Giving Up and Letting Go

I remember very distinctly the difference between hospice patients who “fought the good fight” and didn’t give in to death until it snatched them away and hospice patients who allowed death to come to them as a gift.

Over the years, I began to develop an understanding that there was a subtle difference between giving up and letting to. The funny thing is that from the outside the two look very similar. Both seem to acknowledge and give in to a force greater than ourselves. The difference lies not in the act, but in the attitude.

I also remember very distinctly the difference in the families of those patients who refused to give up and those who allowed themselves to let go. The grief was much harder in the former. Death was not to be spoken of in the presence of the beloved family member. All energy was directed toward propping up the patient, fighting the enemy, and holding death off as if it was an Olympic endurance race.

Classic Trust Exercise

The rooms where patients who seemed to hold an attitude of letting go, however, had an emotional softness to them. Families shared touching and funny stories with each other. They used the sacred opportunity to resolve any lingering resentments and reinforce their love for each other. The presence of death in the room was not easy, but once it was accepted it became that friend who got the family talking about sensitive subjects and provided the glue for a lovely life-ending intimacy.

I was thinking about this when I happened to run across a Facebook presentation that had been recorded in November, 2011 just a few weeks after I returned from a 4,000-mile cycling pilgrimage. In that presentation to the presbytery I had said, “I am convinced that history is going to look back on us as the ‘letting go people’ the letting go generation.” I had said that after being convinced during that pilgrimage that a world was passing away and that God was doing a new thing

I could have never imagined the strange and unsettling series of crises and events that we are now calling 2020—the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest, wildfires, and an election that has this country on edge. I am finding fewer people who seem to have the energy to “fight the good fight” and somehow come out as victors through sheer grit and determination. I also know that we Presbyterians are not inclined toward “giving up.” It’s just not in our spiritual and ecclesiastical DNA.

Victors and losers

I am convinced that the tone of the moment is telling us that the way forward is not going to be by hoping against hope that we beat this thing back. I am convinced that getting to the other side is going come as we “let go” of our expectations of how this all should end. I am convinced that our hope must be built on trust—that there is a goodness on the other side that we can’t yet see or possibly even imagine.

I have come to believe that giving up is a position of defeat and that letting go is a position of trust. Fighting the urge to give up assumes that we are in the center of our world. Allowing ourselves to let go assumes that God (or the greater forces of Life) are in the center. The former relies on our own resources; the latter relies on the resources of the One who initiated Life itself.

Our hope is not in the end, but in the journey getting there

I don’t know what our congregations are going to look like after we re-emerge from this pandemic.

I don’t know how radically different we will be when we finally come to terms with the structural racism in our churches.

I don’t know how the wildfires and our response to them will change our sense of connectionalism and mission.

I don’t know what kind of America awaits us on the other side of this election.

What I do know is that something beautiful happens when we “let go” and trust that a wisdom much wiser than us exists in the world.

What I do know is that when we accept the ending of one world the next world has a way of showing up in wonderful and surprising ways.

What I do know is that resisting the inevitable only puts it off and makes the journey more painful.

“In life and in death we belong to God,” begins the PCUSA Brief Statement of Faith.

I am convinced that we need to believe that as if our lives depended on it.

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

Second was my First

In 1989 I accepted my first pastoral call out of seminary. I loaded up my family, all of whom were Westerners, and headed to Racine, Wisconsin, where I was installed as the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, a church deeply influenced by Jan Hus, the renowned Czech theologian. The church had 178 members, a small church by the standards of that time and, therefore, appropriate for an inexperienced recent seminary grad like myself.

Czech theologian, Jan Hus

The ministry was short-lived as both they and we discovered that the West and the Midwest were culturally different and I was not up to the challenge. After nearly four years of ministry we all decided that the most healthy thing to do was to separate and allow our family to move back West and allow them to find a pastoral leader who was a better fit for them.

I largely lost touch with the people of Second church over the years. That is, until this past week, when I received a letter forwarded to me by one of the former members. I read the letter both with a tinge of sadness and a dose of pride and gratitude. The letter was written by the current pastor to the 47 remaining members of the congregation announcing that the church building had been sold.

Logo that I helped design for their 100th Anniversary and used for their 125th.

Obviously the decision to sell had already been made as the letter indicated that the sale had gone more quickly than expected. The letter was an invitation for members to show up at the church one last time, offer prayers of gratitude for the ministry at that site, take small mementos as physical reminders and offer one last goodbye.

But the church didn’t close!

The letter also indicated that the congregation would continue to meet virtually until they re-emerged from the pandemic. And then the pastor assured them that they would then decide where and how they would meet. The church building was sold, but the congregation would continue to thrive.

In an email exchange with Rachel Yates, Milwaukee Presbytery executive, she said that there are hopes that Second will pave the way toward re-imagining a new model of ministry. Because the congregation didn’t dissolve the proceeds from the sale of their building remain with the people of Second. Now, as they look to the future they don’t have a set building to return to, but they do have a sizable financial portfolio that will allow them to re-imagine ministry and re-invent themselves.

Second Presbyterian Church, Racine, WI

Ms. Yates said that the leadership of Second began to see the pandemic as an unexpected blessing. As the pandemic lingered on they realized that they didn’t have to have a building to be the church. They could still connect with each other. They could still engage in and commit to mission. They could still pray. They could continue to be faithful.

Ms. Yates added that already two of the congregations in their presbytery have traveled a similar path. Both of them sold their buildings and began worshipping in senior living centers where their members and the residents of the facilities both join for worship. The congregations continue with new people and in a new setting made possible by releasing themselves from the burden of their buildings.

I would imagine that those decisions have freed up thousands of dollars that no longer need to be dedicated to building maintenance and now can be used for a reimagined mission in the community. Buildings can be a great blessing for ministry. They can also, at some point, become more of a burden.

This is a tough time. It is tough for each of us personally and tough for our church communities. But this particular moment also gives us a rare opportunity—an unexpected blessing, as the people of Second say. Many of us are already continuing to do ministry without the benefit of a building. We don’t have to imagine what it might be like. We are already doing it.

This is the moment to ask the following the questions:

  • “Is our church building more of a burden or a blessing?”
  • “Does our building restrict us from being creative with mission or does it provide the foundation for creativity?”
  • “What will serve the mission of Jesus Christ most faithfully—the use of our building or the proceeds from the sale of the building?”
  • “Is the future of ministry in our community based on bringing people to our building or will it be based on us getting out into the community?”
  • “Are there other congregations ready to re-imagine their ministry in light of the pandemic with whom we could partner?”
  • “What are the unexpected blessings of this pandemic?”

As I said, I read the letter from Second Presbyterian Church with a tinge of sadness and a dose of pride and gratitude. The sadness was associated with the attachment that I know these people must still feel for the warm sanctuary, the organ and choir loft, the large lawn where brats and fresh corn were served at their annual picnic, and the symbol of God’s love on that particular block of Racine.

The warm, inviting and homey sanctuary

But I also felt a dose of pride and gratitude. Now that I am a presbytery executive, I know that the future of the Presbyterian Church will be built on the faithfulness of congregations who have the courage to let go of ministry as they have known it in order to be open to ministry as God might be shaping it. Second Presbyterian Church in Racine, Wisconsin is one of those courageous congregations.

To the faithful people of Second Presbyterian Church I personally say:

Thank you for trusting me as I awkwardly got my start in ministry over thirty years ago. And thank you for your faithfulness. You taught me a great deal about life and ministry in our short time together. I continue to learn from you. I continue to take pride in our shared faithfulness.

I believe that your story is not over yet. In fact, it might just be the beginning of a whole new chapter for you and for all of us.

Well done. I am proud to be associated with you. I am proud to be part of your story.

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

The Top Ten

Dear Readers,

I am on vacation this week cycling, reading, seeing great Oregon sites and visiting family. I definitely did not have the energy to write a whole blog ahead of my vacation. Who has that kind of energy these days! Self care has become a number one priority.

However, I did think an easy way to provide something would be by listing the Top Ten blog posts over the past 30 months that I have been writing. You can click on each one to see the actual blog. It might be interesting to see what people are reading and what is says about what’s important to us.

NUMBER 10 (306 views), Oh my, oh my, oh my…

NUMBER 9 (345 views), The Ministry Gig Economy

NUMBER 8 (433 views), What if…?

NUMBER 7 (558 views), When it is Friggin’ HARD

NUMBER 6 (786 views), A Letter Reflecting on the Methodist Decision

NUMBER 5 (965 views), The Prophetic Fork in the Road

NUMBER 4 (1227 views), Signing Off…

NUMBER 3 (1117 views), The Parable of Yachats

NUMBER 2 (1364 views), Putting the Protest Back in Protestant

NUMBER 1 (14,318 views), Dear Mr. President

You will hear from me when I get back–hopefully rested, refreshed and relaxed.

I hope this list provides a way to reflect on who we are and what is important to us as we negotiate our way into a vibrant and faithful future.

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

Teasing Out the Future

There was a strange and surprising silence after my blog, White Theology, last week. I had a few readers who enthusiastically thanked me for the succinct analysis of our growing awareness of structural racism in the church. I had one reader, a professor of philosophy, who was ready to go deeper into the issues. But there was no one who took issue with the blog. That surprised me. Generally, a blog that challenges our assumptions this deeply gets a fairly equal response from those who applaud my writing and those who are troubled or take issue with my writing.

The silence reminded me that maybe it is time to remind people why I write this blog. I have titled the blog Teasing Out the Future. That word “teasing” is important to me. When I write I am not naming the future. I am not dictating how you should think about the future. I am not even stating my own position in the hopes that I can drag you, the reader, into my world.

No. I really am teasing out the future. Part of the experience of teasing is that one is never quite sure exactly how the object of teasing will take the teasing itself. So much of teasing is testing the limits of a relationship. Sometimes teasing deepens and enhances the relationship; sometimes it exposes small cracks and vulnerabilities in the relationship. But it always points the way toward where one can go and where one cannot go. Teasing almost always points and narrows the way forward.

I write this because the strange silence on my last blog told me that I may have hit a raw nerve and that some people weren’t comfortable letting me know I had exposed a vulnerable spot. It makes me nervous when I write something that I think could be controversial and all I hear are positive affirmations. I am not interested in just getting affirmation. I am interested in teasing out the future of the church one conversation at a time. And part of teasing is discovering where the path ahead of us is clear and where there are obstacles.

The greatest compliment you can give me when I write is to be engaged. I am less concerned with agreement than I am with engagement. Tell me when I am right on. Tell me when I am full of BS. Tell me when I am seem to be on the right track. Tell me when my thinking has gone off the rails. Tell me when my teasing out the future is deepening our relationship and tell me when I am hitting a raw nerve and better back off. Tell me anything that is on your mind. Just don’t be silent.

One of my colleagues and a former co-moderator of the PCUSA, the Rev. Jan Edmiston, has a blog like me. She titles it “A Church for Starving Artists” and then under the title she writes, “Jan Edmiston writes things here.” I really like that simple description. It is very much in the same spirit as my writing.

When I write I am not making official statements on behalf of the presbytery or the PCUSA. I am not dictating how we should think. Like Jan, my blog is a place where “I write things.” I am writing as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission, but my writing is a way of starting the conversation, inserting some energy into our presbytery, and teasing out the future.

It is my belief that the future of the presbytery and our congregations is not going to emerge from a group of thinkers sitting around a conference table preparing a visionary blueprint. Rather, it is my belief that the vision is going to emerge by throwing out hundreds of seeds (weekly blogs) and seeing what sprouts where. It will come into focus, but it will be an organic process of seeing what grows and what remains fallow.

In some ways this approach is very Jewish. The Israelites are people of Jacob, that is, “one who wrestles with God.” Part of Torah study in the Jewish tradition is to wrestle with the text, wrestle with each other and wrestle with God. We Protestants are sometimes burdened with our “orthodoxy,” that is, getting it right. That can sometimes hamper our willingness to question, to challenge, and to push back. It can hamper our ability to grow.

My Holy Breadcrumbs blog posts are not rooted in orthodoxy or in trying to dictate my vision of the presbytery on the rest of you. My Holy Breadcrumbs blog posts are invitations to wrestle. They are conversation starters. They are meant to be catalysts for an emerging vision.

I write under the title of Holy Breadcrumbs as a way of saying, “We are building the future one conversation at a time.”

I will admit that I enjoy affirmation as much as the next person. But affirmation is not what I am going for. I am going for engagement. I am inviting you all to wrestle with me and wrestle with God.

So, in that spirit…

Affirm. Challenge. Agree. Disagree.

Just don’t remain silent.

This blog is for you. My feelings can’t be hurt.

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

White Theology

There was an underlying seriousness to it, but at the time it was almost tongue-in-cheek.

I am referring to an event during my first year in seminary—1986 at San Francisco Theological Seminary. My particular seminary class had more women than men and as we began taking Reformed Theology classes many of us, led by the women, started referring to the class as “European white male theology.” I remember at the time seeing their point, but having no interest in signing on as a rebel for the cause.

But I loved theology.

San Francisco Theological Seminary is part of the eight-member Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Twice a week I took the van over to Berkeley to take classes in theology at one of our sister seminaries. I dove into feminist theology and liberation theology. I took classes on the theology and philosophies of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I immersed myself in the theologies that developed post-Holocaust in both Christian and Jewish traditions. I surveyed process theology and theologies rooted in co-creation models.

As I graduated, I came away with one distinctly clear revelation—

  • All theology is contextual.
  • All theology is seen through the particular experience of those who write it.

I recalled that this past week as I watched a program referred to me from one of our congregation’s members. She has been trying to understand the issue of structural racism in the church. The one-hour program, White Savior: Racism in the American Church, reminded me of those early comments in seminary when we teasingly but seriously started referring to Reformed Theology as European white male theology.

The program (link here) highlighted how any theology that wanders from what we consider the norm gets a descriptor before it. Thus, theology written by women is not just theology, but it is feminist theology. Theology by and about the black female experience is womanist theology. Theology from base communities in Latin America is liberation theology. Theology by gay and lesbian persons is queer theology.

But theology that is written through a Western European male lens gets to just be called theology. We think of it as the norm. Any other theology is labeled as an alternative. Any other theology is read with the disclaimer “Demographic bias assumed.”

Only European white male theology doesn’t have to reveal its context or offer a disclaimer of cultural, gender, or socioeconomic bias. Only white theology gets a pass on having to reveal its European imperialistic colonizing patriarchal roots.

I know some who read this are going to feel an attack on their faith. I do not mean it that way. My only attack is on the ongoing assumption that we are the only people who don’t have to name the specific context of our theology.

We can no longer dismiss the theology of others by saying, “Well, it’s the feminist perspective or the black perspective or the marginalized perspective or the gay perspective or the new age perspective” without also admitting that ours is the privileged perspective. Our perspective has been shaped by generations of white privilege rooted in an assumption that an imperialistic colonizing patriarchal society mirrored an imperialistic colonizing patriarchal God.

Saying we have a white theology is not a put down. It’s a descriptor.

We are not the norm. But, we are the powerful and the privileged. And that is the context of white theology.

We don’t own theology.

We only own our European imperialistic colonizing patriarchal version of it.

If we require others to name the context of their theology then we have to do the same thing.

The future of America depends on it.

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

In Memory of Breonna Taylor and all who feel their lives don’t matter.

My Test of Faith

This is not an easy blog to write.

Every bone in my body rebels at telling you the decision that I made as wildfires sweep across our communities in Oregon. My pastoral character tells me that if ever there was a time that the presbytery needs me, it is now. Yet, I need to inform you that starting Friday I will be taking a week-long vacation. I will be gone until Monday, September 21 and there will be no Holy Breadcrumbs next week. It will be a true vacation—no emails, no phone calls, no writing.

Tuesday evening smoke

I had been waiting for the right moment for months. All of us on staff essentially postponed our vacations in recent months as we responded to the sudden crisis that the coronavirus placed upon us. The complete shift of how we worship and connect was followed by civil unrest over the murder of George Floyd and the sorting out in our churches about our unconscious involvement.

I don’t mean this as a complaint. It is just a fact. But I only took two vacation days in the first eight months of the year. Since early August I have been encouraging staff as well as myself to finally take the vacation that we had put off. Many of us have been showing the strain of long sustained crisis management.

In the last four weeks I have made socially distanced travel plans, reserved rooms, bought new outdoor equipment, and carved this time out feeling that I could sneak a break in between crises.

And then 2020 just revealed her ugly character again. Just two days before well-deserved travel plans the state of Oregon erupts in what the governor is calling “an historic level disaster.” Most pastors are wired for such moments as this. We pride ourselves on walking with people and communities in their most critical moments—births, weddings, funerals, hospitalizations and community tragedies. Days off don’t mean a thing when a family or a congregation is in crisis.

Smoke outside apartment in Clackamas County
on Wednesday

Which is why my decision this week both feels right and eats away at me. I am taking my vacation anyway. I need this. Our staff needs me to do this. I believe the presbytery needs me to do this.

But I titled this blog post “My Test of Faith” because in recent months an insightful friend has challenged me to look at a subtle arrogance that may be permeating my character. Quite honestly, it has been hard to hear this. I certainly don’t consider myself an arrogant person. I think I tend toward modesty and humility. But he has a point. In the midst of all these crises he asked recently, “Why do you think you are so important that you can’t take time off? What role does God play in all this?”

Ouch! I didn’t like hearing that even as I realized he had a point. I couldn’t even stutter my way to a good answer. The fact of the matter is that subconsciously I believe that if I don’t do something, nobody will, not even God!

So this next week is a test of my faith. Every pastoral bone in my body says that I should abandon my vacation plans and be present to the presbytery in this time. But my soul knows better. My body knows better. It’s been a long stretch of hyper vigilance and nearly 24/7 crisis management. It is time for a break. It is time to refresh my soul.

But more importantly it is time to trust my staff.

It is time to trust you.

It is time to trust God.

It is time to admit that I am not indispensable.

Know that my prayers are with you in this time.

Know that I believe that between you and God “You’ve got this!”

At least that is what I am working on. That is my little test of faith.

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

Lightening the Load

The date: August 26, 2011

Hwy 50I was 145 miles into the Loneliest Road in America—Highway 50 that crosses the Nevada desert from east to west. I still had 352 miles of cycling to go. I woke up in Ely, Nevada to my usual routine of getting a full breakfast of orange juice, coffee, eggs, bacon, and a pile of pancakes. I was prepared for the next leg of the journey. But I was worried. After two days of cycling in the desert with fifty pounds of gear after seven weeks and 2,500 miles behind me, I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to push my body and my soul across the desert in 102 degree heat. The ride had become more brutal work than adventurous fun.

I finished my breakfast, went back to my motel room and, rather than pull my gear together, got out the map. “Could I finish the last 1,500 miles without the use of camping gear? Could I send my sleeping bag, pad, tent and cooking gear home, lighten my load, and make the trip much more enjoyable?”

DesertIt was a risk. Once I emerged from the desert there were enough towns where I felt confident that there would be motels, fellow cyclists, kind Presbyterians and friends to rely on for nightly shelter. The risk was the desert. With services only every 65-90 miles the lighter load would make it easier to bridge those difficult distances. On the other hand, if I didn’t make it I would have no gear to rely on if I found myself forced to bed down for the night with no bedding. The thought of spending the night on the sand as the desert turned cold was frightening at best.

It was one of the best decisions of the trip. As the cycling became more daunting it wasn’t pushing harder and digging deeper that saved me; it was lightening my load.

Bike on hwy 50The image of that day keeps coming back to me as I ponder how to negotiate my way through the overwhelming series of events of recent months. I feel like I am crossing a metaphorical desert once again. That same feeling of realizing that just pushing harder isn’t going to be the answer that eventually saves me. I don’t think I can dig deeper. It’s not about being able to carry a heavier load but being willing to give myself grace and lighten the load.

And lightening my load is what I am trying to do. My body and soul are refusing to take more on, work longer and later, cram more into my day, and attempt to get to the other side of this by sheer will, grit and determination. Rather, I am attempting to lighten my load, let go of that which is not essential, and trust that what does not get done apparently wasn’t important in the first place.

It’s time for more grace and less push.

rummage salePhyllis Tickle reminded us in The Great Emergence that the church seems to goes through a massive ecclesiastical rummage sale every 500 years. Many of us have been consulting and preaching that theme for years encouraging churches and judicatories to let go of that which has outlived its usefulness. Like old shoes and outdated outfits the church every few centuries needs to do a major closet cleaning.

It feels to me that we have moved from the rummage sale that we SHOULD do to the rummage sale that we MUST do. It’s no longer one possible option among many, but an essential act that our ecclesiastical lives may depend on. If we do not lighten our loads, we run the risk of being crushed by the weight of and the barrage of competing crises.

ASUS 4 282On August 26, 2011 (I remember the exact day!) I faced a choice in the Nevada desert—either continue to pound my body and soul into the ground as I attempted to cross the desert with fifty pounds of gear or lighten my load and make the adventure fun again.

The next morning, twenty pounds of gear lighter, I nearly danced across the desert. I was having fun again.

  • What weight are you carrying that you need to let go of now?
  • What responsibilities now feel optional and are better reserved for another time?
  • What physical possessions support your emotional and spiritual health? Which ones are weighing you down and holding you back?
  • What do you need to do in order to dance through this time?

Lighten the load.

Let’s find a way to dance across this wilderness.

2-Wheeled Goodness

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

It started with a wagon of summer goodness and turned into two-wheeled goodness.

Goodness 1At the Portland Farmer’s Market last Saturday a friend and I walked past a young family with a little square wagon full of fresh strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. Images are powerful things and I was immediately struck by how much goodness was packed into that small wagon. I doubled back and asked the family, “Any chance I could take a picture of your farmer’s market goodies?” The family happily obliged and I moved on.

But later that day I did something unusual. I stopped numerous times during a bike ride to take pictures of simple goodness. This is unusual because once I get on my bike I rarely stop. I enjoy the rhythm of my legs moving and the wind blowing across my body so much that I have been known to ride right past the perfect picture moment. I hate stopping for anything on my bike.

But this day was different. I had to stop. I had to capture some of the simple goodness that I encountered on my two-wheeled adventure through Portland.

Last week I wrote about what we do “When it is Friggin’ HARD.” It seemed to strike a chord for many as the hits on my blog suddenly jumped by 400%. By Saturday my body and soul demanded that I somehow see or insert some goodness into my day. The little wagon full of produce started it and the theme carried its way through the day.

Goodness 4 (2)Below are just a few of the pictures that I took along my urban two-wheeled adventure. Most of the pictures were simple still shots. But the shot of the orange skeleton at the homeless encampment has a deeper story. I rode past the skeleton and immediately wanted to snap a shot of it. But I also didn’t want to invade the privacy of those who were encamped here. While it was on public property it was also home for the two shirtless men who were seated there. I was struck by the small simple gestures that they had made to turn their little grassy from a homeless camp into a home.

I rode back and pulled up close to the skeleton. “Any chance I could give you five dollars to take a picture of this skeleton?” “Sure thing,” the younger man said, “Go ahead.” He didn’t seem to care about the five dollars. I repeated, “Here, I am glad to pay you for letting me take the picture.” The man sauntered over and accepted the bill with a quick but authentic nod of thanks.

It was clear that he didn’t expect the payment. But I needed it. I needed to feel that I was putting some kindness and generosity into the world. So much of my time has been focused on responding to crisis, fighting the urge to step into the public square with an “eye for an eye” type of engagement, and grieving over the loss of civility in our culture. I needed to do something small, something kind, something generous, just to restore my own faith in myself.

It was interesting after this encounter that I rode by at least another fifty homeless camps. While many of them were trashy and painful to witness I saw many where attempts were made to create some goodness, even a home, on a few square feet of dirt. One tent had a large American flag neatly draped over the entrance like a curtain. Another set of three camps were spotless with a trashcan nearby and three chairs sitting out front as if they were front porches. My favorite was the camp where a young man was grilling fresh tomatoes outside his tent and behind him was a pot of flowers. Not all that different from the decks that many of us have with a propane grill and potted flowers on the railing.

Yes, this is a hard time. But if we stop for moment and notice, we will see goodness. It hasn’t completely gone away.

Take the 2-wheeled goodness tour with me:

Goodness 2
Best English cucumbers at Salmon Creek Farms

Goodness 6
Cartlandia Food Court on the Springwater Corridor

Goodness 8
Yes, I even stopped to smell the roses!

Goodness 10
A good reminder even if the image stumps me.

Goodness 11
A free library amid a front yard garden in SE Portland

Goodness 13
A street closure for restaurant seating and physically distanced community gathering.

When it is Friggin’ HARD

It started last week with one email where a presbytery leader acknowledged, “Things have just gotten HARD,” emphasizing the word hard with capital letters.

GMC
May she rest in peace!

 

The email came the same morning I woke from a strange dream. Some of you may remember that my car was stolen from the presbytery parking lot last October. Last week I had a dream that another car, similar to the one from before, had gotten stolen, again from the presbytery parking lot. What was interesting about the dream was not the shocking violation, but how I responded to it. In the dream, as I told the staff about the event, I shared it as if it was just another routine matter to attend to. It was “another day at the office” kind of response. What was troubling about the dream was not the loss of the car, but my emotional detachment from the loss.

Dreams can be telling and this one had a message for me. I was showing signs of emotionally shutting down as way to cope with the onslaught of crisis and change. Apparently, attachment to our reality was too painful and the dream told me that I was starting to detach.

I would have just shared this with my therapist except for the fact that ever since then I keep seeing signs that what I am experiencing is more universal. It’s not just me.

bend pandemicThe day after the “HARD” email and the dream of detachment staff forwarded me an email that the Rev. Morgan Schmidt at Bend, First wrote on their Pandemic Partners Facebook page. In her post, she cited that her community had clearly reached the stage of disillusionment that is normal when facing crises. She named what everyone was feeling, writing:

We are tired.

We were ready for this to be over months ago, but our numbers are just getting worse, and we are frustrated that our leaders aren’t responding in cohesive, thoughtful, common-sense ways.

We are lonely. And even when we have social interactions, we find ourselves more awkward than ever.

We are angry. Just all-the-time-low-grade-simmering-angry. Heaven help the next person who looks at us the wrong way.

We are at a loss – about finances. About school this fall. About the deep ruptures and polarizations that are fracturing our society.

HARD, detachment, and disillusionment.

But it didn’t end there.

ContemplationThe very next day I opened a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that reported that 11% of Americans had serious thoughts of suicide in June. That is double what it was last year at this time. Even more troubling was the fact that symptoms of depression had quadrupled and anxiety symptoms had tripled in that same period.

Clearly a pattern was developing. The original “HARD” email was showing its face in a dozen little ways.

But it didn’t stop there.

Shameless PromoThe Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber shared her most recent prayer with us in her blog where she confessed to God, “It’s my turn to be depressed-as-hell, my turn to be afraid…my turn to be angry.” Then she prayed that God would give her the gift of being a non-anxious presence.

HARD, detachment, disillusionment, suicidal ideation, and depressed-as-hell.

These were the words that kept showing up in my dreams and in my email this past week.

I thought, “It’s time to be honest with ourselves.” Almost on cue, I received two more messages that confirmed what I was feeling. I opened an email from a colleague that included a link to a TED talk about the mental health benefits of telling our stories and being vulnerable to each other. The presenter, writer Laurel Braitman, was making the case for the healing power of sharing our stories.

ryan althaus
The Rev. Ryan Althaus of Sweaty Sheep

If that wasn’t enough to convince me that the way through this time was to become more honest, more vulnerable and more open to the HARDness, detachment, disillusionment and depressed-as-hell mood of this time a Presbyterian News Service article closed the deal. The article highlighted the story of the Rev. Ryan Althaus, the founder and director of Sweaty Sheep, a ministry built around recreation in Santa Cruz, CA. Ryan shared his own struggles with mental illness, his admission to a psychiatric hospital and his reminder that surviving HARD stuff is not best done by detaching or erecting psychological fortresses, but by being honest and vulnerable about how friggin’ hard it can be sometimes.

If the 11% suicide statistic is true that means about 1,475 of our members in Cascades Presbytery are having a really hard time and may be suffering in silence. That means that for every nine people you know at least one of them is struggling mightily and has thought about suicide in recent weeks. And if 11% of us have thought about suicide then most of the rest of us are having a really HARD time, starting to detach, feeling disillusioned, and may be depressed-as-hell.

Today is just a reminder…that we aren’t going to get through this time by saying, “I’m fine,” when actually we are dying inside and crying out for divine relief.

