Not All Time is Equal

Not all time is equal.

ClocksI am sure that most of you have heard a sermon from one of your pastors on the difference between chronos time and Kairos time. Chronos is the Greek word for the sequence of quantitative time, whereas Kairos is the Greek word for the right or opportune moment—qualitative time. The first is linear where one second is the same as the next second. The latter speaks to the experience of time. Presbyterian author, Frederick Buechner, has a way of searing these definitions into our brains. He reminds us that not all time is the equal such as experiencing your first kiss or touching a hot stove with your finger.

Kairos time is about the right or opportune moment. In the church we often call it “God time.” As I look back over my life, it seems that so much of my life can be captured in a sequence of events, chronos time. I can give a chronological account of my life telling you what I did during each year as if I was writing an outline for a biography. But it wouldn’t tell the real story.

Bicycle racerSince becoming an adult, I have lived approximately 22,750,000 minutes of chronological time. But I can distinctly remember about 31 minutes of Kairos time, God time. Thirty minutes of that was watching a half hour program highlighting the bicycle racer, George Mount, as he trained for the 1980 Olympics. I was in my first year of college in Idaho at the time. Upon watching that program I immediately began setting in motion the plans to withdraw from college after the winter term, return to Colorado and spend the next few years racing bicycles. It was a Kairos moment. I knew immediately upon watching that program that I was witnessing my future.

The second time was a brief flash of inspiration that probably lasted no more than one minute. My best friend and I were driving back from a trip exploring colleges when I looked over at her while she was driving and realized that I wanted this woman to be my wife.

ASUS 4 282Those 31 minutes of Kairos time have dictated much of my life. Bicycling has continued to be a major theme in my life and the source of many adventures—cycling 4,000 miles through the West, a seven-week pilgrimage from Rome to Konya, Turkey and an expedition up to Everest Base Camp by mountain bike. The one minute of inspiration when I looked over at my best friend resulted in 25 years of marriage, two amazing children, and another two delightful grandchildren.

Not all time is equal.

Kairos time or opportune time is what shapes history. The Christian scriptures are a testament to this. Thirteen of the letters attributed to Paul are the result of a very brief Kairos moment on the Road to Damascus from Jerusalem when Jesus showed up in a vision, convicted Saul of his former life persecuting Christians, and set him on a new path as the most powerful evangelist for our early faith. How long did the encounter take place? It’s hard to know for sure, but based on the dialogue it appears that it was somewhere between a few seconds and a few minutes.

Kairos time—those brief moments that set the direction of our lives for years to come.

heavenly lightI write this to you because I believe we in the Presbytery of the Cascades are in a Kairos moment. I believe that our futures are going to be dependent on being open to the face of God showing up in visions. I believe that we have largely abandoned chronos time this past year. This is Kairos time, God time, an opportune time. This is time when our futures will be less shaped by careful, deliberative planning and more by responding to visions from the heavenly realm.

Two of the best decisions I ever made were made in Kairos time when a vision for my future just showed up, changed my direction and called me into a new life.

Those 31 minutes have dictated the most important aspects of my life.

The Road to Damascus requires about 20,000 minutes of walking.

But not all minutes are equal.

Just ask the Apostle Paul.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

“Do the Next Right Thing”

“Do the next right thing.”

That is the theme song and message from my granddaughter’s favorite movie, Frozen 2. I share this because it has become a favorite daily mantra of mine ever since a friend introduced me to the line during a conversation about how we are negotiating this troubling, uncertain and anxious time.

