This morning’s message spoke of the dream of peace that began with the angel announcement to the shepherds on that first Christmas night. Often in our warring world, that ideal seems so far away. But it is up to us to put it into action anyway. Here is a comment by famed Catholic writer Henri Nouwen on the same subject.
Henri Nouwen speaks to our time…
The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realization in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.
We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.
Choir singing is not as popular as it once was except perhaps in black churches. But my wife and I have always tried to bring people together to sing as a choir for special holidays and events. JoAnne arranges for and directs the choir while I sing tenor or in later years, bass.
I have always enjoyed singing in choir. I have been reflecting upon why.
1. I simply enjoy harmony. Whether created by multiple vocal parts or multiple instruments in an ensemble, harmony is a pleasure to hear and even more pleasurable to be part of making. If you have the ability to sing harmony, it is very fulfilling to do so.
2. Church choir singing gives the added blessing of filling one’s mind with inspirational songs. I often find myself singing the choir song we practiced in my mind on other days of the week. There aren’t very many time investments that help put a song in your heart like choir singing does.
3. There is a great deal of camaraderie in a choir. Like any other task-oriented small group, it provides a place to belong, some wholesome banter, a growing relationship with fellow group members, and a sense of purpose and identity. In fact, in a small choir, one feels quite close to your section singing partners as you strive together season after season to sing your part.
4. For a church choir, there is the joy of presenting the number we have practiced during church service. Sure, we may be a bit nervous about doing well, but we are most interested that those who hear are inspired by the message we are trying to bring in music. When we receive feedback that our work has inspired and encouraged others, we are blessed by that.
5. Singing in choir uses a gift I have. By contrast, right now I am not using the gift of trombone playing that I have and I feel bad about that. My ability will slowly deteriorate. But on the other hand, when I sing in choir, I use my singing ability, I keep up that skill, so that I am ready for new opportunities to use it. As a Christian, I believe I am accountable for using my gifts for the benefit of others.
6. Singing in choir expands my knowledge of Christian music. Many of the songs we learn are fresh and vibrant expressions of our faith that I have not heard before learning them in choir.
7. Being a part of the choir has been a starting point for invitations to sing in numerous other types of groups. Men’s quartets are a riot. I have sung in a massed choir where choirs from several churches joined together, a great experience. I was asked to sing the solo part for “He’s Alive” on Easter Sunday while the choir provided back-up, an experience I will never forget. One year our choir was videoed and put their Christmas cantata on television. I have sung for live nativities and on “living Christmas trees.” All these experiences and more came to me because I sing in choir.
As one who dabbles in gardening, I like to keep track of first frost dates. Here in northern CT, this has been a wonderfully warm fall and we have not even been close to a cold night until the last two nights. There has been frost in each of them. I went out on Saturday to do the things that gardeners do on the last day before frost. I gathered green tomatoes and cut zinnias, marigolds, daisy mums, Shasta daisies, and a few other flowers for a couple last fresh bouquets. Never mind that I hadn’t really picked many until then. It’s the sense that it’s the last time I’ll have that opportunity until next year. More then once I’ve been known to go out with a flashlight to get those last minute items. In fact, I picked the marigolds in the dark this year after arriving home from a church event. The first frost seldom arrives on a convenient night. Like judgment day, or consequences from bad habits, first frost descends into the schedule just when you wish it wouldn’t. Blessed are those who have been listening to the weatherman ahead and those with a little margin in their schedule so they have time to do the last minute things. It reminds me of Jesus’ words concerning his second coming, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes” (Luke 12:37 NIV 2011).
When we moved here 2 years ago, I soon noticed a group of elderberry bushes in bloom just over a stone wall. It was being attacked by marauding vines and overshadowed by maple saplings. But I was determined to pick some elderberries. I remembered picking them as a young man and eating elderberry pie that my mother made.
But I soon discovered that elderberry season is short and there are competitors. The first year when I went to find berries there were none. I had been away on vacation on the key week and either the birds or the bears had finished them off. Same story the second year. So I made a more deliberate attempt to persecute the wild grape vines and clear out some overhanging maple.
