Monday, May 02, 2016

standing on the promises of God

we had a great day yesterday, beginning with worship at our church, full of joy, sharing together in the Lord's Supper, and a reminder of how we ought to be investing in one another in love and service. then, our family headed up to bloomsburg in the afternoon for a farewell service for our district superintendent, the rev. dr. Tom Salsgiver.  it was a beautiful service with trumpet, powerful pipe organ, a wonderful choir anthem, and a joyful communion with a huge gathering of folks from the lewisburg district.  it was awesome for me to get to sit with my family and worship, and to pay tribute to the ministry of my friend and mentor.  he has been such a blessing to me and my whole family, supporting us as we moved back to pennsylvania from new jersey, taking a personal interest in me and my well-being in ministry, and expressing great confidence in my call and my gifts.  i respect and admire him, and yesterday it was meaningful to be with a great cloud of witnesses to honor him.
we ended the service by singing the hymn "standing on the promises of God," and it was fantastic! the organ was moving and resonant, and the harmonies were triumphant as the milinovich family - and the whole congregation - sang boisterously.  Caedmon and Jackson were singing the tenor part with me, and i looked over at little Quinton, and he was singing his heart out, too, but he was the only one singing out of a book.  the rest of us were singing off the screen.  Quinton can't read yet, of course, so he was just holding the book and pretending to read the words out of it, which was fine except for one thing: he wasn't holding a hymnal.  he was holding a bible.  i had a bit of a chuckle about it, until i realized it was perfect.  just absolutely - if accidentally - perfect.  we were singing about standing on God's promises, and Quinton was showing us where we find those promises.  it was just a simple and joyful reminder of a wonderful truth of our faith: that God has given us great promises in the scriptures, and we can stand on them with confidence and joy.

Friday, April 29, 2016

another thought on politics

"You can't help wondering what would happen if a person running for the presidency decided to set politics in the flag-waving, tub-thumping, ax-grinding sense aside and to speak, instead, candidly, thoughtfully, truthfully out of his or her own heart.
Suppose a candidate were to stand up before the reporters and the TV cameras and the usual bank of microphones and say something like this:
'The responsibilities of this office are so staggering that anybody who doesn't approach them with knees knocking is either a fool or a lunatic. The literal survival of civilization may depend on the decisions that either I or one of the other candidates make during the next four years. The general welfare and peace of mind of millions of people will certainly depend on them. I am only a human being. If I have my strengths, I also have my weaknesses. I can't promise that I'll always do the right thing for this country. I can only promise that it will always be this country rather than my own political fortunes that I'll try to do the right thing for. I believe in this country at its best, but I also believe that we have made many tragic mistakes. I am willing to entertain the possibility that our assumptions about the Arabs, for example, may be as wrong as their assumptions about us, and my major objective, if elected, will be to explore that possibility with them at the highest levels of government and in the most radical, searching, and unrelenting ways I can devise. I believe that the survival and well-being of the human race as a whole is more important than the partisan interests of any group, including both theirs and our own.'
There are many who would undoubtedly say that such a statement is naive, dangerous, unrealistic, and un-American, and that anybody making it couldn't get elected dogcatcher. I can't help believing, however, that there are others who would find it such a note of sanity, honesty, and hope in the political quagmire that they would follow the person who made it to the ends of the earth."
                            ~ Frederick Buechner, originally published in Whistling in the Dark 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

the odds are.... (a rare political statement of sorts)

i'm not one for making political statements.  i make statements about what i believe God desires for us to do as disciples of Jesus, which always falls into the categories of loving God completely and loving our neighbors freely.  but when it comes to supporting this politician or that one, i generally try and steer clear.  if you attended any church where i've been the pastor, you may hear me speak about issues when it involves our call to love (after all, Jesus made it clear that the only way others will know that we are his disciples is by our love in action), but you've never heard me endorse one candidate or another from the pulpit.

in fact, i so much disdain being painted into a corner, that i refuse to be a part of either of our major political parties.  i'm not even an independent! i am a political "none," (which frees me from so much junk mail and rude phone calls, it is amazing!) meaning that i choose not to be associated with any political group.  mostly this is because of my role as a pastor, and my desire that i not be lumped in with any particular group or associated with something i strongly disagree with.  i find things in both parties ideologies that i agree with, and much more that i do not.  and don't even get me started on the candidates.