I will admit that I have struggled with what to say this week. I still have a blog ready to go on my thoughts about how the Holy Breadcrumbs image may be giving way to a new image more suited to our current context. I had written another blog after receiving a couple of emails from readers about their discomfort with me stepping into the fray of our divisive political context. I was aware that this week’s blog would be published within seven days of the presidential inauguration and that, given our current situation, anything I say on Thursday morning could be outdated by Thursday evening and certainly by next Wednesday.

unknown path

Then I thought about this line that I repeat to myself on most days: “Do the next right thing.” It has guided me and calmed me for weeks. The truth is if I look too far into the future I feel overwhelmed and unsuited to the task of leading a community of faith through a period of an historic pandemic and equally historic political pandemonium. But if I concentrate on what is in front of me for one particular day I almost always feel confident about what I am doing and certain that I am doing “the next right thing.”

People ask me how I am doing. Over and over again I find myself answering, “I am doing fine as long as I just concentrate on one day at a time.”

This theme from Frozen 2 has given me good guidance and it also reminds me that we in the faith community are not alone. Artists, musicians, screenwriters, poets, and novelists are often partners with us providing in spiritual nourishment and guidance to our society. The language may be different, but the message is often the same.

“Do the next right thing” is Disney’s version of faith. The whole premise of faith is being able to act on what is good and right right now even when we can’t see the eventual outcome. The whole premise of faith is to trust that there is a force (a force we call God) in the universe that doesn’t need us to have everything figured out. That force only needs us to be faithful right now and to “do the next right thing.”

This is why I have been writing under the Holy Breadcrumbs title. It is my way of saying, “All we have to do is follow the next holy breadcrumb and trust that when we get to one breadcrumb on the path God will present the next breadcrumb to guide our way.

rubik's cube

I think this is important in this time. I personally am not smart enough to know what to do in coming days that will result in peace, the healing of our society, the restoration of trust between people and the avoidance of conflict and violence. The complexity of our situation is too much for me to know what precise actions will result in my desired outcomes. But I do know that I can continue to act according to my faith. I do know that I can “do the next right thing.” I do know that tomorrow morning I can wake up and “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.”

I will leave you with the benediction that I have offered for years as a pastor. Many of you will recognize it. In it is the invitation to “Do the next right thing.”

Go out into the world in peace;

Have courage;

Hold onto what is good;

Repay no one evil for evil;

Strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the suffering;

Honor everyone;

Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

An Insurrection Reflection

I had nearly completed one blog when the not-completely-surprising insurrection at our nation’s capital filled our TV screens today. Someday I will share with you how the Holy Breadcrumbs image is no longer sufficient for our time, but for today I just need to share some of the initial thoughts that are bouncing around in my head like an out-of-control race car.

riotI have this sick feeling in my stomach. But not from what you would expect. Yes, I feel sick for how far we have fallen in trusting our democratic processes. Yes, I am sickened that people would resort to violence in order to make a point. Yes, I feel sick that the absence of the peaceful passing of the presidential baton will probably haunt us for years to come.

But that is not what is disturbing me the most. In this year of reckoning with the white privilege and racism of our society, I feel sick by what this insurrection has taught us. If all things were equal the first conclusion we would have come to is that our nation’s capital is much less secure than we ever imagined. We would have immediately jumped to the conclusion that if a mob of thousands could so easily vandalize and occupy the chambers of the Senate how vulnerable might we be to Russians and Chinese and Saudis and Iranians? We would have seen this first as a security failure.

George Floyd 2But we all know that the issue is not that our nation is vulnerable and lacking in security. What happened today is the result of white privilege. George Floyd died for attempting to pass a counterfeit bill. Do you think he would have been allowed to step onto federal property, scale a wall, smash a window, and gloat with his feet on the desk of the Speaker of the House? How far would a group of Black Lives Matter protesters have gotten today had they had the same intentions? How about a group of bearded men and burqa-clad American Muslims?

white dinner partyI admit, I have been slow to fully comprehend the issue of white privilege and structural racism. I have been as guilty as the next white person who looks at himself and says, “Couldn’t be. I almost always have good intentions.” But this year is teaching me something—I don’t have to be personally racist in order to participate in structural racism. I don’t have to demand privilege in order to be the recipient of privilege.

