Monday, June 20, 2011

Photo Essay: The Conductor

This is my Daughter, Ashley Benson.  She is an elementary school music teacher and extraordinary.  In front of her is a tornado with 70 elementary aged kids singing, playing instruments, "Orff" movement/dancing and doing it all together.  Everyone was watching the kids except me.  It is just as entertaining and truly inspiring to watch the conductor. She never set foot on the stage while the students were performing.  They were free to succeed and take all of the credit while their teacher offered gentle direction from 20 feet away.  Amazing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Living Communion: More than Words in the Hymnal

Writer and Pastor Adam Hamilton describes one of the biggest problems facing the Christian Church as the"Creeping Crisis of Relevency".  Folks want relevant, useful and faith building experiences in the church and when this does not happen they look elsewhere.  I looked elsewhere...hard and came back to Christ in my late 20's.   God shows up and 'wows' me pretty regularly-often in the living sacraments that I am living out.

What moved me to a supremely relevant Gospel?  Several milestones of life that took Holy Communion, or the Eucharist if you would rather, and made it about life and not words I am growing here and want to share.  Additions will be made from time to time.  Maybe you would be blessed to make your own list?

My adult re-birth.  I was raised in church but wandered for over 10 years.  I tried a lot of things but came back to church, as an adult,  that was meeting in a Jr. High school and had not staff.  The pastor allowed me to work through being spiritually stupid and discover the way "on my own".  On a Father's day I got to bring the message and assist in serving communion.   This event cemented Christ into my life at age 26.  I had been studying and worshiping but at the breaking of the bread, I got it.

Bible study was instruments in coming back.  The Bible in the photograph at the top was a gift from my Dad.  In it are almost 20 years of notes and sermons.  Some showing spiritual breakthroughs and some showing incredible stupidity, all showing God's grace and faithfulness.  The Bible leaps off of them page just as communion takes on its own life in my living.  Some say it is boring or irrelevant.  I suppose I have said those words too.  Today it is my anchor.

Ordination.  As an ordained elder I get to serve communion and celebrate baptism. This is spiritual life's blood for me.  Serving is powerful and energizes me for life as well as ministry.  It is humbling to  celebrates with someone who is beginning the Salvation journey.  Sometime it is with infants-then you watch the parents eyes light up as they take the vows.  Sometimes is is with youth either being confirmed or reaffirming their baptisms.  Often it is with someone who has struggled.  The depth of what the "sign-act"  can mean can only be God.  Ordination to serve the sacraments is a gift of grace.  By the way, God showed up in the sacraments  long before I became a pastor.

Becoming a Dad.  Without our children I would have never come back to church.  My re-formation came when it ceased to be about me.  Our three kids are the most powerful means of Grace or  "Outward sign of God's Invisible Grace".   All three were baptized after asking for it.  All three remember their baptisms and many Communion moments.  Maybe your kids played cowboys or house, mine played communion.  One of our deepest family memories is serving each other communion with grace soda and goldfish in the middle of the floor one night.  This is where communion meets light at its deepest relevance.

The Emmaus Walk.  This is a three day retreat.  It is multi-denominational and heavily focused on teaching God's Grace and its most powerful tool-Holy Communion.  Mine was in a terrible neighborhood in Houston at a Roman Catholic center.  I fell in love with Jesus there and began to listen for the first time.  Does Grace make the Communion more powerful or the depth of Communion accentuate the Grace?  The answer is, well...yes.  The longest of the 15 talks is called "Means of Grace".  I was blown away by it on my walk in 1991 and blown away again when I presented it for the first time in 2010.

Teaching.  Teaching, especially to confirmation kids blesses me with spiritual youth.  This picture is of a communion at a confirmation retreat.  An art teacher had each of them paint a stone and turned them into a "centipede".  The individual parts became a whole around the communion chalice and paten.  We talked a lot about the meanings and the words but it was the experience that made the memories.  I learned a lot as the teacher and  pray that the seeds of risen-ness, living the real life, were planted in them.

Serving.  I just finished hosting a "camp" of young people doing construction and ministry called UM ARMY.  Young people from 100 miles away lodged on the floors of our church and worked on houses and churches in the area.  The construction was only a means to worship together.  Powerful worship with pointed sermons, sharing time and Holy Communion every day were the real focal point.  I lurked on the back row (of my own sanctuary) and watched God ebb and flow throughout the crowd.  One night the Spiritual Director invited me to serve the elements.  This was one of those days.  I have plenty of faith in Christ but sometimes lack the same faith in my vocation.  I was at work rather than worship this day.  Handing these exhausted and highly motivated young  people the body and blood of Christ ministered to my.  I was reminded of my calling and why I do what I do.  The breaking of the bread was a wake up call to me more than those who i was supposedly serving.  Once again my eyes were opened by the breaking of the bread.  Working "as to God and not to men" became more than a verse.

The "Dry" Times-There are those times when God seems to have taken a nap.  I lack a "feeling" of God's presence and the ordinary seems to close in.  These times come and go and I used to see them as a personal failure.  Lately they have become a way for God to be bigger than my feelings and for God's presence to be bigger than something I can control.   Maybe you have experienced these seasons too and I would like to invite you to celebrate them.

The communion chalice and patten in the photo at the top were made by a marvelous potter named Henry Flannagan.  It took several attempts to make it and several firings to make it the unique set that it is.  Chalices are not easy and this one is beautiful.  Henry and I experience the loss of a friend together and my separation from a long time church family through a move. He has experienced deep losses and is a witness to a deep faith through them. God didn't feel close through this time.  However, looking back, God's touch was and is everywhere in this experience.  God's fingerprints are as unique as the copper glaze on this communion ware.

