Santa Cruz de La Palma
The view of Santa Cruz de la Palma from our stateroom.

Last night we enjoyed dinner at the Pollo Grill up on Deck 14 at 8pm.  It is the steakhouse onboard and I had a Lobster Bisque, salad, and Veal chop with potatoes.  Carrie had a goat cheese & beet starter, lobster bisque and a local Madeiran fish dish for her entrée.  After dinner we had intended to join Andrew and Katie for drinks, but time and energy caught up with us and we found ourselves very tired and in bed and asleep by midnight.

Today was an unplanned day.  We weren’t signed up for a cruise-line excursion and we hadn’t made detailed plans.  It was a nice relaxing day at a port of Santa Cruz (a small town) on the Island of Palma.  Santa Cruz de la Plama is a Spanish port (and, therefore, Island) of the Canary Islands.  Without major palaces, forts or Cathedrals to tour, AND since it was only a five minute (if that) walk to the city center:  It was the perfect day to be unscripted and relax!

The municipal market at Santa Cruz de la Palma

Each couple: Ken & Trish, Bob & June, Andrew & Katie, and Carrie & I went our own ways to spend our time, today.  Carrie and I were looking for scenic streets, alleys and lookouts for photos and found ourselves climbing steps (photo left) and going up steep streets to find photo opportunities, stopping by the municipal market along the way.  When we came back down to the city center we ran into Katie & Andrew who were sitting at a café.  Katie pointed Carrie towards a jewelry store.  We did our part to keep this island and its local jewelry maker prospering.  When we left the quaint little jewelry shop, we ran into Katie and Andrew, again, at another restaurant so we had lunch with them.  By now it was 1pm, or so, and Andrew headed back to the ship.

Moments later, while we still sat at the café, Bob and June happened upon us and we all enjoyed food and drink together.  Carrie, Katie and June went on for more shopping and Bob and I headed back to the ship.

And, now, we are all safe and sound on the ship and headed back out to sea.

The Island of Madeira: Funchal, Portugal

A photo of the pool area last night as we headed to our rooms.

It sounds bourgeois to say, I suppose, but at the end of these day-long excursions we feel completely exhausted.  Each afternoon or evening I find Carrie passed out on the bed and unmovable. So our day at sea, yesterday, was much needed.  I don’t have much in the way of photos, because I would have felt a bit like a voyeur walking around the pool area taking photos of people relaxing.  I think we can all agree that I made the right choice to just relax with family in the hot tub and leaving the photo-taking for today 🙂

 



I did get some photos during the cooking class we took in the late morning.  We enjoyed spending time with Jonathan and Camille Justus and the Sea Bass dish was Dee-lish.

Although this pic was taken in the afternoon, but you
can see what we woke up to!

Today we woke to our morning room service at 7:15 am and, like each morning had breakfast on our deck.  This morning, though, as we drew back the curtains, we were greeted by the beautiful sight of Madeira.  Madeira is a beautiful island which a very interesting colonial history, but I will let wikipedia educate any who are interested in that.  For me, the sight from our deck was worth the trip.  We came into the port of Funchal (pronounced: foon chow, and it means “lots of fennel” because that is what the Portuguese found here when they came to the island in the 15th century) and experienced great food; a powerful rum, lemon juice, honey drink; and beautiful sights.  I highly recommend the island of Madeira for anyone who is traveling this part of the world.

the market at Funchal.


After our breakfast we went down to the lounge, since were were signed up for a cruise-line planned excursion.  We rode a bus in to a market. After a short explanation from a local guide about the purpose, history and future of the market, we went off in smaller groups and couples for shopping and sightseeing.  I was glad for this after feeling ‘herded,’ but with the loud noise and crowds, I was easily overwhelmed and worn-out.  Noise and crowds still take a lot out of me.  So after some time in the market I went off on my own to relax with a snack at a café.  Carrie joined me for a while and then we had to join back up with the group to head off to lunch.  Lunch was way up on a mountain overlooking the city at an estate / vineyard.  It was a wonderful lunch.

The view from the estate where we had lunch.

I didn’t mention that this excursion was part of “cruising with the chefs” so we had three chefs with us explaining food in the Mediterranean region.  The lunch was participatory and had demonstrations by local restauranteurs.  The only thing I wish I had done, if I had more time in Madeira, would be to take time and space for photography because I feel that I missed so many great photos along the way.