If I am wrong, please call me on it. But I just can’t seem to make sense of how a country with the mightiest military and security in the world could not protect its nation’s highest leaders from domestic criminals. I would love to find some other explanation. But increasingly I am having to accept that America’s great sin is racism and white privilege.

I just can’t picture it—thousands of black or Muslim or LGBTQ people somehow getting the upper hand against our nation’s mightiest security. I just can’t picture it—a black man sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk without a bullet in his chest. I just can’t picture it—Muslim men scaling the walls of the Capitol without machine-gun equipped helicopters closing in.

There is a lesson here. Either we are more vulnerable than we thought or we are more racist than we thought.

My friends, we have a lot of work to do.

Thank God for a God who doesn’t give up on us.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

Jesus and Fudge

Christmas, 1989.

SnowIt was the first Christmas after we had moved our young family from California to the Midwest during my first call. I have to admit that we were struggling. I grew up in the snow of Colorado, but I had never experienced a Wisconsin winter. For nineteen straight days, the thermometer didn’t register anything above zero. Yes, Zero degrees Fahrenheit–32 degrees below freezing! I like the cold, but, c’mon, that was ridiculous.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Finding our place in the community was much more difficult than we had expected. In the first five months of our time there, we celebrated four birthdays and one Thanksgiving alone. We had moved away from immediate family and did not realize how isolated we would feel in a new community in the first year of such a big transition.

As Christmas approached, a strange resentment began to settle over me. My dad has never been very timely when it comes to birthday and Christmas presents, but this year, as each day passed I felt the neglect more acutely. We had just recovered from a lonely Thanksgiving and now Christmas was starting to feel the same way.

Christmas eveChristmas Eve arrived and I was struggling to craft a Christmas Eve message. I wanted to do justice to the message of this sacred night and provide a hopeful, joy-filled, positive meditation for my flock. But as I thought about digging deep to make their Christmas special I was secretly pouting about how un-special ours was going to be.

I sat at the computer screen looking for words and inspiration. It just wasn’t coming. How could I write about joy and hope when I personally wasn’t feeling it? I have always prided myself on my authenticity from the pulpit, but authenticity on this night felt selfish and abusive. My personal struggles had no place in the pulpit on this Christmas Eve.

I sat there and dreaded having to force myself to write a message I couldn’t feel. It was 4 p.m. and my Christmas Eve message had to be ready in less than three hours. I was feeling in trouble.

Christmas giftsThen the doorbell rang. My three year-old son ran to the door and greeted a UPS driver holding a large box. It had Oregon tags on it. It had come from my dad and stepmom in Medford. We opened it and pulled numerous carefully wrapped presents from the box and doubled the gifts from under the tree.

But the box was not quite empty. At the bottom was a Tupperware container filled with fudge. I opened it and started to weep. The sweet, rich aroma transported me back to my childhood as I recalled my dad’s annual fudge-making tradition. My mom did pretty much all the cooking in our household, but dad made the chocolate walnut fudge.

chocolate fudgeHere we were 2,200 miles away from family and our Christmas traditions. But my dad had found a way to connect with us and erase the miles between us. Not only that but he had bridged the distance from my adulthood back to my childhood. He had replaced loneliness with connection and resentment with joy and anticipation. He brought a little slice of heaven to my earthly reality.

He saved me that first Christmas Eve.

Three hours later, as I stood before the congregation I told them how hard it been moving to a new part of the country. I told them how lonely we had been celebrating holidays and birthdays on our own. I told them how isolated we had felt and how hard it was to try to scrape up a joyful message for them when we were struggling to find that same joy ourselves.

And then I told them about the box of gifts from my dad who is almost never on time with gifts. I told them about the smiles and the glee on my children’s faces as they lifted each gift out of the box and placed them under the tree. I told them about the chocolate walnut fudge and the tears that ran down my face when I opened the package. I told them about the wave of memories and feelings that flooded back as I breathed in the sweet, rich aroma of my dad’s famous fudge. I told them how much I loved my dad.

