The signs are everywhere. Christmas is on the way. During Advent our hope is that we pay more attention to and notice these Christmas signs. I‘ve actually found it quite easy to notice the signs this year; twinkling lights on houses, giant inflatable elves, It’s Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas playing on the radio, and of course lots of good sales. Black Friday was considered a huge success because there were so many purchases. I’m realizing the real signs of Christmas, and by “real” I mean what our culture values, seems to be shopping, purchasing, and consuming. Yeah, I know, it’s the Christmas season, a time to enjoy and feel good. You don’t want to read anything about how we Americans buy way too much and have more than we need and why we don’t we give more to others, and blah, blah, blah.
You’re probably thinking, “We already feel bad enough about ourselves (that’s what Mid-Westerners do, feel bad about themselves) so please no guilt trips.” Okay, I hear you. So you and I actually do give a lot. We give money to church and organizations, we help others, when our friend’s barn burns we chip in, we buy junk, e-hem, I mean presents for those we love, etc. etc. We are a generous people. God tells us to give and so we try to give.
While I’m trying to give more in my life what I often forget is that generosity is not just an ethical code to follow, it goes much deeper. Real generosity comes from deep within our minds and hearts. It’s about giving away ourselves as Jesus does for the benefit of all. Generosity has a way of stretching us beyond what is comfortable, safe, and familiar. The Widow’s Mite story is an example of this kind of generosity, that being generous doesn’t necessarily consist in numerical amounts. Generosity is about the openness of one’s heart and mind.
Of course we can all remember times when we gave, and maybe we gave a tremendous amount, but it was out of small heartedness. We secretly hoped to feel better, more loved, less guilty, more important, and more “Christian.” This sort of giving simply builds our ego. But true generosity is not concerned with such feelings and it actually begins to break the grip of the hidden agendas of selfishness. Real generosity comes from a place of tremendous trust and belief that no matter what happens God is real and God be with me.
Generosity is really about building the kingdom of God. The widow’s four cents may not have built a new temple addition like the rich person’s, but her generosity benefited those around her, as well as herself, in much more deep and profound ways. In fact her generosity has been talked about for over 2,000 years, printed in millions of Bibles in languages all over the world.
Maybe one thing I can pay more attention to this season is the openness of my heart and mind. Maybe instead of a giant Santa in my yard I could put up an inflatable scene of the Widow’s Mite story, but for some reason I haven’t seen any of those on sale.
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Every year at Halloween there is so much excitement around our home. Pumpkin carving, receiving and sending Halloween cards, decorating, anticipating
all that candy, fun school activities and so on. But the biggest thrill is dreaming up and gathering the accessories for a costume which are found at
the thrift store, made, or come from our dress up stash. What will it be? An explorer, detective, wolf Indian, spy, movie character, princess, pirate,
or dog sitter are some ideas and that’s just the start! Sometimes ideas change a number of times the week before Halloween. Sometimes an idea is formed
and planned, items are gathered, the costume is ready and laid out for the big event and then just an hour or two before we head out into the surreal
Halloween night someone decides they don’t like their costume after all. Frantically a new one is thrown together and although the air is tense for a
while it always seems to turn out good in the end. No matter how dressed up kids (and adults) are you know that under those masks, or paint, capes,
hoods, dresses, fake blood, there is that little boy or girl that you are familiar with. It’s all a fun disguise. And Halloween is so great because you
get to pretend you are someone or something else for a change.
The interesting thing is that we all wear these disguises. Not just on Halloween but every day of the year. Maybe we don’t go to work or around town
dressed as Frankenstein but we do go disguised as “happy” or “interested” or “I’m doing great!” when we are none of those things. Those around us see
us as a different person, not the real us. Most of the time we are wearing a mask of what we would like to be.
In one line of Bruce Springsteen’s song
Brilliant Disguise it says, “So when you look at me you better look hard and look twice, is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise?” What is so
interesting, and actually sad, is that we often don’t even realize we are wearing a disguise. We have tricked ourselves into believing we are someone
we are not.
How can true communication take place, how can real community happen when we’re all play acting? Just think what might happen if we chose
not to hide today. Jesus was without disguise. God lived through Jesus unhindered by any costume. Jesus teaches us to be what we are, to take off the
costume, to be honest and vulnerable, to allow God to live through us in powerful ways. Of course that’s easier said than done and this is what
transformation is all about.
By the time you read this Halloween will be over and all those small children around town will have taken off their
costumes, they will be playing and going to school and eating and interacting as they truly are without disguise. But most everyone else we bump into,
including ourselves, will be in a brilliant disguise.