Today is just a reminder…that there is a lot of silent suffering around us and it is important to be sensitive to and aware of the pain that is there, but unspoken.

Today is just a reminder…that if you are feeling hopeless, there’s a good chance your friends and your neighbors are also feeling hopeless. Take the risk to share how friggin’ hard it is and give your friend a chance to lean on you just as you lean on her.

Today is just reminder…that the more we hide behind protective facades the more unbearable the pain is and the more we feel alone in the world.

Today is just a reminder…that Jesus didn’t hide from pain, but carried his cross all the way to resurrection and new life.

It’s a tough way to get there. In fact, it might even be HARD at times.

You are not alone.

We will do this together.

Don’t suffer in silence.

Let us help you. Let us help each other.

We need each other. We can’t do this alone.

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

“Wherever you are…”

“Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Those are words spoken by many churches at the beginning of worship as they communicate an inclusive welcome to a diversity of people. No one ever dreamed that “wherever you are” would actually mean people from all over the map. Generally, I think it means “wherever you are on the journey of faith.”

mapBut, increasingly I am hearing from pastors that online worship is now including extended families and friends from around the country and world. Long-time members have invited their parents, their children, their siblings and their friends to join them in worship. It has allowed loved ones who are separated by distance to make worship a family affair again.

This was not possible five months ago. It used to be a rare occasion where a member introduced their family to the congregation saying, “I am pleased to have my children and grandchildren visiting me from Virginia this week.” Now pastors are saying, “We welcome Scott from Florida, MaryAnn from Montana, Maya from Minnesota, and Surgit from Indiana.”

Actual location and geography matter less in an online world. The distance from home to church is as close as a Zoom link. Miles have no impact.

Zoom screenAnother sign that online connection is changing worship planning is seen in the number of churches who cancel their own worship altogether when their pastors are on vacation. Why pay a supply pastor to fill in and produce online worship when one can more easily just send out a Zoom link giving access to another congregation’s worship. Pulpit supply pastors allowed for congregations to worship in their own building while their own pastor was on vacation. Now, simply providing a link to another congregation’s worship effectively replaces the need for pulpit supply in some congregations.

It brings up the question just how important is location and geography in carrying out the mission of the Church. We have tended to start with the assumption that we are serving a particular location or region. When we built churches we assessed the needs of the people who lived in a certain area. But is the gift of this time to remind us to focus first on our essential mission and secondarily on whether our mission is limited to a location.

E-LearningThe church can be many things to people and not all of those things necessarily have to be limited to a certain location or region. A church can focus on being a learning community. There are many learning communities that are primarily online and then offer annual retreats for in-person learning and connection. A church can focus on being a serving community. Millenials will tell us that one does not have to be in proximity to others in order to commit to causes and to service. Many serving communities (non-profits) share a sense of mission, but participants and supporters are scattered throughout the country.

Where it gets more tricky for us in being a worshiping community and a caring community. Certainly there are ways to worship where we don’t have to be physically present to each other, but is something lost in translation. Certainly we can find ways to care for each other across the internet and through the mail, but will it ever replace being able to hold the hand of a dear friend and pray with her at the hospital bedside?

group on beachI don’t think that what we are discovering in this time means that we will completely go from in-person connections to virtual communities. I don’t think that this time will result in the complete suspension of our in-person communities in favor of online connections. But I do think that this time allows us to assess what parts of our ministry are best done in one location and with people of a certain area and which parts of our ministry are not location-dependent and can therefore reach people across the country and the globe.

Does this new time allow us to become modern missionaries bringing the gospel of good news, justice and peace, and liberation and redemption to the world beyond our geographical location?

All of this reminded me to return to the Great Ends of the Church found in our Book of Order (F-1.0304). Read through the six Great Ends of the Church and ask one simple question, “Is this Great End location-dependent or, given our access to a virtual world, an opportunity to reach formerly unreachable people?”

I leave you with the six Great Ends and that simple question applied to each one:

(1) the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;

(2) the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

(3) the maintenance of divine worship;

(4) the preservation of the truth;

(5) the promotion of social righteousness; and

(6) the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.globe

“Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

We will always hear those words differently now.

Wherever really does mean wherever.

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