Nativity sceneAnd then…

I told them a story about God and how a long time ago God bridged the distance between heaven and earth. I told them the story about a little baby who came just in time to a world that was hurting and down.

I told them my story.

I told them God’s story.

Then we sang Joy to the World.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

A Liturgy of Yearning

I have always enjoyed the rich contemplative tune of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel that most of our churches sing during Advent each year. But one year stands out for me above all others. I was serving as an interim pastor in Yachats in 2012. I had already completed the bulletin for that Third Sunday in Advent service. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel was already slated as the hymn to be sung after the sermon. All of my planning was complete with the exception of tidying up the last few edits to my sermon.

But I had not planned on everything. On Friday, a gunman showed up at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of six and seven. The remaining six adults killed were school teachers and staff.

Christmas bulletinPastors are always trying to respond to the spiritual needs of our members and I found that I had to find some way to attend to the shock and grief that our members and nation felt. I didn’t want to start over and craft a whole other service. But I wanted to make sure that the themes of Advent that I was planning didn’t feel out of sync with the emotions of the day.

A simple change in the service accomplished both—I was able to stick with the service I had planned and make room for the grief of that Sunday morning. As we sung O Come, O Come, Emmanuel a liturgist read the names of the victims between each verse, honoring six or seven at a time. I will admit it. It was tough. Many of us had a hard time vocalizing the words between our tears. It was both painful and healing. It allowed us to name our grief and express through song our yearning for Emmanuel, “God with us.”

We have not had a Sandy Hook experience this year, but the combined grief related to the deadly coronavirus, the increasingly awareness of how deeply racism permeates our society, the devastating wildfires in our presbytery and national anxiety over our political life give new meaning to the yearning for God’s presence that O Come, O Come, Emmanuel  points to.

Below are links for for a sung responsive liturgy based on the hymn that you can use in one of the two remaining Advent services. You might use it for a call to worship or prayer. Or you may just choose to find a quiet place to sit, join in the liturgy and reflect on the meaning of Advent this year.

Watch it here: YouTube Link

Download for your Advent service here: Link for File Download

Here is the printed version of the liturgy:

VERSE ONE:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

READING:
Answer our yearning, O God, Emmanuel.
We are a lonely and isolated people
Separated by our ego and by our sin,
Physically distanced by our love and concern for each other.
We want connection. We want to hold and to be held.
We want you be with us, O God, Emmanuel.

VERSE TWO:
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

READING:
Answer our yearning, O God, Emmanuel.
There is a heaviness among us, the weight of cascading crises.
We count deaths and with each one a thousand stories come to an end,
A lifetime of memories gets frozen in time.
We are ready to play again. We want to dance. We want to feel alive.
We want you to be with us, O God, Emmanuel.

VERSE THREE:
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

READING:
Answer our yearning, O God, Emmanuel.
Division, disunity and distrust are feeling too normal.
We compete rather than cooperate.
We lift ourselves up on the backs of others.
Our eyes betray suspicion and wariness.
We want to be one again. We want to love and enjoy our sisters and brothers.
We want the fabric of our lives to be whole again.
We want you to be with us, O God, Emmanuel.

VERSE ONE:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

The Baptismal Threshold

In 1988 I had the rare pleasure and experience of writing my own baptismal service. At the time, I was taking the Worship and Sacraments class in seminary. Baptismal theology and liturgies were a normal part of the course. I was also negotiating my way through the ordination process. In the course of that, the Candidates’ Committee (now referred to as the Committee on Preparation for Ministry) asked me to produce some record of the date and place of my baptism.

baptismI had always assumed I had been baptized since I had grown up from the age of seven in the Presbyterian Church. But the first few years of my life were chaotic as my mother had left our little family and my sister and I were moved around to relatives in three different states while my dad got his feet back on the ground. In the search for a baptismal record I could find nothing. I finally approached my dad and asked him about it. He mulled it over for a moment saying, “We must have had you baptized, but now that I think about it, I don’t recall where it might have been or when it was.”