We got back to the boat for a class and tasting experience for Medeiran cuisine, but I had ‘hit my wall’ and needed to rest, but the others enjoyed the time, I think.

The ship just departed, so I am sitting on the deck with Carrie enjoying a diet coke and watching Madeira fall away behind the ship.

blessings & peace,


In Barcelona
my beautiful wife at breakfast with me.

Well, we made it across ‘the pond’ and let me tell you something…it was my most pleasant trans-atlantic flight, yet!  You see, the upside of having had two brain surgeries this spring?  Pain relievers.  There is no reason to fly uncomfortably if you can help it and, this time, I could.  A couple of Somas was probably the most helpful part of my trip 🙂

Heathrow Airport in London

The only snag we had, was right away in St. Louis at the airport.  Carrie and I were in the last group of passengers to board and they ran out of room for over-head carry-ons…so one of our bags had to be checked plane-side.  Except, it never showed back up.  Luckily there wasn’t much in it, but the biggest loss are my tennis shoes.  so sad.  The good news is that they have found the bag and it’s on-route to Barcelona…but we’re leaving Barcelona, so we hope it ‘catches up’ soon!

La Boqueria, a market in Barcelona
The plaza near La Boqueria

Our first day of the trip, once we made it to Barcelona, was very nice.  We went to La Boqueria which is a famous market and we enjoyed appetizers and drinks in a lovely plaza nearby.  The crowds were too much for me (ever-since my surgeries I can’t handle that sort of noise and crowds).

our hotel lobby

After a restful night our bags are in the hall with their tags and we are down in the restaurant.  We’re on our way!

Cravings.
our “valentines” (feb 3, before my first surgery): we both had a dessert 🙂

My wife and I are completely different in one major way:  my wife could live without sugar altogether…and I crave it.  After I lost weight,  my wife noticed something about me.  One night my eyes became as wide as saucers when I saw a dessert and she said, “You really are a fat kid inside, huh?”

It is true.  I grew up with desserts all around me and I LOVE THEM.  If you’ve ever had my mother’s pies, you understand.
I’ve been acting pretty good the past week or so, but the other night I was craving a dessert.  I dutifully called my wife and asked her if she’d like me to pick up something for her, too…I already knew the answer: “No.” She is so good.  Well, I went out to the nearby Fresh Market and looked at the desserts.  I went there because I knew I could get just one single cupcake, and, from experience, I knew that the calories would be worth it at that bakery.
But, when I got home I didn’t just have just a single cupcake in my bag.  I had a whole Apple Brown Betty Pie and vanilla bean ice cream.  Who am I?  I’m a monster!
But, you know, I think it isn’t just about sugar.  For us who are “fat kids,” I have to suggest, that, in part, it is about memory.  I can almost taste the snickers bar when I am in the check-out line.  I could taste the deep vanilla of the ice cream as I picked it up off the shelf.  Worse, when I go home, the memories of my mother’s cooking is intoxicating: whether it is something universally delicious like Blackberry pie or beef stew or something like depression-era mackeral patties.  It isn’t the culinary genius as much as the memory of that food from my time growing up that makes it so amazing (but, mom, you are also a culinary genius).
church folks, can you almost taste it?
Memories are powerful things.  On Sunday, at my church, we celebrated Holy Communion.  For Christians, the taste of the bread and juice/wine are meant to draw on memory the same way as my mother’s cooking did.  For adults who grew up in the church the taste of bread and juice (wine) takes them back to memories of childhood in the church.  For the early Christians it must have been a powerful reminder of a time when Christ was in their midst doing incredible acts.  For all Christians of all times it connects us to the people who have come before us.  It is a very real connection to them.  It also reminds us of all the people who will come behind us in our living tradition.  Perhaps just as importantly: because there are churches around the world in every time zone that celebrate Communion / Eucharist daily, there are Christians constantly communing with one another and with Christ!  Communion is a very real sign that we are connected to one another and Christ no matter our distance through time and space.  It is amazing, really.
Ephesians 1:3-14 A Call to Love in Troubled Times

 

   
 As I sit at my desk, writing this blog entry; I look out the window to see beautiful clear blue skies and shriveled near dead brown grass. What a shame. The need for rain is at the forefront of most people’s minds with whom I speak. I spoke with a couple people this week who recalled the depression, others with whom I spoke recalled the drought of 1988. This is certainly a troubling summer. The anxiety which this drought is causing is only exaggerated by the uncertainty of the times in which we live. 
Normally in such times, many people have turned to God and their elders; but here we may find ourselves struggling as well. Church membership and attendance is down. At the most recent General Conference it was reported that the average United Methodist is 58 years old. Churches no longer filled with children in Sunday School are filled instead with memories and worry. As we face this fact, we are forced to recognize that the church of yesteryear is no more. We are called by God and add campaigns to “ReThink Church”….but where do we begin?

