ways in spite of broken wings, and remember that God has new ways of teaching us how to fly.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear

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Courageous living is a learned art. The opposite of courage is fear. Fear stops us in our tracks. Fear can prevent us from going forward, fear can literally prevent us from being all that God created us to be. How do we overcome fear and learn to live courageously?

Walking the Camino de Santiago has helped many people face their fears head-on. It has empowered people with courage when they were filled with fear of the unknown. Just taking the “steps” to walk the Camino is in and of itself a huge leap in overcoming fear. The potential fears one faces are too numerous to list: Fear of not being physically able to do the walk, fear of meeting people, fear of not meeting people, fear of the mountains, fear of what is around the corner, fear of not speaking the language, fear of not finding a nearby restroom, fear of not finding a place to sleep, fear of not being able to sleep in a crowded room, fear of sharing too much, fear of sharing too little. The list is exhausting.

We see so many parallels in our daily lives of the fears that we might also face. Yet, when we look at the list, we are reminded that fear in and of itself is something that can be conquered. It is not conquered by our own might, but rather it is conquered by the power of the Holy Spirit working and and through us, and moving forward with the help of God by our side, into courageous living.

Walking the Camino takes courage, and it empowers us to face that which is unknown–because we are practicing facing the unknown with every step. It is often the future of the unknown that grips us in fear. Getting up every day and walking into the unknown is one way of moving forward even in the midst of uncertainty. It is a way we have of letting everything else go, and trusting that God can care for the rest, while we put one foot in front of the other.

Daily life also gives us opportunities to walk into the unknown. How can we, too, put one foot in front of the other in moving forward? The reality is that every day, no matter how routine it might seem, has us facing the unknown. Today is different than the next day will be. We do not know what will be around the corner, but we do know that God promises to walk with us.

Here are some steps that can be helpful in letting go of our fear, worries and anxieties of the unknown:

  1. Name your fear, anxiety or worry. Acknowledge it before God.
  2. Self-awareness. What are you saying to yourself about this fear? How can you change your own self-chatter.
  3. What are others saying about your fear, how can you block them out or take a different path from the nay-Sayers?
  4. What does God say about your fear?
  5. Confess your fear to a few trusted friends and before God.
  6. Have people of faith pray over you and for you.
  7. Chose a passage of Scripture that will be your new mantra before God. (Maybe Psalm 46, Psalm 71, Psalm 121, Romans 8:37, Joshua 1:6)
  8. Trust that God is faithful to God’s promises of never leaving us, of walking with us, and of a future that we cannot see.

Maybe you will not be walking the Camino in the near future, but where can you walk or sit and meditate on these things? God empowers us through the Holy Spirit to put one foot in front of the other to move into a new future, a new possibility, a new paradigm and overcome our fears and past hurts.

Here is a song by Casting Crowns that speaks to me in my moments of fear and worry.

You can find many of these ideas stated in our sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” Find the message speaks of courage in the midst of fear here.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

My time on the Way of Saint James is already fading into memory. The lessons learned, however, are something that I am trying to apply on a daily basis. One of the basic practices on the Camino is the practice of hospitality and kindness. Wikipedia says that “Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures.” kindness and hospitality go hand in hand.

This seems like a basic idea, but unfortunately, where I live in North America, the practice of kindness and real hospitality is slowly disappearing. It seems like people are too busy, and too wrapped up in “self” to pay attention to “other life travelers.” Theologian William Barclay once said, “More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world.” Hospitality, for the most part, is alive and well practiced on the Camino de Santiago.

Hospitality, the practice of caring for another person, has been part of the Christian heritage since the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. One of my favorite stories of hospitality is in Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by the three strangers. He offered hospitality and discovered that he was entertaining the ambassadors of God.

My experience on the Camino was filled with hospitality, welcome and wonder. Small gestures empowered those of us who were pilgrims to go the distance. First, there was the language barrier itself. I do not speak Spanish, I wish I did. While I have a few words under my belt, there were many times when a shop owner or someone I met in the street would patiently try to help me out, in spite of the language barrier. I saw more than one shop keeper go outside of their shop and show directions to an inquiring pilgrim.