The Dry Times are an invitation to be connected with Christ without instant gratification.  Somehow it is a gift and not my lack of discipline.  On the porch I realized that to reduce God to something that I can conjure up is a subtle blasphemy.  God is.  God is here whether I am sensitive or not.  The call today is to simply be, be connected regardless of the spiritual weather....and be grateful.

There are more and more to come but these are some highlights.  I'll bet you have a long list of your own.  Where is the Eucharist alive in you?  When does it become more than something in the worship bulletin?  God has something amazing for you and will use anything, include kids, chapels and painted stones to build faith in you. Consider making Communion, or Eucharistic living, more than just Welch's grape juice and those little chiclet shaped crackers. It can be more than that annoying thing that runs the service 10 minutes over on first Sundays. It can and it should.  Where is your next step?.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Photo of the Day: June 6, 1944-Heroes Among Us

Buddy at the only bridge over the Elbe
Mr Zeno "Buddy" King was not on Normandy on D-Day but but arrived soon after.  He made his way as an infantry soldier and as the 83rd Division's Band Director. He knew something was up when he was called in from other duties in England,  saw all of the aircraft flying over and received the order to crate up all band instruments which were to be left behind.  They made their way to Southhampton and had to wait for weather to clear. 1000 soldiers were on his transport bobbing around, most of them sea sick.  He came ashore on Normandy on D+15.  He described the beach as "The world's biggest junkpile".  The sailor piloting his LSI, filled with he and  half of the band, looked about 15 years old.  The sailor with his cockney accent announced that this was as far as he was going and  dropped them 100 yards from the beach in chest deep water. 

Buddy reminded me of the significance of June 6 and how easily these important dates were to get lost is the haze of everyday busy-ness.  Remember D-Day. It is important.

Today is the 67th anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy France invasion that changed the course of WW II.  It is the Pearl Harbors and 9-11's that make D-Days necessary.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the veterans of the past, present and future that make the sacrifices, such as seen on D-Day, for my freedom. God bless our vet's and God Bless America
Front Row (left to right):  Harry Butanowicz, Clarence Reeser (lutheran min),  Cianne Castor (club singer in Houston TX after the war), Nick Aloisi, Arthur Lamey, Frank Vallone (Oliean NY), Archie Griffin, Steve Bartlett, Bob Liedtke, Eliott Jacoby, 

Back Row (left to right):Steve Hadju (Trumpet grew up in Chambersburg PA), drums Unknown, Sid Skiffington, Charles A Franke, John Golz (Fr Horn then Violin player and teacher after the war), Art Yon (Major in the CAP), Bass-Al Seguin (1st Sgt), Stanislaw Siok, Clint Elmo Reed (aluminun Bass Fiddle)
Picture was take by CWO Zeno "Buddy" King

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: "Secure Daughters, Confident Sons" by Glenn T. Stanton

(I need a few ratings on the publisher's website to stay in this program.  Would you take a moment, read this review and rate it honestly on this website?  

Secure Daughters, Confident Sons - Glenn T. StantonBoys and Girls are different.  This is more than biology, it is psychological, social, cultural and spiritual too.  Glenn Stanton brings a book that he felt he could not rest until it was completed.  Secure Daughters and Confident Sons shows his passion with presentation of what the author feels is authentic masculinity and femininity with a dose of advice to parents.  It contains a gentle rant against political correctness and the culture's homogenization of gender roles but he doesn't get stuck there.  For the most part his stories and advice are sensible and useful.  Still two things bug me.

First, Mr. Stanton assumes a healthy family system for the most part.  There are some mentions of things that would be helpful for the single mom household.  This is a good guide to pre-parents or new parents but doesn't really deal with childhood behaviors that are already out of hand.    At the end of the book he does add helps for families with challenges by using a gut wrenching personal story.  It will be better received by those who share the Christian world view but he does leave the door open to others.

He does not use a lot of scripture but does keep the Bible's principles within reach.  For the most part I agree with him personally but he tends to apply the particulars of what "the" man and women are do universally.  My little world has a lot of unique brokenness, multiple parents, single moms and grandparents raising kids. Roles are not as cut and dried as this most of the time. Much of this may seem out of reach by many of my parents.  I do applaud his tasteful and frank treatment of sex and sexuality, especial chapter 12.

Second,  the spiritual dimension of growing young people, especially boys, is missing.  I was surprised that he did not fit the spiritual into the parenting patterns and strategies.    He treats the sociological- psycho-sexual thoroughly  and with non-technical language but but leaves out the walk with Christ.  An age appropriate treatment of  spiritual practices would have helped him make his case.  In his defense, this opens up the book for a broader audience and not just the churched.  However, I kept waiting for prayer, at least, to come up and it never really did.

Stanton's writing is clear and the book well organized.  His stories are personal and honest.  The chapters flow well and he concludes each one with a bullet point summary and "Q and A".  The notes reveal a fairly broad bibliography.  It is not written for group study but could be useful for a parent's support group.  The book has merit and I am glad that I read it. It seems more of a statement of the culture than a parenting book but his bottom line is to give families a tool to be and become healthier.  I am on a quest for a Men and Boy's ministry with an eye on those families with absentee dads.  This will go on the shelf with the other material that I am collecting for that project.

You can read a free excerpt from chapter one at

Thanks to Multnomah Press for giving me this book in exchange for this review.  Thank you for reading it.

Alan the "Thoughtful Pastor" blog