Thursday, December 21, 2017

Some larger homes in Jesus’ day had an extra room more properly called a guest chamber. This room was not used day to day. It was like the guest room many of us have in our homes. We keep it clean and ready for company, should they come to visit. In Luke’s story of the birth of Christ, the word for this chamber is normally, and inaccurately, translated “inn”. But the Greek word “kataluma” actually refers to a guest chamber in a home. With this insight, here is what Luke really describes as Jesus comes into the world. Joseph arrives, with a very pregnant Mary, in Bethlehem at the door of the home of a relative. He and Mary are, in the ways of the those days, made warmly and thoroughly welcome, even though they could not have notified anyone about their arrival ahead of time. The holy couple were not the first to arrive, so the guest room is already full. Does this mean they will be turned away? Even we rather cynical westerners can understand that, when family comes, you make room. In this case there remained space in the living room. The common living area in such a home, back then, would also have included a nook for animals such as sheep or a donkey. The presence of animals in the house meant that a manger, or feedbox, would have been a common feature in this large family living space. So Mary had help, and Joseph had relatives to pace with as the time came. Jesus was born in a family home, surrounded by his uncles and aunts and cousins. His birth happened right out in the middle of the place where a big family cooks, eats, laughs, plays, argues, and sleeps together. Even the livestock get in on the fun. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were not alone. In fact they could not have been any less alone! This was not a private birth. Jesus came into the world in a warm little sea of humanity, and no doubt when he was delivered everyone smiled and cheered and hugged and cried for joy. This is the more factual, and also the more true, story of Jesus’ birth. Jesus came into a world where he was welcomed and loved. He arrived in a setting of warm hospitality. When Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem, they came home to have their baby. Why not, then, believe that THIS is the way the world is, and this is how people really are? There is always room. If there is room for the Son of God, there is room for everyone. If we believe the real Gospel story, we should live it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I drove a little 1991 Toyota for twenty one years. The car served well as my work car — my little four-speed pastor chariot gave me good economy and happiness in driving. But the car was ready for a new owner, so we sold it to a neighbor for his commuting car. In the meantime, we cast about for a replacement, something nice, not too expensive. The neighbors right across the street - the same house I found gold in front of - put a for sale sign on what I thought was a rather plain looking silver sedan. So we looked into buying it. The car docked in their garage for several years, undriven. The husband bought his wife a dream car, a 2007 Buick LaCross CXL, with a dash of chrome trim here and leather everything inside. We took it out for a drive, marveling that the car still smelled new and had only 686 miles on the odometer. Ann, the little old lady neighbor, meant to drive at least to church on Sunday, but never did because she became ill. The car offered a terrific bargain for us, so we made a deal and soon the Buick, as I coldly referred to it, moved across the street into our driveway. I think I missed my little blue scooter, and also nursed a negative attitude about GM cars. Seven years passed in a wink. The Buick provided quiet and solid service, even though I never really liked the car — not one I would have gone out in search of. With time passing our solid Honda van came ready to bequeath to our son, and all things looking flush we are buying a new Subaru to serve as our adventures in retirement car in a few years. But after a trip or two the windshield in the car we named SubyRu developed a crack, such that we have left it parked for over a month awaiting a replacement windshield from the Mothership. So I’ve spent a lot more time than I expected with the Buick. In the past few weeks I’ve bonded with her. I’ve realized she has a beautiful ride, is a solid and reliable car, and is lovely, her paint a gleaming Platinum. As I washed and waxed her recently I remembered Ann wistfully saying goodbye, and asking us to take good care of her (the car), which we promised to do. As I’m detailing the inside, conditioning the leather upholstery, and, now, marveling that the car still looks new after ten years, I have a warm feeling and realize that I have fallen in love. This shy, elegant, strong sedan is in my heart. As such things happen, now that she has won my trust and affection, she gives me her name. Silvia - roughly translated, Traveling Silver. Hi yo! Away!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Yesterday morning I spotted a big grey squirrel clamped on to a sunflower stalk. It was about six feet up in the grove of flowers that have grown around a bird feeder in my back yard. As I watched it broke off a six inch sunflower head, looking like a wrestler doing a take down, dropped to the ground with it, and dragged it off in triumph. So then I walked to my office, which is next door to my house, and sat behind my desk, with a view of my landscaped courtyard through a patio door. Up walks that same squirrel, carrying the sunflower head, as if it wanted to show me what it had done! Maybe it was coincidence, but I got a feeling of being either taunted our thanked. It felt like the squirrel had followed me to work with its trophy sunflower head! After our eyes met it toted the prize away and I haven't seen the critter since! "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." - Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I'm fond of scanning territory, ground level, as I walk and run around the neighborhood. One sunny day I found an item I would never have expected to see. I ran a three mile route that day, a loop that starts and ends at my