Between my dad’s confession and the lack of record anywhere I finally assumed that my baptism had gotten overlooked. The committee needed some proof before I could proceed with the ordination process and I had none.

It was perfect timing!

I asked my seminary professor if my semester project could be writing my own baptismal service and submitting a paper describing all the elements of the service. He was delighted that my semester project would become as much experiential as academic.

conch shellI will never forget the experience. I employed some of the ancient liturgies and by the time the service ended everyone must have gotten a good education in the theological significance of baptism. Two rituals especially stood out. I used a conch shell for the application of the water. During the service Dr. Howard Rice recited, “In the name of the Father (pour), and of the Son (pour) and of the Holy Spirit (pour). I was drenched. Prepared for the moment, I then stripped my long sleeve dress shirt off and donned a large, over-sized, nearly see-through cotton shirt representing the “new garment of Christ.”

Baptism is largely about symbolically crossing a threshold as we “drown to our old life” and rise as new people in a covenant relationship with God through Christ.

For me that day represented the crossing of a threshold as the circumstances surrounding my baptism reminded me of a former chaotic life and also reminded me of the new life I had found in the community of the Church. By the time I was baptized I had already been in the church for two decades, been confirmed as a member, had a religion degree and was nearing seminary graduation. While the baptism itself did not signify a great threshold it did point to the threshold I had crossed nearly twenty years before as a child.

This is a strange time to write about baptism. One would think I could wait another few weeks for the actual “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday in January. But the word threshold has been crossing my mind for weeks.

crossing a thresholdIn the literature around “The Hero’s Journey” one of the early stages is the “Crossing of the Threshold.” In the Star Wars movies we clearly see this in the first episode, Star Wars: A New Hope, as Luke Skywalker is encouraged by Obi-Wan Kenobi to join the Resistance against the Death Star. But he feels obligated to help his uncle and aunt on their desert farm and refuses the call. Rushing back to the farm to make sure that his aunt and uncle are safe, he discovers that Storm Troopers have already been there leaving his elder relatives lifeless bodies in the sand. This is the threshold moment for Luke. He realizes that his former life is now gone. He feels he only has one choice—to join the resistance, to go forward.

I can’t help but think that we are at a threshold moment.

Months ago we might have wished to return to our church buildings and resume our normal routines and traditions. But even those who talk about a return like this are saying that things will be different. They don’t want to abandon the connections that they have made through online worship and prayer groups. Meetings that generally took laborious planning and trips across town are being rethought. Why fight traffic at night during the dinner hour when a quick Zoom call could just as easily handle the agenda?

The point is I am hearing less about returning to our former life and more about leaning into a new future. I hear a pull toward something new and uncertain rather than a hope for something tried and true and known.

That is what baptism is about. That is what the Hero’s Journey teaches us. There are points in our lives when there is no going back. There is only stepping by faith into a new future. There is only drowning to one way of life and rising to new way of life.

It’s happening to me. It’s happening to you.

Let’s do this together.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

Shift Happens

Something is happening. I am noticing it on my nearly daily walks.

Bicycle racerSome of you know, if you look far enough back in my history, that I am a trained athlete. When it comes to my body and setting ambitious physical goals I can be pretty disciplined. Three years ago I set my sights on climbing to Everest Base Camp on my bike and spent the four months prior to that mentally and physically preparing for the feat. I know how to push my body now for a future payoff.

That is why I know something is happening.

Typically, in the winter, when I can’t swim or get into the gym I walk. But my walks are meant to keep me in shape, keep the pounds off, and not lose too much physical conditioning over the rainy months in Oregon. In other words, I tend to push hard on my walks keeping up a pace that gives me confidence that I will be ready for the next physical feat when spring returns.

But something is happening.