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Space to Notice God
This summer has been full of activity for MICAH. Dan has spoken at a couple of out-of-state events called The Five Day Academy and Soul Feast. Corene
and Debra continue to offer cooking classes. These classes are wonderful in that participants not only realize preparing wonderful healthy meals is
possible but they get the working knowledge to do this on their own homes. I continue working on various art projects. For a few weeks in July I had
an art display up at the Crookston Evangelical Covenant Church where Ruth is involved. I also spoke at a couple of churches
about the ministry of MICAH and how art is involved. We offered a four week online class on prayer practices in May and will offer a three week online
class in September. The Faith Practice Tables continues to meet to practice and discuss the life of faith and how that life is transferred into one's
local church community. The Faith Practice Tables are composed of regional Lutheran pastors who make the journey to MICAH about once a month. We just
kicked off the Macedonia Project which is a two year stewardship project for regional pastors. Earlier in August Corene organized a FRESH screening.
The movie FRESH is about the value of eating fresh local foods and how it not only aids in helping us become healthier people but it also benefits our
economies, land, animals, and environment as a whole. Everyone brought a "fresh" snack to share at this fun event.
One thing I recently noticed about all this activity was that there is a common design to it all. These activities are basically about paying
attention to God. It's about being more aware of what is going on in our lives. In fact many of our retreats from prayer retreats to faith practice
retreats to individual retreats to couple's retreats to stewardship retreats to pastor retreats look almost identical. They are tweaked to meet the
needs of the particular group but the format is the same; we teach a prayer practice, do the prayer practice, and talk about our experience. There's
a lot of silence and space to notice God. When one comes away from these retreats they are more aware of the movement of God in their lives and in the
world. When one comes away from the cooking class they are more aware of what goes into their bodies and more aware of what they feed themselves and
their families. After the Fresh screening we pay more attention to our environment and what we are purchasing to feed ourselves and our families.
After staring at a Holy Doodle and reading the commentary we are more aware of why we act or think a certain way.
All of this activity points to the
core ministry of MICAH which is to pay attention to the risen Christ in our lives, to experience resurrection. We pay attention to what we are
thinking about, why we are upset, why we are fearful, what we are eating, how we are acting, and so on rather than live in a dream world in which we
are oblivious to God.
Fall is just around the corner. School is beginning, we have new schedules and routines to adjust to, warmer clothes are being pulled out of our
closets, a new season is beginning. I pray that we all will enter this Fall season a little more awake than usual.
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Invitation: Contemplative Spiritual Practices Group
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Seeking Answers and the Rob Bell Controversy
From Trey Everett
I suppose you've heard all the frenzy over Rob Bell's new book on hell. Bell is an Evangelical pastor at the cutting edge Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids Michigan. The title of his highly contentious book is Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. In his rather small book Bell explains away the orthodox view of an eternal conscious punishment. He trades the idea of God slowly roasting sinners alive for a more compassionate and redemptive one. Many have "commented" on his book (even before it was published!) and its content has brought about a firestorm of opinions, interpretations, accusations, judgments, perceptions, name-calling and so on and so forth. I must admit when you have two main words that rhyme, "Bell" and "Hell", it's easy to come up with catchy slogans.
As I've watched this play out what I've especially noticed is the deep desire for people to have clear answers. How could Jesus, God in the flesh, create a hell and then cast his beloved creation in to suffer forever? What parent would toss her beloved child into the fireplace for even ten seconds, let alone for eternity? If there were no hell then what happens to God's justice? What's the purpose of Jesus sacrifice if everyone is going to heaven eventually? Bell and those who side with him have answers. Those against Bell have answers. Everyone seems to have an answer, and if we don't have an answer we are compelled to spend money and time and resources to find one.
A couple of weeks ago I found some strange markings in the snow in our back yard. They looked like small lines and rectangles and squares and circles. Some were long like ski prints. I would have thought one of my kids made the alien looking markings with a stick except there were no footprints in the fresh snow. I showed the kids and Corene and we all stared at them mystified. We tried to to figure out what could have left these mysterious prints. Was it a weird bird? A skier in our backyard? Someone playing a prank? A sort of tiny ‘crop circle' some aliens left? We all wanted an answer. Corene finally pointed out that the clothesline was directly above the markings and then we had our answer, the wet snow that had clung to the lines the day before had simply fallen off and made the weird "tracks." We were all somewhat relieved. We felt better, satisfied now that we had an answer. Why is that?
