Self Reflection and Understanding Ourselves

From Guest Blog Writer, Anni Magnusson

It becomes increasingly difficult to sit alone with our thoughts as our lives get busier and our schedules become more demanding; there is the constant distraction of current events, technology, and others around us that keep us from introspection and searching ourselves. It is hard to make time to understand how our minds operate. 

As a young adult, I am still trying to figure out who I am and what my role will be in this world and within the communities of which I am a member. This summer, I was hired to be the “photographer/social media director” at Covenant Point Bible Camp: a job I felt excited about at a place I consider to be my second home.

Unfortunately, this summer’s programming at Covenant Point had to be canceled to keep staff, campers, and the community safe. Without the expected structure of the summer I would have spent at camp, I have been given an extensive amount of free time and a limited number of activities to keep me occupied.

As a result of this gift/curse of extra time, I have found that I am much more in tune with my feelings and, strangely enough, am getting to know myself more now than ever before! I am learning to sit with my thoughts and allow myself to embrace my feelings, especially the ones of disappointment and grief as well as joy and peace. It can be challenging to willingly accept sadness and confront it head on rather than finding an easy distraction. However, giving ourselves the space to reflect and feel upset, particularly in this time of the pandemic and of civil unrest, can be an opportunity for real personal growth in all of us.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” and Ecclesiastes 3:4 specifies, “…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” Giving ourselves time to acknowledge and react to the emotions we have can be so beneficial; there needs to be time for all of the feelings we have. 

Throughout all of our lives, we will have seasons of contentment and sorrow, bliss and heartache. Through all of these times, God is with us all the way. It is vital to be able to admit and face our emotions, if only with ourselves, to better understand how we grow through those seasons with God.

Holy Spirit, Convert Me!

“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (a Holy Voice)

“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Peter, to the Church)

We’re reading Acts together on Wednesday nights — 7 p.m. on Zoom. I wish you were joining us! We’ve reached the 10th and 11th chapter, and a story that has proven pivotal as any in my years of ministry and faith pilgrimage. If you don’t know the story, prepare for a bombshell! But don’t start unless you are willing to engage the Living God.

To put it very briefly, Peter is praying and hungry, and has a daydream. he sees a sheet coming down from heaven full of food he’s not allowed too eat, along with these words from some Holy Voice: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” Of course Peter refuses, as one faithful to the law (and so to God) is bid to do. The voice speaks again: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

It is what Willie Jennings calls “God’s revolution of inclusion”. And I am intrigued to reflect on how we usually see this as the conversion and ingrafting of the gentiles, I’d like to push back, and call it the conversion (one of the many and countless) of Peter. And, hopefully, God’s Spirit can convert me in this way too, and us together.

Quoting at length from Called To Be Church: The Book of Acts For a New Day by Anthony Robinson and Robert Wall:

“Contrary to much theology and practice, the text suggests that the field for mission and conversion may not be solely, or even primarily, outside the church doors, or in non-Christian cultures, or among those who have not yet met Christ. Peter’s conversion suggests that the mission field may be, equally, inside our sanctuaries, in the life of our own congregations, and in our own land and culture. Conversion and transformation continue — and thus need to continue– in our lives and churches today because God is a living God, because God is still speaking, and because God is once again doing a new thing (Isa. 43:19)…the shadow side of the embrace of conversions in some traditions is that it creates a false sense of security and assumptions of complacency: “We’re saved. We’re done. we have become Christians.” We are not done — nor are we finished…The need for new conversion, fresh transformation, and deepened faith continues. It may be that crucial move in renewing congregations today is a new recognition that it is we ourselves — pastors, lay leaders, teachers, and Christian congregants — who need conversion, transformation, healing, changed minds, and changed hearts most of all. If Peter, the lead apostle, the rock upon whom Jesus would found his church, required continuing and even shocking conversion and transformation, who are we to rest on our laurels?”