Not too far into my walks these days (generally in the first mile) the push evaporates. A voice from inside calls out to me saying, “Slow it down, buddy! Contemplate, feel and breathe.” It seems to be saying, “Let the future come to you, Brian. Quit trying so hard.”

shiftI struggle when it happens. I am obsessive about getting my daily exercise. I want to get my heart rate up for a good aerobic workout. I want to feel like I am winning against the winter funk. I want to show that Oregon winters are not too great an obstacle to overcome for this trained athlete.

But my soul is crying out, “Slow it down. Let life come to you. Make room for God to show up.”

It reminds me of the preaching story about white missionaries on a trek in the Outback in Australia. Accompanied by Aboriginies, one day the white missionaries get up, prepare for another day of hiking and discover that their local companions are refusing to move. Frustrated that they can not get their companions to pack up and hike they finally ask the interpreter to find out what is wrong. The answer they get back is, “We have to let our souls catch up to us. We left them behind a day or two ago.”

WalkingI can feel this same dynamic at work in me on my walks. Nearly every day I start off my walk ready to conquer a certain number of miles and check off the accomplishment in my DayTimer. I am determined to keep my discipline to stay in shape, keep the weight off and maintain my conditioning over the winter. And nearly every day, something happens. An unknown force deep in my soul slams on the brakes and my race-like pace suddenly shifts into a slow, reflective meander. My soul demands attention and my body submits to this seemingly greater authority.

It’s a strange experience. My usual pace is a way of preparing me for a future I want and am willing to discipline myself to get there. This new pace is a way of allowing the future to come to me—no work, just receptivity. My usual pace reveals how much I like to be in charge. This new pace acknowledges someone else and something else is in charge.

I write this to you because I am hearing something similar among colleagues, church members, and family and friends. I am hearing in almost every meeting and conversation how people don’t have any more energy to try to hold onto a life they once took for granted. I keep hearing how people are feeling beaten into submission. It’s no longer about beating this thing, but about learning to live with it.

I hear in more ways than one that we are moving from seeing this time as an obstacle to overcome and more as a gift to accept. I think that’s what is happening on my walks. I start out with an intention to overcome this massive obstacle that has been thrown in my path and somewhere in the first mile my soul grabs my whole body and says, “Stop. Slow down. Receive this time as a gift.”

Interesting. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

What a year.

Sigh…

By Rev.  Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

Fragile and Fertile

“Fragile and Fertile”

Those are the words that keep showing up in my notes to churches as I end my greetings with something along the lines of “Know that my prayers are with you in this fragile and fertile time.”

butterfly-transformationThe combination is intentional. Over the years, I have discovered that my most transformative work has occurred when working with people and congregations who find themselves in a fragile position. At the same time, some of my most difficult work has come in working with people and congregations who say they want growth and transformation, but who are essentially comfortable with the status quo. Getting change when people are essentially comfortable, even when they say they want change, is almost impossible!

gardenI remember the annual tradition from my childhood when I first learned about the relationship between fragility and fertility. My dad was locally famous for his over-sized garden in our small suburban backyard plot. My dad grew up on a farm and even when we moved to a cookie cutter neighborhood, he was not able to part with the large garden that supported his family of ten as a child. That garden (that really was the envy of the neighbors) took up over a third of our backyard and was 900 square feet of corn, beans, radishes, lettuce, squash, kohlrabi, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beets, and strawberries.

But I dreaded the spring every year as I my dad drug me out of bed Saturday mornings to till the soil. Shovelful by shovelful we turned over that soil, broke it up and took what was a hard concrete-like bed of soil and turned it into a rich crumbly layer of earth ready act like a womb for waiting seeds. Only later did he learn that a rototiller was just as effective and took one-tenth of the time. But he didn’t discover that in time for me to enjoy lazy Saturday mornings in bed.

hard-soil

I remember to this day that lesson from the earth. Had we tried to plant seeds in the non-receptive hardened soil that emerged from winter snows very few of the seeds my dad threw out would have sprouted. It was only after loosening up the soil, breaking up the clods, and creating a fragile and fertile bed of soil did we have a garden where seeds would grow and sprout and produce. That rich culture of summer goodness only emerged after breaking up the culture of hardened soil.