this year it seems that everyone will be moving to canada.  if bernie or hilary wins, my rightie friends will be heading north.  if cruz wins, my lefty friends will cross the border.  and if trump wins, the joke will be over, reality will hit us all in the face like a wind-blown toupe, and we will all be evacuating as soon as possible.  just kidding.  sort of.  but the point is this: i hear so much discontent with the candidates our two-party system has offered to us.  i hear so many people say that there is just no one good to vote for.  i know people who actually voted for obscure names in tuesday's pennsylvania primary, simply because they felt like they had no one else to vote for.  what a mess.

i've also heard people say that we should just get rid of all of the candidates and start over.  when i hear that sentiment, and i've heard it many times already during this cycle, i always think of this mutemath song, which i think will be my political statement right now.

the odds are, we'd be better off.  maybe we could at least balance out that scale a bit.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

down to the river with Bruce Springsteen

"Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride"  -Bruce Springsteen, The River

as the lights shined bright in the arena, and we all turned on our backs on the empty stage, to file out into the late night, which would soon be morning, and a new song came over the speakers, softer than the sound that we'd heard for the last three and half hours.  even though Bruce Springsteen had descended into his dressing room beneath or behind the stage, with the E-Street Band alongside, he was still trying to say something.  but this song wasn't even in his voice.  it was the beautifully blended harmonies of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris, as they solemnly sang, "as i went down to the river to pray....."  

and an enormous crowd of us, all shuffling out, were like a church.  we were every age: i saw people with canes, and children who could barely walk, as well as everyone in between.  we were like a church.  we were from all kinds of walks of life: i saw hippies and jocks and college kids and baby boomers and gen xers and millennials.  we were like a church who had just been down to the river to pray.  we were like a group of believers who had just witnessed something miraculous, something amazing, something life-giving in a way.  we had been to the river.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band has been touring the country on what they have called "The River Tour," in which they are playing through the entire 1980 double album, all twenty songs in order.  you've got "the ties that bind," all the way through "wreck on the highway."  in between you feel like you've come to a party ("sherry darling," "cadillac ranch"), a private conversation ("independence day," "drive all night"), and a sidewalk philosopher's manifesto ("the river," "the price you pay"). by the time Bruce and the band have started with "meet me in the city," and then played through the entire album, you are 21 songs into a concert, and thinking that the 66-year old is about to be done.  but you'd be wrong.  he wipes the sweat from his brow, grins at the huge audience, and quips, "we've got some more in us," before launching into the concert favorite "Badlands."

he was spectacular.  he never stopped moving and entertaining, while also clearly trying to tell a story, or bear witness to a greater truth, that he believes so strongly that he is committed to sweating every last drop of fluid in his body in order to share it.  at one point he came over the corner of the stage where we were standing, and sang "thunder road."  there was a young girl, about 12 years old, standing near us, and when he saw her, Bruce reached into his back pocket and pulled out his harmonica.  he gave it to her, and she was obviously moved by this gesture, and his eyes just lit up with joy.  he clearly loves what he is doing.  and he gives it all, even jumping into the crowd and surfing his way some 40-feet to the stage.  in addition to what i've already said, he played, "the promised land," "because the night," "the rising," "jungleland," born in the usa," "born to run," "dancing in the dark," "rosalita," "tenth avenue freeze-out," and "shout."  it was a marathon journey, one baptized in sweat and washed in rhythm, harmony, pounding beats and so much intensity and volume.

we were so blessed to have been a part of the winning "lottery" group that was privileged to go to the front of the general admission area, called "the pit."  we ended up on the far right corner of the stage, but only 4 or 5 rows back from the front.  he was so close!  at one point i even patted him on the back as he ran by!  all of the pictures you see here were taken by my phone during the concert.  and being that close just helped me feel even more present to the moment, like i was just trying to soak in every possible note and word.  and it was so good.  to see a man living his calling with such passion and conviction, with such energy and commitment, and with such quality and joy, was as much a spiritual experience for me as anything else.  i was moved.  i went down to the river to pray.  and i walked away with a renewed joy.  and i will never forget it.