Convert me, I say, I plead, I pray! Holy Spirit, make my life a more continual open and pliable space to see with God’s eyes, and love with God’s love. I want to learn the posture of Peter, who had to open up, change and trust to be able to say, “Who am I to get in the way of God?” Get rid of whatever’s in my way — my fears, my certainties about the Living God, and the way I convince myself and those around me that God, once alive, is no more — that there’s nothing new under the sun taking shape. Forgive me, and form me into one who welcomes and loves and includes all people as you wish.

Read, reflect, open up, pray with regret, and start wondering what God’s Spirit is doing these days. And join me in praying for courage to change in ways that bring us closer to reflecting the image of the Living God.

Peter Hawkinson

The Sun to the Seed: Friendship and Adversity

Please enjoy today’s blog post by guest writer Nadia Jimenez.

Every spring my parents anxiously wait for May 15th; the day you can begin planting in Chicago. They’ve always been known for having a small farm in the city filled with vegetables you would never imagine growing alongside glorious flowers. If you’ve been to their house in the summer I’m certain you haven’t left without bags full of goodies. However, this always came with challenges: a war against clay that would choke out the dirt and rot every root. But without a doubt, each year their yard grew more than the last. It continues to blow me away, witnessing the seed begin to sprout in such a treacherous land.

These last few months have been difficult. They have felt heavy, like the weight of clay on the single seed. My days have been filled – as many other healthcare providers – with never-ending patients, exhaustion, and dying. Ultimately, fighting an unknown, as each day felt more and more like Groundhog Day. Life was stuck on repeat. I was grateful to be working alongside such amazing teams but there was this deep feeling of isolation even though I was surrounded by so many people. If you know me, you know I’m not one to wear my emotions; a joke to laugh off pain has always been my best medicine. But, what if there has been nothing to laugh about?

Every day, I made my way from my office across the bridge to the hospital. It was my path of preparation, I walked with a prayer in my mind, and a hope in my heart that that day would be better than the day before. Each time as I entered the halls of the hospital I inevitably heard the welcoming sound of a friend calling out “Good morning Nadia!” which would accompany a witty comment of “Here we go again,” or the question of “where off to first?”.  I would start my initial rounds of the hospital to prepare for the day to come and find a place to settle in to participate in our Hospital Incident Command System daily calls with leadership which started with a message from the same welcoming voice that had just greeted me in the hallway: “Good morning everyone.” This time the welcoming message was complemented with a word of strength, a verse of guidance, a prayer for the weary. I became dependent on those messages and the simple greetings that came each day and I found myself missing them if there wasn’t a call or if I was working on her day off.

Every day I dragged myself back to my office. Somedays, feeling heavier than others. Somedays, praying I didn’t have to return to those halls tomorrow and everyday praying for the colleagues, friends, and patients I left behind to keep fighting. As I made my way to the bridge, once again I would hear that welcoming friend: “How are you holding up Nadia?”; “How was today”. The conversation was simple; sometimes filled with silence because there were no more words that could be said, and sometimes filled with tears because the silence was too much. But in a time filled with so much hardship and isolation from my own family, Melanie’s voice became my reminder of God’s presence in all of this.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother/sister is born for a time of adversity” – Proverbs 17:17

God does not call us to do life alone. I am grateful for the reminders of this truth that Melanie gave me each day; she represented my church family and each of your prayers. She reminded me that family does not only lay on the surface, like blood in our veins, but is found deep within the challenges of life, and in our hearts.  

In this time of separation, may we be reminded to continue to build our friendships through the eyes of God. Friendship and brotherly/sisterly love should not be based on cultural expectations but on Jesus’ example: a friend whose love was so profound that he was willing to die for us, a friend who loves us even when we’re unlovable. 

May we as brothers and sisters in Christ be reminded of the presence we have in each other’s life. However far we may be from each other, may we be the sun to the struggling seed, to help each other grow.

The Fallow Land

“the Great Suffering which saddens the world, and this your life which can alleviate it: these are the two realities, the two great truths which you must ponder.” (The Fallow Land, Constancio Vigil, 1915)

On my 42nd birthday, my father blessed me with a work of the Uruguayan born Argentinian essayist Constancio Vigil. It’s a book of reflections — essays, poems, and parables about the human condition and where hope lies. It’s his own manifesto, really. If you wish, you can purchase it here:

The first three sections are “On suffering”, “Illnesses”, and “Punishments”. But don’t let that scare you away! It’s one of the most challenging and hopeful books I’ve yet read. Every clear spot in my volume is now marked up. It’s a perfect pondering read for times like this, where suffering, though to different degrees, has come to us all.

Among all the images and quotes that linger with me, the words you see above are those I return to often as I under my life’s journey and struggle with the mighty elusive call of God — or so it seems. These words remind me of what my life has been created and redeemed for: to enter into the world’s pain with a soothing love that is actively alleviating the suffering of the world around me. This is the essence of the Jesus way, to move toward, not away from the world’s pain, and in fact to suffer myself, for the sake of the world’s healing. This is a Holy love that changes things, that creates new possibilities for the flourishing of life and of all creation that God intends.

Here’s a question to ponder: Can you accept that your life bears the power to alleviate the world’s suffering? One day at a time, because you have experienced the grace of God in Jesus, and been filled with his love, your life bears great opportunity and responsibility. The Church is the place where we share this life together, and gear up again and again to love with God’s own love, which is the strongest force God has unleashed in the world.

These things we must ponder again and again, every new day: The world’s suffering and our part in it’s healing and transformation. There is vital ministry to be done during a global health pandemic and a festering racial brokenness in these our days. In more ways than one, ours is “A Fallow Land”. God’s redeeming work has to do with you — your life, and your love, and together our life, and our love.

Move toward the suffering. Enter into it. Embrace the pain of others as your own, and speak and act out the Holy love that alleviates it. And start by getting your hands on “The Fallow Land”.

Peter Hawkinson

Trust and Risk Part Two

Yesterday Pastor Pete preached about two words- trust & risk.

If you haven’t listened to the service already, I highly recommend it; it can be found at the following link:

When I was listening to the sermon, I was struck by the realization that so often I view risk within the idea of what I have to lose.  I rarely think about risk within the idea of what I have to gain.

For me, and I’m assuming so many of us, it is easier to focus on the negative than the positive.  I can receive 99 words of encouragement but 1 comment highlighting my shortcomings will be what I focus on.

In risks, we think about the worst case scenarios, the consequences of things not going accordingly to the way we hope, the potential downfalls.  As we know, with risks there are also best case scenarios, benefits that could be achieved and new opportunities and blessing.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

I have a lot of hope for our world- that we would be rooted in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  I hope for justice, redemption and righteousness.  I hope that people would do nothing out of self-ambition, but instead view other’s as better than themselves.

It’s a risk to try and pursue these ideals in our everyday life.  We can think our actions might not bring about these characteristics more in others and in our world.  Even if we are bringing people closer to the Kingdom of Heaven, we might not always even see it with our own eyes.

That is why we need to trust in God.  Trust that the risks we take of the Kingdom are worth it & ultimately will bring about the hopes that we have for all of Creration.

So today, I invite you to look at risks with a positive spin.  What incredible thing could come in your life, if you stay focused on what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world?

~Pastor Joel 

Serving Others

The guest blogger today is Rev. Arnie Bolin, resident of Covenant Living in Northbrook. Arnie and his wife Marilyn are members of Winnetka Covenant Church. As we continue our blogging, know that there’s an open invitation to send your thoughts to share.


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others. (Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV)

In the summer of 1966 our nation underwent civil unrest. It followed again in 1967. At the time, I, with Marilyn’s untiring support, was serving Community Covenant Church on the near north side of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was one of the first covenant churches planted in what we then called the inner city; now we label it urban ministry. The parsonage was two blocks south of Plymouth avenue, where what the media called “rioting” broke out. I prefer to call it civil unrest.

Our near north side ministerial association was very diverse yet close-knit, and we developed a schedule so that there would be a clergy presence on Plymouth avenue round the clock. About 8 a.m. on the second morning a young African-American lady emerged from one of the side streets, apparently unaware of what had been happening. She looked around and burst into tears. “My babies, my babies” she cried out. “Where can I get milk for my babies?” The grocery store had been torched. I took her in my car to another supermarket, and she got the milk and groceries she needed. To this day I have no idea why I had the car there when I lived so close by.

Our son Bradley, who was six and a half at the time, says he can remember waking up one morning to see a National Guard jeep parked in front of our house. From our back door I could see the guardsmen patrolling the street north of us.

It is amazing that over fifty years later our nation is still wallowing in racial issues. We lament how terrible racism is, and then after a bit we drift back into oblivion. We feel a helplessness, that the racially divided society we live in is not something that we can do anything about. If you are an employer, you can seek people of color to hire. If there are minority owned businesses, patronize them. We can vote. If you should relocate, you might choose to seek housing in an integrated neighborhood.

In the pre-pandemic days I rarely got to church because I am now wheelchair bound. But I have come to feeling that our congregation is an open, welcoming family. Please don’t think I am scolding our congregation! In no way am I thinking in such a vein. I am reflecting, rather, on how fortunate I am, and our family has been, to live in neighborhoods as a racial minority in Minneapolis for seven years, and in benton Harbor, Michigan, for almost twenty years.

I go back to the apostle Paul, telling us to regard others as BETTER than ourselves, and to look to the interests of others ahead of our own. What intrigues me is the question we should all ask, “Who are the ‘Others’?”Meditate on that question for awhile. For me, one of the first persons who comes to mind is the young mother I was able to get to the store where she could get milk for her babies. That was fifty-four years ago. I never saw her again.

Paul goes on to challenge us to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Jesus took on the “form of a servant.” Can we take on the role of a servant?

God, help us to put others before ourselves. Amen.

The Perfect and the Good

I jokingly like to refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist.

“Recovering,” because I definitely haven’t arrived, but I am in the process of getting over my perfectionism. For now, though, I still struggle with needing to get things right. I’m still not comfortable with failure and mistakes, though I am trying to make friends with them. But it takes time.

For many years, this worked ok for me – especially in school. But as I have gotten older, I have realized that trying to be perfect is exhausting. And more often than not, as I am reminded by wiser friends, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

I have been thinking about that a lot this week. As I have watched my friends from all different stages of my life – college and seminary and ministry – engage online with conversations about racism and privilege and injustice, I have been struggling again with the perfect and the good. Because the truth is, I’m not great at talking about racism. Or white privilege, or white supremacy. I’m no expert, and I still fumble with my words: should I describe people as black, or African-American? What about “people of color”? Should I even talk about race itself, since it is a social construct – or should I just stick to the evils of racism? Do I even have the right to talk, or should I only listen?

The truth is, I don’t know. And I’m afraid to get it wrong. I am trying to be perfect at something, and for too long it has crippled me; prevented me from doing anything. I have allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

Well, no longer. For too long, white people (including myself) have been quiet about racism and injustice, and it has meant that these evils have been allowed to persist and to grow in our world. Maybe we’ve been afraid like I have to get it wrong. Or maybe we’ve been fooled into thinking it’s not a problem for us.

Either way, I am starting now. Trying to have hard conversations, and ask difficult questions. I am reading more and watching more and listening more than I ever have before. I am getting things wrong as often as I get them right, but I am not letting that deter me. I am not inviting perfection into this process, but striving always for the good.

One more person who is willing to listen to another perspective.

One more mind and heart changed.

One more step towards God’s Kingdom coming here.

One more step towards ending the grip of racism over our country (indeed, our world), its people and its institutions.

It will be a long time until we can ever get to something like perfect. But for now, let’s start with aiming for the good. Let’s take our first unsteady steps towards becoming agents of change, anti-racism advocates and healers of the breach.

Won’t you join me?

-Pastor Jen

We all have to start somewhere. Check out the Love Mercy Do Justice page of the ECC, and in particular this link on how to “Engage and Respond” with issues of racial righteousness by clicking here:

Hearing and Doing

“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves…” (James 1:22)

In other words, let there be integrity between your words and actions. A constant challenge for us all!

These are excruciating days in which the Spirit is calling us to learn and come to grips with our history around race in this country, so that we can understand more deeply what the knees on George Floyd’s neck and back represent, and embrace our part as white Americans and the white church in healing the injustice of 400 years of oppression of African American people. The truth we must own, confess, and repent of is that so often our words have not matched our actions. As we often confess, “We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves….forgive us for what we have done, and for what we have left undone.”

Here’s an example, these stunning words from our founding document, the Declaration of Independence (1776): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal , that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The aspirational beauty of these words are diminished as we realize that 40 of 56 of those who signed, and so said they believed in this dream, were slave owners, owned other people. After the revolution, the constitution (1789) tacitly acknowledged this, guaranteeing the right “to re-possess any person held to service or labor.”

The point is to recognize the blind spots that existed for the founders, courageous as they were, because there was much at stake in terms of their own power and wealth that they laid on the backs of slaves. And the more important point is to recognize that similar blind spots belong to us, and for similar reasons, our own power and wealth. Taking our simple and central call as followers of Jesus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” — if we are to be people belonging to Christ, whose words and lives will have integrity to them, we must finally be clear as white people that this oppression of our black and brown neighbors has continued to this day. I’ll have more to say about that in this Sunday sermon.

That confession, if repentance should follow — repentance, the desire to turn away from racism and toward justice — leads us to the hope and healing possibilities of a new day for us in this country — a day when we might finally be able to celebrate that at least to some extent our actions evidence that we really do treat one another as equals, and that we all have an equal chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We have much work to do, lest we deceive ourselves over and over again. But we have the love of Jesus, and the prodding Spirit of God, and a community to remind us we’re in this together. Most of all, we desperately need our black and brown sisters and brothers to lead us in a long season of story sharing, that are painful, but that we need to hear.

The time has come, friends, for the sake of those we have deeply hurt, and for the sake of the good news of the gospel, to open up to the pain of what has been, so that we can be formed into agents of reconciliation after all.

Peter Hawkinson

One immediate invitation. Tonight we are gathering to lament and grieve, share our journeys, be framed by the word of God, and pray together. You need to be there! At 6:30, please join us….click on this ZOOM address, and I hope to see you tonight, Wednesday, 6:30!  

Wake Me Up

“Wake me up when 2020 ends.”

I’ve heard and seen this statement from multiple different people recently.

The death of Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash.

The Coronavirus pandemic overwhelming hospitals and  locking down countries, while killing over 370,000 people world wide.

An economic decline as the Dow Jones fell 2,997 points in one day- the biggest drop in over 30 years.

The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd- as well as many other unarmed black men and women.

Businesses being looted, while there are fires in the street, all filmed on camera and streamed live on national television.

All of these events have contributed to people saying,

“Wake me up when 2020 ends.”

Today, I want us to think more about what this statement communicates- about someone’s mindset, about someone’s posture, about someone’s life, about someone’s faith.

As the Body of Christ, we pray for reconciliation.  We pray for peace.  We pray for justice.

We pray that Jesus would reign and God’s glory would be revealed.

But do we take an active role in reconciliation, peace and justice?
Or do we passively wait hoping it comes whether we do anything or not?

Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.

Today my prayer is that each one of us who reads this would do the work of determining what our role is in the Body of Christ.  That we would not look to our own self-interests, but the interests of others- the interest of our Creator.  I pray we would not allow God’s radical love and call on our lives to be contained in our comfort, convenience and preference.

We look around us and see that our world is hurting.

Our world has been hurting and crying out long before the turn of the calendar.

Death, illness, poverty, racism and violence- these elements are present now, they have been present throughout our country’s history and will continue to be present going forward until Jesus returns again.

The question is not just what are we going to do about them in 2020.

The question is what are we going to do about them for the rest of our lives.

Will we be active or passive in the Kingdom coming to Earth?

I hope we change our statements going forward.

“Wake me up, so I can work.”

~Pastor Joel