The host at the Auberge in Saint Jean Pied de Port was another one who went out of his way. He and his wife not only made us dinner, for a small fee, but they had all of their guests share some of their story. That evening the owners turned us into family, which was a gift as we began our walk on the Camino. All along the route we would run into other “members of the family” from our first night; that all happened due to great hospitality.

The man collecting garbage in Pamplona exhibited another act of kindness when he called to me and my walking friend asking, “Are you pilgrims?” We replied yes, and he told us we had missed the turn a block beyond where we were. He went out of his way to ensure we would not get lost.

Or, there was the woman who sold me an orange in the heat of the day, and she came outside of her shop where I was sitting to ask if the orange was good! (Yes, it was delicious.) Over and over again, from the ones who hosted in the hostels to the food servers to the law enforcement riding their horses in the Basque country, people went out of their way to be kind.

Another hostel is run by the English Society of the Way of Saint James. Volunteers come there to serve for two weeks at a time. They volunteer to run the place, and they offer to massage sore feet as well! There are hostels that run just from the donations you are willing to give, and others that help you all make a meal together. Hospitality is astounding and welcoming.

 We have lost this art of hospitality in the busyness of our societies. While it is true that some say walking the Camino is like living in a bubble, we can at least take these lessons learned and apply them to become changed lives in our own neighborhoods and work places. In order to make these part of our daily routine, we have to slow down, and take time to talk to people, and hear their stories.

The very of nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person, we are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced, by them or that we would give them special attention. It is also closely related to being gentle.

Jesus modeled the practice of welcoming the stranger and the practice of hospitality to those who felt unwelcome, and unworthy. How can we bring this practice back into our own lives? I think a challenge is in order. What would it look like to “outkind” your friend, or your family members? What would it look like to have a “kindness contest” on a regular basis? I believe we can change the course of our future by offering hospitality and kindness, and it can begin with us. Where can you begin to plant those seeds of kindness?

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

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(Above, descent from the iron cross~ season, late May.)

It has been three months since my return from El Camino. While the time spent there seems so distant, it also seems so near. Perhaps, that too, is a life reflection. As we get older and wiser, it seems that our “childhood days” were just yesterday, when in reality, it is usually much farther away. How can we put the brakes on so that we can enjoy the moment that we are experiencing? One way, is to take “time out”, such as a walk on the Camino de Santiago.

It is long since overdue the areas of wisdom that I learned from my hike on El Camino. Each learning point will have a separate post. In each case, I also preached about the correlation between my own learnings during the journey and the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Here is the first sermon on lesson’s learned called, “Time Out.”

One of the first things that I relearned is that life is about the journey. So often we are eager to get to the next “thing” in our lives. We are eager to finish this class, we are eager to get our license, we are eager to graduate, we are eager to start our career, we are eager to get married, have kids or retire. How can we simply enjoy the present moment, and the people whom God has placed in our path to enjoy?

In my own life I am constantly on the run. One of the things I have been trying to do in this year is be an “abiding presence” with the people who are around me. I am not always successful, but at least I am trying. El Camino helped me to slow down and enjoy the people around me. The people around me were fascinating and engaging. They came from all over the world. Each life encounter truly was a treasure. For me, I was intentional about the experience of walking the Camino. I did not need to finish, I did not need to be first each day, I was intent on the experience. Not everyone walking felt that way. Some wanted to go as far as they could each day, others wanted to be first. I just wanted to “be.” In fact, I rarely used my I Phone headset as I wanted to hear the sounds of the Camino. You can hear and see a four minute sound byte of the Camino here at this recording I made. (Honestly, the cuckoo bird’s call makes me laugh.)

After my walk, I am more convinced than ever that God wants us to learn lessons on our life journey. God places people in our lives for a season or longer from whom we can learn and whom we can teach. Sometimes they speak life into us, and sometimes we speak life into them. But most of all, it is about how we build those relationship along the journey. El Camino taught me to listen to those around me; taught me that I can learn from them. How are you building the relationships in your life journey that God has put in your path? Are you leaning into them, or are you tearing them down? This applies to all the ones on your journey: There are ones who are hard to love, and there are ones that you would like to spend more time with. Lean into the relationships that God has placed before you. They are part of your learning in your life journey. Before you know it, your life journey will be near its twilight years. What relationships will you have spoken life into during your life journey? It is not too late to begin!