This year, I found berries, lots of berries. Our vacation was earlier in the summer or I would not have because the catbirds which are very abundant here were upset when I started picking the crop they had already started to claim. Never fear, there will be plenty left for them. I volunteered to pick the berries off the stems and JoAnne made me a pie. Pictures of the process are below. What a pleasure to finally harvest what God had provided.
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits
Psalm 103:1-2 NIV84
Today my daughter and her husband and our two grandchildren visited us. What a joy to hug them all. Even though we see them regularly, it is still a special gift to treasure their company.
This week I will be preaching on why Communion is called a means of grace among Methodists. One cannot reflect upon this topic without becoming profoundly grateful for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The seemingly simple gift of this sacrament has become for us a magnificent mystery full of both theological and existential richness. Every time we partake it not only reminds us of the facts of Jesus’ act of initiation of the sacrament, but it becomes for us an acted symbol of our own participation in the greater realities which it represents. We are prompted toward ongoing repentance and faith. It is no wonder that in many Christian traditions, this sacrament is called “The Eucharist.” The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek meaning gratitude or thanksgiving. How appropriate.
As I was studying for this sermon I noticed an excellent paragraph of encouragement to praise from Spurgeon in one of the devotionals in my Bible program.
The Lord always deserves to be praised for what He is in Himself, for His works of creation and providence, for His goodness towards His creatures, and especially for the transcendent act of redemption, and all the marvelous blessing flowing therefrom. It is always beneficial to praise the Lord; it cheers the day and brightens the night; it lightens toil and softens sorrow; and over earthly gladness it sheds a sanctifying radiance which makes it less liable to blind us with its glare. Have we not something to sing about at this moment? Can we not weave a song out of our present joys, or our past deliverances, or our future hopes? Earth yields her summer fruits: the hay is housed, the golden grain invites the sickle, and the sun tarrying long to shine upon a fruitful earth, shortens the interval of shade that we may lengthen the hours of devout worship. By the love of Jesus, let us be stirred up to close the day with a psalm of sanctified gladness. (Charles Spurgeon – Evening Devotion for July 31)
I like sitting by the campfire late at night. JoAnne likes to read, sometimes even sitting in the car to get away from the bugs or the rain. Both of us love to canoe around the lake. I nearly finished one book this year. JoAnne pulls out her recorder and plays folk songs, gospel choruses and patriotic tunes by ear at the campfire. I roast marshmallows for s’mores.
For us camping is an Rx of sorts. Being a pastor is a very public vocation. So as part of our vacation time JoAnne and I try to get apart in the Adirondack Mountains. Getting alone as a couple like this provides a good antidote to the high level of people time that is normal for pastoral life. It gives time to process, time for extended devotions, and time to read. We always find it a bonding experience too. Whether it’s canoeing as a tandem, setting up camp together, enjoying a meal out at our favorite Italian restaurant in the Village of Tupper Lake, eating ice cream at Hoss’s, or holding hands watching the stars, we find ourselves drawn closer together in the Adirondacks.
This year we camped again at Lake Eaton State Park just Northwest of Long Lake, NY http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24464.html . Even though we had multiple rainstorms, we still had a great time. I had just finished sealing the tent fly again when the first downpour came. Amazingly, it didn’t rain during campfire times at all and I was able to gather wood at the right stage of dryness so that it would burn in spite of the dampness. But it did rain at suppertime twice. Trying to cook in a rainstorm is the pits so we ate out for supper both evenings; chili dogs and ice-cream at a corner stand one night and Italian at Little Italy the next http://littleitalypizzeriainc.com/Tupper_Lake__NY.html .
Probably the highlight of the vacation was the trip to the Wide Center in Tupper Lake. We highly recommend it http://www.wildcenter.org/ . They have a new section called the Wild Walk that has been a huge success. Thirty-five thousand people have visited the center in the twenty days since the Wild Walk opened. We took the walk and highly recommend it. The people who conceived this place have great imagination and make it so much fun for children. This year the theater inside featured an award winning film about climate change.
Must be we made ourselves useful and didn’t cause too much trouble in 2014 because our daughter Keely and her husband Mark invited us to go with them on their annual spring Florida vacation again this year. Yeah! Of course, it is such a trial (wink, wink) for us to be with our two wonderful grandchildren, not to mention our daughter and son-in-law for a whole week!