As a nation, we are grieving as we watch members of what was dubbed by Tom Brokaw “the Greatest Generation” die. These are people who remember the Great Depression, lived through World War II and worked to rebuild the nation into the country that it is today. They have guided us and our parents (or are perhaps our parents). As much as we grieve them individually as they pass, we grieve something else as well: an idea. This generation represents a link to a distant past, a different time. They stand in the American consciousness like a mighty oak: a symbol of strength, wisdom and endurance. When members who were a part of this generation in my church die, I often witness others shaking their heads, asking “What will become of us when this generation is gone”. It is the end of an era.

With all this uncertainty it is no wonder that tensions, in the church and in the nation are high. We are faced with mounting problems. Old solutions aren’t working. So we lash out like a scared and hurt animal- because that is what we are. As we look to the fall and the coming election, I confess I am filled with dread. Yes, I worry deeply about what the results of the election will be when votes are tallied, but I worry as well about the cost of the election- not the financial cost (which will be unimaginably huge) but the psychological and spiritual cost of the fighting which has already begun. 

This Sunday, many churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary will begin a study of Ephesians. As I reviewed and studied “Ephesians”, I was struck by the ways this ancient text sympathizes with and speaks to our troubled times. This letter, which most likely circulated amongst a number of churches was written after the fall of the temple in 70 AD. The destruction of the temple forced many religious communities to re-think the ways they practiced their faith, and who held religious authority. They were plunged into confusion and uncertainty. Compounding the struggle with a changing religious life was the death of a generation. At the time that this letter was written and circulated, Paul had most likely been executed. The other apostles, those followers of Jesus who walked, talked and learned with him; and who subsequently founded many of the first churches were dying. Faced with new questions and problems, the early church struggled to know where to turn. All too often they chose to turn against one another. 

Confronted with all of the frustrations of their day, the author of Ephesians opens with magnificent praise for the God of heaven and earth. We, the readers are assured that we have a God who is not removed from our problems but who instead is at work for us. Before the beginning of time, God made a plan. That plan is not broken economies, destroyed temples, failed crops or oppression. The writer explains, “This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 Common English Bible). This is a plan rooted in love and advanced through grace. God has set aside an inheritance for us. 
Inheritance is given based on who a person is not what they do, we are given this inheritance not because we have always made good choices but because we are a part of God’s creation, because we are God’s children and because we are loved. God has planned this inheritance, saving it and setting it aside for each one of us. Though it is given to us it is not ours, for it was first God’s. We, as God’s benefactors have a choice: we can squander that inheritance or we can use it to honor God by participating in God’s plan. 

The writer explains that God’s design for creation is not something simply of another, heavenly realm. God’s has plans this world, this earth. God plans to see this world reconciled with one another and with God. Because of this, as we approach this election we are called to care for all God’s people and all of the issues that effect them. We are invited to labor in love and make wise decisions based not in malice but in the love God has for each of us. I know that as we near the election, my blood will at times boil. I will be filled with indignation and anger. But as hard as it may be somedays, I am not the only inheritor of God’s love and grace. I am not the only person that God blessed, chose and adopted. Indeed all of us, rich or poor, republican or democrat, of every race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality have been blessed, chosen and adopted by God. So let us then go forth endeavoring to treat one another through our words and  actions with the respect due to a child of God.

 
A Weekend of Wonder

Contemporary Worship this week at Normal First United Methodist Church





Here is my message from this past weekend at Normal First United Methodist Church.  If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area or are ever passing through on a Sunday morning, I hope you will join us for worship.  I generally preach and lead worship at the Contemporary 11:10 am worship service in the fellowship hall, but we have 3 worship services on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to meet your needs!


Scripture 
Psalm 130

Sunday’s Message
Not exactly as preached, but you get the idea, at least…

This psalm has turned out to be timeless.  It has appealed to people throughout time:  Calvin called it a Pauline Psalm because, he said, it contained the truth of the gospels.  John Wesley heard this psalm sung earlier in the day and it prepared him for an evening on Aldersgate street when his heart would be strangely warmed.

