Posted by: Tom | August 29, 2015

Five years of Time

Wow! It’s hard to believe that five years have gone by since I posted anything on this blog. A lot has happened in five years. My employment at a corporation for whom I worked for 25 years ended. I reverted to my art degree and made some pottery. Went to seminary and loved it. Experienced a crisis of faith and considered changing church affiliation (still do on occasion) because I felt like a fish out of water (still do most of the time). My role as pastor ended and now I function more like a support minister. I have been self-employed as a potter. I still do pottery but also work for the local school system as paraprofessional.

So here I am.

I thought of changing the title of the blog. But I am pastor to those at River Valley (a long-term care facility for people with physical and mental challenges) whom I visit once a week. I’m not a philosopher nor a super intellectual theologian. Basically, I’m a pastor at heart with an interest in missiology (the study of missions). So I guess the title still fits.

I am concerned for the church (universal and Community of Christ), the culture and their impact on each other. I would like to converse more about all of those at a later time (hopefully not every five years).

Posted by: Tom | June 28, 2010

In the last three weeks I have gone from the tall buildings of downtown Chicago to the tall firs and spruces of Minnesota forests…from the spiced aroma of Ethiopian cuisine to the fresh air of the Lake Superior shore. And in between, lies the big/small city of Grand Rapids spiced by family and Union Congregation. It’s amazing how different they all are. And yet, they all have something in common…their need for God’s care and our need to provide God’s care to them.

I was able to witness some of God’s care being provided to marginalized people in Chicago – the Nigh Ministry Bus, Refugee 1, St. Pius V Catholic Church, the Center on Halsted, Trinity UCC, Chinatown Community Center, Lakeview Lutheran Church. I was struck all at once by the tremendous needs of the people residing in these various places, the tremendous obstacles that prevent people from improving their situation, and the tremendous courage and fortitude of those saints helping overcome the obstacles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they help people who are ostracized or living in poverty or both find hope.

I’ve enjoyed the short burst of forests and waters of Lake Superior, but soon I will be back in Grand Rapids. I will miss the tall firs and the Lake Superior air. But the gentle Voice that is heard as the wind brushes the trees sends me back to Grand Rapids, to family and Union Congregation. I think about those, inside and outside the congregation, who are marginalized and without hope. The Voice calls me to help Union Congregation find hope…and to help Union Congregation help others find hope.

Posted by: Tom | December 31, 2009

Going into the New Year

As I look to the new year I am filled with both anticipation and anxiety with what will be coming before the congregation. I have great anticipation because we have leadership taking new responsibilities. Our priesthood are going through a process of discerning how God has gifted them to bring ministry to the congregation. We have a group of people who are willing to reach out to others. Our congregation is filled with potential and plenty of opportunities.

So what’s my anxiety? Well, during this coming year we will face several challenging issues. Discerning how Christ calls us to respond in a way that imitates while living in a culture that fosters division, discord, and polarity will be a major task. Part of this process involves determining how much we have already been drawn into the cultures way of thinking. This is enough in itself. In addition to this, however, as a worldwide church we will be dealing with the issues of conditions of membership (re-baptism) and the role homosexuals can take in the church. Both of these issues are difficult and can be divisive.

Resolving issues regarding the roles homosexuals can take in the church tends to result in emotional responses. I believe this will be the more divisive issue. Maybe it would be easier to ignore it. But, really, haven’t we done that long enough? Isn’t it time we face the issue and come to a resolution?

During this next year several people from our congregation will be working together to provide opportunities to learn about and discuss the issues revolving around this topic. I hope members of the congregation will take advantage of these opportunities to learn, listen, and share. Perhaps this issue, like no other, will test our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Other churches and congregations have been shattered. Will ours?

If we are to maintain unity as Christ-followers we must keep the Cradle and the Cross close to our hearts. If we don’t, I fear we will end up like the rest of our society – divided.   Keeping these two symbols  close to our hearts will help us draw close together as God’s people. They remind us to live out hope, peace, joy, love, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation in our lives and our relationships. What an example of God’s Reign that would be. I know it will not be easy. Actually it will be really tough. We will all be challenged. But if God brought new life out of death, which I believe God did, then through God’s grace we can resolve the challenges we will face.