Of course, this isn’t news to those of us who rely on the stories of the Bible to guide us. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 tells the same story. A farmer went out sow the annual seed. Some of the seed fell on hardened dirt (like the dirt in our garden every spring) and the birds quickly ate it. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, sprouted quickly but withered in the sun. Some of the seed fell among the thorns and was choked out. Some of the seed fell on soil that had been tilled and broken up and it produced a garden just like my dad’s garden! Rich and full and abundant!

We all know that this is a fragile time. But in the same breath I cannot help but add that this is also a fertile time. I am convinced that the two go together. It was the lesson that I learned as a child as I was forced into the backbreaking work of tilling the soil shovelful by shovelful every spring. It was the lesson I learned in working with juvenile delinquents many years ago—the more fragile they felt about their lives the more they were open to growth and change. It was the lesson I learned in congregations—fragility and fertility almost always go hand in hand.

Know that my prayers are with you in the fragile time.

And know that I will help you take advantage of this fertile moment.

It’s important that we don’t let a good crisis go to waste.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

No Matter Who the President Is…

It was an interesting week. Of course, this doesn’t need to be said. I am sure that everyone experienced it as interesting in their own unique way. It was interesting to me because I generally start working with a theme for my Holy Breadcrumbs blog on Friday with the intention of publishing it at 10:00 p.m. the following Wednesday. This week I chose no theme. I intentionally decided to wait to see what world awaited us after the presidential election.

Like all of us, I went to sleep on Tuesday night knowing that we would have to wait at least until the morning to know the outcome of the election. I woke up early, turned on the TV and pondered the reality that it might be days before a winner is projected and weeks before recounts and legal challenges run their course.

This is what I needed to know before I felt comfortable writing. Whatever message I had, I felt strongly that it had to be grounded in whatever reality we woke up to on Wednesday morning.

The message came to me quickly: No matter who emerges as the winner of this presidential election the church is still the church. The context may change, but our core essence remains the same. The issues we address may be unique, but the foundation from which we speak and act doesn’t shift.

I thought this was a good time to remind us of that foundation in the PCUSA—“The Great Ends of the Church.” For over a century we have referred back to these six great ends to remind us of who we are and what our mission is. They were originally adopted by the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1910 and found their way into our Book of Order in 1958. These Great Ends have endured through two World Wars, the 19th Amendment, a Modernist Controversy, the Great Depression, the fight for Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, terrorist attacks, and more recently what we are just calling 2020.

No matter who emerges as the winner of this presidential election the church is still the church.

I share our historic Great Ends with you along with some minor personal commentary.

The Great Ends of the Church:

  1. The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind. In other words, no matter who is president, we have a responsibility to proclaim a message that calls our nation and our world (humankind) to overcome the separation that exists between people and between people and God (salvation).
  2. The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. In other words, no matter who is president, we are called to bring the children of God (that is, all people!) into community where we shelter each other, nurture each other, and enjoy the gifts of connection and fellowship.
  3. The maintenance of divine worship. In other words, no matter who is president, we are called to show our gratitude for God and Life through sacramental acts, rituals that honor life’s rhythms, and expressions of joy and lament, wonder and awe.
  4. The preservation of the truth. In other words, no matter who is president, we have a responsibility to seek the truth, to protect the truth, to nurture the truth, to proclaim the truth, and to fight against anything that would distort the truth and present lies as truth.
  5. The promotion of social righteousness. In other words, no matter who is president, we have a responsibility to work for social justice, to advocate for equality between people, and to treat ALL people as God’s beloved children, siblings all of one human family.
  6. The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. In other words, no matter who the president is, we are called to embody the heavenly realm, practicing what we preach, and exhibiting the character of God through love, grace, forgiveness, mutual respect, peace and justice.