I think this psalm is timeless because everyone can relate to these words.  Despair is a universal experience, isn’t it?

After my mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma -an ear tumor- and had brain surgery to remove it about a year ago:  I immediately realized that I had similar symptoms.  So, last July, I went to my doctor.  That was a long wait in the waiting room. They called in an audiologist, then an Ear Nose Throat Surgeon…intense and long waiting.

They wanted only to ‘rule out’ an acoustic neuroma.  So we thought we were coming to some resolution when we scheduled with BroMenn for an MRI.  It turned out that I didn’t have one of those…but they found a totally unrelated brain tumor in my cerebellum

It was four o’clock on a friday and I found out there was a mass in my brain.  That weekend our imaginations went wild.  My wife and I fell into the depths of waiting and waiting can cause despair.  That weekend was the longest wait of our lives.

I waited until January for a plan of action and to schedule surgery. I waited until February for my surgery.  After my surgery I thought I had made it through…but a spinal fluid leak brought me back to St. Louis for another operation in April.  It turned out that recovery is just another kind of waiting!

It wasn’t just a brain tumor that left me waiting during this past year.  Because my church knew they could no longer afford two pastors, I’ve known I was leaving Pontiac since last fall.  If there has been a theme for my year, it is waiting and despair.

Even once it was announced that I would be coming to First United Methodist Church, I found myself excited, but still on medical leave and still waiting.

Like so many people who have come before me, I identify with the Psalmist.  A psalmist who was in the depths and waiting… and waiting… and waiting, “more than the night watch waits for morning.”

The psalmist reminds us of the importance of faith that a new day will come.  The psalmist reminds us that no matter how far we are lost into the depths; no matter how alone we feel, no matter how much has been placed upon us…  no matter what has set us back…   hope is the greatest ally we have.  That is to say:  leaning on God, and having faith that a new morning will come is the greatest comfort we can experience.

I imagine each person here has a time when they were in the depths and waiting.  This church has been waiting and in transition these past few months and, I imagine, there is anxiety as you wait for a new pastor.

I have faith that my appointment at Normal First United Methodist Church is the new morning I have been waiting for during this long hard period ‘in the depths.’  I have faith that the people of First Church, the community of Bloomington-Normal and the campus community will bring light into my world and strengthen my faith!

And I hope, that after months of transition and months of waiting for a new associate, that I will brighten up your world, support you in your faith, and join in your disciple-making work here in this community.

What A Week!
The beautiful stained glass at my new church in Normal.

This past week has been an incredible journey and I want to thank all of the people of Pontiac and Normal who have made this such a positive and faith-filled transition!

The people of Pontiac shared with me during a farewell reception and the thoughtful cards, gifts, and well-wishing touched me and ensured that we left Pontiac feeling cared-for!  Meanwhile, the people of Normal have welcomed us with graciousness that we could not have expected.  For instance, two members of the Staff-Parish relations committee (my liaisons with the congregation) showed up on move-in day with a large laundry basket filled with house-warming gifts:  things we would need as we started unpacking.  They also presented us with gift cards for Steak-N-Shake and Avanti’s.  How thoughtful!  The Avanti’s card paid for our pizza that night, because we had no dishes unpacked nor energy for cooking!

Fast forward to this past weekend.  I had a funeral on Saturday morning and preached at a worship service on Saturday night and two worship services on Sunday morning.  I made it though the weekend in pretty good shape, but had a moment during the 9 am worship service communion when fatigue hit me.  I had to hold on to the wall and rail to finish, but once I sat down and got to rest, I was fine again.

There are moments like that which remind me that I’m still recovering from surgeries, but, mostly, I don’t feel any different than before my medical problems began.  I just have to watch for my moments of stress, weakness or fatigue and know when to slow down or rest…

Mostly, this week has been a joy.  I feel as though I have experienced love from one congregation and great hospitality and welcome from another.  Who could ask for more than that?

blessings to you,

Moving In, Heading Out!