driveway. As I finished I walked back and forth in front of the house for a few minutes to warm down. As I'm walking I'm watching the ground out of habit. A small yellow object glints at me in the gutter in front of the house across the street. My first thought is that I somehow dropped a yellow guitar pick of mine, perhaps crossing the street on the way to the church where I often played. So I bent down and picked it up out of the leaves and dirt. The object was too heavy for a guitar pick, and gold, not yellow. I brushed it off and it started looking more and more like actual gold. I wiped it clean enough and put a tooth to it, arr matey like pirates do. My right canine left a nice dent. I was mostly sure by now that the thing was, actually, a lump of gold. I had a friend at the time who worked in a science lab and had access to an electron scanning microscope and, curious as I was, offered to take the lump of metal in to check it out. She brought back a little printout from the scan that declared the object legitimate. I had found a one ounce lump of gold right in front of my house. Keep those eyes open!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Last week I camped with my wife in and around Redwoods National Park. We left many light footprints on several forest trails, walking beneath ages old gigantic trees. The silence in the great woods surprised me as much as the enormity of the ancient giants. With a canopy high overhead, and hundreds of feet of trunks beneath, the sound of wind and birds is far overhead, leaving a deep quiet along the path. The height of the trees is difficult to grasp from below. Here and there, however, an old redwood had fallen, stretched out with massive root ball tipped up. Here is a video of one that tumbled so long ago it is decaying into the ground. It took me a minute to walk its length. (Copy and paste this Youtube link into your browser):

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I visited Idaho Falls, Idaho, last week. My good friends Larry and Jan invited me to stay with them in their lovely home with a beautiful guest room. The evening I arrived Larry left for a band rehearsal (he plays the baritone in a community group) and I had opportunity to visit with Jan. As we caught up on family news she told me how Larry, who is a submarine veteran*, found a new fellow submariner one day while stopping in for coffee at the local McDonald's. As he entered he saw an older gentleman wearing a submariner's cap, which I understand such folk do to identify themselves to others who might be in the vicinity. Soon Larry and Richard had made acquaintance, and Richard invited Larry to attend a submariner's group that meets monthly in the area. Larry had wanted to connect with sub vets and so readily agreed. Significant Others also invited, so Jan was invited too. Richard explained that he was with a gal who was not his wife, but it was all on the up and up since he is not married. So the day comes when Richard and his partner came to pick up Jan and Larry to go to the gathering. Jan immediately recognized Alice, who is a member of the same church Jan attends. Then she realized who Richard was, also a regular there. I happened to know them both. I had officiated at Alice's husband's funeral when he was tragically killed in a car accident, and had lent support and approval when Richard and Alice hooked up some time afterwards. Yes, tiny world. So the foursome happily goes to the submariner vet gathering. Among other activities they take a collection called a 50/50. Folks put money in a pot and at the end of meeting draw for the winner, who gets half the pot while the rest goes to help folks. Since Jan was new they invited her to pick the winner. So she reached in blindly and pulled out her husband Larry's ticket. Of course this created some amusement. They weren't sure they would ask her to pick the winner again. But next month they did in fact invite her to choose the lucky winner again, with the caution that if she picked Larry's ticket again they would ban her in the future. So she reached in and pulled out Richard's ticket. I stored these anecdotes in my head and got myself to bed in the guest room. I had a really good night's sleep and woke up early. I had packed my bicycle with me and decided to go for a ride in the morning before the heat set in, which can be intense in IF. I rode out from the west side of the town to the east side and wandered about to familiar places, such as the house I used to live in and by the church where I served for eight years. In the process I rode around Community Park, which has a 3/4 mile path around it, favored by walkers. Several times I alerted folks to my approach and they politely allowed me to pass. One group included five or six women and a couple of men, spread out, with some of the women talking to each other intently. I didn't see faces as I pedaled past. After a while I got hungry for breakfast and thirsty for coffee so I ambled over to the local McDonald's. I parked my bike outside and lined up to order. As I was waiting I saw an older gentleman walk up, and noticed he had a cap on, which I recognized as a submariner's cap when he came in and stood behind me. I turned to him and said, "Hello, Richard!" His eyes widened with recognition and I reminded him of my name as his former pastor. We greeted each other warmly and began a busy chat while I ordered breakfast. All the time he was watching outside for the arrival of his partner Alice with her walking group, who of course do circuits around Community Park and then come to McDonald's to undo it. Eventually Alice and her friends arrived. She was surprised and pleased to see me, and quickly introduced me to her friends. They explained that they were a mish mash of churchy folk, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and she and Richard Methodist. As they crammed themselves into a corner seating area I stood visiting and smiling and then one of the gals asked if I would, as a pastor, bless their group. Ah well, no escaping the role sometimes. So I said sure and there in McDonald's in the middle of Mormonville I raised my hand, called down the love of God upon them and packed the abundance down on their heads. Seemed like it was one of the coolest blessings they had ever gotten -- sure was one of the happiest I ever gave. You can make up your own mind about connections or coincidents. But I am rather convinced about connections and God's sense of humor. Any doubts, start hanging around at McDonald's. *Larry served on the submarine Parche in the cold war. His crew set underwater distance and endurance records while spying on the Russians. Spooky!