Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sickness and Sabbath

I have been sick the past week. It has been rather inconvenient and miserable. The misery was compounded by the fact that I became ill during Holy Week. Of all weeks to be sick during the year, this is by far the most inconvenient. I had parts in the Seder meal, was designing and setting up the service for Good Friday, needed to participate in our church's Holy Saturday work-day, and I looked forward to Easter service! There was so much to do and so little time to do it. To complicate matters, schoolwork and helping to plan our wedding consumed my energies. I was staying up late writing papers, getting up early to complete tasks, going to class, attending meetings, and reading books. To say the least, rest was the last thing I could afford at the moment. It was an inconvenient thing I pushed to the side so that I could accomplish all that needed to be accomplished. But, the body has a funny way of reacting to all work and no rest. There comes a point where it eventually forces you to rest. Exhaustion takes its toll. The immune system runs like a beat up Ford Pinto. Finally, Sabbath is forced upon you. Many of the tasks that I had planned to accomplish or the things I planned to attend were put on hold. They did not get accomplished. Work became secondary. My body, which God designed, had re-oriented my world. At first, I was not at all pleased with this situation. I worried about all of the "dropped" responsibilities I had neglected. I resented my body's lack of stamina. Eventually, however, I came to appreciate the "Sabbath" I had been forced to observe. The world continued without me, the church did not fail, my work eventually was completed. My lack of productivity was directly linked to my lack of rest. But, more than that, the lack of rest atrophied my ability to enjoy life at the moment. Sickness usually does not come at convenient moments, neither does Sabbath. There's always something pulling for our attention. There's always something needing to be accomplished. But, finding the value of rest can make all of the difference in how we truly live, not just exist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week - Sabbath

It is the time between Palm Sunday - and Easter Sunday Morning.

It is not yet Maundy Thursday. Not yet the Seder meal. Not yet the command to 'love one another.' Not yet Gethsemane. Not yet a trial. Not yet a friday - and not until after Sunday that we can think of it as a Good Friday.

There is so much that Christian persons pause to reflect on - to consider - to think about, in these days.

So much history about his-story as we remember it.

It seems inappropriate to think about "stopping" on this week. I am not sure why.

I think about the stories associated with Peter during the times of Jesus' trial. Peter, in a way, stood by and "stopped" and did nothing in the moments of Jesus' trial.

I wonder what Peter was thinking. I wonder what he was *really* thinking.

Did he want to intervene? We know, of course, that John's gospel tells us that he *had* intervened to cut-off the ear of Malchus. He was willing to *do* something. But then, at the trial, when we read about how Peter will deny Jesus three times, I think we have a tendency to view Peter as "weak" or "passive" or "unwilling" to identify with Jesus. But, the story of what Peter did at Gethsemane demonstrates he was quite active, strong, and willing to intervene.

Peter was willing to be active and intervene.

But, in some way, Peter was forced into a position of "stopping" - where he was forced to watch what happened with Jesus.

I am not sure that Peter was in "sabbath" in the way we think about sabbath, but being forced to stand by must have been a challenge for Peter.

In some ways, stopping and watching during this week of Passion is hard for me.

I am not good at stopping to watch when and where others "work." I am not good at stopping and watching when others serve me.

Perhaps during these next few days, I need to take more time to stop - watch - listen - and learn from what Jesus did and what Jesus does.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

John 9: Light of the World

Today's passage was from John 9. In this passage, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. It is a miracle that is performed on a Sabbath. Of course, the religious leaders condemn Jesus for working of the Sabbath. God does not give us the Sabbath simply to make us stop working. Rather, the stopping of work on Sabbath directs our attention back to the redemptive work God is doing in and among us. Getting caught up in the "demands" of the Sabbath without being aware of God's presence and work leaves the Sabbath as a dead ritual. It ceases to be life-giving. Like Jesus, we are to "pause" and see the opportunities for God's life-giving activity.

I am reminded through this passage that my own routine, even when I am not working, often is not Sabbath. I am caught up in the theological questions and enigmas as did the disciples. I discredit those that claim God's work in their life with this-world explanations, as did the Pharisees and neighbors. I I worry and fear about how other perceive me rather than how I am perceived by God, as were the man's parents. I am confronted with my own blindness but have the audacity to question back, "What now? Am I blind, too?" I have all of my theological categories, presuppositions, and beliefs pulled together. If it doesn't fit in my theological box, I am quick to dismiss it as something other than God. But what happens when God does something that doesn't fit in my theological box? What happens when my blindness is exposed? Do I clamor back to the comfort of my darkness or am I willing for sight to be given by the Light of the World? Sabbath, for me, must become much more about stepping into the Light. It must become about putting down my guard, putting aside my box, and presenting myself before a God whose light exposes my deepest shadows. Sabbath may be about ceasing so that we may rest... but it must also be a ceasing from striving to control, constrain, and categorize God's work. It is a rest in which our attention is drawn back to the One "sent" from God so that we may "see" and be saved.

Sabbath - Sunday Morning Birth!

Congratulations to the Pagel Family!

Kendra and Eli welcome their two new boys this morning - Ian and Nolan! Ian, 5lbs 6oz and his "little" brother, Nolan, 4lbs 2oz.

I am writing, remembering when my own kids came into my life and our lives.

Kids force us to 'stop' from old routines - for sure! They are incredible opportunities to celebrate new life - for sure! And they certainly force us to change old habits. (And they often force us to sleep in the oddest ways!)

We celebrate with Eli and Kendra today! And we hope that their routines for life are disrupted in all the best ways - with Ian and Nolan.

May it serve as time for they - and for us - to reflect on what is most important in the totality of our lives - and what is most important in how we prioritize our time!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Gardening and parables teach me about sabbath

Garden’s are wonderful examples of God’s work – at work – when we’re not working.

Garden’s are wonderful examples that even when we “stop” from work – from our ceasing – God’s work in Creation continues toward making life fruitful and full.
In a parable of Jesus in Mark's Gospel, Jesus relates the following - which I have chosen to render in "my own translation" simply for consideration and pause - adding periods to slow down our reading:

It is also like this with the Kingdom.

A man scatters seed.

On the earth.



He sleeps.

He wakes.

The seed sprouts.

The seed grows.

He does not know how.

By itself.

The soil produces.


First the stalk.

Then the head.

Then the full kernel in the head.

As soon as the grain is ripe.

He harvests.

The harvest has come.

One of the things I value about this parable, and the lessons I am learning as I sabbath, has to do with how unimportant I am in "creating" it and "making" "it" happen.

The good of the garden happens mostly -

- without me.

It grows of its own.

I scatter, but I can not make it grow.

In the meantime, I’ll sabbath.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Taking a Fishing Sabbath in the Midst of a Chaotic Life

On Sunday, February 20, my son-in-law Rhea left for his National Guard pre-deployment training for Afghanistan. Early Monday morning, February 21, our S3 Group traveled to Columbia Theological Seminary for our 3-day orientation retreat. We returned home from the S3 orientation late Thursday night, February 24, and I taught 3 classes on Friday. On Saturday, February 26, we spent much of my grandson Kendrick's first birthday at Children's Hospital in the Emergency Room for him to receive breathing treatments.

My next Saturday, March 5, I spent about 5 hours in a Board of Church Service (Credentials Committee) meeting and then took my wife, daughter, son, and grandson, to dinner to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday. On Tuesday, March 8, we were again at Children's Hospital ER with Kendrick. Early on Wednesday evening, March 9, Kendrick was admitted to the Shawnee Hospital with probable pneumonia and was not released until late Friday afternoon, March 11. I spent two nights in the hospital, and the second night Kendrick slept on my chest in the hospital bed for almost 8 hours straight. Kendrick had slept on his mom the first night.

On Sunday, March 13, we drove to Camp Gruber near Beggs, Oklahoma to visit Rhea and celebrate his 24th birthday, and returned home on Monday, March 14. Over Spring Break, March 14-18, I tried to get some rest, but also took on some contract legal work and conducted a premarital counseling session. On Saturday, March 19, I took my son and daughter, ages 20 and 23, respectively, fishing. On Sunday, March 20, I celebrated my 50th birthday with family.

On Monday evening, March 21, I conducted a premarital counseling session. On Tuesday evening, March 22, I attended and spoke briefly at a MACU Ministry Leadership Institute Pastor Appreciation Banquet. The next morning at 7:00 a.m., I attended a focus group for a Master of Ministry Degree Proposal and then taught back-to-back classes (with chapel between) from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. On Friday, March 25, Rhea returned home from training for about 4 days leave, and we went fishing that evening. We celebrated my daughter Shea's 24th birthday on Saturday, March 26.

In the midst of the last 6 weeks, I have been on two rounds of antibiotics for bronchitis and missed classes on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29 and 30, due to some kind of intestinal flu. I have also been conducting premarital counseling for two different couples, one to two different evenings per week not to mention my regular teaching schedule, committee meetings, and meetings with students. I am quite confident that my S3 colleagues carry comparable if not heavier schedules. (Marty definitely carries a heavier schedule).

Though it was only for a couple of hours each time, I really enjoyed going fishing two times in the midst of my crazy, chaotic schedule. I realized how much I miss fishing. Yes, I caught some sand bass and crappie, but I mostly enjoyed getting out away from the busyness and loudness of my urban existence and - to be candid - the needs, wants, and demands of people. The sounds of silence. Solitude. Meaningful conversation with family members I care about deeply. Fellowship. Communion with creation and the Creator. The wonder of it all. Hiking through briers and thorns and undergrowth and finding a way down the steep banks to the flowing creek below. Looking at raccoon tracks. Watching my kids slipping and sliding down the steep slope and laughing so hard I lost my balance and fell off a muddy tree root I was standing on. I fell on my backside in the red, sticky mud! I watched my daughter catch a unique fish - a drum. I watched my son make his way out on a dead fallen tree that stretched out into the water. I watched my daughter set up camera shots as she is so gifted at taking pictures. I watched my son release the fish we caught back into the water.

Why don't I stop and take a fishing sabbath more often? Why do I stay so busy? Why am I so driven to be productive? Am I hiding from something? Am I running away from something? I have asked and answered such questions multiple times before, but sooner or later, I seem to fall into the same traps of busyness and overwork. Yet, I am thankful for the opportunity to be more intentional and to be more reflective. Time seemed to pass so slowly when I was holding my grandson in that hospital bed for 8 straight hours. But at that time he was more important than any other concern in my life. Why can I not receive the truth that I am that important to God? I can easily share that truth for others, just not me. It is much easier for me to be a giver than a receiver. I am haunted by the insight of a Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, who, in so many words, said that true repentance is making the right choice when you are faced with the same temptation or challenge in the future, that resulted in a failure in the past. There is no true repentance in making the same wrong choices as new opportunities arise. Or, as I often tell my students, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. As Ravi Zacharias says, Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to give dead people life. I need the quality of "life" that Jesus talked about in John 10:10. Lord, forgive me where I have fallen short and empower me to desire and to make amendments to my life where needed.

I am also discovering who the real heroes are and guess what - it is not me. The real heroes are people like my daughter Shea who are sacrificing around the clock so her husband Rhea can fulfill his desire to serve his country. She and he - and so many others like them - they are real heroes. People like single moms and dads doing the best they can on limited resources. The working poor. The widows, orphans, and aliens.