one other little anecdote that i feel like Bruce would enjoy if he were to know this.  at the concert we stood next to two young penn state students who were crazy about Bruce (not quite as crazy as the guy we talked to who had been to over 120 Springsteen!).  we had quite a bit of time to wait before the show started, so we talked a little.   we took their picture.  they took our picture.  we told them we were moving to state college in the summer.  and so forth and so on.  that was last monday.  yesterday - exactly one week later - i had a couple of meetings in state college, and i was early for one so i was walking along college avenue.  i found a record store where i found Springsteen's "The River" on vinyl for a good price.  so i bought it.  as i was walking back to St. Paul's UMC, i passed a restaurant with outdoor seating.  and as i walked by, the girl sitting at the table closest to the sidewalk caught my eye.  something about her looked familiar.  and then as i looked across the table from her, i realized it was the two girls that we stood next to at the concert exactly one week earlier.  now there are some 46,000 students at the main campus of penn state.  FORTY-SIX THOUSAND.  and somehow i bumped into the same two that shannon and i had stood next to last week.  i said hi, we were all amazed at the coincidence (?), and i showed them the record i had just bought.  i have them my card, invited them to church, and walked away with a huge smile on my face, because we had already been a part of a church.  a church for one night that went down to the river, and were changed by it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

happy birthday, Caedmon!

happy birthday to my crazy angel-haired son, who turns 9 today.  he's a soccer-loving, football card-collecting, harry potter-reading, goal-scoring, blue-eyed, delight.  he brings us such joy, and we hope he feels just how much we love him, on this day and every day!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

baseball is back

baseball is back.  and all seems well in my soul.

i know i have written here countless times about the beauty of the game, but i just can't resist saying something once again this spring.  two nights ago i listened to the radio broadcast of the pittsburgh pirates extra-inning walk-off win against their rivals, the cardinals, and the tinny sound of the broadcaster's voices, supported by the the orchestra of the crowd - swelling in crescendo for each possible hit and reacting to every ball and strike; the sounds of the stadium organ, the crack of the bat, the crush of the ball against the catcher's mitt:  all of this is a symphony of sport that is sweet, sweet music to me.  like any music, it can - and does - transport me to another time, hiding under the sheets at 10 years old, listening to the pirates on WAMB, hoping that nobody else could hear the tinny sound of that little radio.  like any music, it moves me and speaks to me and comforts me and calls me to get lost in its rhythms and harmonies and syncopations.  it is beautiful, and i am so, SO glad that it is finally back, that i am tapping my foot to the beat, and standing up to dance under its melodious spell.  it seems so silly in a way, that a goofy little game like this can cause such a stirring in me, and enrapture me to such heights.  but it does.  i cannot, and will not, deny it.  i chalk it up to being human: that i am designed by my maker to enjoy the good things in life, to be touched deeply at the sounds and smells and sights and tastes and feelings that are good and right.  in other words, we were wired to enjoy life, in every way that life comes to us.  for me, life has often manifested itself in the striking emerald green of a baseball diamond, occupied by men in uniform, just trying to get home.  and yes, it is only a game, but playing games is also part of the way we were designed by our Creator: it's one of the ways we rest and learn and discover and build relationship.  the apostle paul said that we should make sure we are thinking on things that are good and noble and true and right.  i supposed we could over-spiritualize that to try and say that paul meant we should only be thinking about sacrificial atonement theories and propitiation all day.  or, we could understand that he was saying that there are good things - life-giving things - in the world, and there are things that rob us of life.  we should allow ourselves to dwell on those things that offer us energy and hope and joy and good-ness.  and for me, that most definitely includes baseball, and its sweet music, its statistics, its pop-flys and cans of corn, its double headers and double plays, its bunts and balks and bullpens.  it is all baseball, and i love it.  

baseball, thankfully, is back.  and all seems well in my soul.

Friday, April 01, 2016

hop a little

here's one out of about a hundred photos i took, trying to get one good one of our boys on easter.  in this one, quin is trying to be an easter bunny.

just a post today to say how blessed we are, that even in the midst of transition and uprooting, insane schedules and holy week busyness, our boys are smiling, bringing joy to us and reminding us of the kind of love that is stronger than even death.  that's worth dressing up for, and maybe even worth throwing up the old bunny ears for!

life is amazing!  hop a little!