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Today, the world feels, to me, muddied and gloomy. So I got to thinking about being clear and bright. I wrote with this perspective during my weekly sermon preparation. I got all finished and uploaded my text to the church website, then decided I should go out in the world and take my own advice from the message and look for some way to shed a little light in the world. I started by helping my son repair a flat tire on his commuting bike, and also teach him a little better how to manage it himself next time. That went well, and I felt good about it. I was driving toward my place from his through a quiet neighborhood when a flying car startled me. Really, when I saw the white sedan spinning up about six feet off the ground my first conclusion was "flying car!" But then the car twisted and landed with a crunch on the road near the tree the driver had just rammed. I rushed to park out of the way and ran toward the accident, reaching for my phone, seeing someone already there calling and so I yelled "Is someone calling 911!?" The answer was yes so I kept going to up to the black underside of the car. Other neighbors congregated quickly around the car, voicing concerns for the driver, checking signals and information, and making sure among ourselves we were doing what we could. I circled the car and spotted the driver inside, conscious but bleeding from a couple of injuries. She was an elderly lady, hanging mostly upside down, looking confused and, I think, feeling embarrassed. I could talk to her through the broken out driver side window, now on top, and I could see her through the spiderweb cracks of the windshield. She wasn't able to talk, so I said a few assuring things -- the facts and the truth, that people were with her, help was on the way, and everything would be OK. I put my hand on the windshield and prayed. The lady couldn't quite touch the windshield but she reached back to me. I could have said, "I have, and always will be, your friend" but chased that silliness away quickly. First a policewoman arrived, then other policepeople then some firepeople, then finally an ambulance with medics. A young woman stepped up to a policeman and said she saw everything. I hung by while she talked about first noticing the lady driving erratically some miles away, followed her and tried to phone for help, and then saw her lose control and ram the tree. All this time a lot of us were balancing staying out of the way with being ready to help. So now to the photo. As the witness talked to the officer, cold rain continued to fall. So a young woman who had been lingering, watching for a chance to help, stepped up and covered the two with her umbrella. The gesture was so sweet I needed to try to capture the moment, and I think I did. Afterward I introduced myself to the witness and thanked her for keeping an eye out for all of us. We shook hands and it was great. So, I went out to shine some light, and found a couple of dozen people shining their lights to help an injured neighbor. If one Good Samaritan was enough in the Bible story, just think how bright the world is with lots of them letting their lights shine, as today. I may not be the brightest bulb, but I hope I can always up the lumins just a little. By the way, the little lady got extracted from her car and taken to the hospital to get some TLC. I pray she is OK.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We are wrapping up Christmas activites here at Forest Grove United Methodist Church. I have many good memories from this year, ranging from an especially engaging Christmas Eve service to a very successful outreach program for needy families to heartfelt, beautiful seasonal music and stories. We even got some snow during Advent this year, a rarity here in the temperate rain forest of western Oregon. The snowy weather came at just the opportune time to cause us to postpone a Christmas benefit music concert. But we finally pulled it off last Sunday, January 1, on, by my count, the 8th Day of Christmas. The program, like everything else this year, seemed especially beautiful, heartfelt, and magical. Christmas day, the First Day of Christmas, came on Sunday this year, a rather inconvenient time, oddly enough. Christmas is so very secularized that going to worship on Christmas morning is harder than usual. To make it a little easier I decided to invite folks to come to church "as you are", even if that meant still in jammies. We set out an array of costumes and props so we could, impromptu, reenact the Christmas story with a narrator telling the tale. I felt delighted to see more folks than I expected arrive early, a lot of them still wearing PJs, and dig right in to the costumes. In short order our congregation became shepherds, magi, angels, innkeepers, animals, Mary and Joseph, and even a star. This photo sums up my delight in this relaxed, church family day. One of our dear older ladies found a fuzzy critter costume that fit her and so she came to the manger of Christ as gentle beast. I smile in my deepest heart thinking about that. This is a church where you can, indeed, be who you are, or who you remember you were, or who you've always wanted to be. The memories of smiles, laughter, and joy in the telling of the story of the birth of Christ, where absolutely everyone continues to be welcome, are now added to my most precious of heavenly treasures.
BTW credit to Tim Gunther for this shot. Tim is a member of our congregation and a pro photographer ( He portrayed Joseph, who had a terrific sight line to some wonderful photos. If you want to see more you can visit the church FaceBook page. Bring up the website, and click on the FaceBook icon. See you next time! God bless.