We flew down and they rented a beach condo on the Gulf coast on Gasparillo Island in Southern Florida for a whole week (in the units behind my hat) (such severe hardships, I know). Thank you so much, Mark and Keely!
Annabelle and Sam love our attention (another tough break I know). Of course we thoroughly enjoy spoiling them a little too. Annabelle started learning to crawl on our vacation. We tried to allow Keely a little more rest as Annabelle is not much of a sleeper. JoAnne greatly enjoyed the pool, doing laps early every morning before others were awake. In the evening, she and I walked on the beach at sunset while Keely and Mark were putting the children to bed.
It is always a pleasure for me to watch birds in a different location. The only time while there that I took time away to specifically bird watch, I saw jungle but no birds. Yet, for example, while pushing Sam in the swing at the Community Center, I notched two new birds as they flew over. And as we walked on the beach, there were lots of shore birds to glass.
The attached gallery is a collection of pictures from vacation, some are taken with JoAnne’s camera and some with my phone.
As you know, I like to walk. When I walk, I look for beauty and joy. Today, on vacation, I walked out toward the beach, there was a wild yellow daisy flower in bloom in the sand dunes. It was beautiful! I learned by online research that its name is beach dune daisy (Helianthus debilis). Finding beauty in unexpected places is a habit I try to cultivate. When such a serendipity happens, it always makes me philosophical too because I think the experience confirms one of my maxims for life.
“Always be looking for and appreciate unexpected sparks of joy!”
One’s approach to a walk is a clue to how you live
I’ve observed in this regard that one can learn much about a person’s approach to life from the way they approach a trail walk.
I meet some people who are always walking with friends. That tells me that they are people-persons who are energized as much by the conversation as by the walk. I bet they appreciate connectedness in other areas of life too.
Other walkers and runners are always alone. There might be many reasons but at the very least they don’t mind being alone. More probably, like me, they relish it as a time for thinking or just drinking in from nature or perhaps praying, as I sometimes do. These kind of people find joy in times of quiet.
Some people out on the trails are out more to “get the job done,” the task of getting in their exercise, that is. They usually have earbuds and don’t want to even give you the time of day lest you delay them. I imagine they are very task oriented people in other phases of life as well. I always pity them in a way as they miss so much by seldom stopping to look or listen. I’ve observed that it is hard for very task-oriented people to find a rhythm in life that includes time for contemplation. But they might reply to me that they enjoy the physical high that comes from aerobic exercise.
Have you noticed that people view the conditions for walking differently too.
I comment to some about the day and they will always be enthusiastic about what a great day it is to walk, even on winter days. These have learned to enjoy the moment.
Other people find something wrong on the best of days; they may note the bugs or the heat or the cold or the rough trail or too many bicyclers or doggy dodo or whatever. Though, frankly, those kind are usually not consistent walkers.
There’s a difference in what is appreciated on the walk too.
Some are always observing whatever nature has to offer that day.
Others are not observant of nature at all.
Some may be only looking for deer and so most days they are disappointed as one only very occasionally sees one while on the trail.
Appreciate the joys the moment brings
It’s the same in life. Some are constantly discovering new blessings in different areas of their lives. Other people seem only to be able to focus on troubles; the bugs and poison ivy patches of life seem to be everywhere for them. Still others are looking only for one or two kinds of rewards in life so they are frequently disappointed as usually the kinds of things they look for are infrequent occurrences.
Michael Cannon Loehrer put it this way, “If people only allow their hearts to enjoy what delights them, they will soon become bored most of the time. If we train our hearts to find joy in drudgery, we will rest content with whatever comes our way and our lives will remain on an even keel. Complainers bounce between ever increasing extremes of delight and despair” (From the book “Porch Talk with Gramps on Parenting: A Framework for a Functional Family”).
For example, I love to observe birds. And thankfully spring days like we have been having in May are the peak of the season for that. But not every day or every walk is ideal for bird watching. For example, one day, I forgot the binoculars. Don’t ask me how, but it happened. So I watched for what I could see with the naked eye. I peeked over the bridge over Salmon Creek and thought I saw movement. So I moved to the other side and had the privilege of watching a young mink forage along the edge of the stream for five or ten minutes, a once in a lifetime event. If I had remembered the binoculars I probably would not have looked in the streambed. I chose to enjoy what was available and was rewarded.