On the one hand, I found myself waiting until Wednesday morning to find out what our new reality was. But the fact of the matter is that the outcome of the election only gives us our context. It does not change our foundation or our core character.

Let’s do what we do.

Let’s be who we are.

The church is still the church no matter who the president is.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

A Pre-Election Prayer

Dear Readers,

I am usually one who has no shortage of words. I very rarely find myself in the position of wondering what I am going to write for my next blog. Routinely, I publish one blog on Thursday morning and the next blog begins to form in my head and heart by Friday. By the time I actually sit down to write the blog on Wednesday I have been mulling over the theme for five days. I think the rhythm of weekly preaching for over twenty years never left me.

This week it was different. I had written one blog that held a mirror up to us regarding our structural racism and bias in the church. But given the fact that this is the last blog you will see before the coming election, it just didn’t feel right (even though I felt like I had something important to say). The energy of the blog felt like it wasn’t in tune with the energy of our congregations and community in this particular moment. I wrestled and wrestled with what to say at this critical moment. Nothing felt right. In the end, I was forced to write what probably should have been my starting point in the first place. I had no words or message for you. All I had was a prayer.

Today, five days before the election this is my pre-election prayer. I offer it to you as my gift and my hope.

Dear God,

I seem to be coming to you with no words. I am not sure what I am asking for or what I should be asking for. At moments I feel completely stymied by the overwhelming series of events that continue to flood  our nation. The sheer scope of it leaves me paralyzed, unsure of which way to act and which crisis to attend to first. At times, O God, a helplessness so uncharacteristic of me seems to seep into my bones. I am not a person given in to inaction and complacency, but at moments, I feel like I am frozen in my tracks.

I have no words, God. I want to offer some hopeful message. I want to provide some wise analysis of this chaotic and uncertain time. I want to be able to make sense of it all for others, playing the role of the spiritual guide and soulful companion that I have become accustomed to. I want to say, “We’ve got this folks!  All we’ve got to do is work a little harder and hang on a little longer.” But I don’t know that. I no longer trust that the answer is just that we’ve got to work a little harder and hang on a little longer.

And so, O God, I have no words. All I have is my broken, fearful self reaching out to you in honest desperation. I wished I had more. I am used to coming to you with my well-laid out plans. I am used to asking you for guidance as I lay out my next set of goals. I am used to telling you what good I plan to do in the world and then asking for your blessing. I am not used to coming to you broken, paralyzed and at a loss for words. I am not used to having to rely solely on faith and trust.

I have no words, God. But I do have some hope. It’s not a hope based on a picture of a future I can see. It’s a hope rooted in the belief that there is an essential goodness to the world. I guess my hope is in you, you who sit there ready to listen when we are ready to show up.

I have no wise words for the world today. But, I do have a prayer.

  • I pray that you will give us what we need for the world that awaits us Wednesday morning.
  • I pray that no matter what happens in this election that we will not turn on each other.
  • I pray that the anger and rage of our recent history will find its way into paths of healing.
  • I pray that your justice will undergird our actions and our communities.
  • I pray that love will heal us and if we cannot love then we will at least set aside our hate.
  • I pray that you give us the strength to do the long, hard work of reconciliation.
  • I pray that this national nightmare that has divided our nation will finally end.
  • I pray that grace will win out over vengeance.
  • I pray that however we move through this pandemic that we will do it together.
  • I pray that hearts will be softened toward each other.
  • I pray that suspicion will no longer linger just behind our eyes.
  • I pray that we will care as much about what happens to our neighbor as we do about what happens to us.
  • I pray for an imagined world of unity and mutual care.
  • I pray for life to feel humane again.
  • I pray for things that only seem to show up in my dreams.

I pray that our grandchildren will be proud of how we handle this moment.

I really have no words today, O God.

I just have a prayer.

May that be enough.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades