The Parable of Yachats

Yachats windowsOnce upon a time there was a little village on the coast of Oregon—a favorite tourist destination in the summer and a sleepy little hamlet of 700 in the winter. Many people say that Yachats is a magical little place and it appears that that magic has once again shown its face. Yachats is the home to the “church with the agate windows” also known as Yachats Community Presbyterian Church.

It seems that the church has caught the magic of Yachats or maybe Yachats has caught the magic of the church—I am not quite sure which way it goes.

What the town calls magic the Bible calls faith. In this case, it is the faith that is expressed in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). The Yachats version of this parable goes like this:

A church positioned just a couple hundred yards above the crashing waves of the Pacific had a few assets they had saved over the years. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to run a church year to year, support a number of community programs, and provide a place for theological reflection and musical nourishment.

risksThen one day they felt called by a higher voice to take some risks and do more and be more. They felt a need to respond to the call of faithfulness more than the need to be prudent and safe. They felt a call to respond to the increasing needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They didn’t have a lot, but they had something. So they challenged the community, they invited the community to join them in providing relief to  the people of a tourist economy that was taking a hard beating.

They invested, just like the parable of the talents reminds us, in the community knowing that their sacrificial gift might result in the death of the congregation. They invested $15,000 for displaced workers and small business. They asked and they prayed that the community might match their gifts—maybe even double the impact they were hoping for.

This is where the magic comes in. This is where what the Bible calls faith becomes real. Not only did the community match their gifts, but the original $15,000 investment has produced nearly $150,000 in total donations to provide relief for those affected by the coronavirus. Remember, that this is a village of just 700 people! That’s an average of more than $200 per person. That’s faith! That’s magic!

Of course, I am only telling you part of the story. They have provided financial relief to 250 displaced workers and 15 businesses so far. They have funded for two weeks a program at the Moose Lodge that feeds 100 people daily. They have stepped up funding for a program that feeds immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

And, did I mention that their offerings have also gone up in the church? Yes, isn’t that interesting?

Yachats churchSays the Rev. Bob Barrett when asked to reflect on this, “The feeling of the council had been, ‘We are a resurrection people. We risk death and trust that new life is possible on the other side.’ Giving begets giving. People want to invest in something that is making a difference and changing lives.”

Magical and faithful.

But the story continues. The presbytery has taken notice of all the places in our churches where a generosity of spirit and faithfulness seems to be taking root and changing the cultures of those congregations. There are dozens of stories in the presbytery where such magic and faithfulness is taking place.

The presbytery wants to honor that and continue seeing the parable of the talents, the parable of Yachats take root in our congregations. Giving begets giving. Generosity has a way of catching on like wildfire.

make a changeNext week every church in this presbytery will receive $1,000 to experiment with their own version of the parable of the talents. Take a risk. Invest it in something that changes lives. Invite the community to join you on this journey.

In fact, take the presbytery gift and ask your Session to double it and then ask your ecumenical partners to double it again and then ask your community to match what the faith community has invested. Take our $1,000 and find a way to leverage it so that $1,000 becomes $10,000. Practice the parable of the talents. Give God a shot.

Once upon a time, there was a little village on the coast of Oregon…

Believe in the magic.

Believe in the power of faith.

Believe that God loves nothing  more than a good story.

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

In Loss and In New Life

The staff of the Presbytery encouraged me to reprint the prayer that Paul, Clark and I recited for our Holy Week message to the 96 Presbyterian churches and three fellowships of the Presbytery.

PrayingI wrote the prayer when I was invited to be one of 180 leaders around the country to provide a prayer in preparation for our 224th General Assembly which was to be held in Baltimore this June. At this writing it appears that we definitely won’t be meeting in Baltimore, may be trying to hold a national meeting of nearly 600 commissioners by Zoom, or will just postpone the whole meeting until later.

When the coronavirus pandemic and Holy Week came crashing together I realized that the prayer was really written for this moment even though I had another time frame in my mind.

In the church we often call ourselves Easter people recognizing that, in one form or another, every Sunday is a living witness to the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ, captured in the narrative of his resurrection. But ever since I worked for hospice I have decided that I am more of a “death and resurrection” person. I rarely talk about Easter without first mentioning its prelude, Good Friday.

Bible Makes SenseWalter Brueggemann speaks of this as Christians’ primal narrative. He reminds us in his book The Bible Makes Sense that the two stories that form the central core of our faith are the stories of the Exodus and Jesus’ final days. I love the pithy way he captures this as he boils down the whole of scripture as emanating from two essential spiritually formative events–exile and freedom and death and resurrection.

We Americans can sometimes be funny and shallow people. If we had our way we would just take the freedom and resurrection and leave the exile and death for other poor souls to contend with. If we could we would figure out how to manufacture eternal spring and summer and find a way to skip over fall and winter. We would create a chocolate cheesecake that had all the richness and sweetness without the calories!

I do appreciate the weekly reminder among church folks that we are “Easter people.” But hospice changed me. I decided after working with people who were facing loss and death that Easter without Good Friday was like eating cotton candy–all sugar and sweetness and no substance. Resurrection divorced from death was like reconciling with a long lost relative without ever experiencing the brokenness. Reconciliation means nothing if brokenness doesn’t precede it.

Easter cross
An Easter cross breaking into a lonely Easter Sunday!

I wrote this prayer because I believe that the church is primed for an historic transformation. I believe that new life, new possibility and new beginnings are aching to burst through our religious structures. I believe that institutional resurrection is somewhere in our near future. I also believe that Good Friday is pointing the way. I believe that new life can only come from the gifts that emerge from loss and death.

My leadership is based on this prayer. I offer it to you as a gift in this time. I offer it to you as a promise–that I will walk with our churches and our community both in loss and new life. For me, there is little distinction between the two.

GF prayer

When Holy Week is longer than 7 days

This blog will arrive on the morning of Maundy Thursday as we enter the holiest and most sobering time of the Christian calendar. This week is when Christians re-enact Jesus’ final days—the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), his betrayal on Maundy Thursday, his crucifixion on Good Friday, the hopelessness of Holy Saturday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. This story is the root of Christian faith and life.

paper smileThe story itself is important, but more importantly is the life to which it points. This year, like very few other years before it Good Friday and Easter are playing their way out in our very lives. All of us are experiencing the anxiety, suffering and loss of Good Friday. All of us are waiting for an Easter to save us from this heavy and uncertain time.

I personally am experiencing it. Since my heart attack in January, I have been concentrating on minimizing the stress in my life. Only one-third of the way through my cardiac rehab the pandemic has forced me to kick into a higher gear and my rehab has been suspended as a “non-essential service”. Talk about bad timing.

salon seatsIt’s impacted my family too. My second child has been working toward becoming a full-time hairstylist for two years. On March 15 they (formerly “she”) reached that goal and quit their second job. Four days later the salon closed due to “stay-at-home” policies. My adult child went from two jobs to no job in a short four-day period. Again, the timing could not have been worse.

This is how the themes of Good Friday are playing out just in my family. I know that if this is true for me it is also true for you. I know there are thousands more stories just like this with only the names and a few minor details changed. There is no good time for a pandemic to hit, and no one is escape its impact one way or another.

Good Friday is not just a religious holiday this year.

We are going to be living with loss and death for weeks, if not months. We are in an extended season of Good Friday. This is our reality right now. The good news of Holy Week is that Good Friday is not the final chapter of life’s narrative, but just the prelude to new opportunities, to new possibility and to resurrection life. Yes, it is a particularly painful chapter to have to endure and negotiate our way through, but it is not the end of the story. Easter is God’s spectacular finale.

family board gamesEven now, we see signs of Easter. People are going out of their way to help and support their neighbors. Pollution in major cities has virtually disappeared. Resistance to trying new ways of connecting have suddenly dissolved away. Families are realizing that this imposed isolation has become a gift as they have pulled out the board games and baked cookies together. Old friends have found reason to reconnect and re-establish friendships. People have discovered a depth of character formerly hidden. Faith is no longer just a religious word, but a lived experience.

The reality is that we are probably going to experience more Good Friday than Easter for the foreseeable future. If medical scientists are correct, the worst is upon us and still ahead of us. The loss of life and the emotional, financial and spiritual toll will be great. At the same time, we know that Easter will show up in the midst of this.

That is our belief. That is our story. That is our lived reality.

It is Holy Week. But this year Holy Week isn’t just playing out in our churches. It’s playing out in our families, our communities, our nation and our world.

Remember, Good Friday and Easter are two chapters of the same story.

We will survive this.Easter lily

Ultimately, we will thrive because of it.

Lean on each other.

Trust.

Love.

Have courage.

Pray and breath.

Easter will come, I promise!

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

From Scout to Companion

I am going to admit that this has been a dizzying week. It has been a busy week. A full week. A non-stop week. But, honestly that is not what made it dizzying. What made it dizzying was the speed at which I felt like I was being called to be something different, to change my assumptions and expectations, and to be satisfied with less of one thing, more of another, and all of it different.

DizzyingI am stunned by how many times just in the last two weeks I thought I had adjusted to our new reality only to discover that my adjustment was only a 24 or 48-hour holdover. The depth of this crisis is washing over me in waves. Just when I think I have my balance another wave knocks me to my feet and I have to right myself all over again.

All of this is a preamble to let you know that the assumptions under which I was playing when I accepted this position have been swept away by this ghost enemy we call the coronavirus pandemic. For two and a half years I have largely been playing the scout. I have been going out ahead of you exploring the landscape of an emerging and changing world. I have been flitting back and forth from some place up the trail bringing back nuggets of wisdom and stories from the road. I have been teasing you with images of a future vision knowing that no community willingly walks into the unknown without at least a taste of the future feast.

ASUS 4 204But this pandemic has changed that. It has changed the rules. It has erased assumptions. It has shattered expectations. Now I can say, “I don’t want to be too far up the road. I want to be with you. I want to be with you in the trenches of this struggle.”

In fact, I really can’t be too far up the road because at this point I am not even sure what road I am supposed to be on. But I do know I am supposed to be with you. I do know that this moment calls us to walk together. I do know that the future will come soon enough and we can resume our dreaming, our visioning, and our future planning.

I have spent these past two weeks punishing myself with the question, “What does it mean to lead in this strange new time? What does leadership look like when our reality is shattered?” I have come to conclusion that, at least for the moment, leading isn’t about being out ahead and inviting you to a new future. Leading is about walking alongside.

Four weeks ago I was a scout. Today, and for the foreseeable future, I am a companion.

We are going to do this together.

There will be time for future dreaming soon enough.

Right now we need to hold each other…and keep our distance. Isn’t that the irony.

There is no easy way through this.

But together our burden will be lighter and, I believe, our future will be brighter.

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

13,000 Reasons

I have not written for three days. On the one hand, I had so much that could be said. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure what I should say. My blog “Dear Mr. President” that I published Wednesday was as close to a viral blog as I have ever written. As I sit here now the views have just climbed over the 13,000 mark and the shares have exceeded 400.

write ideasI have not written for three days because I just wasn’t sure what to make of the outpouring of responses to my blog. What did this mean for me and my particular voice in the community? What does it mean for the Presbytery of the Cascades, the umbrella under which I write? If this many people are taking seriously a “church guy” who steps into the political fray what does this tell us about the needs of our community?