As we enter into a new year may we rely on the Holy Spirit to bring us together. May we remember during the toughest times that God is faithful! May we keep the Cradle and the Cross close to our hearts!

Posted by: Tom | September 9, 2009

Christ-Follower Response

With all the poison swirling over the airwaves about healthcare reform and a presidential address to school children, I have wondered, “As a Christ-follower how do I respond? What is the call of the Gospel?” These questions go beyond which opinion is right or wrong. After all, differing opinions can be a good thing. My concern here, however, is not the opinion but how it is transmitted. It seems the preferred method is to incite, inflame, name-call, and demean with the main result being division, distrust, and anger. Unfortunately there are many who claim the label of “Christian” eagerly participating in furthering heated misunderstandings and sometimes even falsehoods. Facts are not checked. Assumptions are made. Behaviors are assimilated. I believe Jesus calls those who follow him to an alternative way of responding quite different from what we hear in America today.

Hopefully the Christ-Follower will incorporate the following as they respond…

1. Check the facts for accuracy with a source as balanced as possible. The main media networks put their own spin on things. Sometimes they even add a little emotionalism to spice things up. This applies to chain emails also. They are sent out with an agenda in mind. Any that I’ve seen were loaded with inaccuracies and assumptions. Twodove internet sources that I’ve found to provide some balance and accuracy are and . Both will pretty much tell it like it is regardless of which side of the aisle the topic pertains to.

2. Evaluate behavior. The signs of a Christ-Follower are what the Apostle Paul refers to as the Fruits of the Spirit. They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The evaluate the comments of those filling the airwaves (politician or broadcaster) against these qualities. Do they bring people together or drive people apart. Are they building walls between people or tearing them down.

3. In all instances, Respond with Grace. Avoid violence-verbal or physical-and live out the Fruits of the Spirit mentioned above.

Maybe the discussions will be more productive and the results more beneficial to everyone.

Read More…

Posted by: Tom | March 19, 2009

New Life

Recently I had the opportunity to visit an 87-year-old gentleman about to pass into the next world. His family were gathered together saying their good-byes. Their was sadness and joy. One of the granddaughters brought their 19-day-old child with them. So in this room their were people on both ends of the life spectrum – a child who was brand new to this world and an 87-year-old gentleman about to be brand new to the next world with others at various spots in-between – all together in this one room. All of a sudden I was struck with the awareness of how majestic life is. All along the way there is newness…from the new baby to the new parent to the new rebirth.

Sometimes it’s hard to see but we are surrounded by newness! I have recently become unemployed. I suppose I could focus on the endings…the “death” of part of my life. But then I think back to when I was in that room, with the 19-day-old and 87-year-old. I am reminded that life at all points is majestic and new. I can only look at this time in my life as new life with new beginnings. Praise God!

Posted by: Tom | December 31, 2008

Being the Church

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about what it means to really be the Church. A church that lives out the Gospel…not the gospel the culture dispenses that focuses on self and the fulfillment of self-desires. This gospel is overly concerned with the salvation of the individual and treats worship like a stop at the gas station for a weekly fillup. Then driving off as if nothing’s changed. No, I’m talking about a Gospel that causes your heart to pound and your pulse to race when your life is touched by it. This Gospel focuses on the life of Jesus. His life went against the grain of societal norms and conventional wisom. “You have heard it said (by the culture)…but I say…” What does this mean for us claiming to be Jesus’ disciples when we consider issues like immigration, cluster bombs, consumerism, family, gay marriage, affirmative action, poverty, welfare, or some of the other issues that exist in our culture? What does it mean for me as pastor – someone who is charged with recounting the counter-cultural Gospel story  to the congregation…even if they may be comfortable in their culturalism?

Posted by: Tom | December 26, 2008

Reflections on the Annunciation

 2:30 a.m. The phone’s ringing. You drag yourself out of bed with several thoughts going through your mind.
“Who’s calling at this time of night?”
“Something must be wrong!”
“One of the kids was in an accident!”
“Someone died!”

As you pick up the phone you feel a knot in the pit of our stomach. It’s the call that comes at unexpected times – when we’re not suppose to get a call – that we dread the most. Those are the ones that twist our stomach and jitter our nerves. They scare us the most.

The Annunciation by Caravaggio

The Annunciation by Caravaggio

As I read the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) I wondered if Mary felt a knot in her stomach when the angel Gabriel announced her call – “…you shall bear a son…!” It sure didn’t come at an opportune time. She was betrothed but not married. She wasn’t supposed to be having a child yet. The consequences would be great. Disgrace, outcast, stoning – these are some of the words that could describe Mary’s life when her pregnancy became public knowledge. Responding to Gabriel’s announcement – her call – would not be an easy road to travel. That’s way calls go though. We only need to look at any Old Testament to see that. Once they got the call their life was turned upside down. Take Abraham for instance, his whole family was uprooted. They ended up somewhere totally unfamiliar. When Lehi and Nephi  answered their call they ended up in conflict with the prevailing culture and even with their own family. They finally ended up on the other side of the globe. Answering our call can often mean going in a direction contrary to public opinion or somewhere totally unfamiliar.

Our own Annunciation, like Mary’s, can be unexpected, scary, and demanding. It can take us in a different direction than originally intended. I’m not aware of God calling anyone to stay the same, to not move forward. In fact, kingdom building requires just the opposite.

Of course, we can choose not to answer. Maybe we see “God” on our caller ID and suddenly remember something we have to do. Mary could’ve told Gabriel “Thanks, but no thanks!” We can say the same thing…”Thanks, but no thanks! I like my cozy little life just the way it is thank you very much.” We can sit in our own sanctuary pew spot week after week with a deaf ear to the Voice calling our name – no, yelling our name. Instead we allow the cries of our culture to intrude upon and dominate our discipleship and making the Gospel more palatable. Wow, what a boatload of missed opportunities.  Actually, Mary’s response is quite amazing. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” No contract, no pre-conditions, no staying within the lines. And what’s this “servant” (in other places it is translated slave) thing about!? Her response is just a simple, “Here I am, send me!” Maybe Mary, like Isaiah, knew something we have forgotten or ignored. It’s in God’s call that we find purpose for our lives. In our call we see something beyond our self. There is something greater that calls us out of ourselves allowing us the opportunity to go beyond our own concerns for safety and acceptance. Through Annunciation – call and vocation – God changes the world. He takes ordinary people like Mary, you, and me – people who say “Yes!” – and changes the course of history

One of the greatest messages of the advent season, and perhaps our greatest gift, is our own Annunciation stories collected in community.  Stories of being summoned to live lives different from the norm.  Lives not lived on our own because, as with Mary, the Lord is with us.

Posted by: Tom | November 24, 2008

Whacked by a Fish

ichthysHave you ever been whacked? I mean really whacked! The kind of whack that makes you hear bells. It changes things…how you see other people…the world! “Getting whacked!” is the kind of event that changes your life for good or bad depending on the whack. As a kid, and I suppose as an adult, I was whacked many times. It was usually by other people. Oh, it wasn’t a physical thing. It was more of an emotional whacking. Maybe you’ve had some of those. These are the kind that makes you feel like going back inside of yourself where it’s safe. There are other types of whackings though. As an adult I was whacked once by a fish. Well, it was probably more than once really! And it wasn’t with a bass or trout or cod…it was an Ichthys. THE fish. It happened just recently…again! It was one of those course changing whacks. Now, wherever I look I see Ichthys. In people, plants, animals…everywhere! It’s great! I see new possibilities and new places where life can go. I don’t know how I’ll get to those places or respond to the possibities but I know Ichthys will be going along with me…maybe even ahead of me.