The addictive seeking and finding of answers seems to be part of who we are as humans. But the difficult thing is that most of life has no clear-cut answer. Most of life is a mystery, not to mention the after life! Mystery is very unpopular but when we try to find and hold on to clear answers we may actually find ourselves further from God. Sitting in the uncomfortable mystery may be exactly were we experience God. And finding God is, of course, better than having all the answers to life's questions.
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MICAH 2010 Annual Report
Last year the MICAH Retreat Center continued to change and transform with wood floors added, walls plastered, doors hung, and entire rooms completed. New retreats were held. The Rural Pastor's monthly meetings took on a new name and a new look becoming the Faith Practice Tables. A new SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement) training course on nutrition and well-being was held at MICAH. New Holy Doodles art exhibits were held in Grand Forks and Moorhead. A new online class was prepared and offered. New cooking classes were organized and taught. New opportunities to speak and teach were presented. When I reflected back on the year "newness" jumped out to me. Although I especially noticed it in 2010 this "newness" happens every year with MICAH, it is a key part of what makes MICAH MICAH. Newness, I believe, is actually a key part of following Christ. As we seek to follow God, to listen, to be attentive and faithful, God is ever expanding and freeing our minds and hearts. In this expansion we begin to leave behind preconceived ideas, habitual patterns, old and deep ruts, small mindedness and God guides us to new places, introduces us to new ideas, helps us see new horizons.
I remember years ago riding in my dad's a truck. We were traveling down a familiar dusty gravel road, one I had been on hundreds of times. I knew the landscape, the hills, the corners, the houses, and fence lines along this road. But then we turned on a less familiar road and turned again on another until we were traveling down a gravel road I had never been on. To me this was a new road. The landscape was new, the houses were new, the twists and turns were new. At one point along a hillside my dad stopped the truck and got out. I followed him over a fence and through some woods, down a steep embankment until we reached a river. I had never been here before. I was totally lost. As we walked along the bank we came to what my dad wanted to show me, a huge, locally famous cave. The double entrance was large enough to drive in a few semi trailers. We walked in and explored as far as we could without flashlights. Drift wood from previous floods were scattered about. It was magnificent and inspiring. I see our life with God in a similar way. As we grow closer to God and as our faith develops we begin to follow God more faithfully. We find God leading us down new roads and off the beaten path. With God's gentle prompting we explore new places, new ideas, new ministries that seem to arise from nowhere. New life and creativity and power, more than we had ever imagined, are found. It is so much easier to stick with the familiar because it seems so safe and comforting. But God asks us to follow and so, as followers, that is what we are to do. My we all experience the life and power and joy of the new.
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"Discipleship in the Church": The Need for Contemplation & Healing
MICAH featured on social and religious commentary blog
This week I am happy to feature a piece by a friend, colleague and doctoral peer of mine, Dan Wolpert. Dan has a diverse and extensive resume as one can see below. I am fortunate to know him and to learn from his expertise and his wisdom. Of particular note is Dan's work and development with/of the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing (MICAH).
MICAH is a multifaceted facility for the practice and study of spiritual formation and leadership, healing and the arts. Developed to be a contemplative Christian center, MICAH provides a sacred space within which its leaders and participants seek to create a life with God.
I personally am not aware of many (if any other) efforts in the United States that are doing the important work that Dan the folks at Micah have embarked upon. [...]
Continue reading article at ChristopherBenek.com >>
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Crookston Public Schools Get A Visit From An Artist In Residence
Trey Everett helps students make pen and ink come alive
Everett helps students add their own text
to the large text-within-outline mural
at Highland School.
Photo from Natalie J. Ostgaard,
Crookston Public Schools had an artist in residence this past week with Trey Everett of Crookston. A grant from the Minnesota Northwest Arts Council was received by the Pirate Fine Arts Boosters to facilitate the artist in residence. Everett spent the mornings with students at Highland School making different art.
"We were drawing collograms, which are images of words or phrases inside to make up the image," said Everett. "They got to decide on the words and how they were making them. We are doing the same at the high school only more advanced and with more details with the letters and the words."
Everett works with pen and ink illustrations to help them produce original pieces, which will be shown in a display at Crookston High School Commons on Friday, February 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. in conjunction with the Artist Series. The show is free and open to the public.
Everett will be having his own art show at the Presbyterian Church in Crookston starting on Tuesday, February 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. and it will continue for several weeks.
More photos at CrookstonTimes.com >>
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