On the one hand, I am inclined to follow this energy and see where our collective voice is taking us. There is energy here–let’s follow it! On the other hand, I don’t want to take the presbytery a direction that they are uncomfortable going. I am not the pope; I am just a hired hand in an executive role.

roller coasterI haven’t written for three days because it took me the full 72 hours to come to some initial clarity. It was quite a roller coaster getting there, but I think I know what this means for me. I think I know what it means for the presbytery. We have reached a pivotal moment, a threshold moment, a time to shift focus. In many ways this represents a return to a voice that I had before I took this position thirty months ago.

In 2014, I began writing under the blog title “Pedal Pilgrim.” I was serving in interim positions in our presbytery while also nurturing a community of people whose spirituality was largely built around themes of pilgrimage, journey and religious mysticism. I have had a deep sense for over two decades that the Christian tradition is experiencing a monumental shift in identity and practice. Over the last few years I had been attempting to balance serving the church, as it is, even as I have been attempting to tease out the church, as it may become. It has been a tricky balancing act at times!

ASUS 4 282
Entering the Nevada desert, 2011

Over a three-year period under my Pedal Pilgrim title, I developed a following that appeared to be about half church-going Christians and half some combination of spiritual but not religious, agnostic and humanistic people. It was a wonderful period as I learned and developed a spiritual language shared by all of my followers as I sought to bring them together in one community.

 

In November 2017, I accepted this position as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission with a call to bring my experience right into the center of the institutional church. Immediately, it felt as if my voice needed to change. The tone and language that had been so successful under my title “Pedal Pilgrim” would have likely shocked many in our presbytery. It would have been too much too fast. I didn’t want to lose people before I even had them. I abandoned my former blog and began blogging under this new title, “Holy Breadcrumbs.” Of course, it was a shock to my former followers. “Where did you go? It was as if you suddenly disappeared?” were common refrains. It was true. I had suddenly disappeared.

rainbow handWhere I went was that I knew I had shifted from speaking to a community made up of progressive-minded Christians and spiritually inclined humanists to a community that was exclusively Presbyterian. I have always been a person who has believed that transformation and spiritual growth happens when you start where people are at. My Pedal Pilgrim writing was based on the question, “How do I speak in a way that both the religious and the secular can hear me equally?” For the past two years the question that has framed my blog posts has been, “What does the church most need to hear at this time?” Two different communities. Two different sets of assumptions. Two different starting points.

That changed this week. I titled this post, “13,000 Reasons” because I believe that my most helpful voice is now to speak not only to the church, but to the larger community, represented by 13,000 voices. I can articulate exactly what is happening. My blog voice is going from speaking TO the church, to speaking ON BEHALF of the church to the larger community. No longer will this blog be a “member’s only forum” but it will be a gathering place for a much broader community dialogue.

In other words, in many ways it is time to return to the voice that I had nurtured when I was writing under the title “Pedal Pilgrim.” It is time to nurture a community of people made up of Presbyterians, other spiritually-minded people of the Pacific Northwest and our largely secular community. It is time to speak not only to the 14,000 members in our churches, but to speak to the four million people in our Cascades community.

I knew this day would eventually come. I knew at some point it would be time to broaden the reach of the church to all people living in our midst, not just for card-carrying members. I was just looking for the right moment and the right reason.

Now I have 13,000 reasons.

Now is the time to bring people–all people–together.

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

Dear Mr. President

The following is a post I wrote in the form of a letter to our president, Mr. Donald Trump, to work through the issues that emerged after hearing him tease the country with using Easter Sunday as a visual symbol for America’s return to a supposed normalcy.

Dear Mr. President,

I felt the need to write you at this critical juncture as we Americans come together as a nation to fight the deadly coronavirus. I was disturbed on Monday when you telegraphed your hopes that America would return to normal and that Easter services could be packed on April 12. You said that you thought “this would be a beautiful time.”

The same day that you were hinting that we were coming out the other side of this, our presbytery was informing the people of our churches in our jurisdiction to go into quarantine. We set a tone that it was time to physically, emotionally and spiritually prepare to settle in for a protracted period until further notice. Your premature hopeful tone clashed with our “batten down the hatches” tone.

I appreciate your desire to get back to normal as quickly as possible. I don’t think anyone wants to stretch this even one hour longer than necessary. But I am deeply disturbed that you have ignored all of the scientific evidence in order to use Easter services purely as an optic. It makes for great TV. It’s a “beautiful” plot line for a movie script. Movie scripts have a deep impact on people’s imaginations, but they have no impact on a fast moving, deadly virus. There is a reason that we have science and the arts. It is imperative that we don’t confuse the two right now. There are life and death consequences to the decisions that we make in this time.

I write to you as one who has been a religious professional for over thirty years. I have been a local pastor for much of that time and now serve as the executive of a region of churches in the Pacific Northwest. Easter is what we call a “high holy day” in the church. I can see that you recognize that as you imagine how beautiful it would be to have our sanctuaries once again packed with millions of Christians on this special Sunday. I admit that it would make for a tear-jerker, 60 Minutes Special that night.

But for us Easter is not just a Sunday. It is a lived reality. As one of our pastors, the Rev. Dr. David Hutchinson, posted this morning, we are “Waiting for Easter” this year and Easter will be the first Sunday we are back face to face and singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Lent and Good Friday are just going to last a little longer than we expected.

You see, Mr. President, Easter for us is not a specific date. It’s a lived experience and a season of life. Easter will not be on April 12, Mr. President. Easter this year will be when grandparents can once again hug their grandchildren. Easter will be when we accidentally brush up against a neighbor and say, “excuse me” instead of shuddering in fear. Easter will be when it once again becomes normal to sit next to each other at high school basketball games, concerts on the grass, and in a cozy theater. Easter will be when we step aside and let the elderly woman get the last package of toilet paper on the shelf. Easter will be when our doctors and nurses don’t have worry that they might die just for doing their jobs. Easter will be when we toast each other at our favorite pub or bar.

I am disturbed, Mr. President, because your voice and your office hold incredible weight. In fact, you may have the most powerful pulpit in the whole world and billions of people depend on what you say and what decisions you make. I am disturbed because you have put me in a very awkward position. I also hold a position of authority, not nearly to the degree you do, but I have 96 churches, hundreds of pastors and nearly 14,000 members who take my recommendations seriously. Our presbytery has recommended that we hold no in-person worship until further notice. With only one notable exception, there is no medical expert or government official who is indicating that the worst is over and that we can start preparing for a beautiful Easter Sunday. Mr. President, you are that one lone voice who is not in touch with reality.

I am disturbed, Mr. President, because those of us in leadership positions have to make recommendations to our churches and their pastors in this time. They want to know, “Do we continue to worship online or should we be following the President’s lead on this and start preparing for Easter celebrations?” I am disturbed, Mr. President, because you leave me no choice. I must recommend that our churches continue to remain closed to in-person gatherings until medical experts and our own city, county and state governments lift restrictions. If I am asked why I am not taking my cues from the overly hopeful tone that you have set I will have to be honest: “I am sorry, but I do not trust our president to have the judgment to keep us safe, to be honest with us, and do what is right for our country.”

I wished it weren’t so, Mr. President. I do not relish the thought of crossing the man who is considered to be the most powerful person in the world. But there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions of people’s lives that are on the line, depending on the decisions that you and I make. I can live with defying you. I can’t live with the thought of thousands of people dying for a staged “beautiful Easter Sunday” made for Sunday night television.

Mr. President, I can promise you that Easter will come!

It just won’t be on April 12 this year.

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

Church as Community Organizer

“I can comfortably say we’ve had thousands of people ready to help.”

Those are the words of the Rev. Morgan Schmidt of First Presbyterian Church, Bend. Actually I should say that those are the words of the minister/community organizer of Pandemic Partners–Bend.

bend pandemicWhen the state banned gatherings and the schools closed, her ministry shifted after her church also shut down normal operations. Schmidt, in her words, “became a social media manager” as she decided to organize a group through Facebook to meet the increasing needs of homebound members who were isolated with the coronavirus restrictions.

Within hours the response was phenomenal and literally thousands of caring, compassionate, service-minded people in Bend signed up to offer their help. They now are nearing 10,000 members since their March 12 start date. You can read the fuller story here at Pandemic Partners—Bend.

But I want to shift you to another church that has played the role of community organizer in this time of crisis. The Session of Yachats Community Presbyterian Church (situated in a lovely, heavenly spot on the Central Coast) under the leadership of the Rev. Bob Barrett voted to seed a GoFundMe account in order to meet the financial needs of displaced workers in their community. With $5,000 in seed money they raised another $15,000 from the community. The first checks to displaced workers just went out.

What both of these stories have in common is that the church acted like community organizers. Rather than feel like the members of the church had to be responsible for all the direct mission that they wanted, they provided the initiative and organizational structure and invited the community to share in mission with them.

seeking kindnessIn consulting with congregations I have found myself encouraging this model more and more. It generally comes during conversations where a church says, “We don’t think we would have the energy to do a soup kitchen or food pantry or run errands for our homebound.” And I say, “Instead of you feeling like you have to do it why don’t you provide the organization and impetus and invite service-minded people in the community to do it with you. Don’t feel like you have to do ministry FOR the community. Do ministry WITH the community.”

The Rev. Morgan Schmidt set up the structure, but the community is doing the actual work of mission. Yachats Community Church made the initial investment, but the community is providing the bulk of the funds.

We are hearing this more and more with regard to the future of ministry. At the NEXT Church Conference some are saying that the ministers of the future will have to be trained as much in community organizing as in Biblical interpretation, preaching and teaching.

We know our congregations have fewer resources than we used to have. We also know that our communities are full of people who want to make a difference and who share our sense of mission even if they don’t share our pews.

Thousands of people responded to the Pandemic Partners-Bend initiative of the Rev. Morgan Schmidt of First, Bend. And thousands of dollars were raised by the Displaced Workers Fund  sponsored by Yachats Community Presbyterian Church.

These are stories worth paying attention to.

We may be seeing the wave of the future.

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

Breaking News–Clean Undies Edition!

Monday was another routine day of breaking news about the coronavirus and our attempts to slow its deadly approach. Both Oregon and Washington ordered stay-at-home policies and the stock market dropped another 3%. My day was full of phone calls, emails and strategizing how best to support our congregations and our church leaders in the midst of a national crisis. It was nothing less than dizzying—and unfortunately increasingly routine.

toilet trainingBut that was not the breaking news that got my attention yesterday. In the middle of the day, partly as a distraction, I had a video chat with my family. In the course of that conversation I discovered that our family had a major rite of passage. My son said something about his daughter wearing “undies” and then he stressed the word, “UNDIES.” Then he turned the phone over to my charming granddaughter and said, “You want to tell Geepa what you did today?”

And at the moment plunging stock markets and deadly viruses didn’t mean a thing. My granddaughter cheerily chirped out, “Geepa, I go pee, I wipe my bootie and I pull up my undies!” And then she started doing a happy dance around the living room as if she had just won the Oscar. Today, another Heron has become potty trained!

It was another day of tough breaking news. But my breaking news was about life, about beauty, about joy, about family, about rites of passage…

…and about undies!

Life is good.

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

“We Make the Road by Walking”

“We Make the Road by Walking”

mclarenThat is the title of a Brian McLaren book that has been sitting on my shelf for nearly two years. It’s funny I have not read the book, but I have both used and heard others use the title as sort of a theme for the Christian journey in this time.

I am thinking about that title today as I ponder how rapidly my priorities and my emotional life is shifting. Four days ago I made the commitment to start blogging on a daily basis in order to give us tools for how to interpret the significant and probably radical change that we are experiencing.

I was telling a friend yesterday that had this been normal times we might have encouraged our churches to make a trial run of live-streamed and recorded services, but we would have planned it for at least two years in the future. You know, it’s important not to make big changes too rapidly! The COVID-19 virus forced us to make that same jump in a matter of days. We are in a new world now!

But today I want to tell you that I am not sure that daily blogging is going to serve us well. I am not sure that it isn’t either. Four days ago it was clear. We had been forced to make sudden and radical changes. Churches scrambled to figure out how to live in Christian community without physically gathering. The presbytery office re-organized itself and its priorities almost overnight. I felt that if we didn’t reflect on those changes immediately and daily we would lose the opportunity that this unwelcome intruder has given us.

this wayBut as I said in my blog post on Saturday (How Quickly Things Shift) it seems that we only know how to act and how to feel about one day at a time. I had made a commitment to blog daily because I thought I knew how this was going to unfold. Silly me! I thought I was able to project into the future and start providing a road map to negotiate our way to a post COVID-19 future. I was way too overconfident. Every day has a new and unexpected challenge. I am lucky to know what tomorrow will bring much less next June.

I am not saying that I won’t continue regular blogging. I may still blog daily. I may blog only when the spirit nudges me (whether that is twice a week or ten times a week). I may return to my usual Thursday blog. What I am saying is that making future promises is naïve at best at this point.

I can’t tell you exactly how much I will blog. But I can tell you that I promise to be responsive to the needs of the presbytery and to our communities. I promise to look for God in this precarious moment and invite you to look for God as well. I promise to be flexible and adaptable and change day by day, if needed, and as needed. I promise to be present even if I can’t promise what that will look like day to day and week to week.

“We Make the Road by Walking” writes McLaren.

It is the language of pilgrimage.

It is the language of unfolding.

It is the language of trust.

We put one foot in front of another.

We follow the holy breadcrumbs.

And we trust.

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

Psalm 23 and Radical Trust

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

That is the first line of Psalm 23, part of our lectionary texts for this morning. Most people seem to be able to either recite Psalm 23 or at least mumble along as it is read in public. It’s a favorite text of many and probably the most often quoted text at funerals and memorial services.

Interestingly enough this text shows up as we are watching the death count go up on the coronavirus outbreak not knowing if it will plateau at some number that we find acceptable or if it will go down in the record books.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It has a Buddhist ring to it. Don’t build your life on expectations and attachments to outcomes. You will be happier and suffer less that way.

worryBut I don’t know if I am built that way. I want to want. I want to know that people are not going to suffer and die. I want to do what I can to make sure workers are not faced with potential evictions and power shut offs and food deprivation. I want to want. I want to be able to go outside and see a normal flow of pedestrian traffic on my sidewalk. I want to go to the store without wondering if I will be able to get basic staples. I want to see the worry on people’s faces go away. I want the newly ordained grumps to turn back into normal, trusting, kind people. I want to want. And I want what I want.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

I want to want, but there is wisdom in this ancient saying that I know is true, even though I resist it. It is the wisdom of living life with radical trust. It is the wisdom of trusting a spirit, a presence—God. It is a radical trust that even when life seems to be going to hell there is a goodness that permeates our lives and existence. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…anything other than what is.”

trustPsalm 23 is a call to radical trust. We often think of it as the ultimate prayer of comfort. But notice when we usually read it and why it seems so comforting. We read it at memorial services after a loved one has died and it strangely gives us comfort as we memorialize our loved one and learn to accept the reality of death. Read at a memorial service and it helps come to a place of acceptance.

Can we also read it and recite it now with that same trust as we potentially face loss and death? It gives us comfort after a loved one has died. Can it also give us comfort as we face the possibility of loss and death now. If we can learn acceptance after death can learn acceptance even before the possibility of death.

Can we trust God this side of death as much as we trust God on the other side of death?

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to want. And I want what I want. I don’t want to trust.

But that may be all we have left.

Trust, radical Christ-like trust.

It’s sounds Biblical. It also sounds really hard.

Here is the full text for your reflection:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

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