Today I finished setting up the basement / library / office / man cave.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it is the one space in the house that I get to make mine…

That makes three rooms that we’ve opened all the boxes and moved completely in.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but we finally feel like we’ve made progress!  Living Room, check.  Family Room, check.  Library, check.  Luckily June (my mother-in-law) has returned to help Carrie finish the move-in process because I’m heading out to a busy week.  
Before brain surgery I didn’t think much about busy weeks and weekends, but after surgery it is a whole different story!  Moving into the house wouldn’t have been a big deal before surgery, but post-op it felt monumental.  I am leading all three worship services for the first time since my brain surgery…for my last (Farewell) Sunday at the Pontiac church.  My last Sunday in a church would be an exhausting task anyway, but after brain surgery it feels daunting to lead worship, preaching, and greet and talk with people.  Oh, and lest I forget, I volunteered for church camp and leave Sunday afternoon for a full week of being a chaplain.  It will be a recharge and help me get back into the swing of being an active pastor…but holy cow it’s going to wear me out.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m excited for each and every thing that I’m doing.  This is stuff I love to do!  Oh- and I have plans for resting and taking care of myself, but surgery has sure changed the way I look at my days and weeks.  Every room I unpack, sermon I preach, and kid I hang out with at camp feels like a huge accomplishment (and makes me happy).

It’s getting late and before too many sighs go up into cyberspace, I’ll sign off and go to bed.
Parents, ugh!

Parents are wonderful.  Okay.  I know, I know, if you are a teenager it may not seem like it, right?  I remember that feeling.  As a teen, it is terrible when your parents show up…or don’t show up…look at you wrong…or don’t…or, well, when they speak.  Ugh, how could they be so weird and goofy?

If you are a teenager, am I on the right track?

Let me tell you, at 32 years old I have a different take.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have a great relationship with my parents.  Sometimes they get on my nerves and sometimes I get on their last nerve, but, especially this week, I’m SOOO glad they are coming to help me.

First, let me tell you what next week is going to bring for my wife and me.  I have some work and then early in the week we have to go pick up a whole trailer full of stuff in St. Louis and move it to Normal.  Then, on Thursday the movers come (so the house has to be packed and cleaned), We move in and have a half day to unpack and then I have to leave for a wedding rehearsal (fri) and wedding (sat) that I am co-officiating in Pittsfield… then I have to be back Saturday night so I can be rested for my Farewell Sunday at Pontiac… and then Sunday afternoon I start as a chaplain for church camp at East Bay in Hudson, IL.

So I’m thrilled that my mother-in-law is here right now cleaning and helping us pack; my mother and father are coming next week to help us move and then my mother-in-law will be back to stay with carrie and help her pack while I’m at the wedding and camp.

When I was younger I was embarrassed and stressed out by my parents (I still have my moments :-), but as an adult I see blessings in their presence.  It turned out that having parents was actually an asset, who would’ve known?  I am so glad for my parents and my in-laws and all that they do for Carrie and me.  Whether you are young or old, I hope you will, this week, take a moment to think of how your parents are a blessing for your life.  If you are a teenager it may not be easy at first, but there are things your parents do that make your life better, I imagine.  Think really hard about it and you may see that they are a blessing for you!

Title image found at:  http://conflictremedy.com/finding-new-solutions-for-parent-teen-conflict/

The Burden of the Pharisees

Today’s Scripture:  Matthew 23:1-7

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples,  “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do.  For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes.  They love to sit in places of honor at banquets.  They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’

Today isn’t going to be an academic study, so much, as a devotional look at this scripture.  I came to my devotional time and found myself in Matthew 23.  Boy did that take me down a notch!  If anyone likes being called teacher or rabbi, it’s a pastor, especially us young pastors who sometimes feel we have to gain visibility and respect…

Hmmm.  Well, let’s look more closely at this one line:

For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others.


I know a few modern day pastors that are like this and I strive to not be like them.  Oh, but yet they are often well-liked by their congregations.  How is that?  Pastors who tell everyone what terrible sinners they are and make long list of prohibitions “tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry” are, in fundamentalist circles, often beloved.

I’m all about setting high expectations for the faithful, but there are two caveats:  1.) I’m one of the faithful.  That means: I have to live by the expectations as well!  2.) God’s expectation of us, it seems, is first and foremost that we should love others and God.  It is hard for me to effectively tell other people (in a prescriptive formula) how they ought to do it without modeling it.  It is better that I should attempt to live out my faith as I share that faith from the pulpit!

The problem with the pharisees is often a problem we have today.  We prescribe other people’s faith without living out our own faith.  As a people of the book we would be wise to set it down once in a while and live out the love we so often read about and stop creating ineffective burdens that weigh down our congregations.

blessings,