Another day it was windy and my walk happened midday, neither of which is best for birding. But the sun was out and so were the reptiles. That day a tree frog hopped across my path and I saw a black snake sunning himself on the edge of the road. I took pictures of both. I chose to watch what was moving and enjoyed the walk more for it. Choosing to look for the joys a moment offers is a great habit to cultivate. As I say:
“Always be looking for and appreciate unexpected sparks of joy!”
I’m posting a few pictures of things I’ve seen on walks, especially flowers found in unlikely places or trees growing in unusual forms. I call this gallery “Serendipities.”
I love a good walk. It gets the heart pumping and fills the lungs with fresh air. It eases the tensions of to-do lists and day-to-day circumstances. Sometimes I pray aloud on my walks too. Here in Northern CT, we are blessed to live near the Granby Land Trust area as well as a rail trail. So I have places to walk. I walk for exercise first, but I love the fresh air and I love watching nature, especially birds, plants, rocks, animals and flowers and trees.
Today I walked farther than usual, hiking to Carpenter Falls, a beautiful hidden falls near the top of Broad Hill. Because of the rain last night the creek there was running a little more than usual too. One has to hike down into the small gorge to see it. The collage and the gallery with this post are from that spot today.
This spring the birds have seemed more abundant than usual. Probably I have just been walking at better times. I keep a journal of my bird walks, jotting down the species seen on each walk when I get home. In May I have seen about 36 species of birds on my walks, and I seldom stop just to bird watch for very long. I mostly just glass what moves.
I also had the unusual privilege of observing a small mink hunting up the shore line of our local creek just as I looked down from the Broad Hill Road Bridge. He darted in and out of holes in the rocks both above and below the water searching for prey. Once he swam across a section to a small group of rocks he wanted to check out.
One of my hobbies is model trains, specifically, O-gauge trains running around my Christmas tree. Yes we had a Lionel train which we three Jones brothers shared when I was a boy. But what really started me back in this hobby was the gift of a Lionel train much like the one we had which I received from Bill Quick while I was serving as Pastor at Kirkville Community Wesleyan Church. I promptly ran it around the tree the next Christmas and I’ve been running trains every Christmas since on increasingly more complex set-ups.
The first evolution
One big evolution happened when I moved the trainsets upstairs to the remodeled living room at Kirkville. I was already running two trains. I decided to build a second layer and started collecting ceramic buildings, little figures and antique car models. I had two long bridges too. Then I started inviting children from church over to see the trains. I let them run them too. Of course, they would wreck them occasionally, but I have only had to make major repairs on two cars in all the many years that I have been doing this.
Children in CT love it too
When I moved to Connecticut, God blessed us with a large parsonage living room and my set got even bigger. In the gallery you can see the first two steps in building the multilayer setup. I found my first Dept. 56 buildings (the Cadillac of ceramic Christmas buildings) on a yard sale in our own neighborhood. Again, I invited children from church to come and run the trains. They have so much fun and it is a joy to work with them. This set has only one bridge but it has more room for vignettes. In the gallery are pictures of Shannon and Sam playing with the trains. The Mandirola boys, Schantz family and the Griffin’s also stopped by to check it out but I didn’t have my camera going.
Sam went for hands on
My grandson, Sam, was much more interested in the train set this year too. But he had his own way of investigating it. He wanted to get right in it and touch things. I learned from the preschool teachers that this is a preschooler’s tactile way of learning so I tried to facilitate it as much as possible. It was great fun.
New this year
This year I purchased my first engine specifically decorated for Christmas, a Lionel Santa Flyer. I also added a city block of stores that I made from Ameri-town parts. I started it years ago but this year a change in configuration of the upper track made room for it for the first time. In addition, I purchased new track for the inner lower loop. Last year that loop was hardly operable. This year is was a star. The fastest engine did not derail on it even though it was the tighter loop. It was Lionel Fast Track. If it holds up to the wear and tear of being assembled and disassembled for a couple years I will be a fan for sure. Also new this year, and something I have been watching for, was a ceramic building train station. At last I have a train station for the upper level too.